Home to events with perhaps the strictest dress codes in the world (tuxedos and gowns get turned away), the Venice Carnival is a fashion and cultural time warp back to 11th century Venice complete with palaces, handmade gowns, wigs, makeup from the period and most notably, elaborately decorated masks that will have your neck hurting from a day full of head turning.
Originally a pre-Lent celebratory splurge where Venetians squandered fortunes with extravagant parties and gambling, the carnival was banned (along with its masks) in the late 18th century and became seen as hedonistic. Revived in 1979, the carnival has mellowed as far as squandering fortunes goes, but the fashion and music performances hold little back and make the event a time travel experience unlike any other in the world.
Venice Carnival Dates and Location
Venice Carnival Lineup
Festa Veneziana on the Water (part 1): The Rio de Cannaregio turns into a water stage as light up floats make their way down the river and mark the beginning of the festival. Jan. 27 at 6:00 p.m.
Best Mask Contest: The best of the best-dressed gather in St. Mark’s Square to see who takes the top spot. Feb. 3 at 11:00 a.m.
Festa delle Marie: Twelve of the most beautiful girls in Venice are selected to participate in what is essentially a classic Venetian beauty contest. The twelve “Marias” will be introduced to the awaiting crowd in St. Mark’s Square. Feb. 3 at 4:00 p.m.
The Flight of the Angel: The winner of last year’s Festa delle Marie will descend from the St. Mark’s bell tower along a zipline down to the crowds packing the square. Feb. 4 12:00 p.m.
For more information on Venice Carnival events check out the official lineup.
Venice Carnival Tickets
The event as a whole is open to the public and free of charge. However, some of the special events, such as the grand ball, require tickets (and the best costumes) for entry. These events are super luxurious and cater to those looking to spend their Carnival nights like royalty.
Carnival in Love Grand Ball: Described as a gothic, sensual, charming, mesmerizing carnival night, guests are treated to dinner, cocktails and access to the “discotheque” after 11:00 p.m. Tickets are $475 but VIP packages are available for those looking for the complete experience.
Mascheranda Grand Ball: Performers entertain guests in rooms decorated with 18th century frescos. The normal ticket is $545 but again, VIP packages are available.
Il Ballo del Doge – The jewel of them all, guests will enter a dreamlike world of performances and costumes that only the Venice Carnival can provide. Tickets that include dinner start at $2,000. As expected, VIP packages are included.
Getting to and From Venice Carnival
Air – The Venice Marco Polo International Airport is just fifteen minutes from the city of Venice.
Car – Venice is, of course, not a driving city so leave that out of the plans!
Water Buses – If walking isn’t in the cards, water buses are an affordable and fast alternative. Check out Venice’s transit website for more information on schedules and fares.
Walk – Venice is a walking city and with everyone dressed up, why wouldn’t you go on foot?
Where to Stay for the Venice Carnival
Hotel – If you’re going all out on the costumes and the palace parties, then you better go all out on your hotel choice. The Gritti Palace is one of the most luxurious accommodation options in Venice, with a canal-side restaurant, a rooftop pool with views of the city and room decorations that match the extravagance of the festival itself. Booking starts at $485 per night, but expect prices to increase sharply around festival time.
Hostel – On the other end of the budget scale is The Silk Road Hostel which can be booked for $72 per night. Although not located in a major hotel area, the walk to St. Mark’s square is short and serves as a great way to costume-watch and see the city.
Apartment – For those looking for an apartment option, this one bedroom apartment in Castello is close to St. Mark’s Square and the city center but could also serve as an escape from the crowds as its location is a little more secluded and residential.