Venice carnival is a bucket list event in my eyes. It's so much fun, the City of Venice is at its most vibrant, it's a really unique thing to do.
A bit like getting married you can literally throw a lot of money at this trip if you would like to. There are beautiful 5 star hotels, expensive balls to go to and you could have a costume made for you should you wish which normally start at around €500!
However there is another way
Where to stay: There are many options to consider here and if you are on a budget I would consider the Jewish quarter. Obviously looking for accommodation is a different world now we have Airbnb and Homestay. There's so much choice.
Be careful to really read the descriptions of your accommodation properly. Spacious rooms are hard to find and sometimes you can hire an room/apartment within a hotel only to find the bedroom is private but the rest of the living areas are shared with others or you're in an annexe.
We always stay at the Ca' Dogaressa on the Canale di Cannaregio. It's a 3* hotel, clean, Venetian styled rooms, breakfast by the canal on warm days and very central. Don't think you have to stay right next to Piazza San Marco to get the feel of Venice. You will likely regret it due to the sheer numbers of people passing each day.
Each year a programme of both public and private events is setup throughout the two week period of the Carnevale. In 2017 the carnival will run from 11th - 28th February. You do not need to visit for all of this time, in fact you might find it too much as it's quite an assault on the senses! I think a long weekend or 3/4 days is plenty of time to soak up the atmosphere and feel you've been part of it all.
You don't necessarily need to pay to attend an event to wear a costume or see the carnevale atmosphere. People dress up and head for a passeggiata (a leisurely sometimes barely moving stroll!) throughout the day and night. Check out our photos below of what you see just hanging around Piazza San Marco. If you don't like dressing up don't worry! We dressed up just for our events, plenty of people (who aren't attending an event) don't dress up at all. One evening we were the only costumed couple in a restaurant!
If you would like to attend a private event, these vary in price and structure. We attended two during our stay and one was a costumed event at the San Clemente Palace Kempinski (check it out, serious honeymoon inspiration!). It was for a few hours and included in the €30pp cost was apertif drinks and canapés.
The second event we attended was a concert in an old Venetian Villa. Young classical musicians and singers performed well known pieces of music and throughout the evening we had two breaks for drinks, Italian hot chocolate and traditional carnival cakes. This cost €40pp.
Obviously prices have increased in the last few years but this company offer walking tours of the city and Burano Island from €17pp and many other types of events from hot chocolate and fritelle (carnival doughnuts) balls and boat trips.
What to wear
As mentioned above you can have a costume made but most people don't go this far. The more costly and more exclusive the event obviously the more authentic a costume you will be expected to wear.
We bought costumes, wigs and masks before we left London from fancy dress shops but actually I wouldn't do this again. Most people that attend the type of events mentioned above wear just a mask and cape. There are street stalls everywhere selling great masks. They also have special capes you can buy that billow and cover your clothes so you literally wear a dark dress or trousers underneath and then wear your mask and cape on top. These cost approximately €20 for a cape and masks around €5-15 depending how elaborate a mask you choose.
Remember for packing purposes it's February. Venice is cold and often floods so think about this!
Where to eat
If you're not too full from your hotel breakfast and events nibbles Venice is a gastronomic haven. If you eat in Piazza San Marco it will cost you around €40 for a couple of soft drinks and a panino. You might want to do this once just to give it a try and watch the world go by. However I would highly recommend getting lost down a side street. What looks like a dead end usually opens up into a hidden piazza with delicious food at a much better price. Also look for 'Osteria' instead of 'Ristorante'. A ristorante is more formal and costly. Osteria tend to focus on the wine but also serve lovely side dishes of food and great cheeses. You won't go hungry!
- A spritz - Orange drink of white wine & Aperol(sweet) or Campari (bitter).
- Baccala' - Dried, salted cod. Tastes more amazing than it sounds!
- Chiacchiere/Angel wings - Carnevale sweet pastries covered in icing sugar. Recipe coming soon!
- Fritelle - Carnevale little doughnut type balls with different fillings such as cream.
You can absolutely take children to Venice Carnival. Things to be aware of are...
- It's not the best place for a buggy. Lots of the bridges have steps.
- Carnival is the most busy time of year. You will struggle to keep an eye on an adult in your group let alone a child and they may find it overwhelming.
- Children who can walk a good distance independently or babies who can be in a carrier are the best age.
- I wouldn't take my children at the moment as one is only 17 months and too big for a carrier but too small not to use a buggy. Obviously many people will tell you it's fine to take any children of any age, anywhere. This is true however I'm not sure it would make for the most enjoyable experience!
- You will be welcome everywhere! It's no secret that Italians love children. You can take them out to dinner with you. No one will wonder why you're out at night with a baby or care that you're breastfeeding. The mother-child relationship overrides all others here. As they say:
La mamma e' sempre la mamma!
**Direct translation: The mother is always the mother**
**True meaning: Nothing compares to your mother**
I hope you find this useful and will maybe inspire some of you to take a trip. It will be memorable! I still think about running through a busy Piazza San Marco with a long dress and mask rushing to get a water taxi. It's quite a magical place...