Italian public holidays are held on the exact calendar date they fall on; some years that means less holidays as they fall on weekends but in others it means more especially with “ponte” (bridges). If the holiday falls on a Tuesday or Thursday, most people leave town and take the Monday or Friday off too. Below is a list in chronologically order of all public holidays and festivals. Hotels are open all year but expect shop, restaurant, museum and attraction closures on 1 Jan, 1 May, 15 Aug and 25 Dec.
When: First half of February
In past times Rome Carnival was an event that rivalled the more famous celebrations in Venice. Topping the bill was a horserace down via del Corso, which is how the street gained its name. In recent years there has been a big effort to revive the popularity of the event and the council has put on processions of floats, horse shows and concerts. Festivities are concentrated around Piazza del Popolo.
Easter in Rome is still an important religious event as it was intended to be. The city attracts many thousands of pilgrims to hear mass given by the Pope. Easter Monday is a public holidays but Good Friday is not. The traditional dish at Easter is lamb and masses of Italians head to the hills to feast on the fruits of Spring. If you can, join them for a real Italy day in the small towns around Rome in Lazio and the Abruzzi.
When: 25 April
Under Mussolini Italy joined the wrong side in World War II so for a foreigner it seems strange to speak of “liberation”. However, after Fascist forces capitulated and elements with allied sympathies failed to mobilize in time the country was occupied by Nazi Germany. 25 April celebrates Italy’s liberation from German occupation by Allied forces with, guess what? They have a Junta-style military parade along Via Fori Imperiali.
When: 1 May
Labour Day is a sacred day off for anyone with left wing political sympathies and in a country that once had the biggest Communist party in the Western world that is a fair few people. May 1 is also a very nice time of year – warm, sunny, green – so unless you fancy a bit of rock and pop music in Piazza San Giovanni, then go to a park for a picnic. As with all public holidays and Sundays Via Appia Antica (The Appian Way) and Via Fori Imperiali are closed to traffic. Quite a lot of services are closed too.
When: 2 June
Italy became a republic on 2 June 1946 after a referendum that saw the Piemontese Savoy monarchy sent into exile. You can see the tombs of the Kings of Italy in the Pantheon complete with a guard of honour. 2 June is another get-out-of-town holiday for locals but that means less traffic making a stroll through the piazzas that more pleasurable. The city is open for tourism as usual on 2 June.
When: June 29
Each major city in Italy celebrates its own saint’s day. In Rome that is 29 June, the festival of Saints Peter and Paul. The city has many statues of the two Apostles and they are easily recognisable. Peter has the keys to the gates of heaven and Paul carries a sword and a bible as he was executed with a sword, a “privilege” afforded him as a Roman citizen. The city is open for tourism as usual on 29 June.
When: July – September
Estate Romana is the umbrella name given to a three month extravaganza of cultural and free time events that leaves you asking, does anybody work in this city? Every night there are concerts, film screenings, open air bars and food stands. The main areas to visit are along the Tiber near Trastevere and alongside Caracalla’s baths. The Rock in Roma festival is held at the Campanelli race course on the Appia Nouva and up on Parco del Celio there is an open air pool and an all night party scene. Another good place to party is in Villa Borghese.
When: 15 August
Although 15 August is rarely referred to by its religious name, it is a day of holiday that is sacred to all Italians. In fact until recently the Italian answer to air conditioning was “tutti al mare” (everyone heads to the sea). August is no longer a general shut down but it is fair to say that any shop, restaurant or agency which has made good money will take the middle two weeks of August off. Museums stay open and the traffic is a throwback to yesteryear. However, the city really is hot so book hotel with a pool.
When: 01 November
All Saint’s Day is a welcome break after the reality check October brings each year. Traditionally, this is a day for visiting lost relatives but for younger people it means celebrating Halloween. The word Halloween is derived from “Hallows" and “eve”. All saints carry a hallow so Halloween is the evening before All Saint’s Day. The city is open for tourism as usual on 1 November.
When: 08 December
The Pope holds mass near the Spanish Steps on 8 December but apart from the faithful, Italians generally use this day off to prepare for Christmas and the close of the financial year. The city is open for tourism as usual on 8 December.
When: 25, 26 December and 1, 6 January
Christmas, like all public holidays here in Italy, is a family affair. This time of year mothers all up and down the peninsula will be imploring their offspring to come home whilst getting their feeding-the-5000-mechanism in motion for the ensuing masses. Try and be part of a family Christmas as there is no better time to feel the resolutely generous nature of Italians. Children can also expect a sock full of sweets on Epiphany, 6 January, when the “Befana” comes calling.