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Venice Carnival: What to expect if you’re attending in 2024

Giampietro Vianello
Giampietro Vianello - [email protected]
Venice Carnival: What to expect if you’re attending in 2024
Masked revellers wearing traditional carnival costumes in Venice in February 2023. Photo by MIGUEL MEDINA / AFP

With Venice’s world-famous Carnival set to begin at the end of January, what events can you look forward to this year and what are the key dates?

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Venice is a magical city at any time of year but its beauty is possibly even more spellbinding during the local Carnival celebrations, whose magnitude and prestige attract tens of thousands of visitors from all over the world every year. 

But as the floating city prepares to put on a varied programme of water parades, fine-dining experiences and street-art performances, all spread over some 18 days of carnevale fun, what are the dates of this year’s edition and which events can you particularly look forward to?

What are the dates?

The Venice Carnival – a tradition believed to date back to the late 14th century – is a festa mobile (‘movable festival’), meaning that the start and end dates change every year based on the liturgical calendar. 

This year’s celebrations will officially start on Saturday, January 27th with the launch of the Venice Carnival Street Show, consisting of multiple music, dancing, and theatre performances simultaneously held at various locations around the city.

Venice Carnival

Balloons fly from the "rat boat" during the traditional Grand Canal water parade opening the Venice Carnival in February 2023. Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP

This will kick off nearly three weeks of events, unfolding both in the centro storico (city centre) and on the smaller islands of the lagoon.

READ ALSO: Five essential tips to escape the tourist crowds in Venice

As always though, celebrations will peak in the six days between giovedì grasso (‘Fat Thursday’, falling on February 8th) and martedì grasso (Shrove Tuesday, falling on February 13th). 

The most popular and widely anticipated events of the Venice Carnival are scheduled to take place during those days. However, that will also be the time when the city’s calli and squares will be most crowded. 

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Main events

Celebrations will start with the above-mentioned street show on Saturday, January 27th and continue on the following day with a water parade that’ll see traditional Venetian vessels, including the beloved Pantegana (a boat shaped like a giant sewer rat), glide down the city’s Grand Canal.

The Festa delle Marie – a historic beauty pageant during which 12 young local women are dressed up in Renaissance costumes, paraded throughout the city, and then subjected to a vote as to which of them makes the best Maria – will take place on Saturday, February 3rd. 

The winner of the contest will then be announced in the La Fenice opera house on shrove Tuesday, the final day of the festival. 

Terra Incognita (literally, ‘Unknown Land’), a music and dancing show performed on floating stages set within the Arsenal (the former seat of the Venetian navy), will begin on Friday, February 2nd, with performances running on a nearly daily basis until the end of the festival.

The show will reportedly be centred around the adventures of Marco Polo, a Venetian merchant who, aged only 17, set out on a 24-year journey through Asia, chronicling his travels in what would later become the Book of the Marvels of the World.

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Terra Incognita will run alongside At the Court of the Great Khan, a fine-dining experience where guests will be required to wear period costumes in line with the party’s theme: Marco Polo’s encounter with Mongolian Emperor Kublai Khan.

Venice, Carnival

A masked reveller poses in Venice's St Mark's Square in February 2022. Photo by ANDREA PATTARO / AFP

The party will be held at Ca’ Vendramin Calergi – a magnificent 15th-century palace overlooking the Grand Canal – and will be available to the public on eight different dates. 

READ ALSO: Nine ways to get into trouble while visiting Venice

Besides the major events outlined above, street art performances, workshops, exhibitions and seminars will take place at various venues across the city for the entire duration of the festival. Some of these require booking in advance, which you can do on the Venice Carnival official website

On a rather sombre note, the Volo dell’Angelo (‘Flight of the Angel’), the traditional ceremony in which a costumed woman ‘flies’ down a cable from the bell tower in Saint Mark’s Square to the centre of the piazza, has been scrapped for the second time in a row due to ongoing repair work

How busy will it be?

There currently are no official estimates of how many people are expected to visit Venice during this year’s Carnival.

That said, the city generally sees around one million visitors over the course of the festival, recording peaks of 150,000 tourists a day in the final stages of the event.

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The busiest time in the city is usually the six-day period between giovedì grasso (February 8th) and martedì grasso (February 13th), particularly the weekend (February 10th and 11th). 

READ ALSO: How will Venice’s ‘tourist tax’ work?

Given the large influx of visitors, every year local transport operator ACTV puts on more services for the entire duration of Carnival to avoid overcrowding on buses and water buses. 

Carnival timetables are expected to be released in the coming days. 

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