When we create custom itineraries at Italy Beyond the Obvious, we always include the day of the week – not just the date – during the planning process. The main reason for this is that Sundays (and sometimes Mondays) require a different approach because lots of things in Italy are closed on Sundays – but not only Sundays!
Use the tips below for Sundays but also if you’re traveling to Italy on a national holiday or you hit the middle-of-the-day pausa, when (seemingly) everything closes between about noon and 4 pm. It’s also possible that it won’t be a Sunday or a holiday or the middle of the day pausa and that you’ll have planned to do something, you’ll show up, and it will be closed. So, what to do?
Go to church. Services are usually in the mornings and the evenings and may be held in Italian or in Latin. There are English services in major centers like Rome and Florence. Usually there is a window of time between the services when visitors can explore the church. But don’t go to church as a tourist during the service.
Visit a museum. Museums in Italy are usually closed on Mondays and open on Sundays, so this is a perfect day to visit a museum, UNLESS it’s a free Sunday. In that case — especially for the Vatican museums or Colosseum free Sundays — stay away as it is utter chaos.
Have a long Sunday lunch. In Italy, Sundays are family days and for many families, the only day that the kids are not in school (highschoolers attend half days on Saturdays as well). Sunday lunch – or Sunday brunch in some places – is a thing, so you should join the Italians. Just book in advance. Some good suggestions for Sunday lunch in Rome.
Go shopping. Small stores used to be closed on Sundays but more and more of them in big cities are opening on Sundays. Outlet stores and big department stores like La Rinascente or Coin are pretty reliably open on Sundays and don’t close in the middle of the day for the pausa.
Attend a festival. Local festivals are held on weekends, so before you go to Italy, check your locations and dates. Italy has some amazing festivals, especially in the Spring and Fall. I wish there were one central website that was kept up to date and listed all festivals in Italy. There isn’t one that I know of, although Regioni Italiane is probably the best. You can search by region and by month, which takes a bit of time but it’s worth it. I usually use google and enter the town or region (so Siena or Tuscany for example) and the month, and see what comes up. There are lots of hotels and farmhouses that list local festivals on their websites and these will come up in a google search. Keep in mind that most festivals are yearly and Italians are not good at updating festival information very far in advance, so you may see last year’s festival information but you can probably figure out when the festival might be held in the future. For example if it was on the 3rd Sunday in May last year, it will likely be on the same weekend this year.
Go for an afternoon passeggiata (walk in Italian) with the locals. The Sunday afternoon passeggiata is a thing. It’s done in every city and every small town every Sunday. There is no goal except to walk in the center of town (try to find the main pedestrian street in the center) with friends. It’s relaxing, offers excellent people-watching, and is a great way to do what the locals do.
Walk into any high-end hotel and ask the concierge for suggestions. I’ve done this many times, and have always found them pretty helpful. It doesn’t matter whether you’re staying at the hotel. Or more accurately: no need to mention you aren’t. Usually concierges know what’s on, whether it be a temporary art exhibit or a festival.
Sit and observe. Pay attention to detail. People-watch, ideally sitting in one of the main squares of the city.
Get lost. This is an activity I recommend for small Italian towns (and for Venice, Florence and Bologna in particular) even when things are open. Explore small Italian streets and soak up the atmosphere. Then use your map to get found again.
Do a self-guided walking tour to admire outdoor architecture, fountains, sculptures, and squares in the city, using recommendations from your guidebook and a map.
Photo by Sanjay
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