We’ve Been There: The Venice Carnival

If you are the type of person who likes to plan their trips in advance, you might want to put 16th February- 5th March 2019 in your diary for the Venice Carnival. Brian Finch went this year and has some tips.

Costumes at Isola San Giorgio. © Brian Finch

Carnival covers the three weeks leading up to Shrove Tuesday. Make sure you check the official programme online for events. Weekends and especially the final weekend is the busiest.

Festa Delle Marie. © Brian Finch

There are lots of parades and people walk the streets dressed in extravagant costumes, but the star of the show is the city itself….

© Brian Finch

Walk down a street, turn a corner and meet a remarkable vista – the colours, the buildings, the shops, the bridges… and all is reflected in the water – this is a city of water.

© Brian Finch

There is so much to do and see – plan highlights you want to see before you go. Venice has fabulous artworks – go to the churches, palaces and museums and, unlike the rest of Italy, they don’t necessarily close on Monday.

Top Tip:
At times it is literally impossible to get into St Marks Square for the crowds at carnival time. When that happens don’t even try – go back late or early. Do go back: it is the most beautiful square in the world!

Getting about:

National Geographic Walking Venice

Walk everywhere, don’t just stick to the tourist hotspots. I bought National Geographic Walking Venice.

Get a good map that shows street names of the tiny alleyways and don’t rely exclusively on satnav because it does not always work well in Venice.

© Brian Finch

Get a one to three day ticket for the water buses (vaporetto’s) costing €20 to €40 online through Venezia Unica and pick up your ticket at Piazza Roma which will almost certainly be your point of entry into Venice.

The boats provide you with scenic views as well as reliable transportation. Take one down the Grand Canal.

Places to visit:

View from San Giorgio. © Brian Finch.

• San Giorgio where the church has amazing artworks and a tower with fabulous views and no queues – in contrast to the crowded tower in St Marks Square.

Murano. © Brian Finch

• The glass shops of Murano where, if you are lucky and look prosperous, the shopkeepers may show you the glassblowers in their workshops or the choice goods upstairs where a vase can cost over €3,000.

San Michele. © Brian Finch

• San Michele, the cemetery island where Diaghilev and Stravinsky are buried.
• Then there are Torcello and Burano – on my list for next time.

What to read?


I am a fan of John Julius Norwich, whose books include Venice: a Traveller’s Reader and A History of Venice and plan to read Jan Morris’s much acclaimed Venice.

What to buy?

© Brian Finch

Murano glass, Burano lace, handcrafted stationery, carnival masks.

Sleeping: We stayed in an Airbnb in the northern outskirts by Fondamente Nuove opposite Isola San Michele, which was excellent and good value. It may be cheaper to stay on the mainland and travel in each day but you will miss so much of the atmosphere.

Eating: Restaurants close early for Italy so don’t leave dinner too late. We enjoyed “Ai Promessi Sposi” near the centre. Book restaurants in advance. Newspapers report clip joint restaurants but use common sense, avoid obvious tourist traps around St Marks and read the menu prices. Many bars serve Cicheti or bar snacks.

Florian’s. © Brian Finch

Florian’s café in St Marks Square is famously expensive but also wonderful inside, especially at Carnival time when it is a good place to warm up.
It is cold in winter – take warm clothes.

Things to do:

Fenice. © Brian Finch

Opera is expensive everywhere but the Fenice theatre in Venice is gold and glitter and glamour and has wonderful productions

I am told that some of the balls held at Carnival time are also wonderful – they are also expensive and doubly so since you will probably hire a costume.

© Brian Finch

…and a trip on a gondola? Expensive but you have to do it once…

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