The Carnival of Viareggio is one of the most important Carnival events in Italy and Europe. It became famous over time thanks to its unique story, its strong identity, and its big floats. The ones parading in Viareggio are renowned to be some of the biggest floats in the entire world.
The Passeggiata, the seaside promenade of the town, is the scene of the huge street parades. The Carnival in Viareggio takes place for five weekends. Usually between the second half of January and the first week of March, depending on the annual date of Carnival.
You will find the marching band, huge monumental allegorical floats, hundreds of masks, and people wearing thematic costumes. All together they liven up Viareggio dancing to the rhythm of the music.
Viareggio Carnival 2024 Edition – The Program
The 2023 Edition was special. It celebrated the 150th birthday of the Carnevale di Viareggio. It was dedicated to all traditions, stories, and cultures of Carnival from all over the world. A Universal Carnival, as they call it.
It is only a few days after the end of this grand edition that we already have the dates for the 2024 parades.
- Saturday 3rd February. Opening ceremony and 1st float parade at 4 p.m. Fireworks to follow.
- Thursday 8 February, 2nd float parade by night at 6 p.m.
- Sunday 11 February, 3rd float parade at 3 p.m.
- Tuesday 13 February, 4th float parade by night at 5 p.m.
- Sunday 18 February, 5th float parade at 3 p.m.
- Saturday 24 February, 6th and final parade at 5 p.m. To follow, the award ceremony for the best float and Grand Final with fireworks.
Location: Viali a Mare (the main avenues along the beachside).
For more info and online tickets, visit the official website of the event.
How to reach Viareggio for Carnival
The best way to get to Viareggio during the parade days is by train. You can easily arrive by direct train from Florence, Pisa, Lucca, La Spezia, and Cinque Terre. The train station is only 10-15 minutes from the seaside promenade.
Things to know about the Carnevale di Viareggio
Viareggio means Carnevale. It is a serious thing. Carnival is deeply embedded into the culture and history of Viareggio. Of vital importance, I would say. Locals, called “Viareggini”, get mad at Carnival. For the entire period of celebrations, they are like crazy. But this “forever love” never ends. It lasts for the rest of the year too. Just long enough to recover from the orgy of the fun of the last edition that it’s time to think about a new costume for the next year.
The Carnival Floats
Along the avenues, you will see floats of different sizes. There are colossal floats in the 1st category and smaller but still amazing floats in the 2nd category. You will also notice single masks dancing in the street. They all participate in strong competition to win the title of the best creation. On the last day of the Carnevale, a jury of experts declares the winners.
Usually, the topics of the floats are themes of universal relevance like peace or environment. But also political satire, or the triumph of famous international celebrities and sports figures.
The Carnival parades in Viareggio
During the Carnival, you breathe a magic atmosphere into town. Every year, the parades of the Carnevale di Viareggio attract thousands of tourists. They come to admire the impressive floats, having fun throwing confetti and streamers. No matter what is their age. You will find adults and children dressing like princes and princesses, or kings and queens. But also characters from TV and history, cartoons, and animals. The list could go on forever.
It’s also a must-do to get some food from street trucks. Cotton candies, fried donuts, fluffy doughnuts filled with cream, or other traditional pastries of Carnival.
Here are two recipes to make your own Dolci di Carnevale of Italian tradition:
When the parade is over, celebrations continue even at night. Most of the suburbs in town (Rioni), host their own street parties with a lot of music, food, and alcohol. Here, people crowd the street wearing funny and odd costumes (homemade or rented for the occasion). With just one goal: to have fun with friends until the morning after. This Carnival craziness ends with the Grand Final after the last parade. The jury proclaims the winners while the fireworks enlighten the calm water of the sea of Versilia.
History of Carnival of Viareggio
The Carnival of Viareggio was born on the 24th of February 1873 on a Mardi Gras, thanks to the initiative of a group of rich young bourgeois.
During one of their usual meetings at the Café of the Casino, they decided to celebrate Carnival with a parade of carriages adorned with flowers, along with the old Via Regia. Instead, some locals wearing colored masks used the parade to protest against the increase in taxes. Since that time, the Carnival parade is also an occasion to exorcize the dissatisfaction of the people.
A few years later, music and motion were introduced on the floats. Then, from 1925, floats were built with the revolutionary technique of the paper-mâché.
The Mascots of Viareggio Carnival
Carnival of Viareggio has its own mascot. His name is Burlamacco. Umberto Bonetti, a local futuristic painter and also designer, invented the character of Burlamacco in 1930. This smiling figure is a mix of elements that characterize other Italian masks of the time. He wears the checkered Harlequin-style costume, with a white button from the French Pierrot. The red and white colors remind me of the tones of beach resort umbrellas by the sea. The white ruff resembles that of Captain Fracassa (or Captain Spaventa). On his head, he wears the hat of Rugantino and wraps himself in the night-black cloak of Doctor Balanzone. He paints his face like a clown, a symbol of laughs and jokes.
In the Carnival poster of 1931, Burlamacco is drawn with a slender female. Ondina is her name, and she represents the typical bathers of the summer season of Viareggio. Burlamacco and Ondina together represent the essence of the city of Viareggio: the Carnival and the Summer.
In 2001 floats and Masks have a new house: the Cittadella del Carnevale. This is where the magic of Carnival comes to life. Inside sixteen huge hangars, artists set their creativity working hard on the new float projects. The vast complex hosts also a museum dedicated to the history of Viareggio’s Carnival and a contemporary art exhibit.
Year after year, Viareggio Carnival has become more and more important. So relevant to reach during the edition of 2011 the record of 325 thousand spectators in a single parade.
Where to stay in Viareggio during the Carnival
To enjoy the crazy Carnival atmosphere of Viareggio at its most, I would recommend spending at least one night in town. So once the parades are over, you can hit the streets again and experience one of the street events organized by the city’s various districts.
- Principe di Piemonte: If you’re looking for a 5-star experience, book a suite at one of the area’s most iconic hotels. A Michelin-starred restaurant and a rooftop infinity pool enhance the facilities.
- Hotel Plaza e de Russie – Relais & Châteaux: Another luxurious hotel facing the seaside promenade in the heart of Viareggio.
- Hotel La Pace: A lovely 3-star hotel overlooking the waterfront. If you book a room with a sea view, you can enjoy the Carnival parade from the comfort of your terrace.
Planning to visit Viareggio and Versilia for Carnival, the following articles may interest you:
- 15 Things to Do in Versilia
- An Exclusive day in Forte dei Marmi
- Pietrasanta, the Little Athens of Tuscany
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(Updated on 10.03.2023)