Viareggio Carnival

Viareggio Carnival - La Gabbia float
Viareggio Carnival – La Gabbia float

Viareggio Carnival 2020 Dates

In 2020, Viareggio Carnival starts Saturday 1 February and ends Tuesday 25 February.

Note: For all events we give the Italian times, which are an hour later than the UK’s times.

There is a record number of six main events this year. The 2020 dates of the gigantic float parades on the seafront promenade’s tree-lined, Art Déco boulevards are on the following days:

  1. 1.) Saturday 1 February – the Opening Ceremony, flag-raising and Opening Parade with fireworks and music show, starting at 4pm
  2. 2.) Sunday 9 February – Second Parade, starting at 3pm
  3. 3.) Saturday 15 February – Third Parade,  starting at 5pm
  4. 4.) Thursday 20 FebruaryParade by night (“in notturna”) to celebrate Fat Thursday, followed by fireworks, starting at 6pm
  5. 5.) Sunday 23 February –  Fifth Parade, starting at 3pm
  6. 6.) And finally the Closing Parade on Tuesday 25 February, Shrove Tuesday, starting at 3pm, followed by the award ceremony for the best float and mask in each category and Grand Finale Fireworks on the beach, ending the 2020 Carnival of Viareggio.

The entry price is 20 euros per person for a parade, except the Thursday 20 February parade, which costs 15 euros. Prices are discounted for groups (17 euros, or 12 euros on 20 Feb) and kids under 14 years of age (15 euros, or 10 euros 20 Feb). Children up to 1.20 metres tall have free entry.

Buying cumulative tickets for all 6 parades costs much less: 35 euros for all 6 parades if bought up to 6 January 2020 and 40 euros from 7 January 2019.

A seat in the stand in Piazza Mazzini offering an elevated view of the parade (requiring advance booking of at least 20 days via fax +39 0584/580771 or e-mail [email protected]) costs 15 euros in addition to the entry ticket.

The “Carnevale di Viareggio” 2021 will start Saturday 30 January.
In 2022 it will start Saturday 5 February.

Viareggio coast, seafront and Apuan Alps from the pier
Viareggio coast, seafront and Apuan Alps from the pier


What is Viareggio Carnival?

Viareggio Carnival (Viareggio Carnevale, or rather Carnevale di Viareggio) is one of the greatest and most important carnivals in Italy and in the world, along with Venice Carnival.

Viareggio is a beautiful seaside resort in Versilia Riviera, on the Northern Tuscan coast, between Portofino and Cinque Terre on the North and Pisa on the South, near Lucca and the Apuane Alps.

Viareggio Carnival is a 16-day period of fun during the Mardi Gras festivities. It takes place in February and March.

Carnival is a specific period of the year. Although “Carnival” in English does not have a time connotation and refers generally to any festival or revel, the English term derives from the Italian “Carnevale”. It means the period of fun, feasting and merrymaking just before the Lent starts with its 40 days of abstinence. It ends on Mardi Gras (Shrove Tuesday), the last day of Carnival in the Catholic calendar, the day preceding Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent.

Viareggio Carnival 1973 - "Rendez-vous a Viareggio" float
Viareggio Carnival 1973 – “Rendez-vous a Viareggio” float

During Carnival many Italian cities and towns celebrate this time of fun in their own specific way, creating festivals each with its own local colour.

Like other renowned carnivals in Italy, notably the Venice Carnival, the Carnival of Viareggio is characterized by visual displays of high artistic level.

Every Viareggio-born person awaits with trepidation and excitement to hear the triple cannon shot that signals the beginning of the great emotion of the occasion. Fired from the sea shore, it marks every time the start of the floats parade.

Viareggio, Tuscany coast, Italy - the sea and the Apuane Alps, Versilia Riviera
Viareggio beaches, harbour, pinewoods,
Apuane Alps mountains

The Carnival of Viareggio has a song specially created for it, which changes every year. One of my favourites is the 1982 Carnival song Un’onda scivola (A wave glides by), because it is a poetic evocation of the moments that preceed the start of the carnival parade, the joyous expectation while on the beach watching the movement of the sea and the play of the wind with coriandoli and children’s’ hair.

Artistic floats big and small that took a whole year to build, created by artists with the help of craftsmen, are then paraded on the seafront on traditionally four different dates, that have now become five: these parades are called “corsi mascherati”.

The floats are very colourful, full of humour and irony in the true Carnival spirit, often with a satirical intent: this is why they are called “carri allegorici”.

Various floats from Viareggio’s Carnival are pictured here: the one at the top is a float representing the world in a cage dominated by a gigantic six-armed demon, a symbol of the global economic system that is not working and makes people feel imprisoned; further down are photos of a float with a caricature of Nobel-laureate playwright Dario Fo; the one below that depicts a parody of the provocative singer Renato Zero.

Viareggio Carnival night parade
Viareggio Carnival night parade

The floats are huge, they are often taller than the buildings along the promenade. People who see them for the first time are usually impressed by their size, which was unexpected. But they are also beautiful and extremely complex. It takes about a year to make one of them. The creator is often a renowned local artist, a painter whose float carries his signature as if it were a painting or sculpture.

He is aided by a team of many craftsmen working with him in the big purpose-built hangars at the edge of the town. The material used is papier-mâché.

While it is paraded, circling on the seafront, the float is animated from within by several people who operate the mechanisms that make heads on the float turn, eyes roll, mouths open and smile, arms and legs raise, birds spread their wings, and every little detail come to life.

Each float has a band playing live music on it, along with groups of people dancing, waving and cheering, all in a fancy dress in harmony with the theme of the float, be it devils, clowns, fierce or pacific animals, Pierrots, Harlequins and other characters of Commedia dell’Arte, monsters, barbarians, political caricatures, comedy personas, singers, celebrities, even IT moguls like the creator of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg.

Viareggio Carnival - "The Barbarians" float
Viareggio Carnival – “The Barbarians” float

Dancers also precede and follow each float dressed and dancing in a style that evokes the subject of their float.

In addition to the floats, other smaller displays follow in a circle, as well as mascherate, i.e. lines of people wearing on their heads masks made of papier-mâché, and marching brass bands, one of which is Viareggio’s own band, La Libecciata (from “libeccio”, a warm Mediterranean wind blowing in Viareggio from the sea).

Besides the corsi mascherati, which take place on 3 successive Sundays during Carnival and on the day of Mardi Gras, the various areas and neighbourhoods of Viareggio organize local street parties, le feste rionali.

People wear masks, kids turn up in fancy dresses, and at night everybody dances in the streets and has a good time.

In Italy we have a saying: a Carnevale ogni scherzo vale, which means: “During the Carnival, anything goes”. Practical jokes are common and normal and must be accepted. There was a time, now gone, when “manganelli” (plastic truncheons) were used by guys to club passing girls on the head. It may have been done with good and humorous intentions, but it stll gave you a headache by the time you got home.

Thankfully manganelli have been out for many years now, but “coriandoli” and “stelle filanti” are still in use and they can be thrown at people without causing any problem. Stelle filanti are streamers. Coriandoli are what in English are called “confetti”, small pieces of paper of all colours thrown around for celebration at festive events. In Italy they are usually round.

There is a linguistic confusion here, because “confetti” in Italian are something completely different, namely sweets made of a colorful sugar-coated almond, offered at weddings, Christenings, and other sacraments like Confirmations. The English word, despite the different meaning it has taken in English, originated in the early 19th century from the Italian language.

And since we are talking about sweets, if you happen to go to Viareggio’s Carnival stop at one of the many street stalls (bancarelle) lining the parade and get croccanti and torroni, delicious and very, very sweet.


Viareggio Carnival - Dario Fo float
Viareggio Carnival – Dario Fo float

The triple cannon shot which started each main parade of floats and masks on the seafront also marks the end of it.

But the Carnival celebrations are not limited to parades, bands, floats, music, fancy dresses, parties in the street, parties in clubs, masks, and all the fun that goes with it. They also include many events of other types, ranging from cultural events like theatre, debates, conferences, book presentations and photography exhibitions to sport events.

The latter include tournaments in swimming, cycling, hockey, golf, karate, horse riding, duathlon, athletics competitions like marathon, parachute jumping on the float parades, motorbike rallies, and even an international competition of radio-controlled speedboat.

Viareggio Carnival - Renato Zero float
Viareggio Carnival – Renato Zero float


Another sport event is the Viareggio Cup, an international youth football tournament that in 2013 was at its 65th edition. And for the first time this year there has been the Torneo Coppa Carnevale di Rugby, in recognition of the growing importance that this sport is acquiring in Italy.

During Carnival, Viareggio becomes a bit like a mini Olympic city, with its own Carnival Village, a covered, fully-equipped 750-square-metres area hosting shows, entertainment, culture and other events.

The Carnival of Viareggio dates back a couple of centuries, but officially it started in the 1870s, and has been repeated every year since, looked forward to with great expectation by the locals.

In 2013, the 140th anniversary of Viareggio Carnival was celebrated with 5, rather than the usual 4, float parades.

Since then, the novelty of five Carnival float parades has always been maintained.

The parades are on the promenade along the sea.