Why You Need To See The “Carnival of Viareggio” Float Parade

Each year, this Tuscan coastal town hosts the world’s largest float parade.
A parade float with a giant blue mechanical octopus and dozens of people marching in front of it in red costumes and makeup.
“Octopus 5.0 The AI Revolution” by Luigi Bonetti ©Katie Morgans

The “Carnevale di Venezia” is an event that captivates countless people around the world. But did you know that Tuscany celebrates its own carnival, as well? Each year, the popular beach town of Viareggio comes alive with fantastical, oversized floats when it hosts the Carnival of Viareggio, the world’s largest float parade.

A tradition that dates back to 1873, the Carnival of Viareggio draws 500,000 to the Tuscan coast each year to mark the 40 days before Easter. Dozens of elaborate floats are on display, while people of all ages fill the streets with colorful masks and costumes. Confetti, balloons, and the smells of traditional Carnevale treats linger in the air, making this an experience everyone needs to see at least once in their lifetime.

A huge crowd of people watching the float parade on a bright sunny day, holding flags and wearing hats and costumes.
Crowds at the Carnevale di Viareggio in 2024 ©Katie Morgans

The Carnival of Viareggio

The spectacle takes place around the city’s promenade along a 3km stretch of palm-tree-lined road between the sea and the city’s beautiful Liberty buildings. The massive floats are true works of art. Constructed primarily of papier-mâché, they depict political and social issues in a satirical, ironic way. No public figure is safe from the commentary of these artists: international celebrities, politicians, and cultural figures are all fair game at the Carnival of Viareggio. The floats may be caricatures, but each sculpture is incredibly thought-provoking. Many even confront some of the biggest contemporary issues that we face in society head-on. Each float is accompanied by music and hundreds of dancers in elaborate costumes, makeup, and masks that dazzle spectators and invite them to join in on the fun.

A float made up of a bar, the Mona Lisa painting, and a huge goat or ram dressed in a yellow tux.
“Blah-blah Bar” by Umberto, Stefano, Michele e Jacopo Cinquini ©Katie Morgans

A Creative Competition

In Viareggio, the floats in the parade compete against each other. The winner is announced on the last day of Carnevale, which is marked with a fireworks show. For the competition, the floats are divided into several categories: First Class Floats, Group Masquerades, Isolated Masquerades, and Second Class Floats. The First Class Floats are the most popular category amongst parade-goers and tell several stories. Some of the float themes for this year include the dangers of artificial intelligence, consumerism, and global warming, along with adolescent love, hope, and courage.

A float made up of colorful robots of different sizes and a sleeping human on top.
“W-A.I.-ke Up! A quasi-imaginary story of Alternative Intelligence” by Lebigre e Roger ©Katie Morgans

2024 First Class Floats

  • Follow Your Heart by Jacopo Allegrucci
  • The Dream Circus by Alessandro Avanzini
  • More Teeth!!! The World’s Greatest Show by Luca Bertozzi
  • Octopus 5.0 The AI Revolution by Luigi Bonetti
  • Kids, listen up… by Massimo Breschi
  • Blah-blah Bar by Umberto, Stefano, Michele, and Jacopo Cinquini
  • The scent of roses in the thorns by Carlo and Lorenzo Lombardi
  • W-A.I.-ke Up! A quasi-imaginary story of Alternative Intelligence by Lebigre and Roger
  • Time to Change by Roberto Vannucci

Learn more about these floats on the Carnevale di Viareggio website.

A blue paper-mache horse float
“The scent of roses in the thorns” by Carlo e Lorenzo Lombardi ©Katie Morgans

When To Visit: 2024 Dates

The carnival takes place over a month with six parades being held each year. The first weekend of this year’s carnival has already passed, but there are still plenty more parades coming up:

  • Thursday, February 8 at 6:00 p.m.
  • Tuesday, February 13 at 3:00 p.m.
  • Sunday, February 18 at 3:00 p.m.
  • Saturday, February 24 at 5:00 p.m.

You can purchase tickets online and at the carnival’s ticket booth. Visitors can also rent costume pieces such as masks, wigs, and hats inside the venue. Along the promenade, many food trucks and stands will sell traditional Carnevale treats in addition to more classic dishes like pizza and hot dogs.

The magic of the Carnevale isn’t limited to the dates on which the parades take place. There are huge, open-air parties sprinkled throughout the city on weekends. Many streets are closed to traffic while people dressed in costumes dance to music, bringing the Carnevale spirit to life into the late hours. Taste local Viareggina specialties like spaghetti with clams, scarpaccia (a zucchini dessert), and cecina (chickpea cake) while enjoying the festive atmosphere that Carnevale brings. With live music and DJ sets on every street corner, it’s truly an unforgettable experience.

To learn more about the Carnevale di Viareggio and purchase tickets, visit the website.

A float mimicking Salvador Dali, his head and famous mustache erupting from a frame with his drooping eyes behind him on a purple curtain. His famous melting watches on a tree next to him.
“The Dream Circus” by Alessandro Avanzini ©Katie Morgans
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