A Complete Guide to Venice Carnival

Everything you want to know about Venice Carnival and a few things you didn’t know to ask!

Venice carnival header

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Venice’s Carnival (spelled and pronounced carnevale in Italian) differs from carnival in any other country or Italian city! It’s one of the most fascinating times to visit the city – if you’re willing to brave the crowds.

To understand what makes Venetian Carnevale so unique, let’s talk history for a sec.

Best Venezia Carnevale costumes
Venice carnival Venezia carnevale canal

A Quick Venice Carnival History

Carnival originated as a Catholic tradition leading up to Lent. During Lent (the 40 days before Easter), people gave up fats, desserts, meat, and alcohol, so before Ash Wednesday – the start of Lent – everyone would clear their pantries of rich foods. It created a culture of throwing banquets and parties turning into Carnival!

Venice Carnival welcome parade

Carnival was celebrated for centuries in the Middle Ages, and the Venice Carnival was known the European world over as one of the best party events of the year! It was eventually banned in 1797 in Venice because it was considered too ostentatious for Catholic propriety at the time. The festival crept back in privately about a century ago, and was officially revived in the 1970s. It’s now the biggest festival on the Venetian calendar!

Venice isn’t the only place with centuries-old history for the festival, but its costumes are unique. The most recognizable part is the masks. They originated as a way to free wearers from the limitations of their social status, allowing everyone to party together in the streets of Venice for a few weeks!

Venezia Carnevale baita traditional mask

One of the most traditional is the bauta, or white mask covering the entire face. This one is typically worn with a tricorner hat and sometimes is referred to as a Casanova mask. Another classic is the plague doctor mask, as familiar as it is creepy, paired with a hooded cape.

Most of the masks are historically from Italian theater commedia dell’arte, which were worn by actors to tell the audience who each character was – their personalities, their quirks, and their gender (all actors were male at the time).

Venezia Carnevale

So what actually happens during Carnival?

For just over two weeks, Venice explodes with festivities! The good news for most of us is that many of the Carnevale options are free of charge.

Every year there’s an official theme, which shapes the official city events. 2024’s theme is Marco Polo’s Amazing Journey. 700 years after Marco Polo’s death, the city celebrates his spirit of adventure, travel, and global influence!

Venice carnival night parade canal

One of my favorite parts of Carnevale is the parades! The biggest one is the kickoff parade, usually on the morning of the first Sunday. Called the corteo acqueo, locals decorate row boats. It’s similar to decorating parade floats in the States: each has its own theme and the rowers dress up too! I say that – you’ll also see a few with Casanova and an M&M man in the same boat. The theme isn’t a requirement, but dressing up is!

If you’re interested in catching a parade or any of the major events, plan to scope out a spot an hour in advance – they fill up! But hanging out alongside the canal with un caffe or vino sounds like a delightful way to spend an hour, so no complaints here.

Venice Carnival parade

Street performers set up in most of the squares (called a campo in Venice) and perform all weekend long. These are usually going in the afternoons, but make a great break to meander through the city into some of the less crowded areas.

Even if you’re not trying to catch a performance, wandering through Piazza San Marco* is a must. People dress in intricate costumes, allowing everyone to photograph them! It’s such a fun tradition – many are locals, and many costumes are handmade and packed with details.

Venezia Carnevale

There are also special displays set up in some of the museums and palazzos. The Scuola Grande di San Rocco, a stunning palazzo, offers free guided tours with the purchase of an entry ticket during this Carnival.

If you stay for a few days, there are also performances on the mainland part of Venice, called Mestre! There are more details on the official website, but if you’re looking for more entertainment options with fewer tourists, this is a good option.

Venezia Carnevale costumes
traditional homemade venice carnival costume

Venetian Carnival Balls

The biggest events at Venice Carnival are the masquerade balls! These gala events are like no other: traditional costumes, themes, an elegant dinner, entertainment and dancing will make it a night like no other!

The galas are each weekend, with multiple offers. The official one is usually the most pricey – something like 600€ per person. The others (still top-shelf experiences!) are in the 300-400€ range. So it’s an expensive evening.

Venice carnival everything you need to know

I confess I’ve never been to one of the galas. When you add in renting a dress and a hotel, that total gets too high for me. Anytime I can put the cost of entry to one event towards multiple hotel nights, I have trouble justifying the event.

I can say that everyone I know who has attended has loved it. It’s such a once in a lifetime experience!

Canevale costumes on the water Venice

Want to Visit Venice Carnival?

A few more logistics to help you plan:

If you want to go, a weekend is best. You’ll see most of the events and parades are scheduled. However, it’s important to note that everyone wants that, so you’ll end up in some crazy crowds!

If you’re interested in attending a ball, most of them have a historical dress code requirement. You can’t show up in an elegant modern dress! So in addition to booking your ticket, you need to rent (or buy) a costume, often another 200€ per night. The ball organizers will often have recommendations or discounts for the best ateliers.

modern carnival costume venice

Looking for a place to stay in Venice during Carnival? These are a few of my favorite hotels, ranging from more budget end to five star luxury! 

Venice Carnival is one the best parts of the year in Venice! For more Venice guides, try my favorite shops in Venice, off the beaten path in town, or my restaurant guide!

4 thoughts on “A Complete Guide to Venice Carnival

  1. “The galas are each weekend, with multiple offers. The official one is usually the most pricey – something like 600€ per person.” Antonia Sautter’s gala — Il Ballo del Doge — is the big one. It starts at 800 euros for admission to the after party only. The minimum ticket for the entire evening is 1500 euros and goes as high as 5000 euros for the best seats.

    1. Yes you’re right! That one is in a category all its own!! A bit too expensive for my taste, but it looks incredible. Have you been?

      1. Carnevale in Venezia has been on my bucket list for a long time and kept getting kicked down the road, so a year ago I put it on my calendar for 2025 and started doing preliminary work. By putting a very real date on it I figured I would actually make it happen.

        We were in Venice last June and got measured for our costumes, plus I spoke to our hotel manager and made arrangements to be notified as soon as we can reserve the room we want for next February. It was the people at the hotel who told us about Sautter’s ball and said “that’s the best of them all.” Not going to spring for the 5K tickets, but it’s a once in a lifetime thing, so…maybe something in the middle. LOL

        Sounds like you had a great time — we can’t wait to go! It will be my third visit to Venice but first during Carnevale.

        1. That’s so smart to go ahead and get fitted for costumes – it’ll make the lead up simpler for sure. You’re going to have the best time!!

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