Culture of Italy
What is the culture of Italy like? Our destination experts share an overview.
Whether you’re keen to explore ancient basilicas adorned with priceless works of art or embark on a culinary tour of atmospheric markets and rustic family eateries, you’ll likely come face to face with numerous aspects of Italian culture during your vacation.
From its eye-catching architecture to its customs and cuisine, Italy’s culture has undeniably been influenced by its many past civilizations. A trip there gives you the perfect excuse to immerse yourself in a variety of exciting and unique traditions, some of which have been practiced since Roman times.
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Family and food in Italy
Italians are known for their warmth and friendliness as well as the importance they place on family life. Unlike many other Western countries, an Italian family unit is made up of extended family members, who gather regularly for meals and celebrations. Many businesses are still family-owned and run in Italy, including a large number of trattorias (casual restaurants), ristorantes (fancier eateries) and enotecas (wine bars).
Food also forms a huge part of local Italian culture, with recipes often passed down through generations. Italians take their time eating and often serve meals comprising several courses. Wherever you travel in Italy, you’ll likely find that dinner (typically eaten around 9 pm) is preceded by the sociable aperitivo – a pre-meal drink and snack, similar to the American Happy Hour, enjoyed after the working day has ended.
Culture of Italy in rural and urban areas
Italy is home to numerous sprawling cities, each one with its own unique cultural heritage. In general, you’ll find that metropolises such as Rome, Venice and Florence are busy hubs of activity with a diverse mix of people living and working in them. Northern cities like Turin, Milan and Genoa were heavily industrialized in the late 19th-century and here is where you will spot some of Italy’s most cutting-edge buildings, art galleries and shopping malls.
If you’re heading into the countryside in regions like Tuscany, or regions further south, the pace of life tends to be much more laidback. Residents stop and chat with each other in the streets, markets selling locally grown items are held weekly and many towns still have a riposo – a tradition similar to a Spanish siesta, when shops and businesses close for a few hours in the early afternoon.
Religion in Italy
With 80% of its population practicing Christianity, it’s not surprising that religion plays an important part in Italian culture. Over time, Roman Catholic traditions have had a great impact on almost all facets of culture in Italy, and till date, public and national holidays are based on religious feast days. While people from other religions continue to exist harmoniously within the country, Italy is, at its core, a Catholic country.
St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican (a microstate in the heart of Rome) has been a famous Catholic pilgrimage spot for over 500 years and is the best place to immerse yourself in the country’s religious culture. You’ll additionally have the chance to admire glorious ecclesiastical artworks in the Sistine Chapel, including its ceiling mural painted by Michelangelo.
You’ll find beautiful cathedrals and churches from Florence to Venice, which are decorated with gorgeous frescoes and gold detailing. Look out for structural features like domed roofs and soaring bell towers, most notably the landmark Leaning Tower of Pisa.
Italian art and fashion
Italy has been at the forefront of many artistic styles, including being the birthplace of the Renaissance and the Roman, Baroque and Neoclassical architectural movements. Every city is packed with wonderful creations, from grand basilicas in Venice and Rome to fantastic art museums in Milan and Florence filled with iconic paintings and exquisite sculptures by Italian masters like Raphael, da Vinci, Titian and Botticelli.
The country has a long heritage of producing luxury goods and has also birthed dozens of world-famous fashion houses throughout the 20th-century, namely Versace, Prada, Armani and Valentino. Milan is definitely the place to go for some retail therapy during your vacation. If you visit in late February or late September, you’ll spot plenty of well-dressed locals and visitors attending catwalk shows and launch parties as part of the prestigious Milan Fashion Week.
Sports in Italy
Like other European nations, sport is a big part of Italy’s more contemporary culture. Soccer is the most popular and was thought by many to have been played as far back as the Roman times. Top clubs include A.C. Milan, who you can catch in action at the city’s San Siro Stadium.
Italians also adore car racing and have hosted the Italian Grand Prix since 1921 (currently held at the Monza circuit just north of Milan). Skiing is a much-loved winter pastime in northern Italy and you’ll find many alpine resorts based within driving distance of Como and the Italian Lakes.
Festivals and events in Italy
Religious festivals and feast days
The Italian calendar is marked by numerous religious events, from countrywide public holidays like Easter, Christmas and All Saints’ Day to regional feast days like Festa di San Marco in Venice.
Italians also place much importance on seasonal produce and host events throughout the year to celebrate certain items. If you’re booking your vacation in February, don’t miss Rome’s much-loved artichoke season. Naples is the place to be in September for the city’s Pizza Festival, which attracts foodies and chefs from across the globe to feast on mouthwatering versions of Italy’s most iconic dish.
Book your trip to Italy in February for a chance to attend the Carnevale in Venice. It marks the beginning of Lent and during this time, the city’s alleys and waterways fill up with revelers wearing gold-trimmed masks and indulging in delicious treats. For something more refined, Ravello on the picturesque Amalfi Coast organizes a summer showcase of Italian and European classical music in the lush gardens of the Villa Rufolo.
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