Every year from the middle of February onwards, many cities across Europe transform, as they host truly spectacular carnivals. Nice and Viareggio both become dramatically different, yet in no city is there more of a change than in Venice. The annual Venice Carnival is the most important of all the Venetian celebrations, and the ten-day festival always attracts thousands of visitors from all over the world.
Traditionally to celebrate the passage of winter into spring, Venice's carnival takes place in the ten days leading up to Ash Wednesday, and is a brightly-coloured spectacle from beginning to end. For the celebrations, St Mark's Square and the streets, squares and public buildings surrounding it play host to a number of spectacles and shows. For example, the Venetian palaces host an array of gala feasts and masked balls. These are in addition to the masked actors, dancers, musicians and acrobats who all contribute to the truly unique, incredible atmosphere in the city at this time of year.
The Venice Carnival is not only one of the most famous in Europe; it is also among the oldest, as it can be traced back to 1296. At that time, the festivities used to run all the way from Boxing Day to Shrove Tuesday. Even though the length of the celebrations has changed, one thing that has remained consistent throughout is the use of masks, as well as splendid wigs and costumes. The idea of the disguises was that they gave anonymity to everyone - so the nobility and the poorest people could mix with whoever they wished, as social distinctions were abandoned. The Venice Carnival thrived throughout the Middle Ages, but came to an abrupt end in the late 18th century, under Napoleon. Although a few attempts were made to resurrect the tradition in the 19th century, it was not until the late 1970s that the Municipality of Venice finally decided to reinstate it. The first new Venice Carnival was held in 1980, and they have taken place every year since, due to their exceptional popularity. It is now considered to be one of the most spectacular festivals in Europe.
It is perhaps not surprising that the Venice Carnival is looked upon so favourably, as the city offers so much to do and see anyway, that there is something for everyone any day of the year. Aside from its myriad of glistening waterways, Venice is home to the grand St Mark's Square and its blend of marvellous buildings. These include the magnificent Basilica di San Marco, which dominates the Square, and is seen as a leading example of Byzantine architecture. The Square is also the setting for the venerable 14th century Doge's Palace, which is now a fascinating museum and art gallery. Nearby to all of these is the iconic Bridge of Sighs - given its name by Lord Byron - and of course, you can travel underneath the bridge in one of the city's famous gondolas.
Venice makes an ideal destination as a getaway, and the glorious carnival season simply enhances the city's atmosphere. We offer two tours to Venice during the celebrations; one also takes in arty Florence, and the other goes on to beautiful Lake Bled in Slovenia. With both tours offering a range of exciting excursions, there's never been a better opportunity to discover the unique spirit of one of the finest festivals in Europe: the wonderful Venice Carnival.
Click here to find out more about the Venice Carnival and some of the other festivals in Europe