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The Ultimate Guide to Viareggio Carnival – Featuring the World’s Best Carnival Floats!
1st February, 2020
25th February, 2020
- 1 What is Carnival in Viareggio?
- 2 When is the 2020 Viareggio Carnival?
- 3 Viareggio Carnival 2020 Masked Parades Dates
- 4 Where is Viareggio?
- 5 How do they celebrate carnival in Viareggio?
- 6 What is the history of Viareggio Carnival?
- 7 The World-Famous Viareggio Carnival Floats
- 8 The Viareggio Carnival Float Parades
- 9 Viareggio Carnival Parade Route
- 10 Viareggio Carnevale Tickets
- 11 Viareggio Carnival Night Parties
- 12 Burlamacco
- 13 The Cittadella and Carnival Museum of Viareggio Carnival
- 14 Other Events at Viareggio Carnival
- 15 Viareggio Carnival Art & Songs
- 16 Family fun
- 17 Viareggio Carnival Food
- 18 What to wear for carnival in Viareggio?
- 19 How to get to Viareggio?
- 20 How to get around Viareggio during Carnival?
- 21 Where to stay for the Viareggio Carnevale?
- 22 What to do and see in Viareggio?
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What is Carnival in Viareggio?
Viareggio Carnival or Carnival di Viareggio in Italian is an absolute classic! This timeless and irreverent pre-Lenten carnival was born in 1873 as a way to mock the elected city officials and is one of the most beloved and famous carnivals in Italy. And rightly so because this Italian town puts on a carnival that is like nothing else in the world!
Carnival in Viareggio is more than a party! Carnival here is a celebration that embodies the very essence of the Viareggio people. A celebration that is rooted in time, where tradition and art blend perfectly. Carnival here is an important part of the history and culture of Viareggio!
What separates Viareggio Carnival from the rest, is that it is home to the world’s best carnival floats! These floats are artistic masterpieces not only are they huge, towering over 30 meters high, but they are incredibly beautiful and complex! Made out of papier-mache, they are known for their irreverent political satire and social commentary that is able to find humour in tough subjects!
Besides the amazing floats, the irreverent political satire and the incredible costumed parties that animate all the clubs in the city for an entire month. What really makes Viareggio Carnival special is that this institution is absolutely beloved to madness by its citizens – the viareggin (the nickname for the locals). During carnival the locals are the ones that create such a magical atmosphere!
The Viareggio annual carnival is one of the few times during the year when happiness, freedom and fun are the only things that matter. Tuscans have a saying about carnival which is “A carnevale, ogni scherzo vale”, which translates to “Every joke is allowed during Carnival” or “at carnival everything goes”! This is the Tuscan personality, they let loose and enjoy life during carnival, it is who they are!
The Viareggio Carnival is broadcast live on national television (RAI 3) bringing its pageantry, colour and humour to millions of people. Many celebrities, sports stars and even politicians come to Viareggio to celebrate carnival.
They join together with more than 1,000,000 residents and tourists from all around the world who continue to preserve this tradition year after year. Who come to enjoy the floats, colour, humour, music and dance of this carnival that symbolises peace, love and unity!
When is the 2020 Viareggio Carnival?
When is the 2020 Viareggio Carnival? The Carnevale Viareggio 2020 date are, it opens on Saturday 1st February and ends on Shrove Tuesday 25th February, 2020.
The season takes place for an entire month, with six processions every year! The processions are held on the four weekends and the Thursday and Tuesday (Shrove Tuesday), prior to Ash Wednesday, the first day of lent!
Viareggio Carnival 2020 Masked Parades Dates
Saturday 1 February @ 4 p.m.
1st GIANT FLOAT PARADE – Evening Inauguration
Firework show and music to follow
Sunday 9 February @ 3 p.m.
2nd GIANT FLOAT PARADE
Saturday 15 February @ 5 p.m.
3rd GIANT FLOAT PARADE
Thursday 20 February @ 6 p.m.
4th GIANT FLOAT PARADE
Firework show to follow
Sunday 23 February @ 3 p.m.
5th GIANT FLOAT PARADE
Tuesday 25 February @ 3 p.m.
6th & Final GIANT FLOAT PARADE
Prize giving ceremony
Firework show to follow
Where is Viareggio?
Viareggio is a popular beachside town on the Versilia Coast in northern Tuscany, Italy. It is the second biggest city in the province of Lucca, Tuscany. Viareggio sits north of Pisa and west of Lucca in northern Tuscany.
The incredible masked parades take place along the extraordinary Liberty seaside boulevards, which transforms into a 2km long circuit during carnival.
The City of Viareggio is rich in Art Deco architecture and is a great introduction to the part of Tuscany known as Versilia. It sits on the Tyrrhenian sea and is surrounded by the peaks of Massa Carrara.
How do they celebrate carnival in Viareggio?
Every Viareggio-born person awaits with excitement to hear the triple canon that signals the beginning of a period of freedom, happiness, music, fun and great emotion. The viareggin, the nickname for the locals, make the whole town festive by decorating the streets and their houses.
The atmosphere in the town is exciting, overwhelming and thrilling. Everyone can’t help but smile, dance and be happy! An atmosphere where you can forget your worries for the day and it is impossible to remain serious.
Viareggio Carnival officially opens with a symbolic shooting of a triple cannon into the sea. Carnival lasts for the entire month and is filled with festivities, parades, parties, masked balls and festivals, both day and night!
There are six chances to see the carnival floats in the Viareggio Carnival Parades. All these processions occur during daylight. The parades combine with a grand celebration that features lots of costumes, music and everyone joining in to dance and sing.
Besides the parades there are also culinary events, sporting competitions, theatre performances, cultural events, parties, masquerade balls and an impressive firework show. Every evening there are plenty of parties and performances hosted in the bars, restaurants, hotels and nightclubs around town.
The Viareggio Carnival 2020, opening ceremony is scheduled for Saturday 1st February at 4pm with the first evening parade and a musical/firework display. The Viareggio Carnival 2020 closing parade will take place on the 25th February, which will end with the proclamation of the winners and the long-awaited firework display.
What is the history of Viareggio Carnival?
The Carnival of Viareggio was born in 1873 when the first parade occurred in the historic Via Regia, which is the heart of the old town. The first parade featured decorated carriages that were actually created by the wealthy citizens protesting excessive taxation. However, it evolved into an event where you could express your ideas freely and mock the elite.
It’s continued to grow in popularity every year and today is widely considered to be Italy’s greatest folk event. By the end of the 19th century the famous giant floats made their first appearance in the carnival parades. The first floats were made from plaster, canvas and wood, and were very heavy unlike the papier-mache floats used today. The papier-mache floats were first introduced to carnival in the 1930s.
The World-Famous Viareggio Carnival Floats
The reason that Viareggio Carnival is so renowned is because of the giant papier-mache floats. They are majestic, huge and incredibly thought provoking! They are real travelling theatres that are inspired by current events, world and Italian politics, that are often represented in satirical form, with lots of irreverence.
The floats are the product of unequalled creativity, incredible painting skills and extraordinary sculpture. The Viareggio Carnival floats are about 30m tall, weigh about 40 tonnes but are still very light for their size. They are unique because of the way they move and can be choreographed. Each float plays their own musical soundtrack and has around 200 dancers accompanying it.
These floats were created by Viareggio painter and builder Antonio D’Arliano in 1925,. They are the absolute highest examples of an historical art form that has spread all over the world.
The floats express an old knowledge that dates back to the ancient ‘trionfi’ of the Renaissance. They adhere to the building techniques of big sailing boats! And today they navigate through a sea of people.
Today there are over 25 companies with over 1000 people involved in the creation of these floats. The secret trades and skills needed to create these floats has often been passed down from generation to generation. The floats are also judged in the parades by a jury who will announce the winners after the last parade.
One famous float that was seen around the world, making headlines in all the newspapers was the Viareggio Carnival Trump Float that was created for Carnevale back in 2019 by float designer Umberto Cinquini. He conceived a theme with Donald Trump commanding a Los Vegas-style saloon, which was populated by gun-happy cowboys and cheerleaders.
Find out all about the 2020 Viareggio Carnival Floats here!
The Viareggio Carnival Float Parades
There are six Viareggio Parades on during carnival. So you have six chances to see the incredible giant floats come to life. The Parades take place during the day, in a 2km long ring-like parade route, which runs along the Liberty Seaside Boulevards, in an area known as La Passeggiata.
Each parade receives about 200,000 spectators of all ages. People from all over the world meet together to experience the event. Viareggio Carnival Float Parades aren’t just a parade to watch, instead it’s a parade to join in!
What is unique about this carnival parade is that there are no barriers! Bystanders are not kept behind fences and instead the floats move freely amongst the spectators making the show a true open air museum. It encourages everyone to take part in the celebration and enjoy the party atmosphere.
Accompanying the floats are marching bands, folkloristic bands and hundreds of dancers wearing original masks and costumes. There is lots of excitement, tradition and culture going on and loads of entertainment that will excite both kids and the adults!
When the Viareggio Carnival Parade begins, you can expect a lot of dancing, loud music, confetti, candy and fun. Spirits are high as the crowds dance and sing along to lively songs. Mouth-watering aromas fill the air as street vendors are all around selling food, drinks and costumes. Jugglers entertain the crowds and people are everywhere dressed in costumes enjoying themselves.
Find out all about the 2020 Viareggio Carnival Float Parade here!
Viareggio Carnival Parade Route
Where to see the Viareggio Carnival Parades? The Viareggio Carnival Parades will take place along the Passeggiata, the seaside promenade of the city. A stretch just a little over 3km which winds between the beach and the gorgeous Liberty-style buildings.
Viareggio Carnevale Tickets
How much is Viareggio Carnival? Entrance to the Carnival celebration in Viareggio costs €20 for an adult, except the Thursday parade which costs 15 euros. Entrance is free for young children up to 1.2 meters in height and €15 for the rest. If you’d like a seat in the metal bleachers, you can purchase an additional ticket for €15 plus the entrance fee of €20.
You can also buy cumulative Viareggio Carnival tickets for all 6 parades which costs much less: €35 euros for adults and €25 for kids if bought prior to 6th January 2020. After that it will cost €40 for adults and €30 for kids.
If you would like a seat in the metal stands in Piazza Mazzini located in the central part of the parade route where the judges sit, which offer an elevated view of the parade it requires advance booking of at least 20 days. It can be done via fax +39 0584/580771 or e-mail email@example.com and costs €15 in addition to the entry ticket.
However, we recommend sticking with the crowd where the floats move amongst you. It creates such a great vibe and atmosphere and you are able to move around freely. The floats are so tall that you don’t need to worry about crowds blocking your view. However, the stands are a good option if you have mobility issues.
Where can you buy tickets for Viareggio Carnival? You can buy your tickets on the day from the ticket booths on site or they can be pre-purchased online here.
Viareggio Carnival Night Parties
Carnival fever spreads across the whole city and the fun doesn’t end with the parades, there is something called veglioni colorati which translates as ‘coloured all-night dances’. As the name suggests these parties are held at night, after the parades! The neighbourhoods of Viareggio (historically the “rioni”) all host major open-air night parties.
Everyone dresses up in costumes and the streets are closed off to traffic and instead filled with music, dance and masks! The cities most fashionable bars and locales all participate in the celebration, helping to amp up the extraordinary factor of Viareggio Carnival!
The first part of the evening is always about food! Open-air restaurants will offer you the chance to try many delicious local recipes, particularly a lot of fresh-fish based Viareggio specialties for thrifty prices.
After about 11pm everything transforms into frenzied parties for people of all ages! Bands and DJs set up on the street corners, the alcohol flows, and the music doesn’t stop until the early morning. Everyone forgets about their worries and dances, socialises and drinks the night away.
The main carnival districts are Marco Polo, Darsena, Croce Verde and Torre del Lago. Other districts are Varignano, Terminetto, Vecchia Viareggio, Quattro Venti and Migliarina.
Burlamacco is a clown-like figure that is the official mascot and mask of Viareggio Carnival. Burlamacco is a character that was created in the 1930’s by painter Uberto Bonetti. He was inspired by prominent characters of Italy’s Art Comedy – “commedia dell’arte”, like Pierrot, Rugantino and Balanzone.
The Burlamacco character is all about not taking life too seriously and encouraging people to stay positive even when life gets hard. Burlamacco dresses in a bright white and red checked outfit that is paired with a long cape and cocked hat. The red and white colours represent summer and the colour of the umbrellas that were seen on the beach during the 1930’s.
Burlamacco makes an appearance in all six parades! He is accompanied by a float full of females who are known as the “Ondina”, which comes from the Italian name for wave. It is about honouring Viareggio’s ties with the sea and summer.
The Cittadella and Carnival Museum of Viareggio Carnival
La Cittadella del Carnevale which opened in 2001 is an 800-foot, elliptically shaped, extraordinary architectural complex that is dedicated to the preservation and creation of Viareggio Carnival! This huge complex incorporates sixteen hangars which have doors that are 45 feet tall where the float constructions occur. The Cittadella also houses the photo archives, and two amazing museums!
Carnival is such an important part of the history and culture of Viareggio that the Viareggio Carnival Foundation has established two Carnival Museums inside the Cittadella. The museums are open to visitors all year round. The hangars are generally off-limits in the frenetic final weeks before Carnival, but sometimes visits are allowed if they have been arranged ahead of time.
The first museum – Museo della Cartapesta is focused on the magic of paper mâché and dedicated to the history of the Viareggio Carnival Floats. The second museum – Museo Arte Contemporanea Carnevalotto, is a valuable collection of contemporary prize-winning works of art.
We highly recommend that you visit “La Citadella di Carnevale” during your visit to Viareggio and discover all about the carnival history and the art behind making these masterpieces! At the papier-mâché teaching laboratory you can do a workshop where you can learn all the different stages of making papier-mâché art work or learn to manipulate clay and paper for modelling artefacts.
For more information please visit the official website here.
Other Events at Viareggio Carnival
Viareggio Carnival is more than a colourful parade, it is instead a mood. The viareggin are devoted to this celebration for the entire month. So besides the floats, parades, local street parties, club parties, music, masks, costumes and all the fun that goes with that, there are so many more carnival celebrations occurring all over Viareggio!
There are lots of cultural events like debates, theatre shows, book presentations, photography exhibitions, conferences and sporting events. Actually during carnival, Viareggio transforms into a mini Olympic city with its own Carnival Village, which is a fully equipped 750-square-meters venue that is covered and plays host to a lot of the entertainment, shows and other events.
One of the most popular events in the Torneo di Viareggio, which is officially known as the Viareggio Cup World Football Tournament Coppa Carnevale. Known as the Coppa Carenvale (Carnival Cup) It is an international youth football tournament that in 2020 will be its 70th edition. It runs for a fortnight and ends on the last Monday of Viareggio Carnival. In recent years there has also been a Torneo Coppa Carnevale di Rugby, to highlight the growing importance that Rugby is having in Italy.
Other sporting tournaments include cycling, hockey, golf, karate, motorbike rallies, horse-riding, swimming, athletic competitions like marathon and duathlon, parachute jumping on the float parades and even an international competition of radio-controlled speedboats.
Viareggio Carnival Art & Songs
The tradition of singing has a special bond with the Viareggio Carnival which even has its own official hymn. Every year the Festival of Burlamacco, an epic music competition takes place and awards are presented for newly created Viareggio Carnival songs.
The purpose of the Festival of Burlamacco is to spread and keep the tradition of music and sound alive, because music has always characterised and accompanied the Viareggio Carnival. Every year it gives you a chance to discover new talented performers who are incredibly passionate about this carnival.
In addition to music, art has also been another important part of Viareggio Carnival, as you may have guessed from the incredible floats. There are many paintings that are inspired by Viareggio Carnival and some incredible names have left their mark with their illustrations or words about Viareggio Carnival including Dario Fo, Sergio Staino and Jean-Michel Folon.
Viareggio Carnival is an ideal destination for family fun! This carnival is an all-out party for both the young and the young-at-heart. The overall feeling at carnival is one of welcomeness! Everyone dresses up in a silly costume or mask just like Halloween but without the risqueness. The floats are totally appropriate for children who love the bright colours, catchy songs, carnival characters, confetti and costumes and most of the float’s deeper meanings are lost on them.
Alcohol is served during carnival but no drinking occurs on the streets and in typical Italian fashion, people know their limits. The real rowdiness is left to all the parade performers. Unlike say New Orleans Mardi Gras, where the parades sees lots of partying and drinking, at Viareggio Carnival the clear focus here is in enjoying the art and celebrating life. Getting drunk and rowdy is saved for the night parties! If you prefer more subdued crowds than attend one of the earlier parade dates.
Viareggio Carnival Food
Carnival is the period of celebration and excess in the lead up to lent. During lent, rich foods and meat were historically not allowed, so they were consumed in gluttonous glory in the lead up till lent. So of course good food is an important part of Viareggio Carnival!
You absolutely have to make time to unwind with enjoy all the delicious food and drink that is available during Viareggio Carnival! The city is filled with street vendors that line the parade route serving everything from seafood to gelato. Also make sure you explore all the great bars and restaurants around town which serve up seasonal delicacies that are only available around carnival time.
If you want something that is something warm and hearty, you must try the local seafood soup called Cacciucco alla Viareggina. This amazing dish is made with mussels, octopus, cuttlefish, mantis shrimp, trash fish, mussels and a few spoonfuls of tomato paste.
If you have a sweet tooth then your taste buds are in for a treat! There are so many delicious carnival sweets you have to try! One of the most common must eat foods is the Cenci or Chiacchiere which means rags. These are slices of fried dough that are drenched in powdered sugar and sometimes dark chocolate. Or try the cenci al forno which is a baked carnival speciality.
Then there is the bomboloncini con crema chantilly, which is where cream is injected into sugary balls of fried dough. Or try some ondines, which are cookies plastered with powdered sugar. Another carnival favourite that you must try is Frittelle di Riso! It is like a sweet rice pudding that is rolled up, fried and immersed in sugar. Sometimes they are then injected with custard cream or Nutella!
What to wear for carnival in Viareggio?
Locals have a great passion for carnival, they wait for this moment all year long and spend that time selecting their own carnival costumes to wear at both the parades and the district parties. Some people go all out and dress to impress while others just add a little fancy-dress element like a hat, wig, mask or some face paint.
We definitely recommend that you dress up! It isn’t essential and you won’t feel left out if you don’t. But the locals definitely dress up and why not, it adds to the fun. They say that it is easy to spot the tourists at carnival because they are the ones that don’t dress up.
There is no particular theme so anything goes! Just like Halloween you will see a sea of people in costumes anything from film characters, to fairy-tale favourites, pirates, princesses, skeletons, cartoons and the list could go on forever. Burlamacco, the Viareggio Carnival Mascot, is a popular costume choice!
There is only one shop in town that rents costumes, Bazaar, which costs around 200€ per day, so we suggest you plan what you’re going to wear at home.
How to get to Viareggio?
By Air: The closest airport to Viareggio is in Pisa which is about 15 minutes away from Viareggio by train.
By Train: It is easy to reach Viareggio by catching one of the local trains as it sits on a line that runs between Genoa and Rome. There are direct trains from Pisa, Florence, La Spezia and Cinque Terre. The Viareggio train station is only about 10-15 mins walk from the seaside promenade and affords you a nice opportunity to see some of Viareggio’s grandest buildings. Check Trenitalia website. For European rail tickets please go here.
By Bus: Eurolines Italia which operates in Viareggio and over 40 other Italian cities, directly connects with over 100 cities, within 15 European countries. However, train is generally the fastest option. Vaibus also operates to and from Lucca, Pisa, Forte dei marmi, Lucca, Pisa, Florence and Montecatini.
By Car: It is also possible to drive there and the city provides plenty of parking options. From Pisa, Milan, Florence and Genova, the Motorways are the A11 and A12. Just follow the exit signs for Viareggio.
How to get around Viareggio during Carnival?
Viareggio is a small Tuscan city so of course if you stay nearby the carnival celebrations than it is easy to get around on foot, hire a bike, drive around or grab a taxi. There is also plenty of local buses transporting people around during carnival.
Where to stay for the Viareggio Carnevale?
There are plenty of accommodation options in Viareggio because this city is a very popular resort town in the summer. We recommend booking around the promenade because that way you will be close to the carnival party atmosphere.
There are accommodations for all levels of budget and comfort. It is surprisingly easy to find affordable accommodation during carnival. Many of the hotels in Viareggio will offer package deals for carnival which are great value.
There are several hotel options along the parade route which can be booked so you can enjoy the show from your own private terrace. Some hotels include the Hotel Astor, Hotel President and the Hotel Plaza e de Russie. Make sure you book a room facing the street. Rooms with a balcony along the parade route they go for around €200/night. This option also works out well if the weather is bad or you are feeling the cold you can easily watch from the comfort of your room.
Check out some accommodation deals for Viareggio here. But remember to book quickly because occupancy rates fill up very quickly!
What to do and see in Viareggio?
Viareggio is one of Italy’s most glamorous seaside towns due to its unending stretch of sandy beaches, fine restaurants, boutique shops, millionaire yachts and art. On one side of Viareggio you have the foamy waves from the Tyrrhenian Sea and on the other side you have the striking white marble peaks of the Apuan Alps, which has given Viareggio its nickname ‘the Pearl of the Tyrrhenian Sea’.
Access to the sea has always been one of the main characteristics of Viareggio and throughout history has caused most of its ups and downs. Established as a port for Lucca the city dates to 1172, when the Lucchesi and Genoese – allied against Pisa. Viareggio’s original settlement grew around the tower and eventually the Burlamacca canal, which is still today the best dock for fishermen.
Viareggio’s evolution from a simple port city into a glamorous beachside holiday destination took time. It was only in 1819 that the Duchess Maria Luisa di Borbone called for the first harbour to be built. Only a few years later in 1822 it began to show signs of becoming a fashionable tourist town, thanks to Napoleon’s sister staying there for a holiday. The first resort opened up in 1828.
During carnival season and the summer months, its population explodes with visitors who come to enjoy the sandy beaches and delectable menu of fish. The Viareggio Beaches are the big draw card. They are sandy, sunny, well maintained and popular in the summer. The main beach is sandy and long and covered in rows of brightly coloured umbrellas with lounges under them.
Although the most attractive beaches are run by private clubs so you may have to pay anything between €20 and €50 to rent a parasol and sun-lounger for the day. Cash-conscious sun-seekers can get a tan with a sliver of ‘free beach’ on the main promenade or head to the larger free area on the far side of Viareggio’s marina.
Viareggio is a buzz with boutique shops, seafood restaurants, markets and charming cafes. Stroll along “La Passeggiata”, a wide road that runs parallel to the beach and is decorated with great restaurants, shops, gelato stores, cafés and park benches in the “liberty style.” The beachfront walk is a buzz of activity at all times of day or night.
It is also a highlight for Art Nouveau architecture enthusiasts with the highlights being around Gran Caffe Margherita, nearly unchanged since the days of Giacomo Puccini, near the Marina end of the Passeggiata. Viareggio has always been popular amongst fine art enthusiasts and is home to the Villa Paolina Civic Museum.
Viareggio wouldn’t be a Tuscan city that you could recommend without having find food! Viareggio is home too not one, but two Michelin Star restaurants! There is Ristorante Romano which offers high-end seafood and then the stunning rooftop restaurant Il Piccolo Principe with gorgeous views over the seafront. Of course many of the city’s’ Trattorias serve great pizza and pasta dishes from around 6 euros.
Viareggio is the perfect place for those who want to pair a lazy Italian beach holiday with some more culture-fuelled day trips to amazing nearby cities and towns like Lucca, Le Cinque Terre Pisa, Lucca, and of course the fabulous Florence.
Viareggio is renowned worldwide for its shipbuilding. All major yacht builders have a base here. If you stroll around Via Michele Coppino, you can enjoy witnessing some of the city’s other attractions, the luxury super yachts! For those of us who can only dream of stepping aboard one we must do with gazing upon them. Chelsea football club owner Roman Abramovich is the owner of one of the super yachts.
If you want to test your sea legs, then hop aboard the daily boat trip that departs from Viareggio to Le Cinque Terre. While less glamorous than the super yachts, the views of the Tuscan coastline will still dazzle you. The ferry picks up passengers at the millionaire’s playground that is Forte dei Marmi, Marina di Carrara, Portovenere before continuing on towards the Gulf of Poets.
Viareggio has all the modern amenities you could want but offers nice slow change and lazy ambience which makes the city so charming. When you visit Viareggio for carnival, carnival is just the icing on the cake!
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