Thinking of spending Easter in Rome?
The information below sets out everything you need to know about Easter in Rome during normal years, but of course, this year things are a little bit different!
The Vatican has confirmed that the guidelines for celebrating the Easter week will be largely the same in 2021 as they were in 2020, so the number of visitors to St Peter's Basilica and St Peter's Square will be strictly controlled.
The main celebrations will be broadcast on the Vatican's official YouTube channel online, including:
Due to the current Coronavirus restrictions, which have been confirmed as being in place until at least April 30, the Vatican Museums, Colosseum and all other sites, galleries and museums in Rome remain closed to visitors over the Easter period.
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. Here's everything you need to know about spending Easter in Rome:
The main thing people ask me about Easter in Rome time is how crowded it is (hint - less than you might think).
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.
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.
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.
The second thing I get asked a lot 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, even just a little bit.
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 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).
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.
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.
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.
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), you can still just show up and queue (again, later in the day is better), or, book a tour.
The Colosseum is open every day throughout the Easter holidays. But there are some limitations.
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.
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).
As you can imagine, St Peter's Basilica is 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.
If you want to visit the basilica over Easter weekend, you will need to make sure the Pope is not holding mass there. 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:
The Capitoline Museums will be open on both Sunday and Monday.
The Domus Aurea is open on Easter weekend (Saturday and Sunday only.)
For more things to do, check my page about Rome in April for current shows and exhibits, almost all open on Easter Sunday and Monday.
Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent, is actually the very first part of the Easter holiday. In 2021, Ash Wednesday falls on February 17.
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.
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 2021, the date of Palm Sunday is March 28.
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 2021, Maundy Thursday falls on April 1.
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 2021, Good Friday falls on April 2.
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 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.
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 2021, Easter Sunday falls on April 4.
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.
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.