Pavlo has been working as a travel writer for more than 8 years, and his work has been featured in CNN Travel, BBC Travel, Time Out and Fodor's, among others. Changing cities and continents is a lifestyle for Pavlo, he has been to more than 40 countries across the globe. He can’t get enough of exploring the world and loves to share this passion through travel writing.
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Getting festive in Italy is never a bad idea. Known for superb architecture, romantic cities, some of the best beaches in Europe, and supreme art, this country is also a fantastic destination for events, be it colorful processions, historical reenactments, boisterous carnivals, world-class jazz galas, grand open-air opera concerts, or unique traditional celebrations. Here are the top festivals in Italy to fully immerse yourself in the cultural universe of this European gem of a country.
Dating back to medieval times, Palio di Siena is a legendary horse race one should absolutely visit while in Siena, one of the best places to visit in Tuscany. Organized twice a year in the heat of the summer, it turns the magnificent shell-shaped Piazza del Campo into a track. The full experience also includes the Corteo Storico parade to the rhythms of the March of the Palio. Seventeen local contrade (or neighborhoods) compete between themselves during Palio; every part of the race is entrenched in ancient traditions. Palio di Siena is among the top festivals in Italy, and two dates allow you to comfortably plan a visit beforehand.
The second part of winter sees Venice hosting one of the best masquerade parties in the world. The iconic Carnival of Venice is a bucket list festival, an enchanting celebration of beauty, craftsmanship, and entertainment. Although widely practiced since medieval times, the present-day event is a modern incarnation established in 1979. As a festivity that spans over two weeks, it’s more of a state of mind than a fixed happening. You don’t want to miss the regatta though; the famous decorated boat procession opens the Carnival. The Most Beautiful Mask Contest is another great event to attend. Be aware that the Carnival draws millions from all over the world, so plan in advice, treat the city’s heritage respectfully, and focus on the lesser-visited spots.
One of the largest “food fight” kind of festivals in the world, the Carnival of Ivrea is a treat. Where else can you see people joyfully throwing thousands of oranges at each other? Every year in February, the Northern Italian city of Ivrea celebrates in a unique fashion. It’s about the victory of good over evil, of ordinary folk against the oppressive duke. Legend says that a 12-year-old miller’s daughter was taken by the feudal lord from her parents to become his bride. Instead, she used the chance to cut his head off and inspire the popular uprising. The Battle of Oranges is symbolically about the latter; the “throwers” are divided into two teams: the aranceri representing the townsfolk and the duke’s people on horse-drawn wagons. The festival is free for all, so throw a few oranges yourself.
The par excellence event for all the jazz buffs, the Umbria Jazz Festival has been organized annually since 1973 and has seen the likes of B.B. King, Chet Baker, Dizzy Gillespie, Carlos Santana, and even Prince performing. Taking place in charming Perugia, one of Italy’s best kept secrets, it’s a top choice for a music festival in Italy. There’s a separate event called the Umbria Jazz Winter Festival taking place in Orvieto for even more musical perfection.
While state holidays may not be everyone’s cup of tea, you don’t want to miss the Festa della Repubblica celebrations in Rome. June 2nd is the most important day for Italian statehood; it’s when the post-WW2 referendum that defined modern Italy was held. Although the celebrations take place in every city all over the country, it’s in Rome that you’ll find the most fervent celebrations. The crescendo is the Frecce Tricolori flight over the capital, drawing the Italian flag’s colors in the sky with the smoke trail. Also, you’ve got free access to all the state-owned museums of Rome that day – another great bonus!
Fancy more color in your life? The famous Infiorate di Spello festival in Spello, close to the UNESCO-protected historic Franciscan center of Assisi, is an amazing pick for an unconventional event. On the eve of the Feast of Corpus Christi, the beautiful center of the town gets covered in phantasmagoric floral carpets. This is followed by a traditional procession on Sunday.
One of the biggest rock music festivals in Europe, Rock in Roma gathers thousands of fans every summer in June and July. The format here is quite different from the traditional multi-day festivals; you’ve got a new band every day, and the event spans over two months. The location is always the large Capannelle Racecourse, and the lineup has previously included The Rolling Stones, The Killers, Bruce Springsteen, Green Day, Arctic Monkeys, The Beach Boys, and other world-famous acts.
There’s hardly a more famous Renaissance city than Florence. Be engulfed by the wonderful architecture of stately palaces, dramatic churches, and elegant piazzas. Intensify your encounter with the bellezza during one of the most important city celebrations, the Festa di San Giovanni (or St. John’s Day). It’s a whole-day experience that starts in the morning with a traditional parade of the omaggi that proceeds through the central part of the historic core. Another parade takes place at 4 pm at Piazza Santa Maria Novella, leading to the Piazza Santa Croce, where the Calcio Storico Fiorentino (or traditional Florentine ball game) match is played. Finally, the day ends with fochi di San Giovanni, an epic fireworks show over Florence.
There are religious celebrations. And then there are religious celebrations in Sicily, one of Italy’s most beautiful islands. Here, it’s an unforgettable, fantastic, deep emotion-evoking feat, something that’s taken very seriously. The Festival of Saint Agatha (or Festa di Sant’Agata) is among the biggest happenings of this nature on the island, and it’s to be experienced. The embellished figure of Saint Agatha (revered for stopping the Mount Etna eruption back in the day) is carried through the Baroque streets of Catania. Thousands follow the procession while music plays, and there are fireworks in the evening. It’s very ceremonial and gives you a chance to take a glimpse into Sicily’s true heart.
Opera is synonymous with Italy. After all, this Appenine country gave the world such celebrated composers as Puccini, Verdi, Rossini, and Donizetti. The culmination of the opera year takes place during the summer (and a little bit of autumn) in Verona, the city with a postcard-perfect medieval core, Juliet’s balcony, and the ancient Roman amphitheater where all the concerts take place (hence the name). The Arena di Verona Opera Festival gathers world-renowned names of the craft and presents a top-notch program of operas, ballets, and classical music performances. If you’re a fan, coming to Verona, one of the most romantic places in the world, is an obligatory thing to do.