Everything you need to know about Ferragosto, Italy’s national summer holiday

Why is August 15th a holiday? The Local looks at the history behind Ferragosto, and how you can celebrate the day like an Italian.

Everything you need to know about Ferragosto, Italy's national summer holiday
Vacationers sunbathe at a private beach near Santa Margherita Ligure, southern Genova. In future, prices of sunbeds could be capped for beachgoers. (Photo by OLIVIER MORIN / AFP)

What are we celebrating?

As far as many people in Italy are concerned, August 15th is the height of summer – and that in itself is worth celebrating.

But the holiday has a very long history.

August 15th is when Catholics celebrate the Assumption, or the ascendance of the Virgin Mary into heaven. However, it was a holiday in Italy long before it took on a religious significance.

Ferragosto, the Italian name for the holiday, comes from the Latin Feriae Augusti (the festivals of the Emperor Augustus) which were introduced back in 18 BC, probably to celebrate a battle victory, and were celebrated alongside other ancient Roman summer festivals. These festivities were linked to the longer Augustali period – intended to be a period of rest after months of hard labour.

Ferragosto: Why the long August holidays are untouchable for Italians

In Roman times, the celebrations included horse races. Even today, Siena’s Palio dell’Assunta usually takes place on August 16th.

The holiday now combines both its ancient Roman and Catholic roots with marking the semi-official peak of Italy’s summer holiday season.

Photo: Ludovic Marin/AFP

Where’s everybody gone?

It’s traditional to use the August long weekend to take a trip out of the city, usually escaping the heat at the seaside, lakes or mountains, so if you stay in town you’ll notice it’s much quieter than usual.

During the era of Fascism, the regime would organise trips with special offers for the 13th-15th August, the idea being that less well-off workers would get the opportunity to visit a different part of the country.

READ ALSO: Gelato, iced tea and escaping to the hills: How to survive an Italian summer in the city

Even today there are often discounts on packages for the Ferragosto weekend – though you may find that train tickets and hotel rooms sell out fast.

And of course, many Italian families go away on longer vacations at this time of year too.

Will everything be closed?

If you didn’t have the foresight to book a trip of your own, you may be wondering how to make the most of the day.

Usually, bank holidays mean total shutdown even in major towns and cities, with everything from post offices to public transport closed, and that’s the same on August 15th.

And as we mentioned earlier it’s the start of Italy’s holiday season, meaning you’ll see ‘chiuso per ferie’ signs popping up all over the place.

Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

However, unlike many other public holidays, on Ferragosto a large number of museums and cultural sites remain open.

So it’s an excellent time to visit major attractions such as the Colosseum, Pantheon or Galleria Borghese if you’re in the capital, or one of the many museums and sites across the rest of Italy.

Ferragosto is also usually celebrated with special church services and religious processions, as well as fireworks displays and other events.

While these were cancelled over the precious two summers due to Covid-19, events and gatherings can go ahead restriction-free this year.

But the most traditional way to celebrate of all is with a big family lunch.

For this reason, you’ll see many restaurants remain open on this date, at least at lunchtime, and may even offer special Ferragosto menus for the occasion.

Member comments

  1. Funny thing is: in all my time spent in Italy, the 15th August always had the feeling of the ‘beginning of the end’ of the long summer holidays. A special day, with that hint of sadness that soon it will be all over and it’s back to work and school.

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Eight signs that spring has arrived in Italy

With warm temperatures across the entire country this week, spring has finally arrived in Italy. Besides the weather though, there’s further proof that 'primavera' is upon us.

Eight signs that spring has arrived in Italy

Aperitivo hour moves outdoors

Over the winter months, most people in Italy have their aperitivo – a hallowed combination of pre-dinner drinks and snacks – indoors.

As soon as temperatures rise above 15C, it’s game on for Italians as they rush to crowd the outdoor decks of their local bars straight after leaving work.

Can you blame them? Few things in life are as sweet as sipping on your favourite tipple while soaking up that golden late-afternoon sunlight.  

Motorini are back on the streets

Italians love scooters, not least because traffic can (and regularly does) get really bad in big cities and riding around on a slick two-wheeler can save you copious amounts of time. 

READ ALSO: Why are Italians so addicted to cars?

For pretty obvious reasons, people avoid using their scooters during the cold months, but the motorcycles are swiftly pulled out of the garage as soon as the weather gets warmer. 

Vespa scooters

Italians love scooters and, as temperatures increase, so does the number of two-wheelers on the streets. Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP

And, as temperatures increase, so do the numbers of people whizzing down their city’s streets on jazzy Vespas.

Clothes get lighter and brighter

As the days get warmer and longer, people in Italy swap their heavy winter attire for their mezza stagione outfits. 

Italians are famously keen on fashion and most have an entire section of their wardrobe dedicated to mezza stagione (literally, ‘mid-season’) clothes, i.e. garments meant to be worn exclusively in spring or autumn. 

You’ll notice the change when walking around your area. From jean jackets and cotton twill blazers to floaty dresses and sandals, mezza stagione clothes are generally far more colourful and stylish than their gloomy winter counterparts. 

Gelato makes a reappearance

As temperatures get warmer by the day, Italians gradually rediscover one of their favourite weekend pastimes: the Sunday afternoon stroll with a gelato cone firmly wedged between their fingers. 

READ ALSO: How to spot good quality gelato in Italy – and how to suss out the fakes

Italy is the land of artisanal ice cream and people just can’t get enough of the frozen treat. 

Gelato shop in Italy

Italy’s the land of artisanal ice cream and people just can’t get enough of it. Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP

But many prefer to have their ice cream ‘on the go’ rather than savouring it while seated. 

Some say walking helps them digerire meglio (‘better digest’) their ice cream, but the veracity of that theory is yet to be proven.

Spring cleaning begins

The start of pulizie di primavera (spring cleaning) is one of the most telling (and generally least-likeable) signs that spring has indeed arrived in the country. 

While it might not be that big of a deal in other countries, the task is somewhat of a ritual experience for Italians as they often set a whole weekend apart to thoroughly clean every nook and cranny of their homes and clear out unused stuff. 

READ ALSO: Eating well, driving badly, and daily naps: The habits you pick up in Italy

Should you happen to hear a racket coming from the Italian neighbours’ house from as early as 7am on a Sunday morning, you’ll know what’s up.

Artichokes arrive in the shops

Spring marks the return of the beloved carciofi – a staple of Italians’ spring-time diet – on supermarket shelves.

Italians can’t get enough of them, and the veggies are prepared, cooked and served in all sorts of ways (alla romana, alla giudia, stuffed, etc.). 


Artichokes are a staple of Italians’ spring-time diet. Photo by Fred TANNEAU / AFP

Artichokes are so popular in Italy that many locations around the country have entire festivals dedicated to them: Rome’s own carciofo festival is currently underway.

Warm days, chilly evenings

Most Italian regions enjoy good weather during the spring months.

But, while it may be fairly hot during the day (over 20C in some areas), evenings can be fairly chilly, with temperatures dropping below the 10-degree mark overnight.

READ ALSO: What to expect when travelling to Italy this spring

That’s why it’s advisable to always bring a warm jacket along if you’re planning on spending an evening out with family or friends.

Sunsets become more intense

Spring is one of the best seasons to watch a sunset in Italy, as the sunlight gives the sky unique shades of orange, red or indigo.

As the die-hard romanticoni they are, locals rarely miss a chance to catch the ‘magic hour’ and often choose to spend the moment in the company of their partners or friends.

Most Italians also have a favourite ‘sunset spot’ but that’s a secret they won’t give away easily.