Anyone who really knows anything about Venice tends to know at the very least this slowly sinking city has a grand masked festival that was only recently re-introduced in the last forty years. In fact there is a wide history of masks associated with Venice and its surrounding area, including festivals and even urban myths such as the Man in the Iron Mask in a castle nearby. But the reality is that Carnevale was brought back into the Venetian world because people knew it would bring the tourists in. After all, who doesn’t like a brilliant show and people having fun or enjoying a masked ball or two? In a way, Carnevale is the Italian version of Mardi Gras, though slightly more calm and with wine instead of hard liquor.
The problem is, if Carnevale was resurrected for tourist, doesn’t that make it one giant tourist trap? It does! But that does not mean you can’t enjoy some of the events and still manage to avoid the mass crowds and other travelers that have come there for the festival. So here are a few tips to help you understand and be aware of a couple things as you head out to tour Venice during Carnevale.
- Book Ahead: If you need a flight and hotel for your stay in Venice, make sure to book at least two months in advance to make sure you not only get fair prices but that there is also room for you. The Carnevale season is one of the busiest so plan accordingly!
- Leave the Heart of Town Alone: Avoid the San Marco Piazza, due to the mass of crowds that always accumulate there. If you want to see the Piazza while not dealing with people everywhere, then consider getting there before 9am, with the earlier being better.
- Forget the Mask: Other than masked balls run by many of the top-notch hotels in town, the majority of people who wear masks are tourists and those hired to stand around all over town doing performances and wearing masks. If you are looking to experience just walking around the town, forgo the capes and masks; otherwise enjoy sporting them for any main festivities like the balls.
- Learn the Dates: Know when Carnevale is happening in Venice, it changes each year, but generally much of the February month is occupied by it due to local festivities usually occurring before the Carnevale date. You can have a great pre-Carnevale experience that feels more real if you arrive early on.
- Navigate the Sides: Avoid taking any Gondola rides and overall focus on using side streets that you might actually get lost along. You’ll find even if you do get lost, you’ll get to experience a side of Venice no one else is seeing except locals, and you’ll almost always get to your destinations much faster than moving through crowds or stuffing yourself onto an expensive gondola.
- Plan your meals: Avoiding the venues, especially along San Marco Piazza and the Grand Canal is almost crucial. Not only are they high prices because of all the travelers in those areas, but they were expensive to begin with! Not to mention the lines you will run in to who are waiting for the same things. Your best option, and an interesting one, is to get your food at marts and make it yourself. However if you don’t have that option due to lack of kitchen capabilities, then you can find off the wall restaurants or food stops in the side streets you should be using anyway.
Don’t Forget to Live it up
Maybe you hadn’t purposely planned to come to Venice during large festivities, but you are still there! You might as well enjoy it while you can. At the very least scope out what kinds of festivities you will find during your stay and pick one you might like and just enjoy it. Yes, much of everything going on is a tourist trap at that time, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the spirit that is laden in the air from the festival.
Sarah Murphy has worked in Dublin for the last two years as a blogger, web content manager and marketing coordinator. A journalist by training and travel junkie by nature, she regularly travels to Italy for both business and to experience some of the tours of Venice, where she mostly spends her time learning how to blow glass from the pros.