Easter in Italy

by Jessica on August 11, 2011

by | August 11th, 2011  

Sometimes when you’re planning a vacation in Italy you aren’t thinking about the list of holidays on the Italian calendar. So when you realize that you’ll be in Italy over a major holiday like Easter you might have second thoughts (not to mention lots of questions).

Will everything be closed? Will trains even be running? Should I change my plans? How does Italy even celebrate Easter, anyway? Stick with me and we’ll get to all these answers, and more.

Easter in Italy

For starters, the Italian word for Easter is “Pasqua” (pronounced PAHSS|kwah), and it’s one of the biggest holidays on the Italian calendar. Easter in Italy may look somewhat similar to Easter celebrations you’re used to – you’ll see colorful displays of chocolate eggs in shop windows, for instance – but there isn’t an Italian-speaking Easter Bunny (I know, I was disappointed, too).

Easter is a time of religious parades and celebrations, and often the focus is a statue of Jesus or the Virgin Mary that gets carried through the city streets. One of the largest and most famous processions is in the Sicilian town of Enna on Good Friday, where more than 2,000 friars parade through the city. One of the oldest Good Friday processions takes place in Chieti, Abruzzo. Traditional Easter foods in Italy include eggs, artichockes, roasted lamb, a special sweet bread called “Colomba” (which means dove, and it’s made in the shape of a dove) and chocolate eggs, which almost always are hollow and have a special prize inside.

Of course, because Italy is such an overwhelmingly Catholic country, you’ll be able to find Easter services in whatever town you happen to be that week. There’s something to be said about the grandiosity of experiencing a Catholic mass in St. Peter’s Basilica in the middle of Vatican City, but every church throughout the country will be open for services on Easter weekend, and there’s nothing quite like the charm of a small neighborhood church service (even if you’re not really religious). Be on the lookout beyond the churches, too, as one long-standing tradition is for Catholic priests to go door-to-door blessing private homes and shops for Easter.

>> Also, did you know that in Florence a dove-shaped rocket flies out of the Duomo on Easter morning and ignites a cart covered with fireworks? No, really – it’s true. Read more about Easter in Florence.

Easter Monday, AKA Pasquetta

Most of us are accustomed to Easter Sunday being a holiday, and the more religious among us are also used to Good Friday being a recognized holiday two days prior – but what about Easter Monday? In Italy, that’s called “Pasquetta” (pronounced pahss|KWET|tah), or “little Easter,” and it’s an equally big deal. In fact, Easter Monday is a national holiday in Italy.

There is a saying in Italian that says, “Natale con i suoi, Pasqua con chi vuoi” – which means you’re supposed to spend Christmas with your immediate family and Easter is for you to spend with whoever you like. Practically speaking, however, Easter Sunday is still a time when people often get together with family. Easter Monday, on the other hand, is entirely about spending time with friends.

A very popular Easter Monday tradition is to pack a big picnic and drive out into the countryside with a group of friends, enjoying what you hope will be nice weather. Some cities will hold special events on Easter Monday, too, including concerts and games, so not everyone abandons the cities for the hills. The games often involve eggs, like the egg races held in the town of Tredozio. One unusual Pasquetta game takes place in the Umbrian town of Panicale, where the goal is to roll giant wheels of cheese around the city walls in the quickest time and using the least strokes.

Traveling in Italy Over Easter Weekend

With as much emphasis as Italy places on Easter, you might wonder if Easter is really a good time to be traveling in Italy. There isn’t a clear-cut yes or no answer for everyone – like so many things in life, the answer is: it depends.

I love seeing a place – any place – when it’s celebrating something. When a city puts on its festival finery, it can be extremely fun to be a part of that. Especially when it’s a holiday that the locals celebrate for themselves (rather than it being a tourist attraction), being immersed in that kind of festival atmosphere can make you feel less like a tourist if you let yourself get caught up in the revelry.

That said, being in the middle of a local party when you’re not a local has its drawbacks, too. Generally speaking, the things that can making traveling in Italy over Easter weekend most challenging involve accommodation, transportation and some sightseeing.

Easter weekend isn’t a time to show up in town without a hotel or hostel reservation. You can do it, of course, but you run the risk of lots of “sorry, we’re full” and finding the only places with rooms are either too expensive or too far away from where you want to be. I recommend booking your accommodation over Easter weekend ahead of time whenever possible. Also note that Easter is considered a mini-high season, and prices on accommodation will go up accordingly.

Trains, buses, and other transportation systems will be on what are called “ferie” schedules (holiday schedules), which mean everything runs less frequently. They still run, you’ll just have to wait a bit longer. Not only that, because there are fewer trains or buses running, they’re often more crowded when they arrive.

You have two options if you want to avoid the headache of less frequent and more crowded trains:


    

  • You can buy train tickets and reservations well in advance. This means that although the train will be crowded, at least you know you’ll have a seat on it. Otherwise, you’ll be standing in line with everyone else and hoping there’s a seat left by the time it’s your turn at the window. You can buy Italian train tickets in advance right here on WhyGo Italy using the search box at the right, and you’ll even have access to the discounts offered on the Trenitalia site.
  • You can stay put over Easter weekend. Knowing that it’s Easter weekend well enough in advance means you can arrange your itinerary such that you’ll arrive in a town before the weekend transportation slow-down starts and not plan on leaving until after the holiday is over. If you don’t have a train to catch, the lack of frequent trains isn’t a stress point at all.

As for sightseeing, many attractions are closed on Easter Sunday (some are also closed on Good Friday), and then many attractions are closed on Mondays in general. This can be problematic if you’ve only arrived in a city on the Saturday before Easter and had planned to leave on Tuesday, since there may be some attractions that are closed for most of the time you’re visiting. If this sounds like your itinerary, I strongly suggest you look up the big attractions you’ve got on your agenda to make sure they won’t be closed the whole time you’re in town.

While some restaurants and shops (especially smaller ones) will be closed for part of Easter weekend, not everything is shuttered. You won’t go hungry, for instance. Restaurants attached to big, chain hotels are usually reliable when it comes to being open on holidays. If you’re in a smaller town, on the other hand, you’ll probably need to plan ahead – ask someone at your hotel what stays open over the weekend, preferably before the weekend starts so you’ve got time to pick up picnic supplies before things close if you need to.

photos, top to bottom, by: Jessica Spiegel (and may not be used without permission), cinemich, Starphysh


{ 19 comments }

Laura from Ciao Amalfi April 12, 2009 at 12:33 pm
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Ciao Jessica! Fun and informative article. Grazie! Buona Pasqua!

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Melanie March 17, 2010 at 12:17 pm
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Jessica,

Great post! I like your general overview of what to expect in Italy at Easter time. If your readers are interested in the specifics of visiting Rome and the Vatican during this time, they may enjoy my post on same: http://www.italofile.com/2010/03/11/visiting-the-vatican-and-rome-during-easter/

Keep the good stuff coming! :-)

Melanie

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Sam January 17, 2011 at 2:58 am
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Hi Jessica,
I love your website and enjoy listening to you talk about Italy on a variety of podcasts.
We’ll be in Italy from April 18 to May 19 and for the Easter long weekend we’re planning to be in Varenna before making our way to Cinque Terre on the 25th or 26th for a couple of nights and then on to Florence. What can we expect in terms of crowds? Should we buy our train tickets in advance rather than wait until we’re in Italy? I have also heard that during Lent much of the artwork, such as The Last Supper, will be covered and not available for viewing – is that true?
Cheers
Sam

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Jessica January 17, 2011 at 11:07 am
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I haven’t heard anything about artwork being covered for Lent, but I do know that traveling over Easter weekend (including Easter Monday) can be difficult. If you’re planning on actually traveling on any of those days, then yes – I’d recommend getting your tickets and reservations in advance. And I’d also book your hotels as soon as you can. Easter weekend is when Italian spend time with their families, and then on Easter Monday they go for picnics in the countryside – so highways and trains are far more crowded than on a normal Monday.

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Fred January 26, 2011 at 2:37 pm
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Jessica -

we plan to visit Italy right after Easter (actually flying in on Wed Apr 27th. When you said the whole country has vacation time during Easter week – did you mean the week leading up to Easter, or the week following Easter? Also I noticed that May 1st is a Sunday this year. Does that mean the Liberation Day holiday is celebrated on Monday (advancing to next workday like they do in the US) or will it still be celebrated on Sunday? And lastly, whether it’s Sunday or Monday, will the eurorail schedule be affected by the holiday?

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Jessica January 31, 2011 at 10:11 am
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Italy’s schedule around Easter revolves around Good Friday, Easter Sunday, and Easter Monday – those are the days when most Italians have vacation, so that’s when things are more likely to be closed and when trains are fuller with Italians traveling home to be with family. Easter Monday is actually when young Italians go into the countryside to have picnics with their friends, after spending Easter Sunday with family.

May 1 is not Liberation Day, it’s International Workers’ Day, & as far as I know it’s an immovable holiday – meaning it’s on May 1 regardless of what day that is. You can see a calendar of this year’s holiday dates here:
http://www.italylogue.com/festivals

For clarification, “eurorail” is a term used mostly to describe the rail passes you can get but not the rail system itself. Over major holidays – like Easter and May 1 – the Italian rail system may run on a “holiday” schedule, and over Easter it may be quite busy for the reasons I listed above. But unless there’s a general strike, there will be some trains running.

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Susan January 30, 2011 at 7:18 pm
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Jessica-
My husband and I are planning our first trip to Italy and your site has been an invaluable help. We planned our 3-week trip for April with the hope of avoiding some of the crowds and maybe paying a little less. We’ve bought our plane tickets but that’s it so far.

Then I thought, “I wonder when Easter is this year?” April 24th, the week we were planning to be in Rome. Now I have a some questions.

We’re following your Perfect 2-week Itinerary with the exception of the Cinque Terre. So we’re flying into Venice on April 10th. After 3 days, we were planning to rent a car and drive to Florence so we could also explore Tuscany. We’d leave the car in Florence and take the train to Rome on April 20th, Ash Wednesday. We aren’t Catholic so being in Rome for Easter doesn’t mean that much to us.

My question is this: Would it be better, although less convenient, to go from Venice to Rome about April 13th and then go to Florence for Easter week? Just how crowded does Rome get during Easter week? We really dislike crowded restaurants and public transportation – are we just going to have to get used to it?

Thank you for your help. You are making it so much easier to plan this once-in-a-lifetime trip.

Susan

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Jessica January 31, 2011 at 10:56 am
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To a certain extent, you may just have to get used to crowds – although they’ll definitely be smaller in April than in June, for instance. I’m not Catholic, either, but there’s something very cool about being in the “motherland” for a big Catholic holiday – the rituals, processions, decorations, etc. are all on such a grand scale, it’s pretty cool.

Good Friday, Easter Sunday, and Easter Monday are the biggest days around Easter, so those are the days you’ll need to plan carefully. As long as you’re not planning to go anywhere on those days (meaning a long train ride to move from Rome to Florence or something), that’s going to help quite a bit. The other things to make sure you know in advance are what’s open on those days as far as the attractions go, and what restaurants will be open. You should be able to get help figuring out the latter from someone at your hotel (hotel restaurants tend to be open even on holidays), and looking at websites for the major attractions in Rome will list the hours on holidays so you’ll know whether things like the Colosseum, Forum, etc. will be open and when.

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tara March 23, 2011 at 4:24 am
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You have mentioned that Friday, Sunday and Monday of Easter are the days shops will be closed. Are shops and restaurants closed on the Saturday or Easter as well?

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Jessica March 25, 2011 at 10:37 am
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It really depends on the shop/restaurants, Tara – sometimes families will shut down their small businesses to take the whole weekend off, other times it’s business as usual on Saturday of that weekend. You can, in general, expect a slightly quieter weekend overall, with fewer shops/restaurants open – but there will be some places open on the Saturday of Easter weekend more so than that Friday or Sunday.

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Beth March 30, 2011 at 10:09 am
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We are going to Mosciano (Abruzzo) for Easter to be with friends – will be in Italy April 20-30. It is pretty casual and rural, and their church is small, so we won’t have to worry about crowds. We are going to drive to Rome mid-week for a few days after Easter. What should I take to wear on Easter Sunday and for the rest of the week? Thanks for your help!

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Jessica March 30, 2011 at 5:10 pm
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Even in rural areas, where there isn’t a strictly-enforced dress code, it’s usually just a case of being respectful when it comes to attire in churches – so that means no exposed knees or shoulders. But I think if you just plan on dressing a bit more nicely than you might when you’re on vacation, you’ll be fine on Easter Sunday (knowing that people are likely to be dressed up when they go to church). The rest of the time, outside church, your attire will be largely defined by the weather and not by the fact that it’s Easter.

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Teresa April 7, 2011 at 6:23 pm
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We will be on a cruise reaching Venice on Holy Sat. We thought about signing up for an excursion to Murano Glass and Borano. Will these two places be open on the Saturday afternoon before Easter Sunday? OR do you have any other suggestions to do while a short time in Venice. We fly back to Rome Easter Sunday morning. Thanks for your suggestions.

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Jessica April 11, 2011 at 2:06 pm
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Venice is so tourist-friendly year-round that I would be shocked if there were no excursions running to Murano/Burano on the Saturday before Easter – and I assume your cruise company wouldn’t advertise that as an option for Saturday if they weren’t running. If you know the name of the tour company your cruise ship is working with for the excursion, you can visit their website to see if they have any holidays listed for which they’re closed.

If you’re looking for a backup, I can’t say enough good things about just spending a day wandering through Venice, getting as lost as you possibly can (you can never get THAT lost). It’s my favorite way to spend a day in Venice.

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Candace Bryant April 8, 2011 at 8:41 pm
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Hi, I saw someone mention your your’ Perfect 2-week Itinerary’ ‘. Where can I find this?

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Jessica April 11, 2011 at 2:04 pm
Laurie March 16, 2012 at 2:46 pm
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Four family members are going on a 15 day tour of Italy. We will be there March 28 thru April 9. Our itinerary says we will be in Florence on Good Friday, Saturday, Easter Sunday and Monday. After reading these posts…I am wondering what kind of experience we will have. This will probably be the only time I get to go to Italy. Will everything be closed? We are scheduled to go to the Accademia on Sunday.

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Jessica March 22, 2012 at 4:29 pm
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As the article above says, some things will be closed – yes – but you’ll need to look up the open hours/days for each of the sights you’re hoping to see to make sure. Some things will just have reduced hours rather than close altogether. And Florence’s Easter celebrations in front of the Duomo are awesome. :)

You said “our itinerary says” – which sounds like you’re on a tour? If you’ve booked a tour, you should be taken care of – the tour company should be on top of that stuff.

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Sharlene January 9, 2013 at 4:05 pm
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Hi, we are planning a trip to Tuscany from the 1st – 9th April 2013. Will this be a problem as far as the Easter Holiday is concerned?

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