From religious celebrations to open-air concerts, there’s a lot more to see in Rome than just museums.
However, Rome does not slow down. Whatever time of year you visit, you’ll always find something happening. Here are some of the cultural events in Rome and annual festivals to watch out for when you are in Rome.
The new year begins slowly, but in the afternoon, join the Romans outside to enjoy the winter sun. There is a parade of marching bands around the city center, museums and galleries are open and make sure to be near Ponte Cavour (the bridge closest to the Ara Pacis) at 12 pm to see daring locals start the new year with a splash by jumping from the bridge into the River Tiber.
Epiphany (January 6) is better known in Italy as La Befana. La Befana is an ugly old woman who brings sweets to good children on this day and coal to naughty ones. In the week before, you’ll see witch-like figures on sale everywhere (for lots of choices, check out the Christmas market in Piazza Navona) with a stocking or sack hanging from her broomstick, ready to be stuffed with candies.
The next day, schools reopen, and the Rome celebrations are over, so people will be making the most of one final day.
The run-up to Lent in Rome is a time when children dress up in costumes, and everyone eats traditional carnival sweets. There’s no big party like in Venice, but you’ll see piles of frappe and castagnole in bakeries and the pasticcerie throughout the city. These fried pastries, covered in icing sugar (and sometimes dipped in chocolate), are only available around Carnival, so eat them while you can.
Festa delle Donna
International Women’s Day on March 8 is a popular festival in Italy. If you’re in Rome around this time, you’ll probably see lots of mimosa, which is the traditional gift on this day. The city also celebrates by giving women free admission to some of the city-run museums, like the Capitoline Museums and the Ara Pacis.
The Vatican is the focus of this major Christian festival. On Good Friday, the Pope leads a candlelight procession to the Colosseum in the evening for the Stations of the Cross. On Saturday evening, there’s the Easter Vigil in St. Peter’s and Easter mass on Sunday morning.
All these events are free. No booking is required for the Colosseum or St. Peter’s Square, where you can watch mass on huge screens. If you want one of the limited tickets for mass inside the basilica, you need to apply well in advance.
Primo Maggio (May Day)
The first day of May is one of the few days when you’ll find a lot of businesses closed to give their staff an extra day off. Thousands of them will head to Rome for the famous concert organized outside Rome’s cathedral by some of the worker’s unions and televised nationally. The mostly Italian lineup keeps the crowds entertained from mid-afternoon well into the evening.
Festival of the Italian Republic
If you happen to be in Rome on June 2, try and catch the celebrations for this national holiday close to the Colosseum. The day is a national holiday celebrating the referendum to abolish the monarchy after World War II. In Rome, there is a military parade along Via dei Fori Imperiali, ending with the fecce tricolori, the aerobatic display team of the Italian air force, leaving trails of red, green, and white smoke as they fly across the city.
Summertime Jazz Festival
Music lovers will want to know about this outdoor festival that takes place each summer at the Casa del Jazz. Close to Piramide, this park was confiscated by a local organized crime boss and turned into a music venue for the city. The summer program is diverse, and you can expect evenings of jazz, blues, soul, swing, funky, acid jazz, and Mediterranean music.
Caracalla Summer Season
One of the most impressive summer events is the opera season at the Baths of Caracalla. Every summer, Rome’s Opera House shuts its doors and moves to the ancient site, along with performances of dance and classical music, set against the backdrop of some of Rome’s most magnificent ruins.
Cinema in Piazza
It’s not just the music that moves outside in the summer – you’ll find lots of events happening in public spaces around the city. Like this free cinema festival with movies in 3 different locations around Rome: Piazza San Cosimato in Trastevere, Parco della Cervelletta in Tor Sapienza, and Monte Ciocci at Valle Aurelia. Films are shown in the original language with subtitles for 6 weeks from the beginning of June. No booking is necessary, but plan to arrive early to grab a seat.
Saints Peter and Paul
Rome takes a day off on June 29 to celebrate the feast of its patron saints. Most Romans will head to the beach, especially if there’s a chance to get out of town for a long weekend, but there are also events around the two basilicas: St. Peter’s and San Paolo fuori le Mura.
Festa de Noantri
In the 16th century, local fishermen discovered a wooden statue of the Virgin Mary at the mouth of the river during a storm. They brought the statue home to Trastevere, where she became the patron saint of the neighborhood. Head to Trastevere on July 16 to watch the statue, finely dressed, being carried in procession through the streets to the Church of San Crisgono.
The ‘Roman Summer’ festival isn’t in one particular place. Across the city, bars, restaurants, and entertainment moves outside. Spend your evenings enjoying a Spritz and a wide choice of food from the stalls along the riverbank and on Tiber Island. Check out the open-air cinemas or relax to the many concerts that pop up in parks, churches, courtyards, and even on the Vittoriano.
Village Celimontana Jazz Festival
The lovely park of Villa Celimontana hosts an annual summer music festival of jazz and swing music. Expect a mix of Italian and international bands. The concerts are free, so if you want to get a seat, you should arrive early. There’s a bar and typical Roman street foods like pinsa, fried snacks, and grilled meats on sale to keep you busy while you wait. Or bring a blanket and sit on the grass.
Villa Ada Festival
This festival is named after the large public park near Via Salaria in the north of Rome, where it’s held each year. For seven weeks in the summer, Villa Ada plays host to two stages and numerous international and Italian artists. But it’s not just about music, you’ll find art, sport, tastings, and other performances.
Floating Theatre Summer Fest
This summer cinema festival takes place outside. Seating is set up near one of Rome’s lakes, in front of the large screen, and the sound is played through headphones. There’s usually a mix of Italian and international titles, with many films shown in the original language with Italian subtitles.
December 8 is a public holiday that traditionally marks the start of the Christmas season in Rome. In homes, this is the day when Christmas trees are put up, and the lights are turned on in Piazza Venezia and St. Peter’s Square.
The holiday is dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Every year, the Pope travels from the Vatican to Piazza di Spagna to put a wreath of flowers on the statue of Mary outside the Spanish Embassy. As the statue is 12m high, he is helped by Rome’s firefighters.
Roma Gospel Festival
Get in the festive mood with uplifting gospel music at Rome’s Auditorium. Choirs come from across the US for this annual music festival in the park designed by legendary Italian architect Renzo Piano.
New Year’s Eve
On the last night of the year, there’s a free concert in the massive Circus Maximus. Hotels across the city also plan events on their rooftops, so if you’d rather stay inside and have dinner with a view before watching the midnight fireworks, you’ll have plenty of choices.