Venice Carnival or Festival of the Masks (late January – early February) is filled with bright colours and entertainment, designed to celebrate wake the city up after it’s winter slumber. But sometimes Venice itself disagrees with its occupants and chooses not to wake up. It decides to cover itself in fog. Rude.
Carnival events and displays occur every day of the Carnival period. You can go to St Mark’s Square on any weekday and see performances, take photos with people in their masquerade outfits, and participate in scheduled events.
Weekends however, are reserved for the more significant events.
Tip 1: If your going to Carnival a long weekend is best. It means you can see some of the main events, but you also have a weekday to visit the square, take a gondola or participate in any other of Venice’s main attractions without the pressure of a huge crowd.
Venice has a reputation for being a place where you will most likely get lost. And this is true, especially when you are on one side of the canal and can not find a bridge to link you to another. But Venice, the government, and Venice, the locals are clearly working on this issue with signs up to direct you to main sights (such as Rialto Bridge or the Square) and, in the absence of such signs, graffiti.
Tip 2: Follow the Graffiti.
We visited on the weekend of the Flight of the Angel. Every year a beautiful girl is crowned the Angel of the Carnival. The following year, the Angel flies via high wire from the top of the Bell Tower to the Venice stage. It seems like a pretty simple event but it goes for three hours.
Tip 2: Prepare for a very long time of standing in the same place. Wear adequate shoes and take water!
Tip 3: Prepare for large crowds, with lots of pushing. I didn’t take this photo – someone with seriously high security clearance took this photo. But this is the crowd that I am in where I am being pushed against a metal fence!
Photo on Instagram by @mmacca
Tip 4: The event won’t start on time. Just accept it.
Tip 5: Prepare for lots of waiting. Before the flight of the angel comes an incredible parade of traditional dress with soldiers, royalty, different noble families and people from all over the world being represented. This parade takes about two hours. Each family introduces themselves to the King and explains elements of their costume. The parade keeps stalling and everyone has to stop because the conversations happening at the front are taking forever.
While the very slow procession continues, there is sword fighting, drum and flag performances held in front of the main stage of the king but no one has a good view except for the King and the people who are a part of the procession. I think this sums up what it’s like to be a peasant in royal times. The King stands at the front. The first 30 seats are reserved for the noble families. And the peasants (that’s me!) stand around waiting for hours.
But finally the parade ends and the angel starts her decent from the bell tower. This was my favourite part. Everyone is silent. Beautiful soft music is played. And the Angel throws gold confetti around her and to the ground.
Tip 6: Leave now. There are so many people, a lot of pushing, and everyone is hungry. Plus you will be desperate to sit down after hours of standing. Leave now and use your afternoon or designated ‘weekday’ of the visit to return and see the other events.