Festa di Sant’Agnese, Sant’Agnese Fuori le Mura, Rome. In this ancient ceremony, two lambs are blessed and shorn; their wool is used later for palliums (Roman Catholic vestments). January 21.
Carnevale, Venice. At this riotous time, theatrical presentations and masked balls take place throughout Venice and on the islands in the lagoon. The balls are by invitation only (except the Doge’s Ball), but the street events and fireworks are open to everyone. www.carnevale.venezia.it. The week before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent.
Festival della Canzone Italiana (Festival of Italian Popular Song), San Remo, Liguria. At this 6-day competition, major artists perform previously unreleased Italian songs. www.sanremo.rai.it. Late February.
Festa di San Giuseppe, the Trionfale Quarter, north of the Vatican, Rome. The heavily decorated statue of the saint is brought out at a fair with food stalls, concerts, and sporting events. Usually March 19.
Holy Week, nationwide. Processions and age-old ceremonies—some from pagan days, some from the Middle Ages—are staged. The most notable procession is led by the Pope, passing the Colosseum and the Roman Forum; a torch-lit parade caps the observance. Beginning 4 days before Easter Sunday; sometimes at the end of March but often in April.
Easter Sunday (Pasqua), Piazza San Pietro, Rome. In an event broadcast around the world, the Pope gives his blessing from the balcony of St. Peter’s.
Scoppio del Carro (Explosion of the Cart), Florence. At this ancient observance, a cart laden with flowers and fireworks is drawn by three white oxen to the Duomo, where at the noon Mass a mechanical dove detonates it from the altar. Easter Sunday.
Maggio Musicale Fiorentino (Florentine Musical May), Florence. Italy’s oldest and most prestigious music festival emphasizes music from the 14th to the 20th centuries, but also presents ballet and opera. www.maggiofiorentino.it. Late April to end of June.
Mille Miglia, Brescia, Lombardy. Vintage and classic cars depart Brescia and spend 4 days parading around the towns and cities of northern and central Italy as part of the annual “1000 Miles.” www.1000miglia.eu. Mid-May.
Concorso Ippico Internazionale (International Horse Show), Piazza di Siena, Rome. Top-flight international horse show, at the Villa Borghese. www.piazzadisiena.com. Late May.
Festa di San Ranieri, Pisa, Tuscany. The city honors its patron saint with candlelit parades, followed the next day by eight-rower teams competing in 16th-century costumes. June 16 and 17.
Calcio Storico (Historic Football), Florence. A revival of a raucous 15th-century form of football, pitting four teams in medieval costumes against one another. The matches usually culminate on June 24, the feast day of St. John the Baptist. Late June.
Gioco del Ponte, Pisa, Tuscany. Teams in Renaissance costume take part in a long-contested “push-of-war” on the Ponte di Mezzo, which spans the Arno River. Last Sunday in June.
Arena di Verona Opera Festival, Verona, Veneto. The 20,000-seat remains of Verona's Roman-era amphitheater is the venue for Italy's most famous outdoor opera season, now over 100 years old. www.arena.it. Late June to early September.
La Biennale di Venezia (International Exposition of Contemporary Art), Venice. One of the most famous regular art events in the world takes place every two years (in odd-numbered years). www.labiennale.org. June to November.
Il Palio, Piazza del Campo, Siena, Tuscany. Palio fever grips this Tuscan hill town for a wild and exciting horse race from the Middle Ages. Pageantry, costumes, and the celebrations of the victorious contrada (sort of a neighborhood social club) mark the spectacle. It’s a “no rules” event: Even a horse without a rider can win the race. July 2 and August 16.
Umbria Jazz, Perugia, Umbria. One of Europe's top jazz festivals always attracts top-class artists. www.umbriajazz.com. Mid-July.
Festa del Redentore (Feast of the Redeemer), Venice. This festival marks the lifting of the plague in 1576, with fireworks, pilgrimages, and boating. www.redentorevenezia.it. Third Saturday and Sunday in July.
Il Palio, Piazza del Campo, Siena, Tuscany. See July for event description. August 16.
Venice International Film Festival, Venice. Ranking after Cannes, this festival brings together stars, directors, producers, and filmmakers from all over the world to the Palazzo del Cinema on the Lido. Although many seats are reserved for jury members, the public can attend, too. www.labiennale.org/en/cinema. Late August to early September.
Regata Storica, Grand Canal, Venice. A maritime spectacular: Many gondolas participate in the canal procession, although gondolas don’t race in the regatta itself. www.regatastoricavenezia.it. First Sunday in September.
Festa di San Gennaro, Naples, Campania. The cathedral is the focal point for this celebration in honor of the city's patron saint. Twice a year a solemn procession is followed by the miraculous “liquefaction” of the holy blood. September 19, December 16, and 1st Sunday in May.
Palio di Asti, Asti, Piedmont. Riders race for Italy's “second” Palio around the central square of a provincial Piedmont town. Expect medieval pageantry and daring horsemanship in an event with 800 years of history. www.palio.asti.it. Third Sunday in September.
La Scala Opera Season Opening, Teatro alla Scala, Milan. At the most famous house of them all, the season begins each December 7, the feast day of Milan's patron, St. Ambrose. It runs into the following July, then September to mid-November. Even though opening-night tickets are close to impossible to find, it is worth a try. www.teatroallascala.org.
Christmas Blessing of the Pope, Piazza di San Pietro, Rome. Delivered at noon from the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica, the Pope's words are broadcast to the faithful around the globe. December 25.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.