The main thing people ask me about Easter in Rome time is how crowded it is (hint - less than you might 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 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.
That is, 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 was in the B&B business for 17 years.
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 so much on Easter weekend.
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 Colosseum, Forum, and Palatine Hill are open on Easter Sunday and Monday, although the Colosseum will close at around noon 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).
In 2019, from April 18 through May 4, the Vatican Museums will stay open until 7pm, with last entry at 5pm.
(This does not include the Free Sunday (April 28, 2019), when the museums close at 2 pm. Nor does it include, of course, the days in which the museums are closed, Easter Sunday, Easter Monday, May 1).
Easter in Rome - What to do on Easter Sunday and Monday
If you are in Rome during Easter but do not have Vatican-related activities planned, you might be wondering what to do on Sunday and Monday (which is also a holiday).
I find most people in Rome over the Easter weekend are here for just a few days, so if you want to fit in a visit to the Colosseum/Forum and the Vatican, you'll need to plan and in some cases pre-book.
When to visit the Vatican Museums over the Easter holiday
Since the Vatican Museums are closed on Sunday AND Monday, if you want to visit them and are only here for a few days, you wind up with Thursday, Friday, Saturday or the following Tuesday, as options.
Ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Vatican Museums - Michelangelo Buonarotti 1508-1512
The best thing you can do if you here during Easter in Rome is pre-book your tickets, or book a tour. And, if go on your own (without a tour), go as late in the day as possible.
The Vatican Museums are always most crowded early in the morning. If you do not manage to book a ticket (i.e. the Vatican website shows sold-out), no fear, you can still just show up and queue (again, later in the day is better), or, book a tour.
When to visit the Colosseum over the Easter holiday
The Colosseum is open every day throughout the Easter holidays. But there are some limitations.
Visiting the Colosseum is a must when in Rome - now when to go during Easter?
If the only day you can visit the Colosseum is Friday, know that on this day, Good Friday, there is a procession, the via Crucis in the evening. The whole archeological area of the Colosseum/Forum/Palatine Hill will close at 1pm, with last entry at noon. So go right at opening time (8:30am.)
If you are here only over Easter weekend, as you might imagine, the Colosseum will be pretty crowded on both Sunday and Monday, as people cannot visit the Vatican Museums on those days.
So to visit the Colosseum with the least stress and crowds, go at 8:30 when they open, or, 1-2 hours before last entry. From April 1, last entry is at 6pm. But make sure to give yourself plenty of time if you want to also visit the Palatine Hill and Roman Forum (3 hours more or less).
When to visit St Peter's Basilica During Easter in Rome
Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome - when can you visit it during Easter?
As you can imagine, St Peter's Basilica will be a hub of activity and crowds throughout Easter weekend.
It is always free to visit the Basilica (although you can purchase a skip-the-line ticket, which can literally save you hours). Normal opening hours during March are 7am - 6pm, and from April, 7am - 7pm.
However, during Easter in Rome, the basilica will be closed for visits during papal masses. So if you want to visit the basilica while you are in Rome over Easter weekend, you will need to make sure the Pope is not holding mass there. Note there is not a specific re-opening time. They say it's "when the crowds from the mass clear out."
St Peter's Basilica will be closed during the following:
April 14, 2019 - On Palm Sunday, there will be a papal mass at 9:30am. So you should plan to visit the basilica sometime after noon.
April 18, 2019 - On Maundy Thursday, there will be a papal mass at 9:30am. So you should plan to visit the basilica sometime after noon.
April 19, 2019 - Easter Friday, or Good Friday, there will be a papal mass at 5pm, so the basilica itself will close earlier than usual that day.
April 20, 2019 -Holy Saturday, mass is at night, so the basilica will be open normally.
April 21, 2019 -Easter Sunday, Easter Mass will be held in the square at 10am. This will be followed by the Pope's address to the crowd, Urbi et Orbi, at noon. So you will be able to visit the basilica from around 1pm.
April 22, 2019 -Easter Monday, the Pope will hold mass at noon, so you could plan to visit the basilica sometime after about 1:30pm or so.
Other Vatican Sites Open during Easter
If you want to visit St. Peter's dome, you can visit it only when St. Peter's Basilica is open, so follow the above schedule.
The Vatican Gardens are closed to visitors throughout Easter. They will be closed from April 17 - 24, 2019 inclusive, reopening on April 25, 2019.
The tomb of St. Peter, also called the Vatican Necropolis, is closed during Easter week. It will be closed from April 17 - 24, 2019, reopening on April 25, 2019.
Other Museums and Sites You can Visit during Easter in Rome
The Galleria Borghese is open on Easter Sunday but closed on Easter Monday AND on the Tuesday following.
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.
Santa Sabina Church on the Aventine Hill - one of the prettiest and oldest churches in Rome
Easter in Rome - schedule of religious events during Holy Week
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).
Do you want to attend church services for Easter in Rome in English?
During Easter in Rome, where palm trees are not that plentiful, olive tree branches are used instead. They symbolize peace and are representative of local culture.
Olive branches used in Rome for Palm Sunday
Holy Thursday - Good chance to see the Pope with fewer 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 2019, Maundy Thursday falls on April 18.
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 2019, Good Friday falls on April 19.
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.
The via Crucis at the Colosseum on Good Friday. Photo courtesy of Repubblica.it
Yes, you can visit the Colosseum on Good Friday.
But it will close early in preparation of the procession. Usually it closes by 1pm, with last entry at noon.
So on Good Friday, if you want to visit the Ancient Rome sites, your best bet is to go early when they open.
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.
Saint Peters basilica in the early evening
The Pope will lead Easter Mass in front of 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.
Pope Francis leading Easter Mass at St. Peter's Basilica
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 2019, Easter Sunday falls on April 21.
Pope Francis delivering the "Urbi et Orbi" speech at Easter
Easter Mass at the Vatican - View From Above
In 2018, I was fortunate to attend Easter Mass at St. Peter's Basilica, with Pope Francis presiding. We had incredible seats, on the Colonnade above, so we got to see everything.
That's why some of the photos on this page (taken and copyrighted by me), give such a clear view.
Here's a video if you'd like to see what it was like:
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 and no tickets are required.
How to get tickets to Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday masses at the Vatican
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.
Ticket required for attending Easter Mass at the Vatican
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.
Having a ticket to a Papal Mass does not guarantee a seat or even a place.
Seating and space is given on a first-come, first-serve basis. Even if you have tickets to a Papal Mass, you should plan to get there early. If you have a ticket, and arrive and there is no more space, you will not be allowed in. You may still observe the mass but from quite far away.
Want an inside scoop on what Easter at the Vatican is like?
My friend Joanne Bergamin lives in Vatican City. Her Instagram name is @swissguardwife (hint, she is married to a Swiss Guard, you know, the guys in those uniforms from the 1500s, who guard the Pope?)
Check out her Instagram for unique photos of Vatican life, and really special photos only she can get, of special events like Easter Mass with the Pope. She also publishes a blog, Travel Angel, and you can read her take on what Easter at the Vatican is like.
Easter in Rome - what and where to eat
What to Eat during Easter in Rome
Easter colombe at a pasticceria in the Monti neighborhood
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.
Typical Easter Sunday menu at a restaurant near the Vatican
Gorgeous Easter treats at Sicilian pastry shop in Rome, Nonna Vincenza near Parliament
Where to Eat in Rome at Easter
Eating on Easter Sunday in Rome
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.
A sunny spring day in the villa Borghese park - ideal for a picnic on Easter Monday
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