The Best Places to Celebrate Carnevale in Italy
We all have that image in our minds, fostered by popular culture, of a beautiful woman standing in the dark, skin lit up by candles, her eyes glimmering behind an ornate mask that gives her added mystery. She is laughing at something a man has said, holding a cocktail in one hand and leaning against a balustrade with the other. Then we get a larger view of where she is standing, the balustrade is part of a bridge, a bridge that curves over a canal. Everyone is wearing masks, dressed to the nines, celebrating an old Italian tradition: Carnevale.
How old, exactly, is this tradition? According to popular myth, it began in Venice a thousand years ago, in honor of a military victory. But like many carnival celebrations around the world (for example, Mardi Gras) it centers around Easter, and is a celebration of the more wild and debaucherous side of life just before the Catholic observance of Lent, when the ritual of fasting begins.
In this list, you’ll learn about the best cities to visit during Carnival. Rome, unfortunately, doesn’t have the best Carnevale scene, but there are plenty of other places that do. Read on, learn which tradition suits you best, and book a train and buy tickets for events to your party place of choice!
Venice23 February – 5 March
Venice is the first place we think of when we think of Carnevale. Situated in the northeast of Italy, this dreamlike city is made up of 117 islands that are connected by bridges that cross canals. The effect? Moonlight reflecting on the water. Fog rising in the night that gives the streetlights halos. Slip on your mask and into a gown, attend a grand ball, and walk through the ornate streets at night, carousing with strangers and friends. Some events: ice skating, pantomime shows, best mask contest.
Read more: romeing.it/get-out-of-town-venice
In detail: carnevale.venezia.it
Viareggio9, 17, 23 February & 3, 5 March
Also in the north, in the region of Tuscany, lies Viareggio. This is a colorful city of the sea, which means that carnevale celebrations occur right by the shore. Most famous is its papier-mâché float parade, which travels along the promenade. But this is just one of many activities that go on for a month, including night parties, fireworks shows, and cultural arts and food events. Some events: Viareggio Football Cup, local street parties, night dancing on the streets.
In detail: viareggio.ilcarnevale.com
Ivrea2 – 5 March
For a historical experience of Carnevale, go to Ivrea, a town in Turin, also in the north of Italy. Make sure you don’t miss the Battle of the Oranges, a historically-based show that represents the liberation of the city’s peoples from a tyrannical king a thousand years ago. Oranges are thrown, representing the arrows and stones that were thrown by the people. In addition to this show that any history buff would love, there are costumed historical figures all over town, and crowds wearing the Phrygian cap, which represents freedom. Some events: children’s parties, gala evening ball, lots of orange-throwing in the park.
In detail: storicocarnevaleivrea.it
Acireale17 February – 5 March
The city of Acireale is home to what was voted Sicily’s Most Beautiful Carnevale—and there’s reason for it. Acireale has one of the island’s oldest Carnevale traditions, with ornate papier-mâché floats that use a combination of lights, flowers, and hydraulics. If you want to be amazed by an endless beauty, not only by the floats but also by the beauty of the island itself, this is the place to be. Some events: musical performances, street performers (such as magicians and acrobats), school groups in costume.
In detail: carnevaleacireale.com
Putignano17, 24 February & 3, 5 March
In Putignano, the festivities never seem to end! Four parades, with not only the typical papier-mâché floats but also masked dancers celebrating throughout. And each Thursday, a different historical social class is in a different party: clergymen, priests, widowers, wild youths, married women, and married men. And at the very end of the festivities, fake priests run through town, crying “Carnevale is dead!” Some events: winery tours, poetic satire readings, art shows. There’s also a summer edition, so you can enjoy the festivities twice a year!
In detail: carnevalediputignano.it
There are endless opportunities for Carnevale in Italy, these being the most famous—but you can also check out celebrations in Milan, Verona, Alto Adige, Fano, and Sciacca. Italy is the place to be for Carnevale—so get out and party!