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?
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).
The general 2023 dates of Carnival in Italy are:
- February 16th – Giovedì Grasso (Fat Thursday)
- February 19th – Domenica di Carnevale (Carnival Sunday)
- February 21st – Martedì Grasso (Fat Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday, Mardi Gras)
- February 22nd – Mercoledì delle Ceneri (Ash Wednesday)
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
|City||Region||Known For||Best Airport|
|Acireale||Sicily||Carnival King||Catania (CTA)|
|Cento||Emilia Romagna||Brazilian-style Carnevale||Bologna (BLQ)|
|Fano||Le Marche||sweetest Carnevale||Florence (FLR)|
|Foiano della Chiana||Tuscany||allegorical floats||Florence (FLR)|
|Ivrea||Piedmont||battle of the oranges||Turin (TRN)|
|Mamoiada||Sardinia||Mamuthones and Issohadores||Olbia (OLB)|
|Milan||Lombardy||late Carnevale||Milan (MXP, LIN)|
|Oristano||Sardinia||equestrian contest||Cagliari (CAG)|
|Pont-Saint-Martin||Val d’Aosta||burning of the devil effigy||Milan (LIN)|
|Putignano||Puglia||longest Carnevale||Bari (BRI)|
|Ronciglione||Lazio||riderless horse race||Rome (CIA)|
|Satriano||Basilicata||walking forest||Rome (FCO)|
|Sciacca||Sicily||Peppe Nappa||Palermo (PMO)|
|Venice||Veneto||flight of the angel||Venice (VCE)|
|Verona||Veneto||gnocchi Friday||Verona (VRN)|
|Viareggio||Tuscany||allegorical floats||Pisa (PSA)|
Italian Carnival – Venice
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.
- 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.
- 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.
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
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.
- 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
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.
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
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.
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.
- 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
- 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 population of the small medieval town of Ronciglione swells during Carnevale, when visitors flock to the community to participate in its historic festivities.
- 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
Italian Carnival – Fano
Have a sweet tooth? Head directly to Fano! Fano advertises its Carnevale as the ‘sweetest in Italy.’
Your paper cone, which you’ll use to catch candy that’s thrown from the floats
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
- 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.
- 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.
You may want to read about Visiting Milan with Kids!
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.
- 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
- 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
- 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
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
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.
Italian Carnival FAQ
‘Carnival’ in Italian is Carnevale.
Italians love Carnevale and happily participate. The major Italian Carnival celebrations include both locals and tourists, and there are many smaller parades and events in smaller towns that are attended by Italians.
The dates of Carnevale vary depending on the year and the particular Carnevale celebration. The dates of Carnevale are based on Easter, which changes every year. In Italy, the earliest begins the day after Christmas, while others begin just a few days before Fat Tuesday, the end of Carnevale.
Some Italian Carnivals are completely free, while others charge an entrance fee. Some have parts of the festivities that have a cost (like a masquerade ball or special dinner).