Planning a trip to Italy? When choosing dates it’s best to keep in mind the national bank holidays throughout the year. If you happen to visit during a major holiday or local festival, everything could be affected from museum opening times to hotel availability and pricing to crowds. The holidays can be great fun to experience and truly dive into the local culture, but it’s best to be prepared!
Here’s a list of the major national holidays together with some typical Italian traditions:
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January 1 – New Year’s Day (Capodanno)
New Year’s Day tends to be fairly laid-back after the preceding days. Families may get together for a lunch of zampone (a typical stuffed pork leg sausage often eaten on this day) served with lentils, a hopeful symbol of good fortune and wealth for the coming year much like black-eyed peas in the USA. Some families serve it on New Year’s Eve. As a major bank holiday nearly everything is closed tight today, except churches and a few restaurants. Tourism is light this time of year so crowds are not high.
January 6 – Epiphany (Epifania or La Befana)
The Epiphany is a Catholic holiday marking the symbolic day of the three kings or wise men. According to Christian tradition, after traveling from faraway lands following the star of Bethlehem, the kings left their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh for the newborn Christ Child. In cities like Florence there are re-enactments of the event in the city streets entailing horses with costumed king figures, in which the ruling Medici family once participated. The Epifania marks the end of the Christmas holiday season in Italy which started on December 8; school resumes after this date. Typically Italian schools break for Christmas holidays from December 23 to the first weekday after January 6.
Old Italian tradition stipulates that children are brought sweets during the night of January 5 by the Befana, an old witch figure that leaves candies in stockings to good children and coal to the naughty. Venice holds a Befana regatta on its waters in honor of this ancient tradition.
Carnevale (Mardi Gras)
During the winter weeks leading up to Lent (which begins forty days before Easter on Maundy Wednesday) Italy’s streets and piazzas are overtaken by children in costumes throwing confetti and running wild. It’s Carnevale – a modern version of the old Catholic tradition where people indulged one last time before the penitence of Lent when, among other things, they could not eat meat. In fact this explains the presumed origin of the name of the holiday, the Latin expression carnem levare meaning “taking away meat” which throughout the centuries became carne, vale! (goodbye, meat!). While you will see a local version of the festivities in any Italian city and village, some are more famous for their sophisticated spectacles like Venice with elaborate costumes, masks and wigs, and Viareggio in seaside Tuscany with parade floats of current and historical figures. Carnevale is the Italian version of Mardi Gras, and can occur in the weekends of January-March depending on when Easter falls. This is not a national bank holiday.
Easter Sunday and Easter Monday (Pasqua and Pasquetta)
Depending on the year, Easter Sunday or Pasqua can fall in March or April. Pasqua in Italy is a major holiday, more felt and celebrated than in the USA – closer to Christmas in importance. Some people attend Mass. Families unite for lunch, a big event often featuring lamb on the menu. Beloved Easter sweets like the colomba dove-shaped cake, pane di pasqua ring cake with colored hard boiled eggs and uova al cioccolato large chocolate eggs filled with surprises are given as gifts and happily consumed by all; they appear in shop windows weeks before the big day.
Easter Monday or Pasquetta is also a bank holiday in Italy (“Little Easter”). Typically on this day Italians travel into the countryside to spend time with friends in picnics and other bucolic festivities. Whereas most museums and businesses are closed on Easter Sunday some reopen on Easter Monday.
Tourism tends to be quite high this time of year across Italy, especially in Rome the center of the Catholic church with the Pope’s various religious events bringing huge crowds. Furthermore both Italy and much of Europe consider Holy Week a sort of Spring Break where kids are out of school from around the Wednesday of the week before Easter Sunday to the Wednesday after it (this varies by country, Italy tends to be what is listed). What does this mean for you? Potentially more people, higher crowds, less hotel availability and multiple museum and monument closings during the week. Not necessarily a deal-breaker, but definitely something to keep on your radar.
April 25 – Liberation Day (Festa della Liberazione)
Liberation Day is a national Italian holiday commemorating the end of Fascist and Nazi regime during World War II and the victory of the Resistance in Italy in 1945. Italian flags will be flying high across the land in remembrance of those who fought and died for the cause. It’s a bank holiday, but many museums, businesses and restaurants remain open as it is typically tourist season.
May 1 – Labor Day (Primo Maggio or Festa del Lavoro)
A major national bank holiday, May 1 is International Workers Day in Italy and around the world. Most things will be closed tight – this carries the same strict “no work” importance as Christmas, Easter and New Year’s days in Italy.
NB: April 25 and May 1 holidays fall a week apart, during a heavy tourist season. Expect high crowds and some closings; when the holidays fall around a weekend even moreso. We always keep these two holidays on our radar.
June 2 – Republic Day (Festa della Repubblica)
Today marks the symbolic conclusion to the Unification of Italy in 1861 and the founding of the Republic. Big deal in Italy. Like April 25, Italian tricolore flags fly across the country in pride. Not a tightly-closed holiday, you should be able to find many museums, shops and restaurants open.
August 15 – Assumption of the Virgin (Ferragosto)
This Catholic holiday marking the Assumption of the Virgin Mary into heaven upon her death is more commonly felt by most Italians as carefree Ferragosto, the central week of the August holiday. Most Italians have this day off work at the very least, or the entire week off in many businesses. In cities most things will be closed. At beach and resort areas everything is open and packed to the brim with beach-loving Italians. Schools start in Italy in mid-September so all of August is potential vacation season. Some cities like Siena celebrate with local historic festivals like the Palio which runs on August 16 in honor of the Madonna dell’Assunta.
November 1 – All Saint’s Day (Ognissanti)
This is the day honoring all the saints, usually celebrated with Mass. The next day, All Souls Day, Italian families will typically visit the cemeteries of their loved ones to leave flowers, light candles and sometimes stay for a convivial snack in remembrance. November 1 is a bank holiday with most businesses and shops closed. Since the tourist season tends to be lower by now, it is not a major issue. November 2 is not a bank holiday. Many regions produce typical sweets for the occasion, like in Sicily with the frutta martorana or colored marzipan fruits made and eaten for All Souls Day. They are heavenly!
All Saints Eve, or Halloween on October 31, is popular in Italy now for kids and youth but more laid back than in the USA (not a national holiday).
December 8 – Immaculate Conception (Festa dell’Immacolata Concezione)
Today is the traditional start of the Italian Christmas holiday season, with the Catholic Festa dell’Immacolata Concezione bank holiday (celebrating the Catholic belief that Mary was born free of sin). Many families decorate their Christmas tree and homes this day, and begin their holiday shopping with alluring sales and discounts (though in recent years Black Fridays have changed this shopping tradition, scooting up the shopping dates).
December 25 – Christmas Day (Natale)
This religious holiday is naturally a major event in Italy with nearly everything closed except churches. In the days leading up to Natale some faithful like to visit churches to view the various creche scenes (presepi). Many cities and towns cheerfully decorate for Christmas with hanging street lights and illuminated trees and buildings; compared to the USA the holiday is less commercialized and more low key. Northern destinations like the Dolomite mountains will provide a delightfully Nordic holiday experience with all the usual decor and foods – and snow! Rome can also be a spirited destination as the heart of the Catholic church. Across the country panettone and pandoro cakes are the go-to desserts during the season.
December 26 – St. Stephen’s Day (Santo Stefano)
The final bank holiday of the year, Santo Stefano is a saint’s holiday which allows for back-to-back free days. Traditionally families will visit other families, friends visit other friends, or some people might travel for short trips in Italy, Europe or elsewhere. Many simply enjoy a quiet day at home after the holiday rush – it’s an easy transition day between holiday busyness and normal life.
Many, though not all, businesses and museums will be closed on these national holidays. The most important holidays – with the most closures – are Christmas and Easter, followed by New Year’s Day and Labor Day.
Chiuso per Ferie means Closed for Holiday – a sign you’re likely to see anytime there is a public holiday or in August!
In addition to the national holidays, every city celebrates its local feast day or patron saint holiday when local businesses close, like St. John the Baptist Day in Florence on June 24 or Saints Peter and Paul Day in Rome on June 29.
Italy is also full of local festivities and events for the changing of the seasons, local foods or historical tournaments like the famous Palio in Siena in July and August or the White Truffle Festival in Alba from October-November.
We can help you identify what holidays and local festivals you might encounter when we plan your personalized itinerary…we can even plan trips around a particular festival or event.