When you think of Italy perhaps it’s the centuries of culture or the wonderful cuisine that first springs to mind. Or perhaps the breath-taking scenery. But what of the many Italy festivals?

Travel Begins at 40 has compiled our list of the 12 best festivals in Italy you really should not miss in 2023. (The following dates are for 2020 and will be updated in January 2022). 

Italian Song Festival of San Remo

4 to 8 February

The Italian Song Festival of San Remo (Festival di Sanremo or the Festival della Canzone Italiana) is probably the most celebrated popular Italian music event. First broadcast in 1951, now it is held each year at the Ariston Theatre, San Remo. The competition features unreleased songs by Italian composers with the winner representing the country at the Eurovision Song Contest no less.

Venice Carnival

8 to 25 February

Flight of Angel
The Flight of the Angel ©Andrea Pattaro/Vision

f you want to have a ball in Italy, then the Venice Carnival is the place to be. The most beautiful city is transformed into one large masquerade as masked costumed revellers intermingle outside the Doge’s Palace, or sail along the Grand Canal. If you can’t afford one of the masked balls then catch the “Flight of the Angel” and the “Festa delle Marie” beauty contest that take place at St Mark’s Square.

Ivrea Carnival

23 to 25 February

Italy Festivals Battle of the Oranges
Red Caps held aloft by revolutionaries, c. Alessio Avetta

In Ivrea, Piedmont each year the Battle of the Oranges (Battaglia delle arance) is played out in front of thousands of travellers from across the globe. Unlike similar events elsewhere this is not a frenzied food fight, but a centuries-old tradition full of pomp and ceremony that celebrates liberty and the honour of the miller’s daughter. Although the event formally starts on 6 January, nothing really gets going until 23 March.

Palio di Ferrara

3 May to 2 June

Palio di Ferrara dates back to 1279.

Although the Siena version might be more famous, the Palio di Ferrara is the oldest one of its kind in Italy dating back to 1279. A symbol of Italian Renaissance, the palio consists of a month full of races, celebrations and parades, as well as competitions between the eight districts of this beautiful city in Emilia-Romagna, contesting for a precious drape dedicated to Ferrara’s patron saint, Saint George.

The Passion of Christ in Sordevolo

13 June to 27 September

If you happen to be in northern Italy this summer then you have to visit the town of Sordevolo, Piedmont for the Passione di Sordevolo (The Passion of Sordevolo). The festival which takes place every five years, involves the whole community. This year is particularly special as it is the 5th centenary of the Coronation of the Madonna of Oropa, which only takes place every 100 years, starting in 1620, at the Basilica, located near the Sacred Mount.

Verona Opera Festival

13 June – 5 September

Italy Festivals
The magnicficent Arena di Verona

One of the most important music festivals in Italy, the Verona Opera Festival is held in the world’s most spectacular opera house – the Arena di Verona; a Roman amphitheatre built in AD30. In Roman times it held 30,000 spectators, but now some 15,000 can see the most amazing operatic performances. The 2020 Verona Opera Festival season will include performances of Aida, Turandot and La Traviata, as well as galas with Placido Domingo and ballet star Roberto Bolle.

Calcio Storico, Florence

24 June

Calcio Storico Florence
Football, rugby or wrestling?

We all know that the Italians are football crazy, but the Calcio Storico, or Calcio Fiorentino is like no football match you have ever watched. The game is a mix of rugby, football and wrestling – so expect no red cards here – and originated in the 16th century at the Piazza Santa Croce in Florence. Four teams representing the historic districts of Florence compete in semi-finals and then a final played on 24 June – the feast day of the patron saint of Florence, St John the Baptist. The winning team receives a calf.

The Palio di Siena

2 July and 16 August

Palio di Siena
Palio di Siena

Make sure you are not strolling the Unesco-listed ancient streets of Siena on 2 July and 16 August this year, as the Tuscan city celebrates its most ancient ritual – the palio, where horse riders representing ten of the city’s seventeen contrade, (districts), race around the ring of rock that covers the Piazza del Campo. The event begins with the blessing of the horses, followed by a parade to the piazza, and finally the race itself.

Umbria Jazz Festival

10 to 19 July

Umbria Jazz
Umbria Jazz in Perugia

Widely recognised as one of the best jazz festivals in the world the Umbria Jazz Festival is different to other Italian jazz festivals in that it brings jazz music to historic town squares across the province of Umbria, especially in Perugia. Concerts are free and attract large audiences. Even if the music is not to your taste you must be impressed by the amazing settings.

Puccini Festival

17 July to 23 August

Created by Giacomo Antonio Domenico Michele Secondo Maria Puccini himself in 1930, the Puccini Festival takes place in Torre Del Lago open air theatre in Tuscany, a few steps from the Villa Mausoleum, where the composer lived and worked. The perfect setting to enjoy some of the works by one of Italy’s most revered sons, this year Torre Del Lago will stage La Boheme, Tosca, Madame Butterfly and Turandot.

Venice International Film Festival

2 to 12 September

Venice Film Festival
The coveted Golden Lion statue at the Cinema Palace

The annual Venice International Film Festival, officially called Mostra Internazionale d’Arte Cinematografica, is the world’s oldest film festival. Each year you can indulge here in the best of international cinema while rubbing shoulders with silver screen celebrities. This year’s 77th edition of the Venice Film Festival will, as usual, take place on the Lido, the little island next to Venice.

Historical Regatta, Venice

6 September

With no apology for featuring three Venetian events in our round up of Italy festivals, you really ought not miss the Historical Regatta held on the first Sunday of September each year on the Grand Canal. Dating back to 1315, the regatta commences with a beautiful procession of 16th century boats, followed by a series of four races including the regatta of champions on gondolini.

For more information on Italy Festivals and things to do in Italy

Go to the official Italian Tourism website.