10 things to do in Venice during the Carnival

Mara Noveni | Live the World

May 29, 2024

Undoubtedly, the most beautiful and most important Carnival in the world is in Rio de Janeiro, a city that transforms into an open-air dance floor, where samba schools challenge each other with dance moves and coloured feathers. But, immediately after in the world ranking comes Venice, the most romantic city in the world, with its magical Carnival. The Carnival of Venice is a fascinating celebration linked to ancient traditions and involves thousands of people who flock here every year to participate in public and private events. So I suggest you 10 things to do in Venice during the Carnival. The events related to the Venice Carnival are spread over a period of about 20 days, but the most important celebrations are concentrated in the last 11 days.

As the dates of the Carnival change every year and are linked to the Christian Easter date, I can tell you that the Venice Carnival concentrates the main celebrations on the eleven days before Ash Wednesday.

© iStock / Robert Pavsic

The origins

The Carnival of Venice has very ancient origins. The first testimony dates back to 1094, with the coining of the name "carnival". The establishment of the Carnival is attributed to a decision of the Senate of the Serenissima Republic of Venice. The intention was to grant the population - especially the humblest and poorest classes - a period of entertainment, music, dances and celebrations, as already happened in ancient Rome during the Saturnalia.

The use of the mask originates from the Greek Dionysian cults, great religious festivals with processions and representations that involved the use of masks. The motto was "once a year, it is permissible to have no brakes". In the Carnival of Venice, the masks guarantee total anonymity. Therefore we are witnessing a sort of annulment of social divisions.

© iStock / underworld111

10 things to do in Venice during the Carnival

1. Put on a costume or at least a mask

Do you feel like looking more like an 18th-century lady or Giacomo Casanova? Surely, you will see masks of all kinds going around the calli. Many enjoy creating their own costumes, even working for a good part of the year, but if you are not familiar with the needle and creativity, you can always opt for rental, there are some for all budgets. The many ateliers in Venice offer all types of costumes, choose the one that best suits you and your personality.

© iStock / Simona Sirio

2. Taste the typical desserts of the Venetian Carnival

During the Venetian Carnival, you have to taste some typical desserts such as frittole, galani and many other specialities. These are sweets of ancient tradition to be tasted in the pastry shops scattered around the city.

© Pasticceria Rosa Salva / unknown author

3. Sit down in Piazza San Marco and enjoy an aperitif

Whether it is a prosecco or a Spritz, it does not matter. Let yourself be tempted by the taste of the bubbles. The coffee shops under the arcades of the square are the best place to admire the most beautiful masks. The most important and crowded events of the Venetian Carnival take place in Piazza San Marco, and you can breathe the air of the maritime republics and visit the Doge's Palace. To visit the Doge's Palace, if you want to avoid endless queues, you can buy the ticket in advance, skip the line, and enter directly from the entrance reserved for those who have already purchased the ticket. The purchase includes the entrance ticket to the Doge's Palace, access to the Correr Museum, the National Archaeological Museum and the Marciana Library.

© iStock / FotoGablitz

4. Follow the procession of the "Marias"

Among the unmissable events of the Venice Carnival is the "Festa delle Marie", a beauty contest with 12 girls (the Marias) who parade in a procession crossing the city. The procession of girls winds its way from the Castello district to Piazza San Marco, accompanied by flag-wavers, musicians and bridesmaids. Subsequently, the most beautiful will be elected the "Maria of the year" and win a rich prize.

© iStock / Razvan

5. Admire the Flight of the Angel 

The flight of the Angel (or of the Columbina) is one of the opening events of the Carnival and is held on the first Sunday of Carnival, strictly at noon: a girl, who is the winner of the previous year's Festa delle Marie, flies down suspended on an overhead rail from the bell tower of San Marco and up to the Doge's Palace: a spectacular flight that will leave you breathless!

© Venezia Eventi / unknown author

6. Attend exclusive parties

What carnival would it be without a little worldliness? In Venice, the nobles loved having fun with masked parties in the rich palaces, where they could drink, eat and dance until dawn. This tradition has been maintained, and looking through the events that the city offers, you will find exclusive parties where you can experience the thrill of the Venice Carnival like an 18th-century nobleman or dame.

7. Visit an artisan workshop that still uses the ancient technique for making paper-mâché masks

Here you can watch the craftsmen at work and buy unique pieces. The most famous is the Bottega dei Mascareri. For the more curious, there is the possibility of having a direct experience with a 2-hour tour to discover the best ateliers of Carnival masks, jewels, and marbled paper, in the heart of the Venetian artisan tradition.

© Get your Guide / unknown author

8. Take a gondola ride

The recommended way to discover and get to know Venice is undoubtedly the gondola, aboard which you can cross the canals and admire the most evocative views of the city. A gondola ride is an unmissable experience when you go to Venice at any time of the year, but even more so at Carnival, when you are catapulted back through the centuries into a fairytale atmosphere!

© iStock / valio84sl

9. Move to the land

The Carnival and its celebrations are not only in Piazza San Marco or in the centre of Venice, the surroundings also have much to offer. For example, Piazza Ferretto in Mestre awaits you with the Mestre Carnival Street Show: concerts, shows, street artists, jugglers and much more for adults and children.

10. Live an alternative experience during the Venice Carnival 

For example, you could opt for a Secrets of Venice Carnival and Life of Casanova Tour. This tour is very intriguing because a walking tour retraces the life and places of Giacomo Casanova (adventurer, writer, poet, alchemist, esotericist, diplomat, scientist, philosopher and, secret agent, citizen of the Republic of Venice), also visiting his house without standing in line, and you will spend 1 hour and a half discovering the secrets of the Venice Carnival, catapulting you into a past time full of splendour.

© Get your Guide / unknown author

Venice is a city that retains its particular charm all year round. Its grey autumn days make her charm sad and melancholy, making us love the place even more. Its lazy summer afternoons, when the calli are almost deserted, let us discover a warm and lonely Venice. But, of course, during the Carnival period, we discover a colourful city, which oozes history and tradition, bringing us back to the splendour of the Serenissima Republic of Venice, and which preserves a halo of mystery and secret for the faces covered by masks. So let's not miss the opportunity to visit this wonderful city and discover 10 things to do in Venice during the Carnival. Enjoy!

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