If you have ever thought about going to the Venice Carnival or many other carnival cities in Italy, but didn’t know how to start, here’s how.
Venice Carnival is one of Europe’s most colossal and classy cultural events but it books up quickly. A fortnight of fun in February, you can book your train to this or other similar Italian carnivals now. Carnival Italy is how it should be rebranded, however, because this traditional ‘carnevale’ build up to the Christian festival of Lent takes place in many places all over Italy. And trains go all over too. It’s a belissima no brainer.
The Venice Carnival is the country’s most famous build up to Martedì Grasso, or Shrove Tuesday (which is why Venice Carnival dates vary from year to year) but you can also find magnificent events to brighten up these late winter months in Tuscany, Sicily, Piedmont and Puglia. Many take place in some of the best cities to visit in Italy anyway. Carnival tradition, which dates back to medieval times, granted everyone anonymity by disguising themselves with elaborate masks and costumes. We have decided to unmask the best places to turn up, dress up and soak it all up.
Venice Carnival, Veneto
Yes, it gets crowded but not in a cruise ship way. In a rent-a-costume, pose on the streets, listen to free music events, eat, drink and be merry sort of way. Dating back to the 11th century, but with a few leaders banning it over the years, it was finally revived during the 1970’s. Join the Piazza San Marco melee of madness, with events reverberating throughout this stunning city. The best time to go to the Venice Carnival is during the second half as there are more free events over this period. Weekdays are also less carnevale crazy than weekends. Book your journey to Venice here and prepare for some Venetian classics of Volto masks, Vivaldi’s music and voluptuous costumes.
Verona Carnival, Veneto
‘Fair Verona’ is where we set another fine carnival scene. Floats galore, or ‘carri allegorici’ in Italian, the big day is the last Friday of the carnival, otherwise known as “Venerdi Gnocolar”, when the feast food is gnocchi. The masked protagonist of this carnival is Papà del Gnoco, a big old man with a belly full of this delicious dumpling. As home of Romeo and Juliet, you could always combine a trip to this romantic city with Valentine’s Day, which falls around the same time. Book your trains to Verona here, and note that it is only 50 mins from Venice to Verona by train. For a magical world of both Cupid and carnevale.
AIvrea Carnival, Piedmont
Each place has its carnevale specialty and, in Ivrea, it’s all about oranges. Local people reenact the people’s rebellion against Napoleonic troops from floats and processions through the streets. At that time they used arrows of course, but today they launch oranges at each other. One of the oldest carnivals, the aroma of oranges fills the air of this Piedmontese town and its Aosta Valley for days to come. Just 50 mins from Turin by train, if you want to make a longer holiday of it, you can take a magnificent top to toe of Italy train trip on board the new Trenitalia high-speed train journey from Turin to Lecce in Puglia, now running once every day. A superb, new direct service also worth unmasking.
Acireale Carnival, Sicily
If you have ever wanted to take the famous train journey to this heritage-rich island, where your train is shunted onto a ferry, carnival is the best time to visit Sicily. Especially in the town of Acireale. Here the carnival is a fiesta of flowers, with floats adorned with colourful arrays. Considered one of the most beautiful carnivals in Italy, Acireale is just fifteen minutes by train from Catania, which you can reach on a direct train from Rome, Naples or Milan to name but a few. With a bit of shunting thrown into the magical mix.
Fano Carnival, Marche
A medieval and Roman town on the shores of the Adriatic, head to this seaside hub of the Marche region for the oldest carnival in Italy. Instead of being showered with oranges, as in Ivrea, you are showered with sweets from one of many glorious floats. As with carnivals throughout Italy, these floats are community works of art. Of the heart. Fano’s fantastic strapline for the carnival is “bello da vedere, dolce da gustare," meaning "beautiful to see, sweet to taste”. We think it is a rather tasty train journey to Fano too, direct from Milan or Bologna. And also from Venice, which is just 3.5 hrs hours by train from Fano if you want to do a serious carnival crawl.
Naples Festival, Campania
Famous not only for its littoral loveliness on the Bay of Naples, but also for its nearby active Mount Vesuvius, it all gets pretty explosive around carnival in Naples. Your belt will certainly be exploding with the proliferation of “chiacchiere” and “sanguinaccio” - sugary and chocolatey desserts that Neopolitans feast on during carnival time. As with most places in Italy, children dress up big time for carnival here but also engage in pranks. All in all, it’s very sweet.
Viareggio Carnival, Tuscany
In case you need an excuse to go to Tuscany, then the Viareggio Carnival on the coast is one of the largest in Italy. Tuscany doesn’t do things sparingly, with puppet parades a big feature of carnival here. Communities spend months crafting papier mâché caricatures of politicians, amongst many. Viareggio is a quick and easy train journey from Pisa, Rome or Lucca.
If you enjoyed this article, you may also like our Best time to visit Venice blog. As well as our help article on booking Italian train tickets.
Photo credits top to bottom: Carnival mask, Venice - Italy iStock ©trotalo, Group of colorful venetian masks on bridge in Venice iStock ©RelaxFoto.de, Orenges on the ground iStock ©Nico_Campo, Rosso veneziano maschera di carnevale di Venezia, Italia ©RobinAtzeni, Red tasty caramelized apple in a copper pot with syrup iStock ©ChiccoDodiFC, Allegoric mask from Carnival of Viareggio ©bigbrush.
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