Venice Carnival: What you need to know about attending in 2022

Venice's world-famous Carnival is back this year. But with some pandemic restrictions still in place, we look at what to expect if you're planning to attend.

Masked revellers wearing a traditional carnival costumes pose on St Mark Square during Venice's Carnival on February 13, 2022.
Masked revellers wearing a traditional carnival costumes pose on St Mark Square during Venice's Carnival on February 13, 2022. Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP

Venice’s 2020 Carnival was cancelled at the last moment as Covid began to spread throughout northern Italy, and the 2021 edition was moved almost entirely online amid ongoing health restrictions.

IN PHOTOS: Venice celebrates 2021 carnival without tourist crowds

But with Italy now beginning to reopen, the 2022 festival will bear much more resemblance to those of years past – though a number of safety measures remain in place, and some of the major events have been cancelled.

If you’re planning to visit, here’s a quick guide to what you need to know.

What will the Carnival look like this year?

As is traditional, the 2022 Venice Carnival opened on February 12th (Saturday) and will run until March 1st. 

The main events take place over the weekend of February 19th-20th, though there is a reduced programme this year due to Covid restrictions.

This year’s festivities started with a music concert and a theatre programme for children, and the Carnival officially opened on Sunday evening with the traditional water parade of 20 boats on the Grand Canal.

READ ALSO: Nine fun things to do in Italy in February 2022

A masked reveller wearing a traditional carnival costume poses on St Mark Square during Venice's Carnival on February 13, 2022.

A masked reveller wearing a traditional carnival costume poses on St Mark Square during Venice’s Carnival on February 13, 2022. Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP

Activities for the 2022 festival are split into two formats:

The first, ‘Venice Wonder Time‘, takes the form of a series of music, circus, puppets, acrobatics, clowning and theatrical displays held on weekends (February 12th-13th and 19th-20th) and from Thursday, February 24th to Tuesday, March 1st in various locations across the city.

The second main event, named ‘Nebula Solaris’, is a light and circus show which will take place on the Venetian Arsenal from Friday, February 18th to Sunday, February 20th and from Thursday, February 24th to Tuesday, March 1st.

Each date will have two performances – one at 6.45pm and one at 9.15pm – and tickets must be bought in advance, either online or at sale points across the city.

For the duration of the festival, there will also be street art and small-scale performances, workshops, exhibitions and dinners at venues across the city – some of which require advance booking, others of which will welcome participants at the door until capacity is reached.

What Covid restrictions are in place in 2022?

In-person events this year are subject to a number of Covid safety measures.

Some Carnival traditions that typically attract very large crowds have been cancelled altogether this year as a precautionary measure, and capacity has been restricted to allow for social distancing measures at all events.

Visitors will also need to show a health pass for entry to some events, as well as for access to public transport, hotels, restaurants, bars, and most other venues across Italy.

A masked figure poses in St Mark Square during Venice's Carnival on February 12, 2022.

A masked figure poses in St Mark Square during Venice’s Carnival on February 12, 2022. Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP.

The official Venice Carnival website states that the Nebula Solaris shows, for example, can accommodate up to 1,230 people, which it says will allow for social distancing (which Italian government rules state must be at least one metre between all non-cohabiting spectators).

A vaccination certificate showing that the holder is boosted or has received their last Covid-19 shot within the past six months, or a recovery certificate demonstrating the holder has recovered from Covid in the past six months, is required to access the Nebula Solaris shows and to enter other events and exhibition spaces.

High-grade FFP2 masks are also needed to gain entry to the Nebula Solaris spectacle, and to access many other Carnival events.

Face masks in general are required by law in Italy in all indoor public spaces and in all outdoor spaces where people are gathered together.

READ ALSO: The best events and festivals in Italy in 2022

A costumed couple poses on St Mark's Square during Venice's Carnival on February 13, 2022.

A costumed couple poses on St Mark’s Square during Venice’s Carnival on February 13, 2022. Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP

Which events are cancelled?

The traditional Volo dell’Angelo (‘Flight of the Angel’) opening ceremony, in which a costumed woman wearing wings ‘flies’ down a cable from the bell tower in St. Mark’s square to the centre of the piazza and pays tribute to Venice’s ‘Doge’, was cancelled again this year, Sky News reports.

Other casualties of the pandemic in 2022 are the Volo dell’Aquila (very similar to the Volo dell’Angelo, but performed by an athlete), and the Svolo del Leone (‘Flight of the Lion’) a ceremony which normally closes out the Carnival in which a giant flag with bearing the emblem of the winged lion that is the symbol of the Most Serene Republic of Venice descends to cover St. Mark’s square.

The Festa delle Marie or ‘Celebration of the Marias’ – something between a historical reenactment and a beauty pageant during which 12 young women are dressed up, paraded throughout the city, and then subjected to a vote as to which of them makes the best Maria – has also been cancelled; as has the Taglio del Toro, in which a (fake) bull is paraded and then ritually decapitated in St. Mark’s square.

Finally, the parades of floats which typically take place both on land and in the water will not take place this year to avoid large crowds of spectators.

How busy will this year’s Venice Carnival be?

While it’s still unclear exactly how many people will participate in this year’s Carnival, news agency Ansa reports that Venice registered 100,000 visitors over the weekend, one quarter of which came from overseas.

For more details, see the official Venice Carnival website 

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Why did Italy choose opera over espresso in its bid for Unesco status?

Italy has put another pillar of national culture forward for inclusion on the UN agency's list of intangible global heritage - but it's not the art of making coffee, as many had hoped.

Why did Italy choose opera over espresso in its bid for Unesco status?

Music or coffee? This was essentially the tough choice Italy’s National Committee for Unesco was faced with when deciding which treasured Italian art form to recommend for recognition this year.

In the end, the committee on Monday chose to put forward the art of opera singing as the country’s candidate – meaning the art of making espresso coffee will not be considered for addition to the list alongside Neapolitan pizza-making after all.

On announcing the decision, the committee did not give any reason for its selection though said the much-discussed and somewhat controversial application for the candidacy of espresso coffee had been “highly appreciated”.

“With the candidacy of the Italian opera to the world’s intangible heritage, Italy is aiming to get recognition for one of its most authentic and original cultural expressions,” said culture minister Dario Franceschini after the committee’s decision.

“Italian opera singing is an integral part of the world’s cultural patrimony, which provides light, strength and beauty in the darkest hours”.

A performance of Puccini’s 1900 opera ‘Tosca’ at the Teatro San Carlo in Naples. Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP.

The announcement came as a boost for those working in opera houses and theatres across Italy after the Italian arts an cultural sector was hit hard by pandemic-related closures.

Italy has around 60 opera houses – the most in the world.

“Opera was born in Italy,” said Stephane Lissner, the French director of the San Carlo theatre in Naples, which opened in 1737 and claims to be the world’s oldest opera house.

“In the 19th century, when you arrived in any Italian town, the entire population sang opera arias. It was normal,” he told AFP.

Compared to France or Germany, he said: “Italy is different, Italian theatres are different… and if you go into the villages, they’re not even towns, you find small theatres.”

In Italy, lyrical music “is not just reserved for the elite”, he added, although he said “the majority of the public cannot pay certain ticket prices and has been abandoned”, which he said was a “huge error”.

In contrast, Italian coffee is an everyday pleasure enjoyed by the majority of the population – and the price of an espresso is kept below the symbolic threshold of one euro at most local bars due to the widespread belief that the drink should be  accessible to all.

READ ALSO: Where, when and how to drink coffee like an Italian

In fact, it’s not unusual for people to avoid bars that charge more than one euro for un caffè normale, even if that’s for a better-quality cup – with some reports of customers even complaining to the police about being charged higher prices for artisanal or specialist coffees. 

But this focus on keeping the price of Italian coffee low may be part of the reason the Unesco bid was rejected, according to food writer Nunzia Clemente in Naples.

“90-cent coffee shouldn’t make us proud,” Clemente wrote in a post on Italian food blog Dissapore.

Pointing to examples of corner-cutting by bar owners struggling to make a profit, she said “the final result is, half the time, bad to say the least”.

Unesco’s ruling on the bid for recognition of opera is due at the end of the year.