Italian Carnival – 16 Not-To-Miss Carnevale Celebrations

Italy’s Carnival – also known as Carnevale, arrives in our part of Tuscany with a flurry.

Every February, in our small Italian town, our kids eagerly peek into store windows to see if coriandoli (confetti) is being sold yet.  When the glorious day finally arrives, they rush in, purchase a bag each (after counting their Euro coins to see if they have enough for the ‘big’ bag) and head to the town park to begin showering each other and their friends with the colorful confetti. 

Our local community center organizes a party with live music, delicious fried pastry treats, dancing, and entertainment. 

The boys dress up in costume (much like on Halloween in the United States).

And finally, our small town’s volunteers put on a themed parade (past themes include Minions and 101 Dalmations), which brings joy and smiles to young and old citizens of our community.  Spectators on the side throw the coriandoli and stelle filanti (streamers).

Italian Carnival (or Carnevale, here in Italy) is an annual highlight for my children, and children throughout Italy.  It’s a joyful, light-hearted time for children and adults. 

Good To Know:  It’s also a time for practical jokes and pranks, especially for young adults and teens.  Think whoopee cushions, throwing eggs…. a Carnevale ogni scherzo vale or ‘at Carnival, any joke is allowed.’

While our part of Tuscany doesn’t have one of Italy’s largest Carnevale celebrations, we are close to the epic Viareggio Carnevale.

If you’re in Italy in February (whether on your first visit or your tenth), it’s worth taking joining the festivities of an Italian Carnival near you, or even going out of your way to participate in one of the more unique Italian Carnevale.

Below are 16 famous and unique Italian Carnivals.  But first, some Italian Carnival (Carnevale) basics:

What Is Italian Carnival?

Supermarket shelf in Italy with Carnevale pastries during the period of Italian carnival.
Carnevale sweet pastries for sale at the grocery store

Italy’s Carnevale is the same Carnival that’s celebrated around the world – a time of fun, rich food and drink, and festivities just before Lent.

Good To Know:  Lent is the period before Easter when many Catholics choose something to give up that they enjoy.  Carne means meat, and vale means farewell, so it’s saying farewell to meat for the 40 days of Lent.

It’s like Mardi Gras in New Orleans, but you won’t see any beads or nudity.

Celebrations vary depending on where you are in Italy, but may include:

  • Taking part in joyous parties in the street
  • Watching parades with floats
  • Dancing and listening to live music
  • Wearing masks and costumes
  • Throwing confetti
  • Eating seasonal sweet treats

When Is Italian Carnival Celebrated?

The dates change every year because they’re based on Easter, which changes dates annually. 

Depending on the specific Italian Carnevale celebration, festivities may begin up to a month before Lent, or they may focus on the weekend before Lent up to Ash Wednesday (the day before Lent begins).

Where Is Italian Carnival Celebrated?

Carnival celebrations throughout the Italian peninsula, but not in every place you might imagine.  For example, Florence and Rome don’t have big celebrations – the festivities are reserved for school children who dress up at school, throw coriandoli (confetti) and eat sweet Carnevale treats.

Check out this list of some not-to-miss Italian Carnival celebrations:

16 Famous & Unique Italian Carnival (Carnevale) Celebrations

CityRegionKnown ForBest Airport
AcirealeSicilyCarnival KingCatania (CTA)
CentoEmilia RomagnaBrazilian-style CarnevaleBologna (BLQ)
FanoLe Marchesweetest CarnevaleFlorence (FLR)
Foiano della ChianaTuscanyallegorical floatsFlorence (FLR)
IvreaPiedmontbattle of the orangesTurin (TRN)
MamoiadaSardiniaMamuthones and IssohadoresOlbia (OLB)
MilanLombardylate CarnevaleMilan (MXP, LIN)
OristanoSardiniaequestrian contestCagliari (CAG)
Pont-Saint-MartinVal d’Aostaburning of the devil effigyMilan (LIN)
PutignanoPuglialongest CarnevaleBari (BRI)
RonciglioneLazioriderless horse raceRome (CIA)
Satriano Basilicatawalking forestRome (FCO)
SciaccaSicilyPeppe NappaPalermo (PMO)
VeniceVenetoflight of the angelVenice (VCE)
VeronaVenetognocchi FridayVerona (VRN)
ViareggioTuscanyallegorical floatsPisa (PSA)

Italian Carnival – Venice

Grand opening of Venice Carnival on the Grand Canal

If you’ve seen any photos of Italian Carnevale, it’s likely one from the winter festivities in Venice.  Venice’s Carnival is the most famous in Italy, and it’s known around the world. 

If you attend, you’ll be part of a nice mix of Venetian residents, Italians, and visitors from around the globe who attend the historical Venice Carnevale.

LOOK THE PART

Venice’s Carnevale is the birthplace of the beautiful and detailed masks that you see in many Carnevale celebrations.  Wearing masks allowed citizens not only to mask their identities but also their social classes and religious affiliation.

Along with the masks, you’ll see elaborate costumes with intricate designs.

DON’T MISS

  • Water Parades – the traditional float parades transition to the water in Venice, along with special performances
  • The Flight of the Angel (Volo dell’Angelo) – the angel ziplines from the bell tower to the center of Piazza San Marco to officially start Carnevale
  • Masquerade Balls – If you want to go all out one evening in Venice, rent a complete costume and attend a masquerade ball in one of Venice’s elegant palazzi (palaces).

Good To Know:  Although the first Venice Carnevale was officially declared a public festival in 1296, there are documents that speak of Carnevale in Venice taking place as early as 1094.

Italian Carnival – Viareggio

While less-known outside of Italy, Viareggio’s Carnevale is one of the most talked-about and celebrated for Italian residents. 

The Carnival of Viareggio was started by the upper class who were tired of high taxes – they used the event to poke fun at politicians and other famous people.  The theme continues with floats based on current events or political issues. 

TAKE A PEEK

Viareggio’s Museum of the Carnival is a colorful, interesting inside look at how the papier-mache floats are made.  If you time it right, you can even try your hand at float creation during a papier-mache workshop.  The museum is located in the same space as the large hangars where the floats are constructed – so you may get a chance to see some of the upcoming floats being made!

TRY TO FIND

  • Burlamacco – The Viareggio Carnevale’s red-and-white clown mascot
  • Your favorite politician or controversial current event – made into a float

Viareggio’s Carnevale is easy to visit on a day trip from nearby Florence.

For dates and details, visit the Viareggio Carnevale official site.

Italian Carnival – Ivrea

Italy’s biggest food fight takes place every year during Ivrea’s Carnevale – the Battle of the Oranges.  Its origin? 

One legend says the tradition developed from flirting.  The young ladies of the town would throw various objects (including oranges) from their balconies onto young men passing by.  The men eventually started to throw back.

Most insist the battle is based on a town rebellion against French troops that began when the local miller’s daughter killed the evil French tyrant.

DON’T MISS

  • The Battle of the Oranges – While it may sound like mayhem, the ‘battle’ actually has specific rules.  Locals team up and spend three days pelting each other with oranges.  There are 9 teams with ‘bases’ throughout the town, and teams can send players on horse carts to other bases to ‘battle’ with oranges.
  • The Miller’s Daughter – She saved the town, and now Violetta is the star of the Ivrea Carnevale. 
  • Fagiolata – Tired of all of the Carnevale sweets?  Try this bean soup!

DRESS THE PART

If you’re in Ivrea during the Battle of the Oranges, and you don’t want to be pelted with oranges, you’ll need to wear the traditional red hat.

For dates and details, visit the Ivrea Carnevale official site.

Italian Carnival – Mamoiada

Forget the flashy floats, confetti, and joyful music.  Mamoiada’s Carnevale is much more dark.  Don’t choose this for little kids – they will probably have nightmares after seeing the main parade (and you might too).

Still, it’s a fascinating alternative to the light and celebratory Italian Carnivals on the mainland.

DON’T MISS

Mamuthones and Issohadores – The mamuthones are groups of men wearing black masks and dark sheepskins, with a back full of cowbells.  They are herded through the street by the white-masked issohadores who carry whips and use them on the mamuthones and bystanders.  The ringing of the cowbells both sends the evil spirits away and welcomes nature.

For dates and details, visit the Mamoiada official site.

Italian Carnival – Oristano

Riders on horseback participating in the Sa Sartiglia

If you’ve seen the Palio bareback horse race in Siena, chances are you’ve seen a Sardinian jockey.  Sardinians are well-known for their talent working with horses, and you’ll see it on display at the Oristano Carnevale.

DON’T MISS

  • The Sa Sartiglia – an equestrian contest that sees masked and costumed riders trying to pierce a hanging metal star while riding at full speed
  • Acrobatics on horseback during the La Pariglia parade

For dates and details, visit the Oristano Carnevale official site (in Italian).

Italian Carnival – Verona

Father Gnocchi leading the final parade

While Verona’s focus in February is the city’s Valentine’s celebration, Carnevale is still celebrated with a bang – parades with horses, colorful floats, marching bands, and clouds of candy and confetti.

DON’T MISS

Venerdì gnoccolaro (gnocchi Friday) – Papà del Gnocco (Father Gnocchi), leads the final parade, carrying a large gnocchi on his fork.  Gnocchi is the star of the dinner menu tonight. 

For dates and details, visit the Verona Carnevale official site (in Italian).

Italian Carnival – Pont Saint Martin

The burning of the devil effigy that hangs from the Pont-Saint-Martin

You might think you’re in Rome based on the costumes you see at Pont Saint Martin’s Carnevale.  Instead of elaborate masks and costumes like you see in Venice, or Brazilian costumes in Cento, you’ll be surrounded by soldiers in togas, devils, and nymphs.

DON’T MISS

The burning of the devil effigy on the Pont Saint Martin

For dates and details, visit the Pont Saint Martin Carnevale official site.

Italian Carnival – Cento

Do you want to eat pasta but experience Brazilian Carnival?  Then zip over to Cento for its Brazilian-style Carnevale.  Cento’s Carnevale is a ‘sister’ Carnival of the famous Rio de Janeiro Carnival.  The winning float from Cento has the honor of participating in Rio’s famous processions.

DON’T MISS

  • Brazilian-style Carnival costumes, not seen anywhere else in Italy
  • Brazilian entertainment, including drummers and dancers
  • The last parade, when the winning float is chosen (the one that will go to Rio)

KING OF FESTIVITIES

While Brazilian festivities reign, so does ‘Tasi,’ the official king of the Cento Carnevale.  Based on an actual person, his float goes up in flames and lights up the night sky, along with a fireworks show.

For dates and details, visit the Cento Carnevale official site.

Italian Carnival – Acireale

Acireale touts its Carnevale as Sicily’s best.  The town certainly works hard to make it so, with its colorful, complex, and allegorical floats.   Visitors from Italy and around the globe descend on Acireale for street parades, parties, and Sicilian traditions.

DRESS THE PART

Wear the abbatazzu mask, which made fun of the local abbot

DON’T MISS

  • Floral floats on Martedi Grasso
  • Seeing the Re Carnevale (Carnival King) set on fire accompanied by fireworks on Martedi Grasso
  • Poets performing on the streets

For dates and details, visit the Acireale Carnevale official site.

Good To Know:  Can’t make it to Italy during Carnevale?  Acireale’s Carnival is so popular and loved, they run it in August as well!

Italian Carnival – Ronciglione

The home stretch of the riderless horse race

The population of the small medieval town of Ronciglione swells during Carnevale, when visitors flock to the community to participate in its historic festivities.

DON’T MISS

  • The Parade of the Nasi Rossi (red noses) – the costumed nasi rossi roam around town, singing songs and knocking on doors to offer a taste of their pasta
  • The children’s parade – dedicated to the little ones in the crowd
  • A riderless horse race through the town’s medieval streets

For dates and details, visit the Ronciglione city official site or the Ronciglione Carnevale official site.

Italian Carnival – Fano

Have a sweet tooth?  Head directly to Fano!  Fano advertises its Carnevale as the ‘sweetest in Italy.’

DON’T FORGET

Your paper cone, which you’ll use to catch candy that’s thrown from the floats

DON’T MISS

  • The Dog Parade, showcasing canines in costume (often with their owners in matching or complementary costumes)
  • Musica Arabita performances – rooted in past tradition of workers playing music from pots and pans in response to the delicate music of the wealthy

PARTING IS SUCH SWEET SORROW

Like many Italian Carnivals, the Fano celebration ends with the burning of a float – Vulon.  He’s lit up and along with him, goes winter and the sins of the revelers – or so they say.

For dates and details, visit the Fano Carnevale official site.

Italian Carnival – Sciacca

If you can make it to Sicily (which is a great place to visit in Italy in February), stop by seaside Sciacca to party with the star of its Carnival, Peppe Nappa. 

DON’T MISS

Siacca’s Carnevale mascot, Peppe Nappa (roughly translates to Giuseppe/Beppe Pants Patch), has a special large and colorful float.  Peppe Nappa has his own song, and he even has a crew grilling sausages and serving wine from the back of his float. 

How will you recognize Peppe Nappa?  He usually wears a loose, oversized green shirt and pants. 

SAYING GOODBYE

On Fat Tuesday, Peppe Nappa is detached from his float by a large crane and lit on fire in the middle of the piazza, surrounded by singing and dancing and fireworks.

For dates and details, visit the Sciacca Carnevale official site (in Italian).

Italian Carnival – Putignano

Putignano loves to celebrate Carnevale and has Italy’s longest one – it begins the day after Christmas and ends on Fat Tuesday! 

Legend says the festivities grew from the transfer of St. Stephen’s relics from Monopoli to a safer place in Putignano.  As the procession arrived in Putignano, the farmers stopped working and joined the procession.  Singing and dancing followed, and it led to the tradition of propaggini, reciting satirical poems, that continues to this day.

Putignano’s Carnival parades showcase large, colorful floats.

DON’T MISS

Poets in action on December 26th for the Festa delle Propaggini

For dates and details, visit the Putignano Carnevale official site (in Italian).

Italian Carnival – Satriano

The community of Satriano has taken the initiative to turn its Carnevale into a sustainable event focused on nature.  While it’s worth watching from the sidelines, visitors are also encouraged to participate.

DON’T MISS

The Walking Forest – Parade participants dress up as trees

FOCUS ON THE EARTH

  • Driving a rental car to Satriano’s Carnevale? Trees are planted to offset environmental damage from the cars that visitors drive to the Carnival.
  • Local ingredients are used in the Carnival cooking.
  • No plastic utensils are used.

For dates and details, visit the Satriano Carnevale official site.

Italian Carnival – Foiano della Chiana

Usually overshadowed by the other Tuscan Carnival in Viareggio, Foiano is a hearty, festive Carnevale that’s worth a visit.  It’s a classic Carnevale, with huge allegorical floats built based on a theme.  Foiano’s 4 main neighborhoods each construct a float and the winner is awarded the Coppa del Carnevale (Carnival Cup).

DON’T MISS

  • Seeing the King of the Carnival, Giocondo, burst into flames in the middle of the square
  • Some of the most colorful, amazing floats of any Italian Carnival

For dates and details, visit the Foiano della Chiana official site (in Italian).

Italian Carnival – Milan

Milan’s Carnival is mainstream – small parades, confetti, masks, and sweet pastries are all part of the celebrations.  What makes Milan’s Carnevale unique is the timing of it – it actually takes place after Italian Carnevale is officially over.

DON’T MISS

  • Italy’s last Carnival of the year
  • Parades, concerts, jugglers & street entertainers
  • Milan’s Carnevale mascot, Meneghino, in his long velvet jacket

For dates and details, visit Milan tourism’s official site.

Sweet Treats at Italian Carnival

There are three main sweet treats you’ll see at an Italian Carnival.  Keep in mind that versions may vary slightly, depending on where you are.

  1. A thin, crunchy, fried pastry sprinkled with powdered sugar

    Known as: chiacchiere (to chatter), cenci, frappe, crespelle, crispelle, zeppole, cioffe

    Variations: drizzled in chocolate, flavored with lemon zest, made with rice
  2. A fried, puffy dough ball filled with cream and sprinkled with sugar

    Known as: bugie (lies), pignolata, fritole, tortelli dolci (baked)

    Variations: doused in honey, covered in sprinkles or pine nuts, filled with raisins or chocolate or ricotta, baked instead of fried
  3. A crunchy tube-shaped pastry shell with a ricotta filling

    Known as: cannoli, cannolone, cannolicchi

    Variations: garnished with candied oranges or candied cherries or chopped pistachios, chocolate pieces in the filling, chocolate/ricotta filling

Good To Know:  Cannoli were originally a Carnevale treat but you can now find them any time the craving hits!

How To Wish Someone A Happy Carnevale

Two little boys at an Italian carnival in Tuscany.  One is dressed as a pirate and the other is dressed as a ninja turtle.  They have swords.  The ninja turtle is saying 'buon carnevale' in a graphic speech bubble.

You can say ‘Buon Carnevale!’ which means Happy Carnival! 

You can also say, ‘Auguri!’ which means Best Wishes!

To respond, say, ‘Grazie, anche a te!,’ which means, Thanks, you too!

Why You May Not Want To Attend Italian Carnival (Carnevale)

Carnevale can be very crowded.  If you’re visiting the area of Italy for other reasons, you may want to visit during a different time of the year.  For example, if you really want to see Venice, don’t visit during Carnevale.  Venice during Carnevale is all about Carnevale.

Italian Carnival (Carnevale) With Kids

Child dressed as Peter Pan at an Italian Carnival celebration.  There is confetti on the ground.  The boy is looking away from the camera.

I wouldn’t bring my baby to Carnevale in a stroller or a baby carrier, but plenty of people do. 

Older children and teens will love the floats, sweet treats, and energy of Carnevale celebrations

If you’re traveling with a baby, toddler, or young child, attend morning Carnival activities.  There are often dedicated kids activities like storytime or lessons on how floats are built.

Even if the Carnival you’re at doesn’t have special kids activities, you can ‘test the waters’ in the morning – go out and see people dressed in masks and costumes, or catch a parade.  If your children are comfortable in that situation (and comfortable with the crowds), you can try an evening celebration.

I wouldn’t recommend going straight to a night celebration with your kids (even though you will see kids at them) – it may be too much stimulation and confusion for your little ones.

 

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