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Behind the Mask: Your Must See Guide to Venice Carnival

Captblack76 / Shutterstock
Captblack76 / Shutterstock
Written by Suzy Guese

By the end of January and into early February, Venice turns up the volume throughout its labyrinth streets and glistening canals. Carnival, otherwise known as Carnevale in Italian, represents not only one of the biggest celebrations in Venice, but also one of the largest in the country. Venice adorns itself in masks and costumes to party in style before the Lenten season kicks off. Venetians have been celebrating some form of Carnival since the 11th century. Today, the party goes on with masquerade balls, processions, plays, street performers, and concerts. If you’re considering heading to Venice for this monumental occasion, don’t miss out on visiting these mystifying experiences.

1.) Visit a True Venetian Mask Maker

Yamagiwa / Shutterstock

Yamagiwa / Shutterstock

Known in Italian as mascareri, mask makers are an integral part of Venice’s Carnival, in fact wearing a mask is practically the dress code in Venice throughout the winter festival. Instead of picking up cheap and often China made versions, there are several traditional mascareri in town you can visit. Ca’ Macaná is one of the oldest mask making workshops in Venice. Not only can you see how handmade masks are composed, just as they would have been 800 years ago, but you can also pick out your very own unique mask. Each and every mask made by Ca’ Macaná is different from the next. Tragicomica is another fine mask maker worth visiting in the heart of Venice. The establishment churns out several different types of mask for your mysterious pleasure!

2.) Come Early To See the Magical Flight of the Angel

 lapas77 / Shutterstock

lapas77 / Shutterstock

With masks positioned and ready, you also won’t want to miss the Volo dell’ Angelo, or the Flight of the Angel event. Venice’s Carnival officially begins with this free and open to the public spectacle. At the stroke of noon, an acrobat leaps off the San Marco bell tower and zip lines right into the middle of Piazza San Marco. Dating back to the Serenissimi period in Venice, this event is one of the most memorable and perhaps zany components to the city’s festival!

3.) Have a Ball

 francescokekkol / Shutterstock

francescokekkol / Shutterstock

The chief components of Venice’s Carnevale are the masquerade balls. The most exclusive and expensive can be found in the Ballo del Doge, otherwise known as the Doge’s ball. An invitation to this one will cost you a cool €800! There are some other balls that don’t cost a small fortune, but most are on the pricey side at around €500 a person. If you can’t shell out for a masquerade ball, you can always just roam the streets and people-watch the costumed party goers as they navigate this picture postcard city.

4.) Partake in the Costume Contest in Piazza San Marco

Studio 37 / Shutterstock

Studio 37 / Shutterstock

While some of the balls for Carnevale in Venice might seem out of the common man or woman’s reach—all are welcome to test their luck at the costume contest held in Piazza San Marco. As costumes are an integral part of Venice’s Carnevale, this event allows anyone to enter in their Venetian best. Brave souls parade across a stage in costume, mostly of the Italian Renaissance variety, with the winners of the contest awarded prizes for their efforts!

5.) Escape to Burano and Murano in between Events

jurra8 / Shutterstock

jurra8 / Shutterstock

For a bit of calm during the party, travelers can escape to several islands near Venice, including Burano and Murano. Burano is a residential island just 30 minutes from the center of Venice, where photographers delight in the every color of the rainbow painted buildings. Murano also vies for attention as the island in the Venetian lagoon most famous as the center of glassblowing. The craft was banned inside the actual city of Venice due to fires. Visitors to Murano are treated to the opportunity to see a glass studio or two, and the artisans blowing glass firsthand!

What was your best Carnival experience? Let us know in the comments section below.

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About the author

Suzy Guese

Suzy Guese is a travel writer from Denver, Colorado. She caught the travel bug after taking her very first flight at just three months old—she was headed for Disney World—and has been a total travel junkie ever since. From family car trips across North America to stints abroad in Europe, Suzy travels the globe with her redheaded temperament in search of sarcasm, stories, and travel tips to share with anyone willing to listen. She blogs about her travels at http://suzyguese.com.