Nowhere beats Venice for first impressions. Whether youre whizzing across the lagoon waters to arrive by sea, in time honoured fashion, or stepping out of Santa Lucia railway station, La Serenissima lives up to her reputation effortlessly.
True, the city draws big crowds, but it also soaks them up like a sponge. Turn away from the main Rialto Bridge and St Marks Square to the citys secret churches and alleyways. Seemingly untouched neighbourhoods like the Dorsoduoro, Ghetto and Arsenale remind visitors what all the fuss is about.
About Venice's Carnevale
Venices annual Carnevale (held during the two weeks leading up to Ash Wednesday) is the citys biggest party of the year. It combines masked balls and parades, calcio storico (medieval-influenced football) matches and military and maritime processions.
During Carnevale Venice is packed with excited visitors and attracts performers from around the world. If you tire of street theatre, music or dance there are the citys superb galleries, historic churches and quiet piazzas to seek out, safe in the knowledge you can charge back into the action at any time.
History of the Carnevale
The Carnevale dates back to 1268 but owes its modern revival to mask boutiques reopening in the 1980s after the event was banned by Fascist authorities before WWII. Like most carnivals it marks the beginning of Lent.
What happens in Venice during Carnevale?
The centrepiece of proceedings is, unsurprisingly, St Marks Square where parades, dances, theatre and football take place. But street performers are everywhere, especially on the jam-packed lanes between the railway station and nearby Tronchetto car parks, the Rialto and St Marks.
Fritelle veneziane, deep-fried filled dough balls, are on offer for a sugar fix. A Grand Masked Ball also takes place on the Friday of Carnevale, hosted in a suitably spectacular palace and open to anyone who can perform elaborate quadrilles and is prepared to shell out for a ticket and costume.
Where to stay in Venice
If you possibly can, stay in Venice itself. You may need to reserve a year in advance at carnival time but it is worth it for the timeless experience of strolling around Venice at night, hearing only the lapping of the water and the evening banter of Venetians swapping gossip.
Budget travel tips
This is peak season in Venice so dont expect too many bargains. To keep costs down eat at small, back-street trattorias as Venetians do and take your coffee standing up. Self-catering or grabbing a slice of pizza is a good idea at lunchtime.
Planning your trip to Italy
© 2009 Lonely Planet Publications Pty Ltd