Last Updated on October 26, 2023 by AIFS Abroad
People in Italy love cultural traditions and celebrating holidays — and there are plenty to enjoy throughout the year! It’s incredible to get in on the fun as a visitor, whether you’re there for a quick visit or a longer stay, like an immersive study abroad or international internship program.
Read on for our guide to some incredible holidays and festivals to experience while studying or interning abroad in Italy.
1. The Epiphany
When: January 6
Get ready to join in on the celebrations from the start of your spring study abroad or internship program in Italy! The Epiphany is all about celebrating La Befana. In Italian folklore, La Befana is a witch who brings sweets and gifts to the well-behaved and a lump of coal for the, well, not-so-well-behaved. This holiday marks the end of the Christmas season and how you celebrate it might vary depending on where you are in Italy.
If you’re studying or interning in Florence, you’ll be in for a treat with a spectacular parade that welcomes the Three Wise Men into the city. Picture this: around 500 people dressed in stunning, colorful costumes, following the Wise Men as they deliver gifts to a live nativity scene in the iconic Piazza del Duomo. There are drummers playing traditional Epiphany tunes alongside the sbandieratori, a group that twirls and throws traditional flags.
In Rome, be sure to stop by Piazza Navona, which is right in the Eternal City’s center. You’ll find many Christmas markets still open, a lot of which will have La Befana trinkets and memorabilia. Like in Florence, there’s typically a traditional parade here, too, that you won’t want to miss.
But Florence and Rome aren’t the only places to get in on the fun — Milan has its own Epiphany Parade of the Three Kings! The parade starts at the Duomo and makes its way to the church of Sant’Eustorgio.
If you’re lucky enough to be studying or interning abroad in Italy during spring, celebrating the Epiphany is a must!
2. Valentine’s Day
When: February 14
Of the many holidays in Italy, Valentine’s Day is a big deal — it’s where it originated, after all! The Italian way of celebrating has its own charm. Instead of exchanging cards like we typically do in the United States, couples opt for intimate romantic dinners. You’ll come across iconic love locks on bridges, where young couples inscribe their names on padlocks, attach them to the bridge, and throw the key into the river below.
In Florence, one of the most romantic destinations in Italy, the city is transformed into a four-day Valentine’s extravaganza. A giant red heart is placed at Piazza dei Signori — home of the famous Palazzo Vecchio — and heart-shaped lanterns line the streets. You’ll love strolling to the sound of romance as your real-life soundtrack — there are tons of small, free concerts held throughout the city!
Carnevale, a lively pre-Lenten celebration, sweeps across Italy 40 days before the Easter holiday. Although technically a one-day event, Italian festivities often kick off weeks in advance. During Carnevale, the saying “a Carnevale ogni scherzo vale” reigns true: “anything goes during Carnevale.”
The party spirit can last for days, and locals wholeheartedly embrace it. Vibrant floats, parades, masquerades, and elegant customs take over the city streets. Everywhere you turn you’ll find sweet treats, lively music, and colorful confetti. This is one cultural celebration you won’t want to miss!
Pro-tip: If you’re studying or interning abroad in Florence, you won’t want to miss Carnevale in the nearby city of Viareggio — it’s iconic!
4. International Women’s Day
When: March 8
People in Italy joyously celebrate Feste Della Donne, or International Women’s Day, to honor the incredible contributions of women to society. This significant day has origins that date back to a women’s strike in New York on March 8th, 1857, and it has since evolved into a day of celebration globally.
To commemorate the holiday, men in Italy traditionally gift women bright yellow flowers called mimosas, symbolizing both the arrival of spring and their appreciation. In recent times, it’s become common for women to exchange flowers with each other, too. The smell of flowers fills the air as the people of Italy unite to express gratitude and celebrate the remarkable contributions of women.
While studying or interning abroad in Italy, be sure to partake in Feste Della Donne and join in celebrating the achievements of women in society!
5. La Festa della Repubblica
When: June 2
As a student or intern abroad, you’re going to love experiencing La Festa della Repubblica, which commemorates Independence Day in Italy and one of the country’s most significant holidays! It marks the transition from a monarchy to a republic. On this day, businesses typically close and Italians throughout the country come together to partake in celebrations.
Cities around the country host incredible celebrations, with the primary parade and ceremony happening in Italy’s capital city of Rome. Each region observes the day in its own unique way, though, and you’ll find a wide range of regional cuisines and traditions at local festivals.
Italians take immense pride in their heritage and will want you to get in on the fun, so be sure to participate when you study abroad or do an international internship in Italy!
6. San Giovanni
When: June 24
Florence pays homage to its patron saint, St. John the Baptist (San Giovanni), on June 24th. This celebration dates back centuries. A long-standing tradition is to donate candles to churches, but the city has really transformed the day of San Giovanni into a multifaceted extravaganza!
One unique event that takes place on this day is a boat ride along the Arno River. This once-a-year opportunity will give you jaw-dropping views of Florence’s cityscape during the daytime and a mesmerizing fireworks spectacle at night. Plus, the ancient San Niccolò tower, which is only accessible in the summer, officially opens its doors on this day. As a bonus, you can witness the finals of Calcio Storico Florentino, a captivating sport dating back to the 16th century that resembles a combination of football, soccer, and rugby. Be sure to get tickets early! They tend to sell out.
The grand finale of this full-day celebration is a stunning firework display that you can see from all over the city. In the older sections of Florence, you’ll find restaurants, hotels, and hostels that offer rooftop or balcony views where you can enjoy the show.
“The whole city was decorated for it, and we had a feast with some locals before the biggest fireworks show I’ve ever seen. We didn’t even realize it was a holiday there until we showed up, and it made it so special!”Ellie H., Graphic Design internship program alum in Italy
7. EuroChocolate Festival
The EuroChocolate Festival is a must-see if you’ll be in Italy during the fall! While it may not be one of Italy’s official holidays, it’s a dessert lover’s dream and an annual tradition that attracts people from all over the world. The festival transforms the usually tranquil streets of Perugia, which is about half-way between Rome and Florence, into a bustling hub of vendors and visitors. You’ll find an incredible amount of decadent sweet treats in every flavor and form of chocolate imaginable!
Pro-tip: You especially won’t want to miss Day 1 of the festival when artists make incredible oversized sculptures out of huge blocks of chocolate!
“The EuroChocolate Festival is truly a dessert lover’s haven! Countless sweets vendors from around Europe set up the most unique and mouthwatering small shops on the streets in Perugia. Not only was I able to admire (and try!) many different types of candies that I would never have known about otherwise, but it was a great way to explore this gorgeous Umbrian city. Perugia is an underrated Italian destination, and once you arrive there you wonder why you hadn’t planned a trip sooner. It’s lined with numerous cute cafes and boutiques, and there’s so much history there to learn about!”– Lydia T., who interned abroad in Florence, Italy
8. All Saint’s Day
When: November 1
Did you know? Halloween is not a widely embraced in Italy, but the day after is one of the country’s most celebrated holidays! November 1st is All Saint’s Day, a national holiday that honors all the saints of the Catholic Church. It’s actually celebrated by people in a variety of countries in Europe. Across Italy in particular, families attend mass at a local church and then gather for parties and dinners featuring local, regional delicacies.
“I happened to go out for dinner on All Saints Day and there was a beautiful church nearby, so we happened to stop by, and it was perfect timing because the whole place was covered in flowers! Apparently, Italians bring flowers to the graves of their relatives on that day. Not only was the gravesite covered in flowers, but so was the inside and front of the church — along with candles! It was so magical!”– Katherine, Fashion Business internship program participant in Milan, Italy
Want to experience the amazing holidays and festivals in Italy? We can help!
With AIFS Abroad, you can join in on the celebrations when you study abroad or do an international internship program in Milan, Florence, or Rome!