Vatican City in Rome has seen the rise of Christianity over millennia. From the crucifixion of St. Peter to the establishment as an independent country, the Vatican City state has become the seat of the Roman Catholic Church. Easter in Rome is a week-long affair starting from Palm Sunday to Easter Monday and is locally known as Settimana Santa. Most travel guides suggest visitors steer clear of Rome in Easter due to the crowds, and international visitors have paid heed! However, Rome at Easter is surprisingly not crushing with crowds and on the contrary, offers visitors a chance to take a look at ancient traditions on a grand scale and join in on the local festivities.
Here is a guide on how to celebrate Easter in Rome, what to do, what to see, and where to eat.
Easter in Rome 2019
In Rome Easter celebrations take place throughout the Holy Week or Settimana Santa, and here is a snapshot of how the week unfolds –
- 14th April 2019 (Palm Sunday) - Beginning of Holy Week, it commemorates the day Jesus walked into Jerusalem and is welcome with palm leaves.
- 18th April 2019 (Maundy Thursday ) - Marks the last supper of Jesus with his apostles.
- 19th April 2019 (Easter Friday or Good Friday ) - A holy day it marks the Crucifixion and death of Jesus.
- 20th April 2019 (Holy Saturday) - Marks Jesus’ rest in his tomb followed by The Harrowing of Hell.
- 21st April 2019 (Easter Sunday ) - A day of joy celebrating the resurrection of Jesus.
- 22nd April 2019 (Easter Monday) - A day of family and feasting, marking the end of Lent
Easter in Rome – Traditions and Festivities
The observances of Easter in Rome begins on Palm Sunday when you can find pilgrims making a beeline for St. Peter’s Square with palm leaves. The leaves are meant to welcome Jesus into their city and marks the beginning of Holy Week. After a brief lull, the festivities pick up again on Maundy Thursday which is all the more solemn as it marks Jesus’s last supper and the beginning of Triduum.
On Easter Friday, the mood is mournful as all the pilgrims are grieving for Jesus, everyone makes their way to the Colosseum where a poignant yet grand ceremony, the Via Crucis takes place at night. Even for the non-believer, it can be an epic emotional upheaval being a part of the ceremony in an ancient venue that has seen a lot of bloodbaths. Easter Sunday is the day of joy and welcoming of Jesus, the city is colorful, and kids are on a quest for chocolate eggs. Easter Monday or Pasquetta marks the end of Holy Week when families enjoy spring weather outdoors with picnics.
What’s Closed on Easter in Rome
Almost all of Rome’s attractions remain open throughout the week, except for these -
- 14th April 2019 – St. Peter’s Basilica is closed till noon for Papal Mass that begins at 9:30 AM
- 18th April 2019 – St. Peter’s Basilica is closed till noon for Papal Mass that begins at 9:30 AM
- 19th April 2019 – St. Peter’s Basilica closes early for Papal Mass at 5 PM, and Colosseum closes by 2 PM in preparation for Via Crucis
- 21st April 2019 – St. Peter’s Basilica will be closed till 1 PM for Mass and the Urbi et Orbi blessing by the Pope, Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel remain closed
- 22nd April 2019 – Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel, and Villa Borghese remains closed
- 23rd April 2019 – Villa Borghese is closed
- Many of the banks, stores and restaurants will shut down on Easter Sunday and Easter Monday, none of the other days will be affected.
How to Celebrate Easter in Rome
1. Book a Vatican Tour to see Pope Francis
Christian or not, an audience with Pope Francis is an emotional experience. The current Pope Francis is the 266th pope of the Roman Catholic Church and he holds an audience every Wednesday, where he delivers a speech at the awe-inspiring St. Peter’s Square. Getting a ticket to the Papal audience is difficult but you can book a tour with Headout which will give you access to a local guide who will ensure you get a seat in the audience. In the Holy Week, the significance of the Pope’s address gains immense importance and it is an opportunity of a lifetime!
Top recommended Vatican experiences during Easter
2. Enjoy the Via Crucis celebrations at the Colosseum
The Colosseum is one of Rome’s most popular landmarks and plays a significant role during the Holy Week. On Easter Friday, a celebration called Via Crucis takes place in the Colosseum which is a procession taken by the Pope for the ‘stations of the cross’. The custom has been taking place since the 18th century to honor the martyrs who died in the arena of the Colosseum. As the Colosseum closes by 2 PM on Easter Friday, it is best to take a guided skip the line tour of the attraction before it closes, this way you can beat the immense crowds and not miss out on the exploration.
Top recommended Colosseum experiences during Easter
3. Attend the St. Peter’s Basilica Mass on Good Friday
Good Friday is a solemn occasion for Christians who believe that Jesus died for them, an act of love and reparation for their sins. In Rome, the Pope conducts a mass at the St. Peter’s Basilica at 5 PM. The liturgy consists mainly recalling the events of Good Friday and enactment of the scripture. The mass is a highly emotional congregation and is a unique opportunity to witness a cultural phenomenon that has been taking place for centuries. The entry for the event is free but you will have to reserve your place and entry will be shut down quickly.
Top recommended St.Peter's Basilica experiences during Easter
4. Explore St. Peter’s Basilica and surroundings
If you are visiting Rome during the Holy Week you will be hard pressed to find time when you can explore the inside of St. Peter’s Basilica and other landmarks. On Easter Friday, you can take a morning tour of St. Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican Museums and the iconic Bramante Staircase. You can also climb the 231 stairs or take the lift to the top of St. Peter’s Dome and watch the panorama of Rome as it prepares for Easter. You can even send yourself a post from the Vatican Post Office in St. Peter’s Square and commemorate the occasion!
5. Have a Pasquetta Picnic at Villa Borghese
Pasquetta or Little Easter is celebrated on Easter Monday, and heralds the onset of spring, and Roman families celebrate it by being outdoors with family and friends. A picnic is the best way to enjoy Pasquetta and a great place to do that is the garden of Villa Borghese. You can shop for a picnic from Campo dei Fiori on Saturday or buy a pack from GiNa situated near the Spanish Steps. However, the museum at Villa Borghese is shut on Easter Monday and the Tuesday, which is why if you want to explore it you can do by taking a tour on any other day of the Easter Week.
Check out other fun things to do in Villa Borghese
Top recommended Villa Borghese experiences during Easter
6. Sample the best of Easter Food in Rome
Easter marks the end of Lent when everyone ends their fasting and penance with the choicest produce of the spring! A lot of the foods are specially made only during Easter and include ingredients that are significant in Christian faith. Some of the foods that you should try out in Rome are Colomba (Easter cake similar to a panettone), Torta di Formaggio (savory bread), and Corallina (salami spiced with peppercorn and garlic). An ideal way to enjoy food in Rome is to go a food tour which will take you through the best restaurants and street food stalls in the city.
Top recommended Food Tours in Rome
7. Skeptics and booklovers can follow the path of illumination
If you are not one interested in the Good Friday Mass, then you can take a guided tour of the Path of Illumination as devised by Dan Brown in his bestselling novel ‘Angels & Demons’. Historically, the church may have opposed a lot of scientific discoveries but this trail likes to believe otherwise. On this tour you will cover the Four Altars of Science - St. Maria del Popolo Church, St. Peter's Square, St. Maria della Vittoria Church and Piazza Navona. It will eventually lead you to the ‘Church of Illumination’ itself, the Castel Sant’Angelo. The tour is a great way to explore Rome and get closer to reliving your Robert Langdon fantasy!
Check out the official Angels and Demons tour here.
8. Watch the Fireworks over Castel Sant’Angelo in Vatican City
For centuries fireworks have adorned the Baroque fortress of Castel Sant’ Angelo on the River Tiber. Every year a fireworks display marks the end of Holy Week on Easter Monday, the show runs for approximately forty minutes. The fireworks are vivid and form multiple patterns, making for a spectacular show. You can watch the show from across the bridge and the silhouette of the Castel makes for an incredible backdrop for the fireworks show. Apart from Easter Monday, you can also watch the fireworks show on the Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul and whenever a new Pope is coronated.
9. Walk around Rome and soak in the Easter Vibes
Easter is a festival that is held with as much reverence as Christmas in Italy, if not more! You will observe locals planning and preparing for their Easter celebrations and even the stores and restaurants will be gearing up for the festivities. You can also witness pilgrims coming in from all corners of the world to celebrate Easter at the Vatican. The atmosphere changes wildly from emotional with devotion, to electric with hope and positivity over the week. Exploring the city on walking tour and discovering its historic centre with the Spanish Steps, Pantheon, Trevi Fountain and Piazza Navona is the best way to soak in the Easter atmosphere.
Roam around Rome with these tours
10. Take a road trip to Naples and enjoy the Easter festivities
Naples is the historic coastal city on the Mediterranean Sea and the site of ancient ruins of Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius. It is approximately 220 KM from Rome and ideal for a quick road trip. A guided tour will take you on a city tour of Naples and Pompeii, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Once in Naples you can experience unique Easter traditions, and also sample Easter foods like Casatiello Napoletano (pastry ring with a stuffing of cheese and salami), and Pastiera Napoletana (a sweet tart with a filling of wheat, ricotta, and spices).
Read all about visiting Pompeii From Rome >>
Check out easy day trips from Rome
Easter Dining in Rome
Set Easter Lunch
A typical Easter Sunday Lunch comprises of lamb, potatoes and stuffed artichokes that are roasted to perfection! Flavio Al Velavevodetto in Testaccio is the best restaurant to sample this staple Easter menu.
The dove shaped Colomba is type of pound cake, it is fluffy and mixed with candied peels and topped with almonds and pearl sugar. You can buy one at the Le Levain Roma on Via Luigi Santini.
Uova di Pasqua
Meaning Easter Eggs, these are traditional chocolate Easter eggs, but often come with a surprise inside them! Castroni is a chain of cafes and bakeries in Rome where you can find the best Easter Eggs.
Tips for Visiting Rome During Easter
- Spring in Italy brings a lot of rain, and local folklore states that it always rains on Easter, if only for a brief spell. Safe to say it’s good to carry an umbrella or a rain-proof jacket with you.
- Even though a lot of international tourists avoid Rome on Easter, the city attracts a lot of pilgrims and travelers who are looking for authentic experiences. This means you have to book everything in advance. It will help you get good rates and also keep abreast of any changes in time schedules.
- Easter Sunday and Easter Monday are spent with families and many restaurants give the days off to their employees and remain closed. The few that are open do offer festive fare in special set menus. Also, it’s advisable to shop for basic dairy and food on Saturday in case you are traveling with kids and don’t find restaurants near your stay.
- The Easter Bunny is not a tradition in Italy, but you will still find chocolate eggs although they are hollow and filled with surprises. You might find Easter birds like dove with the eggs, which make more sense!
- All the masses at St. Peter’s Basilica are free but you will still need a reserved ticket to get in. You can send a fax to the Prefecture of the Papal Household with the number of ticket you will need, these tickets are assigned first come first serve. Even with the ticket you need to arrive early to get a seat at the Papal Mass.
- Dressing is of utmost importance all through Easter in Rome. All the ceremonies in the attractions are religious and you won’t even be allowed if your knees and elbows are not covered. Steer clear of shorts, flip flops and sleevless shirts during your visit.
- You should remember that all the Papal Masses are either done in Latin or Italian. Although, you are given a booklet with your ticket with information about the proceedings of the mass.
- The Pope is the most holy and reverent apostle to God for Catholics and you will find a lot of unruly crowd trying to get their way around to see the Pope up close during his movement in his popemobile. Keep a tight grip on your belongings and your kids!