One of the biggest holidays on the Italian and Catholic calendars is Easter, so it’s no surprise that Easter in Vatican City is a very big deal. Despite the fact that Easter often falls in what might otherwise be considered the shoulder season of Spring, it’s such a popular time to be at the Vatican that both the prices and the crowds jump up to high season levels. In other words, if you’re planning an Easter trip to the Vatican you’ll need to plan well in advance.
Here’s what you need to know about Easter at the Vatican.
The Easter holidays are more than just Easter Sunday. Preceding Easter Sunday, there’s Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday – and, in fact, the whole week prior is called “Holy Week.” There are services at St. Peter’s Basilica on Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday, and then on Easter Sunday the Pope takes services outdoors to the huge crowd that gathers in St. Peter’s Square. He delivers his Easter message from the balcony of his papal apartments, which overlook the square.
It is possible to get tickets to get a seat in St. Peter’s Square for the Easter Sunday service – they’re even free. But, as you can imagine, they disappear quickly. Check with your local diocese for availability long before you intend to visit Vatican City.
After Easter Sunday, there’s a secular holiday in Italy called Pasquetta – Easter Monday. This, too, is a national holiday, during which most Italians head into the countryside for a day to picnic with their friends and enjoy what is often some of the first nice weather of the year.
Mini High Season
As mentioned, this is an incredibly popular time to visit Vatican City and Italy, so although the main high season doesn’t start until May, the time around Easter represents a short high season when prices on things like hotel rooms jump up to summer levels and crowds swell in size. Even if you don’t celebrate Easter, you definitely want to consult a calendar to find out whether the holiday will occur during your visit to Italy – since that will dramatically impact your ability to find inexpensive (or available) hotel rooms if you wait too long.
Any national holiday means that public transportation like trains and buses are running on reduced “holiday” schedules. Additionally, Easter is a time when many Italians travel within the country to spend time with family. Taken together, these things mean that trains and buses are often incredibly crowded in the days leading up to and immediately following Easter. This is a very good time to book reservations ahead of time, or – if you can – just plan to stay put for a few days.
Some things close over Easter, including some museums, galleries, and restaurants. If you’re having trouble finding places that are open for dinner during Easter, you can try visiting the restaurants located inside hotels that are part of big American chains (they often cater to American travelers and tend to stay open when local restaurants close), or check with the front desk at your hotel for suggestions. Or plan to stock up on picnic goodies at the local food market and have a Pasquetta picnic of your own.