Italy is undoubtedly a place of unparalleled cultural richness and history, best experienced during one of its many cultural festivals. From more popular, globally renowned events like Carnevale in Venice to smaller festivals in Italy’s hidden corners, there’s something for everybody to experience year-round. 

Whether you’re a fan of ancient traditions or modern revelry, join us as we highlight six must-attend cultural events that will make your time in Italy truly unforgettable. Allow us to be your local guides to Italy’s best festivals!

best cultural festivals in italy

Carnevale – Venice, Veneto

Carnevale, the enchanting Venetian Carnival, dates back to the 12th century. Rooted in the ancient Roman Saturnalia and the medieval tradition of indulging before the fasting of Lent, it became an annual spectacle in Venice by the Renaissance. 

Masked revelers flooded the city, their anonymity bridging social divides for a brief, joyous period. The tradition faded in the 18th century but experienced a revival in the late 20th century, evolving into the glamorous and world-renowned celebration we know today.

Carnevale typically takes place in February, with festivities starting about two weeks before Shrove Tuesday (Fat Tuesday) and culminating on the final day of Carnevale. In 2025, the masked Festival will take place from February 22 to March 4. 

This festival is incredible to experience, but you need to be ready for some major crowds. If you want to attend some festival events lesser known to many tourists, the Flight of the Angel or the Best Mask contest are great opportunities to get away from St. Mark’s Square. Of course, don’t miss the spectacular water parades along the Grand Canal.

As far as the festival’s unique culinary delights, frittelle, a sweet fried dough, and galani, a crispy pastry, are all handmade in bakeries across the city. 

Ravioli dolci di Carnevale are another of the festival’s sweet treats that hails from the Le Marche region and can be enjoyed at pastry shops in the town of Ascoli Piceno, including the famous Caffè Meletti, beloved by Ernest Hemingway. 

In fact, when you join us on select tours, your home base will be in this very town. Ascoli Piceno is home to one of Italy’s most beautiful squares, and your hotel is just a short walk away! Carnevale is one of the largest festivals in Italy, but if you’re looking for something more quaint, a small group tour could be perfect for you. 

best italian cultural festivals

Umbria Jazz Festival – Perugia, Umbria

The Umbria Jazz Festival, an annual celebration in the charming town of Perugia, has been enchanting music enthusiasts since its inception in 1973. Initially focused on traditional jazz, the festival has evolved to embrace a diverse range of musical genres, attracting international artists and jazz aficionados alike. 

Set against the backdrop of medieval architecture and rolling hills, the Umbria Jazz Festival blends the timeless appeal of Umbria with the contemporary beats of the global music scene.

The Umbria Jazz Festival takes place in July, with 2024 dates being July 12-21. Performances are held in historic locations throughout Perugia, so the city is vibrant and bustling for the whole week. 

We recommend securing your tickets in advance, especially for headline acts. The festival offers various ticket options, from single performances to full-event passes, allowing you to tailor your experience based on preferences and budget. 

You can also enjoy the vibrant atmosphere of free events and open-air performances that often accompany the main concerts. Check the schedule for street parades, jam sessions, and impromptu shows throughout Perugia.

The Umbria Jazz Festival, with the stunning backdrop of Perugia, is a music aficionado’s dream! In the past, the festival has attracted many well-known names such as Santana, BB King, Eric Clapton, Elton John, James Taylor, and more. 

Having personally lived in Perugia, I can say that this festival is a blast for any music lover, even if you’re not typically a “jazz” fan! In 2024, artists like Raye and Toto will be playing at the festival. Learn more here!

Want to explore Umbria beyond the crowds of the festival? When you join us on select tours, you’ll explore the heart of Italy by visiting UNESCO Heritage sites, the papermakers of Fabriano, and more cultural delights. 

gubbio best italian cultural festivals

Corsa dei Ceri – Gubbio, Umbria

Step into the medieval town of Gubbio, where the Corsa dei Ceri, or Race of the Candles, has been igniting the streets since the 12th century. Rooted in local lore and religious devotion, this annual race pays homage to the town’s patron saint, St. Ubaldo. 

The three teams, each dedicated to a different saint, compete to carry colossal wooden structures, or “ceri,” up the steep slopes of Mount Ingino, which is also home to the world’s largest Christmas tree! Check out some of Italy’s Best Christmas Markets. 

The Corsa dei Ceri is held on May 15th each year, honoring St. Ubaldo’s feast day. The event kicks off early in the morning with a series of ceremonies and culminates in a thrilling race later in the day.

We recommend carefully planning your vantage point for the race. The best spots include the Piazza Grande and the ascent up Mount Ingino. Arrive early to secure a good view, especially if you want to witness the breathtaking start of the race from the town square.

Before the race, each team parades through the town with their ceri, accompanied by lively music and colorful costumes. During the festivities, many locals don traditional costumes, adding to the cultural richness of the event.

Be sure to book accommodations in advance, especially if you plan to stay overnight. Gubbio can get busy during the festival, and securing lodging close to the action ensures a seamless experience. We plan to stay for a few days to explore the charms of the city! 

Don’t want to deal with the stress of planning? Book a tour instead! Gubbio is the home base for select tours with us. Read more about the city here – we think this is one of the most romantic destinations in Italy! 

best italian cultural festivals in sicily italy

Sagra del Mandorlo – Agrigento, Sicily

In the picturesque town of Agrigento, the Sagra del Mandorlo in Fiore, or Almond Blossom Festival, unfolds like a dream amid the rolling hills of Sicily. Rooted in the celebration of nature’s renewal, this festival pays homage to the delicate blossoms of the almond trees that blanket the region come springtime.

Dating back to ancient times, the Sagra del Mandorlo in Fiore has evolved into a vibrant event, blending local traditions with the breathtaking beauty of blooming almond orchards. The festival usually takes place in February or March, coinciding with the almond trees’ peak blooming period. 

The festival allows you to explore the Valle dei Templi, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and witness the almond orchards in full bloom. The ancient temples provide a stunning backdrop to the sea of almond blossoms. 

You can also immerse yourself in local culture by visiting an artisan market. Here, local craftsmen showcase their wares, offering unique souvenirs such as handmade almond-based products, ceramics, and traditional Sicilian delicacies—including traditional marzipan treats and almond pastries. 

For this festival, we recommend planning transportation in advance and renting a car to explore the countryside of the region. Learn more about driving in Italy. 

Sicily is beautiful, but do you want to explore Southern Italy’s hidden gems? Get on the waitlist for our 2025 Puglia Tours!

best italian cultural festivals in noto italy

Infiorata di Noto – Noto, Sicily

Also nestled in the heart of Sicily, the Infiorata di Noto is a spectacle that transforms the streets of the charming town of Noto into a masterpiece of color and fragrance. Rooted in religious traditions, this floral festival has deep ties to Corpus Christi, dating back to the early 1980s. 

Each May, artists and locals collaborate to create intricate floral carpets, or “infiorate,” that adorn the streets, plazas, and staircases of Noto, turning the town into a fragrant tapestry of floral artistry. This year’s festival will be May 17 – 21. 

While Noto is one of the most popular locations, Infiorata takes place in other cities throughout Italy, such as Spello, Genzano, and Castelraimondo. 

Castelraimondo is a true hidden gem in the Le Marche region near the Umbrian border and a great alternative if you want to avoid the crowds of Sicily for this festival. You’ll also have the opportunity to explore this quaint town on select tours with us! 

For this festival, don’t forget your camera! You’ll want to capture snapshots of these gorgeous displays, especially in the light of the early morning or the late afternoon. 

You’ll also want to plan your route to cover the main streets and squares where the infiorate are created. The Corso Vittorio Emanuele and the Cathedral Square (Piazza del Duomo) are prime viewing locations. 

quintana asoli piceno best italian cultural festivals

La Quintana – Ascoli Piceno, Le Marche

Our final festival invites you to step into the medieval charm of Ascoli Piceno, where a bygone era comes alive during La Quintana. 

Rooted in medieval jousting traditions, La Quintana is a celebration of chivalry, skill, and pageantry. Dating back to the 16th century, this spectacle has evolved into a grand event, with participants donning elaborate costumes and competing in jousts. The festival takes place throughout July and August, with this year’s events slated for July 13th – August 4th. 

Pro-Tip: Book as early as possible to get covered seats for the festival proceedings, as much of the festival takes place during the hottest part of the summer afternoons. As locals, we typically struggle to get to sleep at night as many people choose to explore the festival in the later, cooler hours of the evening! 

One of the festival’s most unique aspects is the colorful costume processions before the jousting competitions. The parades feature participants dressed in medieval attire, providing a visual journey into Ascoli Piceno’s history.

You’ll want to secure a good vantage point for the festivities. The participants, known as “fantini,” compete in a display of equestrian skill, aiming to hit the quintain target with a lance. 

The festival’s events literally take place in the middle of the streets, with one of the most prominent locations being the Piazza del Popolo. As locals, we look forward to watching our city transform for the festival each year! 

And don’t forget to sample local cuisine while you’re here – Ascoli Piceno is renowned for its culinary delights, including olive all’ascolana (stuffed olives) and other regional specialties. We may be biased, but we think that Ascoli Piceno is one of Italy’s best-kept secrets!

Did you know that several of our tours are based in our hometown of Ascoli Piceno? If you want to see the real Italy, the best way is a local guide that can translate the experience for you! Our guests love uncovering experiences and off-the-beaten path locations they never would have on their own. 

You’ll eat phenomenal cuisine, drink world-class wines, and see amazing places known only to locals without all the guesswork and planning. 

While festivals are a great way to experience Italy’s rich history and culture, you may still find it difficult to get that local Italian experience of your dreams. 

Ready to be Italian for a week? Get started today with your FREE Italy travel guide!

 

  PLANNING A TRIP TO ITALY? SAVE THIS POST FOR LATER!

"
The Best Italian Cultural Festivals: A Local's Guide

STRESSED ABOUT GETTING GLUTENATED ON YOUR TRIP TO ITALY?

 

Get your Gluten-Free Italy Survival Guide...

 

The Top 10 Tips To Avoid Vacation Glutenation on Your Trip to Italy

Your Gluten-Free Italy Survival Guide is on its way!

best beaches of puglia italy

WANT THE BEST PRICE OF THE YEAR?

Enter your info & email address and you'll be the first to know when the 2025 dates are open for booking!

And get access to the limited, time-sensitive bonuses and discounts!

You're on the list! Don't forget to add info@theitalianontour.com to your contacts so you'll never miss a travel tips or booking bonus

Pin It on Pinterest