8 Italian Festivals to Add to Your Bucket List
History, art, beaches, wine, pizza…
Let’s be honest: Living in Italy is amazing.
Unfortunately, it’s not possible for everyone to live in Italy—even though some of us dream of doing just that.
But, we can still glimpse the authenticity of the country by putting a fabulous festival or two on our travel to-do lists.
Moving to Italy? Tough. Grabbing festivals? Definitely doable!
There are lots of excellent options to consider because, honestly, Italians love celebrations.
This is a country and culture that celebrates everything. Religious holidays, regional traditions and familial events are all cause for celebratory gatherings.
It seems that there’s a festival for almost every Italian occasion.
Let’s check some out—and maybe make some travel plans!
How Italian Festivals Can Help Language Learners
Italian language learners know that immersion is the ideal option for quickly powering up language skills.
Unfortunately, immersion is not financially or situationally a viable option for everyone. Jobs, families, commitments and finances can keep someone from dropping everything and running off to Italy for a two-month immersion course.
But all of that culture and language that’s gained during immersion doesn’t have to be completely lost to those of us who can only manage a short jaunt—or no jaunt at all—to the Boot.
Festivals showcase Italian culture, which is one of the biggest benefits of language immersion. They’re a place for Italian language learners to pick up regional phrases, lingo and idioms.
Also, many of these festivals bring historical facts to life, offer amazing regional cuisine and are among Italy’s most dazzling cultural events. You’ll meet locals and maybe even be invited to a cozy family dinner or another exciting local happening. What’s not to love?
And perhaps the biggest bonus? Converse with locals to get a true taste of Italian living!
In case you can’t make it to Italy for one of these festivals, we’ve included plenty of suggestions for activities you can do from home, like baking traditional Italian desserts and reading historical books.
8 Italian Festivals to Add to Your Bucket List
Venice’s Carnival is an experience of a lifetime. Wearing elaborate masks, tourists mingle with Venetians. Walking through this unique city during Carnival is a reminder of what Italian life was like during the 1700s, when costumes were elaborate and palace life was flourishing.
Carnival is a celebration that features water parades on the canals, glamorous balls overlooking the Grand Canal and musical and artistic entertainment—including jugglers and fireworks! This event, which runs for nearly a month, is a place for Italian food, art and history.
If you’re unable to attend this festival, reading “Carnival Weekend in Venice” will certainly bring the experience to you!
Planning to take part in Carnival? Check out the official website for details and full scheduling information.
Vinitaly is an international exhibition for wine lovers. It’s held in Verona, where, for a few days each spring, wine aficionados sample some of the best wines from across the globe.
Workshops and demonstrations on the art of wine-making showcase the many stages that take grapes from the vineyard to the bottle. Tastings paired with delicious cuisine from all parts of Italy make this a celebration for the senses.
If you’ve ever thought of having a chat with an Italian winemaker, it might be a good idea to add this event to your must-do list. It’s an amazing chance to talk to locals while sampling their homegrown wares!
Something to note: The convention itself is geared toward wine producers and industry professionals. However, during this time, Verona hosts events that are designed to operate in conjunction with the festival and which are open to the public.
A glimpse inside the Vinitaly event shows just how thoroughly wine is celebrated in Italy!
Giostra dell’ Archidado (Carousel of the Archidado)
Italian language learners with a heart for learning about medieval Italy will love the Giostra dell’ Archidado (Carousel of the Archidado) held in Cortona. Every year, locals dress in costume to celebrate the traditions of their ancestors.
Think ornate pageantry, flame throwers, authentic historical demonstrations and traditions and food! This is a super way to take a trip back in time to witness life as it once was.
Italian learners will benefit from the immersive atmosphere as well as the opportunity to be welcomed into a genuine Italian celebration.
If you’ve ever watched “Under the Tuscan Sun,” you’re familiar with the flag-throwing segment. That actually takes place at this festival! Can’t make it to the event in person? Invite some friends over to watch the film with you, and create your own traditions!
Giostra del Saracino (The Saracen Joust)
The Saracen Joust takes place in Arezzo, a city in eastern Tuscany. There are two festivals, one in the spring and another in the fall, so Italian language learners have two chances to catch this incredible event!
Jousting is something most of us don’t have much occasion to witness outside of movies or books. But in Arezzo, visitors are transported back to the Middle Ages, when horses galloped along cobblestone streets and disputes were often settled by jousts.
In modern-day Italy, the festival is a celebration of many old traditions, but jousting is a large part of the activities. Food, music and much more make this cultural event fun for locals, tourists and language learners.
Unable to see the jousting for yourself? No worries! This video of the festivities is sure to satisfy your curiosity.
Festa della Bruna (Festival of the Brunette)
In Matera, there’s a festival called Festa della Bruna (Festival of the Brunette), which is filled with pageantry, processions and symbolism.
The actual meaning of the word bruna (brunette) in this usage is unclear. Some say it has to do with the color of the religious statues that are central to the processions in the streets. Others attribute the term to the hair coloring of the statues. Whatever its source, the message is clear: This festival is about fleeing persecution, establishing a spot for free worship and celebrating the place where it all took place.
The procession has taken place for hundreds of years and, while it has changed over the centuries, the spirit of triumph and freedom remains central to this event. It’s a time for rejoicing and reflecting and is a great opportunity to chat with Italian locals.
I actually attended the festival a few years ago. It was an incredible experience, and while the formal events were amazing, one of my favorite parts of all was just talking with the locals. There’s no better way to feel at home in Italy than by eating dinner with others and chatting about a beloved festival!
Since then, I’ve hosted a yearly dinner party to commemorate the event. It’s a good way to celebrate without having to leave home. If you’re inclined to do the same, I suggest baking a loaf of this traditional bread to serve at dinner. It’s not exactly what I had in Matera, but it’s close!
Il Gioco Del Ponte (The Bridge Game)
Pisa is well known for its fantastic leaning tower, but there’s another reason Italians love to visit this enchanting spot: Il Gioco Del Ponte (The Bridge Game)!
This event is definitely a must-see for anyone interested in Italian history. The reenactment of a battle on the bridge is not only informative and visually impressive but is loads of fun. The actual facts about how and why this event began aren’t clear, but most believe it was a result of practice battles rather than an actual real-life battle. The practice battles began in the 16th century, and the event has evolved over the centuries. Today, the reenactment is a time for fun and celebration!
Most of the participants are locals, so it seems as if every family is involved in some way. I’d never heard of this festival before but was fortunate enough to be visiting friends when it was taking place!
There are lots of opportunities for language learners to use their conversational skills. When I was there, everyone wanted to discuss the event, share their perspective and even talk about how their ancestors took part in this physical competition.
If you can’t make it to the festival or if you just want more information on Pisa and its famous tower, try reading “Tilt: The Skewed Tale of the Tower of Pisa” by Nicholas Shrady. It’s one of my favorite books!
Umbria Jazz Winter Festival
No talk about Italian festivals would be complete without a nod to this jazz festival held in Perugia, the capital city in the Italian region of Umbria. The city itself is incredible, a historic spot filled with medieval architecture, defensive walls and impressive fountains. Even without the music festival, Perugia is a bucket list spot.
The jazz festival elevates an Italian visit—fast! Musicians from across the globe perform during the festival, and music lovers converge on the quaint city. The result? An idyllic fusion of modern and medieval that must be experienced!
If you’re able to linger, the Comitato Linguistico (Linguistic Committee) offers Italian language courses! This is an immersive experience that offers learners a cultural view made possible by living in Perugia and speaking with its citizens for an extended period. Plan to do coursework during the festival, and get memories to last a lifetime!
Sagra dei Limoni (Lemon Festival)
Monterosso is a gorgeous spot on the Italian coastline. It’s well known for its natural beauty, medieval tower and idyllic, peaceful lifestyle.
It’s no surprise that this serene town hosts a sweet spring festival. The Sagra dei Limoni (Lemon Festival) is a quaint celebration of the lemon! Locals decorate the town and bake Italian lemon delicacies, including a treat called torta al limone (lemon cake) that, once tasted, is never forgotten!
Small towns like this one are the ideal spot for language learners to visit. Sitting with a cappuccino and a slice of lemon cake and conversing with new Italian friends is a great way to power up language skills while having fun!
If you can’t make it to the lemon festival, try baking your own Italian lemon cake at home. I’ve used this recipe several times and it never fails to make me feel as if I’m sitting beside the sea in Italy!
Cultural exposure is beneficial to Italian language learners.
And attending festivals provides an authentic experience that gives us the opportunity to learn the language from a new point of view.
Any language is more than just words. Experiences, history and customs are all essential parts of learning a language.
Have a unique Italian experience by attending any of these fabulous festivals. But beware—there’s a possibility you may not want to leave Italy after having any of these epic, bucket-list-worthy experiences!