Thinking of spending Easter in Rome?
Running a boutique hotel in Rome for years, I know the questions people ask when trying to decide if they will come to Rome at Easter, or avoid it.
This page will help you decide if you should come to Rome during Easter time. And if you do, you'll know what to expect. And what and where to eat!
Do you want to know the schedule for Vatican/church events during Easter in Rome? Jump to this section.
The main thing people ask me about Rome at Easter time is how crowded it is (hint - much less than you think.)
The funny thing is that up until the early 2000's (right before the internet became many people's number one resource for trip planning), Rome used to get really crowded at Easter.
Easter is of course one of the most important holidays, if not THE most important holiday in the Catholic calendar. And Rome can be famously crowded at Easter, due to all the pilgrims pouring in from around the world for the (church-related) festivities.
But does that mean Rome is too crowded at Easter? Well, since the early 2000's, when every travel website said that Rome is to be avoided at Easter, guess what? Rome is NOT crowded at Easter!
Everyone listened to the online advice, and now many people avoid Rome at Easter.
Except the pilgrims, many of whom are students and stay at campgrounds and religious housing, which means that regular accommodation is not over-priced, nor hard to come by. How do I know this? Remember, I am in the B&B business. And so are many of my colleagues. And we can all tell you:
Now, Rome is very crowded the week BEFORE Easter (Holy Week), and just after. But not on Easter weekend.
The second thing I get asked alot about Easter in Rome - does it always rain?
Well nobody can predict the weather but I can tell you that, anecdotally, it seems to always rain in Rome on Easter Sunday.
Easter is in spring, which can be rainy in Rome, so just be prepared.
In Italy, the two biggest observed dates around Easter are Easter Sunday AND Easter Monday. Shops, banks and some restaurants are closed those days.
And since many shops, restaurants and certainly banks, are closed on Sundays anyway, you will only find yourself minorly inconvenienced by closed shops on Easter Monday.
Main tourist sites such as the Coliseum, Roman Forum, Galleria Borghese and other archeological sites and museums keep normal hours. The Coliseum and Forum are open on Easter Sunday and Monday, although the Coliseum will close early on Good Friday to prepare for the Pope's procession there. (Yes, Good Friday is part of the Easter holiday calendar, but shops, restaurants and banks are all open on Good Friday.)
As for the Vatican, of course Saint Peters' Basilica will be open throughout the Easter holiday, but the Vatican Museums (where the Sistine Chapel is), will be closed on Easter Sunday and Easter Monday.
Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent, is actually the very first part of the Easter holiday. In 2016, Ash Wednesday falls on February 10.
According to the Vatican's website, Pope Francis will celebrate Ash Wednesday in Rome at:
If you want to attend the mass, you will need tickets. Here's how to request them.
NOTE: If you cannot get tickets to this mass, you may wish to try getting tickets to the Papal Audience, which will also be held on the morning of Ash Wednesday in Saint Peter's Square. Same link as above.
On Friday, March 4, 2016, Pope Francis will celebrate the penitential rites in Saint Peter's Basilica, at 5pm.
The following outlines all the events during Holy Week in Rome, starting with Palm Sunday and finishing 8 days later with Easter Monday. In most cases, the Pope will preside over the masses and vigils, but it's always possible that some factor will prevent the Pope from attending.
To see detailed and updated information about Vatican events over Easter, visit the Vatican website. Click the link for the Calendar, and go to the month in question (it's only updated a couple of months in advance.)
Easter week begins the Sunday before Easter, on Palm Sunday. The Pope holds a special mass in Saint Peter's Square, Vatican City. Starting at 9:30 in Saint Peter's Square, there is a Blessing of the Palms and Holy Mass. In 2016, the date of Palm Sunday is March 20.
It's free to attend this mass but you need a ticket. Get there early, be prepared to stand for a long time, and be prepared for crowds.
On Holy Thursday, also called Maundy Thursday, the Pope will perform a morning mass in the Saint Peter's Basilica, 9:30am. This is an unusual Mass as it's one of the rare ones during the year held in the morning. And, it's probably your best chance at seeing the Pope with a slightly smaller crowd than you will find on Palm or Easter Sunday. In 2016, Maundy Thursday falls on March 24.
On Thursday evening at 5:30pm, there is a second papal mass, the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, held in Basilica of St. John Lateran, to commemorate Christ’s bathing of the Apostles’ feet.
On Good Friday there is a Papal Mass in Saint Peter's Basilica at 5pm. In 2016, Good Friday falls on March 25.
At 9:15pm, the Pope leads the stations of the cross, or Via Crucis, near the Colosseum. This ritual procession commemorates the fourteen stages of Christ's passion.
At each station, the Pope reads a meditation in various languages. All the while, you can view a huge cross with burning lights. This can be a very moving and unique experience during Easter in Rome, even if you are not religious.
At 8:30pm, the pope will hold an Easter Vigil in Saint Peter's Basilica. During this service adult converts to Catholicism are officially welcomed into the Church.
The Pope will lead Easter Mass inside Saint Peter's Basilica. The service begins at 10:15am, but if you have a ticket and plan on going, you should arrive much earlier than that.
After the mass, at noon, the Pope will come out onto the central loggia of Saint Peter's Basilica, and deliver the blessing known as the Urbi et Orbi - "to the City and to the World". (He does this twice a year: at Easter and Christmas.) You do need tickets to mass, but not to watch the Urbi et Orbi.
In 2016, Easter Sunday falls on March 27.
Easter Monday, called Pasquetta, is also a holiday in Italy, and shops, banks and some restaurants will be closed.
Many Romans see this day as a fun day, for a picnic, barbecue or lunch with friends.
If you like, you may attend the Easter Monday address by the Pope in Saint Peter's Square at noon.
It's free to attend all the masses at the Vatican listed above (Palm Sunday Mass, Chrismal Mass on Holy Thursday, Papal Mass on Good Friday, Holy Saturday Mass and Easter Sunday Mass) but tickets are required.
You do not need tickets to attend the Pope's procession of the via Crucis at the Coliseum.
Click here to visit the Prefecture of the Papal Household, where you can download the form to fill out. You just need to fax it in and wait to hear back. You will get an answer only if you are granted tickets. They will let you know when and where to pick them up.
Easter Sunday marks the end of Lent, so it's time to feast! Easter Sunday lunch typically features lamb, or abbacchio, and Roman artichokes. For dessert, there is a typical cake that's supposed to be in the shape of a dove, or colomba, although to me it just looks like a rounded cross. And of course, there are the chocolate easter eggs, sometimes with a treat inside.
Normally, I'd make a page with a list of restaurants open in Rome on Easter but really, it's not that difficult. Many Rome restaurants are open on Easter Sunday and Monday, except for those that usually close those days of the week anyway.
If you want a traditional Easter Sunday lunch, you should try some Roman restaurants that will be sure to have lamb, potatoes and artichokes. Some examples include Flavio Al Velavevodetto in Testaccio, Cesare al Casaletto at the end of the 8 tram line, past Trastevere; Romolo e Remo near San Giovanni, and Piccolo Arancio near the Trevi fountain. You should note that most of these restaurants will get booked up by locals, so book early.
Most Romans think of Easter Monday as a day for a picnic or barbecue, and head to a park or even the beach. So while you can choose a restaurant for eating lunch this day, you might want to do as the Romans do: pack a lunch and head to a park in Rome for a spring picnic.
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