August can be a bad month to visit Italy or a great time to go, depending on how you look at it and what you want to do. During August, many Italians take vacation, especially starting August 15, so cities empty out and many shops and restaurants are closed, chiuso per ferie. On the other hand, tourist sites are still open and in cities like Rome you can sometimes find good hotel deals from hotels that consider August to be low season. For tourism, summer is high season and most top tourist spots are crowded.
Beaches are at their most crowded during August, however, and seaside hotels often charge their highest prices, sometimes double or triple what they charge during other months. Highways along the coast are often jammed with traffic, especially on the weekends and on the August 15 holiday. If you’re heading to a coastal town be sure to book your hotel well in advance.
Amalfi Coast Beach photo credit: Gillian’s Lists
August is hot in most parts of Italy so plan your outdoor sight-seeing in the morning or evening and head to museums or churches in the afternoon, or use that time for a rest as Italians often do. Some parts of northern and central Italy are humid (and have mosquitoes), such as Venice and Florence, and you may see some afternoon thunderstorms while in the south it’s usually very hot and dry. See Italy Climate and Weather for details.
Italy’s Ferragosto Holiday
Ferragosto or Assumption Day, celebrated on August 15, is one of Italy’s top holidays. Many shops will be closed, although most of the major tourist sites are open, and most transportation runs on the Sunday/holiday schedule. You’ll find music, special events, and fireworks many places, especially along the coast. For example, Diano Marina, on the northwest coast, holds a festival of the sea with a good fireworks display on August 15.
In Rome, the Gran Ballo di Ferragosto has dance performances in several squares around the city with a different type of dance in each square. At Castell Sant’Angelo, there’s music or entertainment on the grounds every evening through August 15 usually ending with fireworks on the 15th. Also by the Colosseum there are shows at night during August.
Italian Festivals in August
August is a great time for festivals, special outdoor events, and summer concerts such as these concerts in ancient Roman sites. Many festivals coincide with Ferragosto, either on August 15 or just before or after.
Some medieval towns now hold medieval festivals during summer such as Volterra AD 1398 in Tuscany and there are palio contests ranging from the famous horse race in Siena to donkey races and even frog races. You’re likely to find some kind of small festival, parade, outdoor music, or sagra (local dinner) where ever you go. Look for brightly colored posters advertising a festa or sagra like the one at the bottom of the page.
Here’s a sampling of August Festivals:
- Palio di Siena, August 16, in Siena, Tuscany. The famous horse race around Siena’s main square takes place twice in summer, the first in July and the second on August 16. The race is preceded by a parade in medieval costume and special events are held on the days leading up to the race. If you want a seat to watch the race you’ll need to buy Palio tickets (which are expensive) in advance or stand with the crowd in the center of the square. Also in Siena, the spectacular inlaid marble floor of the cathedral is usually uncovered a couple of days later and can be seen for a period of about 2 months.
- La Quintana, the first Sunday in August, in Ascoli Piceno. Ascoli Piceno, in central Italy’s Le Marche region, has one of Italy’s most beautiful main squares, Piazza del Popolo. The main event of La Quintana is a medieval jousting tournament with riders galloping on horseback around a figure-8 course while trying to attack a target figure with lances. Other events include a parade in medieval costume, flag throwers, food and fireworks. La Quintana di Ascoli Piceno
- Palio del Golfo, the first weekend in August, in La Spezia. The Palio del Golfo is a spectacular rowing race among the 13 maritime villages that border the Bay of La Spezia including the colorful town of Portovenere near the Cinque Terre. The race is held in the water off the seaside promenade. Events include a parade and fireworks.
- La Notte di San Lorenzo, August 10, is celebrated all over Italy. Dedicated to the Saint Lorenzo who was burned to death, August 10 is believed by Italians to be the best night to see shooting (or falling) stars, said to be sparks from the bonfire that burned him and you may see bonfires, especially on the beach. Many cities hold some kind of special event and lights may be dimmed for part of the evening. Wine-making towns often celebrate with Calici di Stelle, a toast to summer with special events.
- Festa dei Candelieri, August 14-15, in Sassari, Sardinia, is one of my favorites. Dating back to the 16th century, the main event is an exciting race with teams of men bearing huge and very heavy candles. Many people are dressed in traditional costume and there’s music, dancing, and food.
- Il Bravio delle Botti, last Sunday of August, in Montepulciano, Tuscany. The hill town of Montepulciano is also famous for its wine production. The main event of this festival is a race up the hill to the main square with teams from each of the 8 towns districts pushing heavy wooden wine barrels, botte. There’s also a costume parade. Il Bravio delle Botti photos and information.
Tip: Look for posters like the one below to find a sagra, or food festival. You’ll see them all over Italy, especially in summer.