Italy's Festivals you don't want to miss!
Be sure to attend major festivals in Italy. Timing your trip to coincide with an annual Italian Festival is an excellent way to add festive, enjoyable, colorful, lively fun to your trip, and learn more about the culture and ethnic traditions of Italy and its towns. In December, annual festivals in Italy are centered around the holidays, so you will find some beautiful and lively Christmas markets to attend in almost every town.
Carnevale – Venice
Carnevale di Venezia (Venice Carnival) is probably the most famous carnival in the world. The annual festival, started in the 11th century, lasts for about 2 weeks and the event attracts about 3 million visitors per year! The event is crowded and hectic but it is an experience of a lifetime.
Here are some of the events taking place during Carnevale di Venezia:
- Festa Veneziana – opening activities lasting 2 full days, which include a water show, acrobats and music, as well as boat parade.
- Piazza San Marco – central location for all activities, including the parades. The piazza also has live music nightly.
- Festa delle Marie – This parade celebrates the purification of Mary, which was the day when all marriages were blessed. Watch from the Basilica or the Riva in Castello.
- Best Masked Costume Competition – This 7-day event is open to everyone and each day it is open, there is the possibility to take part in the competition. All participants parade on the San Marco stage. Take plenty of pictures!
- Carnevale dei Ragazzi – With about 5o events in total and lasting a full 10 days Carnevale die Ragazzi is geared toward youngsters. There are costume parades. Several museums and theatres organize workshops and events.
- Volo dell’Angelo – A tradition dating back from the 16th century, the Volo dell’Angelo (Flight of the Angel) marks the official opening of Carnevale.
- Ballata delle Maschere (The ballad of the masks) – This parade is a new addition to Carnevale and it displays the beheading of the bull (not a real bull).
- Nicoletti e Castellani – Another newer event that takes place on San Marko Square. This historical re-enactment of the fights between two neighborhoods, the Nicolotti (who lived in Dorsoduro) and the Castellani (from Castello).
- Volo dell’Aquila – Another newer event, the Flight of the Eagle flies from the Campanile to the San Marco stage.
- Regata Sprint di Carnevale – A finale to Carnevale, the Regata takes place on the last weekend. The teams include men, women, and children of Venice.
- Svolo del Leone – The final ceremony of Carnevale. It is the flight of the Lion of San Marco, where participants salute the flag, which is pulled up from the square to the top of the bell tower.
Balls and parties
There are many masked balls and parties all over Venice, many of which include dinner, a show, and music. These are not official Carnevale events but can be fun to attend. However, they can be expensive.
Visit the Carnevale di Venezia official website for more information.
Festa di Sant’Agata – Catania
This annual three-day event attracts over one million attendees. The festival celebrates the martyrdom of Sant’Agata. The story – Born into a Patrician family in Catania, the devoutly religious Sant’Agata soon attracted the amorous attentions of the Roman Proconsul Quintianus who wanted to marry her. She rejected his proposal, and Quintianus’s courtship quickly turned to religious persecution and hatred. She was horrifically tortured and died on February 5, 251.
The opening day of the festival includes a procession of the cannalori: (11 huge candles) and is accompanied by a marching band and cheering crowds. In the evening, the Piazza Duomo hosts a concert and fireworks display.
Day 2 has Sant’Agata’s reliquary statue carried from the Cathedral through the streets of the city in a day-long procession that stops off at all the places that have a connection with her life, including the Church of Sant’Agata alla Fornace – the site of her martyrdom.
On the final day, the statue is once again carried through the city after a morning mass and time of remembrance. The evening includes a massive party and another round of fireworks.
Visit the Festa di Sant’Agata official website for more information.
Gelato Festival – Florence
Is there a better way to celebrate gelato than attending the Gelato Festival? It is the most prestigious individual gelato tournament in the world!
The Gelato Festival consists of a 4-year qualification stage that allows chefs from all over the world to qualify for the tournament. The world final is called “Gelato Festival World Masters”. Gelato Festival can now be considered one of the most important and most followed food events globally.
The next world final will take place in 2021. View the Gelato Festival official website for more information.
Can’t market the festival? Visit one of the Best Gelato shops in Italy!
Scoppio del Carro – FlorenceThis event is celebrated on Easter Sunday every year. Florence celebrates the Easter holiday with the Scoppio del Carro, or the “Explosion of the Cart”, which dates back over 350 years. A massive 17th-century wagon standing two to three stories high is pulled by a pair of oxen decorated in garlands through the streets of Florence to the square between the Baptistry and Cathedral. Starting around 10:00 am a priest lights an Easter candle that is used to light coals that have been placed in the cart. A procession delivers the cart with the Holy Fire to the Duomo. The cart is accompanied by drummers, flag throwers and figures dressed in historical costumes. After a large spectacle, the cart, which is loaded with fireworks, explodes before a lively crowd.
Festa della Sensa – Venice
Venice has been married to the sea for over a thousand years!
The Festa della Sensa (Marriage of the Sea) is a thousand-year-old ceremony held on Ascension Day, the Doge, to symbolize the Venetian domination of the sea. The celebration is believed to have started in 997 following a military victory in Dalmatia, bringing those lands under the control of Venice.
The ceremony is a procession on water from St.Mark’s to San Nicolò on the Lido, where the Patriach of Venice will bless a golden ring, which will then be tossed in the water by the Mayor as a symbol of the Venetian dominance of the seas. A regatta of four-oared gondolas, starting from St.Mark’s going to San Nicolò, follows the ceremony.
Watch this short video of gondolas parading in celebration.
Festa di San Giorgio – Ragusa Ibla
Spanning 3 days, this festival in beautiful Ragusa Ibla is one of the most colorful, atmospheric events anywhere in Sicily. The town of Ragusa Ibla is extraordinary even without a festa. Ragusa Ibla is one of Sicily’s best UNESCO-listed towns and is a lively and festive community.
On the last Sunday of May each year, Ragusa Ibla comes alive during the Festa di San Giorgio. On each of the festival’s three nights, a huge silver casket containing the relics of San Georgio is carried out of the Duomo and is paraded through the streets of the city. The church bells ring throughout the procession, along with cannons, a military band, and massive fireworks display. The procession takes place against a backdrop of booming cannons, pealing church bells, military bands and finally the explosion of fireworks as the statue is slowly returned to the Duomo.
Infiorata di Noto – Noto
“Infiorata” means flower in Italian and Infiorata de Noto is a showcase of art and tradition. This 3-day festival (running Friday – Sunday) transforms several streets of the historic center of Noto into floral works of art.
Visit Noto on Friday to watch the assembly of these magnificent floral carpets along the cobblestone streets – an all-day spectacle that runs late into the evening.
Visit on Saturday to see the completed works as you stroll through the charming village streets.
Visit on Sunday to experience the closing ceremony that includes a parade and musicians.
Sagra del Limone, Monterosso – Cinque Terre
If you are planning to visit in May, don’t miss Monterosso’s Festa del Limone. The Cinque Terre villages are famous for their gorgeous lemons and this festival celebrates them. Plan a weekend getaway to experience all things lemon!
The festival usually includes an outdoor market featuring local lemon products direct from their local producers. Visit an ancient lemon grove and taste some local specialties surrounded by nature – a truly beautiful afternoon experience. Or, for a small fee, you can stroll through the streets and view the elaborate window displays while sampling “typica” regional food and wine. Be sure to stop by the lemon dessert stand to satisfy your sweet tooth. The event closes in the evening with live music in Piazza Garibaldi and the awarding of the best showcase and the biggest lemon.
Calcio Storico – Florence
Calling all lovers of Football and Rugby! Experience the most unusual sports tournament – Calcio Storico.
Originated in the 16th-century, the Calcio Storico Fiorentino is a combination of soccer, rugby and wrestling, and played in the original historical costume. Four teams of the historical Florentine neighborhoods of the city play against each other, first in two semi-finals and then the final match to determine the winner in this annual brutal spectacle.
The event takes place at Piazza Santa Croce. To recreate the setting of the original competitions, the square is covered in dirt, as it was in the 16th century, and players rumble while spectators go wild.
Visit the Calcio Storico official website for more information.
Festa della Madonna Bruna – Matera
The history of Festa della Madonna Bruna dates back to 1389. Today, tens of thousands of locals and tourists take over the streets of Matera for a week of celebrations with lights, outdoor markets, live music, and processions. Events climax with a pagan-style rite of destruction, before a valedictory firework display.
The main event on July 2nd is long-awaited and more exciting than the Christmas holiday to local revelers.
All of this takes place under the beautiful backdrop of Matera, a UNESCO Heritage City and the 2019 European Cultural Capital.
Visit the Festa della Madonna Bruna official website for more information.
Umbria Jazz Festival – Perugia
The Umbria Jazz festival has been running since 1973 and this week-long event has become the most influential jazz festival in Italy.
The festival is more than just jazz and you will find something for all tastes and all ages. The biggest names perform at the impressive Santa Giuliana Arena, whereas the more orthodox jazz can be heard in he Morlacchi Theater. Several local restaurants host musical aperitivi, lunches and dinners. Along with the paid events, there are free outdoor musical concerts in Piazza IV Novembre and at the Giardini Carducci.
Visit the Umbria Jazz Festival official website for more information.
Festa del Teatro Greco – Syracuse
Each year, the Festa del Teatro Greco runs from May to July in the original theater where you can view live performances of Greek plays (in Italian) at the Teatro Greco, attracting Italy’s finest performers.
The Teatro Greco (Greek Theatre), which is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Syracuse and the Rocky Necropolis of Pantalica, sits on the southern slopes of the Temenite hill, overlooking the city of Syracuse. The theater was built in the 5th century BC, rebuilt in the 3rd century BC and renovated again in the Roman period.
Visit the Festa del Teatro Greco official website for more information.
Apriti Cinema – FlorenceIn June and July of each year, the Uffizi Square hosts a FREE outdoor cinema event. Viewers relax and watch a variety of international films near the ancient statues of the great Tuscans present in Vasari’s loggia. All movies are screened in their original language, with Italian or English subtitles. Many movies will be selected by those present at the great Florentine film festivals. Visit the Apriti Cinema official website for more information.
Florence Dance Festival – Florence
The Florence Dance Festival has taken place since 1990 and runs June through August each year. The festival features international dance companies inspired by great historical figures.
The Festival promotes dance by producing innovative performances and offering advanced professional education. The events primarily take place at Museo Nazionale del Bargeello, the historical Teatro Verdi and Teatro Romano in Fiesole. The festival also hosts numerous side events in Piazza del Carmine for a broad audience of all ages.
Visit the Florence Dance Festival official website for more information.
Pistachio Festival – Bronte
Bronte, a little village on the base of Mt.Etna and within the Natural Park, is the world capital of pistachios.
For centuries in Sicily, pistachios have been used in cooking, from appetizers, sauces, pasta, desserts, to syrups and liqueurs. Each October Bronte hosts an annual festival to celebrate their beloved pistachio, which is known as the “green gold of Sicily.”
This quiet little village, and its historical center, become alive with activity. You will experience all of the typical traditions of the Sicilian countryside. An outdoor market and festival with local producers, farmers and artisans display their specialties. Participate in tasting sessions of pistachio-based recipes, or watch live cooking demonstrations. Throughout the festival, there are live shows and entertainment.
Venice International Film Festival – Venice
Founded in 1895, the Venice International Film Festival (La Biennale Cinema) is one of the most prestigious cultural events in the world.
The Biennale, a major cultural festival, features a number of separate events, including the International Architecture Exhibition, the Festival Contemporary Dance, the International Art Exhibition, the International Architecture Exhibition, and the Festival of Contemporary Music and Theatre.
The annual Venice Film Festival takes place between the end of August and the beginning of September.
Visit La Biennale Cinema official website for more information.
Regatta Storica – Venice
The Historical Regatta (Venetial rowing) takes place on the first Sunday of September every year. This is an event for all ages. The historical water parade of colorful boats kicks off the event at 4 pm, and is an enactment of the royal reception given to Catherine Cornaro, Queen of Cyprus, on her arrival in Venice in 1489.
The regatta storica Venice gondolini is the most popular race — a race where the experienced rowers compete for victory. The Grand Canal is the stage for both the historical parade and for the following rowing competitions. The Ca ‘ Foscari is the finishing point for all events so find a spot along the canal and enjoy the competition.
Feast of San Gennaro – Naples
On September 19th each year, Naples, the vibrant southern Italian city at the foot of Mount Vesuvius, honors its principal patron saint, San Gennaro. This tradition dates back to the 4th century when San Gennaro, or St. Januarius was the bishop of Benevento and then Naples.
The day is a public holiday in Naples, and devoted Catholics travel to the Doumo (cathedral) where it is believed that the patron saint’s blood liquefies. People also travel to the cathedral to witness this “miracle of the blood” on December 16 and on the Saturday before the first Sunday of May.
Festa della Rificolona – Florence
Christian tradition states that on September 8, somewhere near Nazareth, the Virgin Mary was born.
The Santissma Annuziata Basilica in Florence is dedicated to her worship and there is a popular tradition where hundreds of peasants and farmers from the surroundings would make the long trek into Florence to celebrate on the eve of September 7th. The farmers started their pilgrimage before dawn so they carried lanterns, tied to the end of stick.
The pilgrimage also provided a great opportunity for farmers to sell their goods, so following the celebration, vendors sold cheeses, honey, produce, and small hand-made items in the square of Santissima Annunziata.
The tradition continues today. Florentines carry paper lanterns at the end of a stick as they make their way through the streets of Florence, from Piazza Santa Felicita to Piazza Santissima Annunziata. The event is especially enjoyable for children who participate by making their own paper lanterns for the procession (provided by the “Lab for Expressions of Desires”). There is music, song, and plenty of colorful lanterns that light the night. The children also participate in the tradition of destroying the lanterns. Children, especially older children, blow spit wads at the paper lanterns through a tube called cerbottana. The pilgrimage is followed by a large party in the square and often the lanterns are burned at the end of the night.
The following morning a large organic outdoor food market is still held in the square.
Can’t make this event? Read our blog on the best outdoor markets in Italy.
Volto Santo – Lucca
Each year on the evening of September 13th, the streets of Lucca are adorned with thousands of candles in celebration of the Luminara di Santa Croce. It is a magnificent display. All the electric lights are turned off, and thousands of candles light the streets of Lucca. Windows, doors, and the town’s churches are all dressed up with tiny lights.
At 8 pm a procession starts at San Frediano Church and ends at the Cathedral of San Martino, where the original Volto Santo cross is kept. This historic procession celebrates the legendary Volto Santo crucifix, bringing a mystical atmosphere to the town. At 11.30 pm there is a firework display for a cheering crowd.
The following morning the Piazza San Michele hosts an outdoor market.
Can’t make this event? Read our blog on the best outdoor markets in Italy.
Musica dei Popoli – Florence
The festival “Musica dei Popoli”, originated in Florence in 1979, was the first international gathering of ethnic and folk music in Italy. It was also one of the first festivals of ethno-music in the world. In its 30 years, Musica dei Popoli has given a voice to more than 300 artists from 80 nations and five continents. The event hosts weekly performances and runs for most of October and November each year with the goal to share knowledge of the world’s musical cultures.
Visit the Musica dei Popoli official website for more information.
International White Truffle Fair – Alba
If you like truffles, this is a MUST-ATTEND event!
The Alba White Truffle World Market runs every Saturday and Sunday in October and November and includes the Alba White Truffle World Market. During the event, view cooking with great chefs, visit the Wine Tasting Experience®, plus tales of folklore and great historical re-enactments and education geared toward children, including an entire pavilion dedicated to children and their families.
Major events include:
Alba White Truffle World Market – The perfect place to appreciate and buy the best truffles from the Langhe, Roero and Monferrato woods.
Alba Truffle Show – This a great hub of gastronomic events that celebrate the “white gold” of the Langhe in all its shades. it includes presentations from international chefs, designers, writers and artists sharing their passion for truffles, good food, good wine, and good taste.
The Donkey Palio and medieval re-enactments – Taking place on the first Sunday in October, this unusual donkey race is made up of participants from the nine boroughs of the city as they compete for the conquest of the Palio (a drape).
SMA – Alba Museum Network – The richest and most interesting museums and places of culture of the city can be visited with a single ticket.
Alba Truffle Kids – A children’s pavilion full of play with educational games. Children learn about the magical hills which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Exhibitions & Concerts – Throughout the event, there are cultural and musical events.
Visit the Alba White Truffle Fair official website for more information.
Feast of Our Lady of Good Health – Venice
Thanksgiving in Italy? Every year, on November 21st Venice celebrates the feast of Salute. The festival is both a religious holiday and an expression of laic folklore, similar to the Thanksgiving holiday in the USA and Canada.
The origins of the feast date back to the Black Plague. The Senate decided then to build a church (completed in 1687) dedicated to the Holy Mary in hopes that it would end the suffering in Venice that had killed approximately 12.000 Venetian. In the end, over 25 percent of Venetians died and when the plague finally ended, the church symbolized a thanksgiving to Holy Mary for releasing Venice from the epidemic.
Today, there is a procession through town and over a temporary wooden bridge to aid participants as they make their way to the church. When you arrive at the church, you are to take a candle into the church as an offering and light it, praying for the good health of the family and beloved ones.
While the entire town is festive for this event, the feast mainly takes place at the church and nearby area, with street vendors selling all sorts of treats.
Feast of Santa Lucia – Syracuse
The feast of Santa Lucia in Siracusa is held on November 30th, with a band playing through the streets of Ortigia. Then on December 13th, the statue of St. Lucia, along with the Saint’s relics, is carried in solemn procession through the city, to arrive at the tomb, situated in the Cathedral.
The procession goes on for several hours as the saint’s devotees shout “Siracusana je!” (“She is a Syracusan!”). Many people walk barefoot to emphasize their thanks and pleas to the Saint. The statue of Santa Lucia, along with twelve cilii (a huge wooden candelabra decked with flowers) is followed by the carriage of the city’s Senate, whose members are dressed in 18th-century clothes. As the statue reaches the Piazza Santa Lucia, a ringing of bells announces its entrance into the church.
Over the next week, people come to visit the Saint and her tomb. On December 20th, Santa Lucia returns to the Cathedral with a procession through town – stopping at the shrine of Our Lady of Tears, then onward to the Umberto I hospital, for a time of prayer. On arrival at Ponte Umbertino bridge, Santa Lucia is saluted with fireworks before being carried back to her chapel.
Mercato nel Campo – Siena
On the first weekend in December, Siena hosts an annual Christmas market in the famous and spectacular Piazza del Campo. On this weekend you will find the best culinary and craft products in a sort of reenactment of Medieval markets.
Piazza del Campo hosts the“Mercato Grande” (Big Market) where the piazza becomes just as it was in the 14th century – the center of trade and social interactions.
Just as it was in the 14th century, the market has hundreds of vendors. Stalls are arranged by product type, according to the rules followed in the Middle Ages.
The over 150 stalls are set up to offer the best local culinary products and crafts. You will find salumi, fresh pasta, cheeses, oil, honey, saffron, typical desserts such as “ricciarelli“, “cavallucci” and chocolate “panforte“, almonds, aromatic herbs, and seasonal fruits and vegetables. Gift items include art and antiquities, books and illustrations on local art and history, wrought-iron items, hand-painted ceramics, and Christmas decorations.
Take advantage of the offering of guided tours, free tastings, activities for children, and live shows.
ChocoModica – Modica
Modica chocolate is similar to Mexican (or Aztec) chocolate – with a grainy texture and a hint of cinnamon. The texture is due to manual grinding and the way it is made. The process is so authentic, it has been granted IGP status. The chocolate is so unique that the ancient town of Modica hosts an annual chocolate festival. Over four days, along the main road leading into the old town, Modica hosts conferences, workshops, presentations, games, shows, and entertainment, all chocolate-inspired. Stroll along the road and sample beautifully made and absolutely delicious local chocolates.
Visit the ChocoModica official website for more information.
Christmas Market on Piazza Navona – Rome
Christmas in Rome is magical. The city hosts a myriad of festive Christmas programs in the Italian capital. One of the best things about Christmas is visiting a traditional Christmas market sampling the culinary delights. There are five Christmas markets in Rome, but we will only highlight the grandest market – Christmas Market on Piazza Navona.
The market takes over the square from beginning of December to the first week in January. It is known as one of the biggest and most beautiful Christmas markets in Italy. Vendors sell seasonal foods, decorations, nativity scenes, and more. Children can even visit Santa Claus. Visiting the Piazza Navona Christmas Market is an excellent tourist experience that is sure to delight the young and old.
When in Rome during the holidays, also visit:
- Christmas Wonderland – in PratiBus District’s 5000.
- V-Market: the Christmas City – in PratiBus District.
- Natale all’Auditorium – at Auditorium Parco della Musica.
- Mercatini di Natale a Roma – at La Città dell’Altra Economi