Not just Venice: Eight of the most spectacular Italian carnivals to visit

In Italy, carnival time injects colour, fun and festive spirit into the dreary month of February - and it's not only in Venice.

Not just Venice: Eight of the most spectacular Italian carnivals to visit
Acireale in Sicily, said to hold Italy's most beautiful carnival. Photo: Studios/Flickr

Across Italy, you're spoilt for choice when it comes to carnival celebrations, with plenty of towns and cities hosting events.

Venice's celebration may be the biggest and best known, but this is far from the only one worth a visit this carnival season.

Here's our pick of the best, wherever you are in Italy, each offering their own take on the spring tradition.

Viareggio, Tuscany – February 1-25

€5 million goes into making this festival happen each year, with huge colourful floats parading down the streets and broadcasts on Rai TV for those who can't make it to the event. 

It started out in 1873 as a protest at the upper classes not having to pay taxes and has very much kept its political theme – expect to see papier mache caricatures of political figures atop the carnival floats. More information.

Photo: AFP

Fano, Marche – February 9, 16, 23

This festival is ideal for visitors with a sweet tooth, as spectators are showered with chocolates and candy from the floats. There are plenty of shows, children's activities, and street festivals to enjoy. This one started as a celebration for the reconciliation of two warring local families back in 1347, making it Italy's oldest carnival.

More information.

Acireale, Sicily – February 8-25

Sicily's best known carnival has its roots in an old tradition where locals would take to the streets to throw rotten eggs and fruit at each other. Not tempted? Don't worry, these days it's a much more respectable and beautiful affair, with ornately decorated floats, usually adorned with fancy flowers and lights. More information.

Photo: Studios/Flickr

Ivrea, Piedmont – February 6-26

After something more exciting than your typical parade? Try Ivrea, where the highlight of the festivities is the annual orange fight – a rather messy way of commemorating the local people's struggle against Napoleonic troops (although it first started several centuries later.)

Revellers on foot represent the townspeople while those on carts play the part of the troops, all throwing oranges at each other. More information.

IN PHOTOS: Italy's annual orange fight

Photo: AFP

Putignano, Puglia: February 9, 16, 23, 25, 26

This carnival, the second oldest in Italy which has been celebrated for over 600 years, is also the longest-running celebration of its kind in the country: it officially started back on Boxing Day. 

Throughout the season, there are concerts, shows, and various parades. Don't miss the 'propaggini', a kind of poem battle where people take to the stage and improvise satirical rhymes. 

Sciacca, Sicily, February 20-25

Concerts, parades, plenty of food and drink and a grand ball make up the festivities at this Sicilian extravaganza, which has a friendly rivalry with Acireale.

It's thought to date back to Roman times, and the highlight is on the final day when the chariot of Peppe Napa, the Carnival King is burned in the town's main square.

More information.

Sciacca. Photo: Studios/Flickr

Cento, Emilia-Romagna – February 9, 16, 23

The usually quiet town of Cento comes alive for carnival time – its festival is known as the 'Carnival of Europe' and is twinned with Rio de Janeiro's, to give you some idea of its prestige.

Watch out for flying objects – it's become a tradition to throw toys and other inflatable objects from the floats to onlookers, with prizes given for the most creative ideas. The end of the festival is celebrated with an unmissable fireworks show.

Cento. Photo: Mfortini/Flickr

Oristano, Sardinia: February 23-25

What makes Oristano's carnival stand out is the chance to witness the Sartiglia, a unique horse race where the costumed riders try to spear a hanging silver star, and perform acrobatics from the saddles of their horses. There are also the typical parades, shows and general merriment of carnival season, Sardinian style.


A post shared by FocuSardegna (@focusardegna) on Feb 26, 2017 at 8:14am PST

READ ALSO: Are these Italy's most beautiful villages?

This is an updated version of an article originally written in February 2017..


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Why Friday the 13th isn’t an unlucky date in Italy

Unlucky for some, but not for Italians. Here's why today's date isn't a cause for concern in Italy - but Friday the 17th is.

Why Friday the 13th isn't an unlucky date in Italy

When Friday the 13th rolls around, many of us from English-speaking countries might reconsider any risky plans. And it’s not exactly a popular date for weddings in much of the western world.

But if you’re in Italy, you don’t need to worry about it.

There’s no shortage of strongly-held superstitions in Italian culture, particularly in the south. But the idea of Friday the 13th being an inauspicious date is not among them.

Though the ‘unlucky 13’ concept is not unknown in Italy – likely thanks to the influence of American film and TV – here the number is in fact usually seen as good luck, if anything.

The number 17, however, is viewed with suspicion and Friday the 17th instead is seen as the unlucky date to beware of.

Just as some Western airlines avoid including the 13th row on planes, you might find number 17 omitted on Italian planes, street numbering, hotel floors, and so on – so even if you’re not the superstitious type, it’s handy to be aware of.

The reason for this is thought to be because in Roman numerals the number 17 (XVII) is an anagram of the Latin word VIXI, meaning ‘I have lived’: the use of the past tense apparently suggests death, and therefore bad luck. It’s less clear what’s so inauspicious about Friday.

So don’t be surprised if, next time Friday 17th rolls around, you notice some Italian shops and offices closed per scaramanzia’.

But why then does 13 often have a positive connotation in Italy instead?

You may not be too surprised to learn that it’s because of football.

Ever heard of Totocalcio? It’s a football pools betting system in which players long tried to predict the results of 13 different matches.

There were triumphant calls of ho fatto tredici! – ‘I’ve done thirteen’ – among those who got them all right. The popular expression soon became used in other contexts to mean ‘I hit the jackpot’ or ‘that was a stroke of luck!’

From 2004, the number of games included in Totocalcio rose to 14, but you may still hear winners shout ‘ho fatto tredici’ regardless.

Other common Italian superstitions include touching iron (not wood) for good luck, not toasting with water, and never pouring wine with your left hand.