Italy's Venice Carnival is a funny, crazy and exuberant event set in one of the world's most unique and beautiful cities - safe too, though beware pickpockets in the crowded square (Piazza) of San Marco.
For the ten days the city sees all sorts of normally sensible folk, including many families, as well wackos, weirdos and exhibitionists, dressing up in specially made costumes or outfits rented for the occasion, strutting their stuff around Venice's centre.
The area is stuffed with both sightseers and snappers of pictures, but there are sufficient sights of both the costumed variety and of local architecture and artefacts to keep any visitor happy for quite a few days, if not the whole event.
Basilica di San Marco in the heart of Venice, Piazza San Marco
The Carnival is a must-see for anyone remotely interested in fashion, style, excess or bizarre images, with costumes ranging from elaborate formal Regency outfits, through bizarre and expensive designer kit, to bizarre and cheap home-made kit, to large family groups shuffling around dressed as King Penguins.
The spotty costume pictured above, along with its red/black twin, was probably designed by Jean-Paul Gaultier.
For the full flavour, rent a costume and go to a costume ball (the poshest is the Doge's Ball).
Best days to go there
The best costume sights are not so much at the beginning or end of the event, they are at the weekends when non-Venice Italians appear in all their finery. Weekends are thus the most crowded times too...
The Rialto Bridge, Venice, built in 1591 after several previous bridges collapsed.
A typical tourist day
One of the best aspects of this festivity is the relaxed structure. A typical day visitor's might go something like this...
Up late, breakfast in your hotel not far from the Piazza San Marco.
Stagger a few yards to the Piazza about 10am, take a quick look to see
if there are any serious costumes about, then have an expresso and brandy
in a bar - standing up, because it's cheaper that way.
Italian party people, who often wear the most inventive or beautiful outfits, will have recovered from the night before and will make appearances - happily posing for photos - before diving into the Café Florian or wherever is fashionable that year. Mind you, Florian has been fashionable for a few hundred years so it'll probably remain so for a while yet.
Then, as dusk falls, families head for dinner places while the party people head for their rooms to prepare for another wild night in Venice.
If you've already done Venice you could try a carnival in a different European location. There are excellent carnivals at Viareggio, Italy; Binche, Belgium; Nice, France; Cologne, Germany; Munich, Germany; gay Sitges (near Barcelona, Spain); or Seville's Semana Santa for something completely different yet strangely similar.