If you find yourself traveling in Europe or Italy around carnival time, you should definitely consider a quick detour by Venice. And provided that you are not afraid of large crowds, visiting la Serenissima during carnival is a really unique experience that should go on your bucket list.
A few years ago, we were very fortunate to spend two memorable days in Venice and to take an active part in the carnival festivities. We got to discover this wonderful little city while having a lot of fun too!
Venice epitomizes timeless beauty! Be prepared to be charmed by its indescribable light, its peculiar colors, hidden gardens, narrow streets and many bridges. Absolutely breathtaking! See for yourself …
Experiencing “Il Carnevale” …
“Venice is for couples“, people often say. Sure, there is no denying that it’s a very romantic city. However, it is so much more than that, especially during Carnevale when partying and amusement takes over the romantic feel.
There are two ways to experience the carnival. You can come as a spectator or take an active part in the fun, as an actor. I chose option number 2 and didn’t regret it one bit!
While it may seem like a pain (and expensive) to get a costume, a mask, wear make up etc … it is actually very easy to look stunning with just a few accessories and a limited budget. What I did what very simple. First I brought black clothes (warm enough because carnival takes place in the winter)and black boots. I also brought a black/silver cape, which I had rented from a costume store back in France for the weekend. Simple but elegant! Of course the main accessory is the mask. I bought mine in Paris at a store that only sells Venetian masks: il Campiello. I also used a lot of black eyeliner to make my eyes stand out and curled my hair to give it a 17th century feel.
Wearing a costume in Venice during carnival is like walking the red carpet in Cannes (I imagine!). Everybody looks at you and rushes to take your picture: yep, here is the ego boost you’ve been dreaming of. Below are some of my favorite shots, as I could not refrain from the urge to play the paparazzo myself …
Masks and costumes
The carnival lasts about two weeks, usually around February. It is not all about the costume. Each weekend has its long list of events and traditions such as a parade on the Grand Canal, la Festa delle Marie etc… According to me the most impressive is il Volo dell’Angelo, when a young woman (la Colombina) flies off the campanile and above the crowd gathered on Piazza San Marco. I recommend checking the official website of the carnival to know which weekend the event takes place.
Come early as the place gets packed super fast. While you wait, grab a seat in the sun at one of the terraces of Piazza San Marco and enjoy a cappuccino!
Be prepared for human traffic jams!
Again, see for yourself and imagine the mess in some of the very narrow streets …
Take a moment during your weekend – preferably late at night or very early in the morning – to appreciate Piazza San Marco.
Like many people, I love authenticity and I don’t care for “tourist traps”. Thus, I was deeply irritated to be asked every two minutes if I wanted to take a tour in a gondola. But at one point, under the pressure of my travel companion, I admit, I caved … and I am glad I did.
Venice, seen from its canals is simply magical! Those of you who follow me know I am obsessed with light. Well, I was definitely in the right place for a unforgettable show!
Where (NOT) to eat …
Food was the biggest let down of this trip. If I had to do it again, I would research where to eat in advance and ask locals for recommendations (which I have been doing ever since — yep, I’ve learned my lesson). Long story short: not one restaurant was decent enough to deserve a recommendation. Stay away for the tourist traps on the Grand Canal: worst pasta in my entire life … Piece of advice: stay away from the touristic spots and look at reviews (preferably in Italian or in French as we tend to be more picky when it comes to food).
Have fun at carnival and share your experience!