You don’t have to be a hard-core Italophile to dream of seeing Venice – it was a required stop on the European Grand Tour, and remains one of the places many people have on their must-see lists. There are good reasons for this. The city is a wonderland of historic attractions, it’s ready for its close-up at every turn, and it always gives visitors the sensation of walking into a postcard.
But all of those oohs and aahs come at a price. Venice’s reputation as one of the most expensive cities in Italy is well-deserved. In fact, Venice is one of those cities that doesn’t even really have what can be considered a “low season.” When much of Europe (Italy included) is shivering through a cold winter and hoteliers are thrilled to see people walk throug their doors, Venice is still charging a small fortune for hotel rooms because they can – that’s when Venice Carnival happens.
Carnival is Venice’s biggest party, and you’ve likely seen images from the festivities you’d recognize – the costumes and the masks in particular are unmistakable. Carnival takes over the city for several weeks right before Lent, which usually means February or March, when prices in other Italian cities are more appealing to budget travelers. During Carnival, Venice is even more expensive and crowded than it normally is, and it’s normally plenty of both.
Does this mean, then, that Venice should be avoided at all costs during Carnival? As with so many questions, the answer isn’t simple – it depends.
If you’re on a strict budget, or you don’t like crowds, or you’ve never been to Venice, or you only have a day to spend in the city, then Venice during Carnival is probably best avoided. Any place is fun to see when it’s wearing its festival finery, but Venice is difficult to love even at the best of times – there’s no point in making it even more challenging. If you’ve been to Venice before and money isn’t tight, Carnival is a spectacle that can be quite worth the effort.
Remember that if you’re planning to visit Venice during Carnival you’ll need to book your hotel stay well in advance – prices go up dramatically the longer you wait, if there are even vacancies left. And despite the fact that it’s technically the low season throughout the rest of the country, it’s a good idea to plan your train travel in Italy ahead of time, too. At the very least, it’s smart to book tickets and reservations for trains in and out of Venice around Carnival, since it’s not just foreigners flocking into the city for the party – Italians are making the trip, too.
>> Carnival in Venice in 2011 runs from February 19 through March 8.
photo by iz4aks