Small head and shoulders photo of us in mask and costume

Taking part in the

Venice Carnival

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About the carnival

Tips:

1. Costume
2. Sightseeing
3. Who goes there?
4. Impolite people
5. Carnival themes
6. Weather
7. Carrying things
8. Where & how
9. Mutual respect
10. Have fun!

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3. Who goes there?

Lots of enthusiastic Japanese tourists, followed by Germans, French, Belgians, British, and assorted other nationalities. Italians dominate the crowds, but the Japanese are close behind. This was our experience - yours may vary.

A small dog with a coat that has been decorated with beading and frills to turn it into a carnival costume. The caption reads: Everyone and their dog gets dressed up! Lots of people join in, but normally they are one of the following:

  • A person who has bought a mask (widely available in Venice) and is trying not to look like a tourist (usually unconvincingly)
  • A person who has bought a mask and a cloak (available in several places in Venice) and is trying to look like they're making an effort to join in (usually successfully)
  • A person who has bought a silly hat, and in the process, completely missed the point
  • Professional artists, who dress up in full costume and hand out business cards to photographers. They usually do this for a living outside of the carnival.
  • People in baroque dress, usually without masks. They are usually on their way to one of the (expensive) balls.
  • People who are frightened to dress in costume, so make their kids dress up instead.
  • Other

For the avoidance of doubt, we were in the "Other" category, which makes up a good proportion of the crowd. This category is made up of all sorts of different people, with lots of different reasons for coming to Venice, and who have dressed up and come along to join in.

Do I need a permit or something?

The authorities don't employ all the people who dress in costume - although some tourists mistakenly think they do (we'll come back to that later). This means that anyone can join in.

Obviously, if you want to do other activites such as performing music or face painting, you're going to need some kind of permission to do that. But if you just want to dress up and join in, that's no problem.

We have to put a disclaimer in here (keeps the lawyers happy) that this is our understanding of the position, and we are unable to give formal legal advice. However, we didn't see anyone getting arrested for turning up as Don Giovanni or Queen Elizabeth, so that's probably a good sign.

How do people react?

We hadn't seen the festivities before we arrived, so we weren't sure what to expect. Would there be many other people dressed up? Would we be the only ones dressed up? Well, we were certainly the only ones dressed up as we walked down the main street of the Lido, a small island just across the water from Venice itself, where our hotel was. We were on our way to the waterbus that would take us into Venice. The strange thing was, no-one seemed to pay much attention to a medieval prince and princess walking down the 21st century high street and onto the ferry. Which was a good sign.

In fact, the only person who had said anything to us was the hotel receptionist. And his only concern was that we were leaving the hotel late, so the staff wouldn't be able to clean our room. But that's the Carnival for you - some of those costumes take ages to put on - and that's just the men's ones!

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