For some January is the month of detox, diets and denial as the New Year’s hangover subsides and resolutions kick in. But for those of us who love Italy it’s often a great time to dust off our passports and get packing for an Italian trip as there is plenty to see and do without peak-season prices or huge queues. Perfetto! So if Italy is calling you this month here are my suggestions for what’s on in Italy in January. Happy travels – Buon Viaggio!
What’s on in Italy in January – UPDATED January 2018!
1st January – New Year’s Day dive into Tiber River, Rome
Whilst many people are still nursing a hangover after celebrating New Year’s Eve, thrill-seeking divers are taking to the railings of Rome’s Cavour Bridge to take a morning dip in the River Tiber below. The annual tradition has been going since 1946 with several courageous, some would say foolhardy, divers braving all weathers to plunge head first into the cold, grey waters. Some, like Maurizio Palmulli who will be making his 30th dive in 2018, are veterans who come year after year dedicating their dives to their nearest and dearest. Others come just to watch joining the hundreds of spectators wrapped up against the chill that line the riverbank. 3-2-1-jump!
1st January – Angelus speech by the Pope, St Peter’s Square, Rome
After celebrating mass, this year in the Sistine Chapel, the Pope takes to his Vatican window overlooking St Peter’s Square to deliver his weekly Angelus prayer and thoughts for the week. Several thousand people come to listen, gathering below the window to the right of St Peter’s Basilica and apart from a quick security check entry to the square is open to everyone for free.
Note : the Pope delivers the Angelus every Sunday of the year, except when he is away from the Vatican.
1st January – 4th February 2018 – Bernini exhibition at the Galleria Borghese, Rome
What’s on in Italy in Italy in January varies so much with new exhibitions taking place every year so its always best to check beforehand. This month sees the final few weeks of an extraordinary exhibition of Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s finest sculptures at Rome’s Galleria Borghese. It’s well worth a look as this is probably the largest collection of Bernini’s work that has been brought together for years, all in his spiritual home of Roma. For more information check out the Galleria’s website.
6th January – Celebrating the Festa della Befana and Epiphany
In the Christian story of Christmas January 6th marks the date when the 3 wise men finally arrived in Bethlehem bringing their gifts for the baby Jesus. Today, while British families like mine are taking down their decorations for another year, Italians continue to celebrate marking Epifania and the arrival of La Befana, an old witch who brings presents for children who’ve been good.
The religious side of the day is celebrated with processions, nativities and masses around the country. In Rome the faithful process to St Peter’s Basilica, dressed in medieval costume and bringing gifts for the Pope who then leads morning prayers. In other towns and cities you might see live nativities, or presepi viventi, and re-enactments of the arrival of the 3 kings, often followed by free concerts so keep your eyes peeled!
As for La Befana, many consider her bigger than Santa Claus, who is a recent import, with the old crone bringing the presents rather than the red beardy one. And different regions welcome the witch in different ways. In Venice men dressed up as La Befana race up the Grand Canal to the Rialto Bridge. Meanwhile in Rome they celebrate with a market selling toys, sweets and sugar coal in Piazza Navona between Christmas and Epiphany. Romans even believe that La Befana will appear in the window of one of the palazzi in the piazza at midnight between the 5th and 6th January and go, hoping to spot her. But if you don’t see her there make sure to keep a look out for her crossing the midnight skies on her broomstick!
Sunday 7th January – Free entry to over 300 state museums
If you’re travelling on a budget, make sure to book for the first Sunday of each month, not just January, as over 300 state museums open their doors for free under the #DomenicaAlMuseo national initiative. Free venues include gardens, monuments, archeological sites and some big name museums such as the Accademia in Venice or the Museo di Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. More information including the list of museums and calendar can be found here.
Sunday 7th January – Giornata Nazionale della Bandiera Italiana (National Day of the Italian Flag)
Celebrated mainly in Reggio Emilia and Rome January 7th marks the birth of the Italian flag or Tricolore. Formal changing of the guard ceremonies take place in Piazza Prampolini in Reggio Emilia and at the Quirinale Parliament building in Rome. Meanwhile around the country public buildings and businesses will fly the flag with just a little more pride than usual. It’s not a big celebration but if you happen to be in Rome or Reggio Emilia, might be worth a look.
12th- 15th Jan 2018 – Men’s Fashion Week, Milan
Men’s Fashion Week, also known as Milano Moda Uomo, offers fashionistas and professionals the first glimpse of the Autumn-Winter collections of over 100 fashion houses. If you’re lucky enough to have an invitation you can watch the models as the strut down the catwalks. If not, and if you can’t wrangle a standing space at the back, then you can always watch the lifestream on www.Cameramoda.it. And if you want to make a purchase, pop in to Via Gesù, home of men’s fashion, to pick up this season’s must-haves.
14th January – Festa della Radicchio, Mirano, VeniceItalians love food and love to celebrate the seasons too so January sees the festival of the radicchio, a white-stalked red-leafed cichory grown in the Veneto region. The vegetable has a bitter taste but this mellows once its cooked, usually by grilling in olive oil, roasting as a poultry stuffing, chopped into a risotto or alongside pasta. Its roots can also be mixed with coffee.
The festival itself brings 30-40 local producers together in Mirano, a little mainland town around 21km from Venice. Musicians, street performers and artists provide the entertainment whilst the radicchio, in all its different varieties, is celebrated alongside other typical local products. Don’t miss the chance to taste this traditional Venetian dish.
More information in Italian click on the festival website here
20th – 25th January – Deejay XMasters World Rookie Fest, Livigno
The World Rookie snowboarding festival tours the world all year round but this month finds it in Livogno’s Mottolino snowpark, one of the most famous in the Alps and an ideal venue for some freestyle action. For more information check out the World Rookie Fest website.
27th January to 13th February – Venice Carnival
Venice carnival is famous around the world and draws in thousands of visitors over the duration of the festival. The origins are thought to go back to the pagan rituals of the ancient Romans but the current traditions are firmly linked to Catholic traditions from the 12th century and the lead up to Lent and Easter. Before the faithful start the frugal, fasting 40 days of Lent, carnival enables them to feast and party like there’s no tomorrow to use up all the forbidden foods like meat and sweets. And no-one does it better than Venice!
More information is available here but the main Venice Carnival 2018 dates to look out for are as below
Saturday 27th January 2018 – 6pm Opening of the Carnival with a water show along the Rio of Cannaregio and an encore at 8pm
Sunday 28th January 2018 – 11am Boat procession along the Grand Canal from Punta della Dogana to the Rio di Cannaregio.
Saturday 3rd February 2018 – Carnival Parade of Marie to St Mark’s Square
Sunday 4th February 2018 – 12pm Flight of the Angel in St Mark’s Square
Thursday 8th February 2018 – Ballad of the Masks with the beheading of the bull, St Mark’s Square
Sunday 11th February 2018 – 12pm Flight of the Eagle; final of the Best Mask competition
Tuesday 13th February 2018 – 5pm Flight of the Lion, proclamation of the Mary of Carnival.
Note : the date for Carnival changes depending on when Lent and Easter fall so always check before you book to ensure you catch the main attractions each year.
For more information check out the official website here
27th January – 17th February – Carnvale di Viareggio, Tuscany
Like Venice, Viareggio on the Tuscan coast goes all out for carnival with enormous papier-mâché puppets towering over the crowds that turn out to watch the grand parades. Over 600,000 spectators are expected to watch the floats and celebrate carnival with the masked parades taking place along the seafront on 27th January, 4th, 11th, 13th, 17th February. For more information check out the official carnevale website.
27th January – International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust
On this day in 1945 the gates of Auschwitz were finally thrown open by the Allies and the full horror of what had gone on behind them was discovered. 27th January is a United Nations designated day of memorial for the people who lost their lives during the holocaust and as in many countries in Europe and around the world Italy will mark it with ceremonies and events. Last year Bologna, Turin, Milan, Venice and Rome, amongst others, programmed exhibitions and events illustrating their histories at the time so look out for similar events to mark this. (As and when I get more information I will update this page).
2016 also marked the 500th anniversary of the foundation of the Jewish ghetto in Venice on the 29th March. And the ghetto in Rome was formed just 40 years after Venice, so make sure to check them out when you visit the cities to discover their unforgettable histories and fascinating futures. Oh and make sure to pop into one of the kosher bakeries for a bagel or biscuit – yum!
28th January 2018 – Free entry to the Vatican Museum, Rome
On the last Sunday of every month the Vatican Museum throws its doors open for free between 9am and 2pm with the last entry at 12.30pm! Unfortunately it’s not possible to reserve or book tickets in advance, you just have to turn up and take your chance so go early and hopefully the queue won’t be too bad!
Note: normally the Vatican museum is closed on a Sunday.
29th January – Fire at the Fenice 21 years ago today
At 20:58 on January 29th 1996 the Venice Vigili del Fuoco, Fire Brigade, received the phone call that they dread saying smoke had been spotted pouring out of the historic Fenice Theatre in the heart of the city. Over the course of the next 2 days the fire roared through the building sending plumes of smoke over the rooftops as the firemen battled to bring it under control. Sadly, though, the fire destroyed the stage, seating and ceiling leaving just the brick shell.
This wasn’t the first time La Fenice, appropriately meaning the phoenix, had burnt down but Venetians are nothing if not determined and straight away vowed to find the culprits, which they did, and to rebuild “where it was, as it was”. And after years of planning, 650 days of round the clock building by a team of hundreds of workmen and an estimated €90 million the theatre re-opened, as good as new, on the 14th December 2003. If you want to see what Venetians can do with a bit of blood, sweat and tears, why not take the tour of the opulent, gilded theatre or take in a opera. You won’t be disappointed!
More information available on the Fenice theatre official website
29th, 30th & 31st January – I Giorni della Merla
I giorni della Merla or the “Days of the Blackbird” isn’t so much a festival or event but a time of the year to avoid for Italians who consider these 3 days the coldest of the year! Bbbrrrr!!!!
If you’re visiting around these dates, make sure to pack an extra jumper or scarf just to be on the safe side!
31st January – Mercatone dell’Antiquariato del Naviglio Grande monthly antiques market, Milan
Milan in north-west Italy is famous for its designer fashion houses, but if you prefer vintage or antiques don’t worry as the monthly canalside market in the Naviglio district is perfect for a Sunday morning’s shopping. Over 2km of canal path is packed with 400 stalls laden with collectibles, antiques and all manner of vintage treasures including books, paintings, nic-nacs and furniture. Open from 9am to 6pm on the last Sunday of every month (except July) this is one market not to miss. And if you need a snack or lunch to keep you going why not pop into the Mercato Metropolitano for a tasty pause!
Average temperatures for January in Italy
Italy is a diverse country with warm southern beaches in Sicily providing a contrast to the snow-covered, craggy Alpine and Dolomiti slopes in the north so its difficult to give general advice, but here goes!
Popular cities such as Milan will generally avoid the snow with daytime temperatures around 7-8 degrees centigrade (44’ F) whilst Rome might hit 10-12’ C and Palermo is positively basking in 15’ C. Obviously the ski slopes in the northern Alps or central Apenines will be considerably colder as is the countryside and locations at higher altitudes will usually have snow this month. And finally if you’ve booked to go to Venice pack an extra jumper as the watery city can be very chilly in January.
So, there you have it. Hopefully I’ve given you some inspiration for what’s on in Italy in January to beat the winter blues! If you know of any other events please leave me a comment below so I can add them to the calendar or tell me about your favourite January entertainment! In the meantime, happy New Year everyone & happy travels!!!