Venice is renown as one of the world’s most romantic cities. And what could possibly be more romantic than dressing to the nines in elaborate 18th century attire – lace and silk gown, suit, stockings and powdered wig – and attending a masquerade ball in a Venetian palace?
We had always dreamed of floating down Venice’s enchanting canals, and walking its narrow cobblestone streets, and Carnivale seemed like a perfect time to experience its magic.
Certainly, the festivities can come with a crush of crowds, but unlike what one might expect of other Carnival celebrations in the United States and elsewhere, Venice’s atmosphere is artful and opulent. Piazza San Marco is the centerpiece of the action where you can observe a stunning array of exquisite, dreamy and lavish costumed festival-goers posing along the water’s edge with gondolas gently bobbing in the background. Thousands of observers eagerly photograph participants like paparazzi, while surprisingly few people actually engage in the costumed festivities. We think the best way to experience Carnivale is as a participant! It does take some planning and can be pricey, but the experience is unmatched and highly recommended.
Here are five tips to make the most of Venice Carnivale:
- Make a room reservation well in advance. Venice is small and rooms can be tricky to find closer to Carnivale. We knew we would be spending a small fortune on our costumes and masquerade ball tickets so we opted for a modest hotel accommodation, which suited us just fine. Who plans to spend a lot of time in a hotel room anyway? We enjoyed our stay at Hotel San Samuele.
2. Costumed Creations. Venetians take their Carnivale costuming very seriously, and the gowns and suits are exquisite! They are hand-sewn, with incredible lace and silk details made from highest quality fabrics providing the look and weighty feel of authentic 1700s style ball attire. Part of the fun of Carnivale is finding the right costume! There are atelier workshops throughout Venice renting and selling magnificent masks and attire for the balls. Prepare to pay a hefty price to rent these for the evening. Rental for a ball gown and suit (and all the accessories that come with them from stockings to powdered wig and hat) was upwards of $800 for the evening. We are typically budget travelers, so this was a huge splurge for us – it was totally worth it! We rented our attire from Atelier Pedro Longhi and Atelier Marega.
3. Pose for the Paparazzi Get dressed in full regalia and take a stroll through Piazza San Marcos. It is an experience that few people will ever have, but gives one the sense of what life must be like for some celebrities. Hordes of tourists snap your photos as you pose by gondolas showing off your finery. You’ll slowly inch your way across the piazza – the centerpiece of everyone else’s imagination. It is a surreal experience.
4. Take a Gondola Ride Experience the romance of Venice by floating down its enchanting canals, kissing under its bridges.
5. Attend a Masquerade Ball The crowds, posing and constant pop of flash and photo can get tiresome, but at a masquerade ball everyone is dressed in finery providing a completely different atmosphere where everyone is a participant rather than spectacle. We attended La Dolce Vita, a grand ball hosted in an authentic Venetian palace. Attending this gala was a true escape. It felt like we traveled back in time to a sumptuous celebration in the 1700s. Everyone was dressed in flawless finery, wine was plentiful, the palace was aglow only in candlelight, and classical music and opera performers entertained the revelers. It was unlike anything we had ever experienced.
There are a number of masquerade balls and parties offered throughout the Carnivale celebration with varying price points. We recommend booking tickets well in advance. https://venice-carnival-italy.com/