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Why Does Italy Take the Month of August Off?

Traveling has always been one of my passions. I love the excitement of seeing new places and the thrill of experiencing different cultures.

Manarola, one of the villages of the Cinque Terre

Manarola, one of the villages of the Cinque Terre

Anyone who has been to, dreamed of going to, or is planning a trip to Italy has most likely read or heard that they should not go in August because the entire country literally shuts down for the month. No one wants to visit a country if all of the sites they want to see are closed. And how is one to enjoy Italy’s wonderful cuisine if the restaurants and cafes are not open? So, is there any validity to this notion? I decided to delve into the issue and I have the answers.

Roman Colosseum

Roman Colosseum

For starters, Italy gets extremely hot in the summer months, especially during July and August. Personally, I do not like the heat so I really try to avoid these months for that reason alone. I have technically been in Italy during the month of August, but only the last few days of the month. Anyone who is traveling with kids or works around school schedules knows that sometimes July and August are the only months available for that coveted family trip to Italy. So, if you are planning a trip to Italy for an August vacation do not despair, you will most likely not even notice that many Italians are away on holiday.

St. Mark’s Square in Venice is always crowded

St. Mark’s Square in Venice is always crowded

August is indeed the traditional time that most Italians, and southern Europeans for that matter, go on their summer holiday. That being said, do not fret, as virtually every tourist destination on your bucket list will be open during the month of August. What may be closed are those mom and pop cafes, restaurants, B&Bs, etc. where once the owner leaves there is no one left to run the business. Most businesses involved in the tourist industry such as hotels, trains, buses, ferries, and taxies will most certainly remain open. Churches, museums and all of the other destinations sort out by tourists will also be open. The large businesses that do close are generally factories that close for routine annual maintenance and are not involved in the tourist industry.

The always crowded Cathedral of Milan

The always crowded Cathedral of Milan

Keep in mind that while many Italians head to the beaches or the mountains for a reprieve from the summer heat, this is also one of the busiest tourist months for the country. Italians may love their wine and pasta, but they know where their bread and butter comes from, tourism.

With many locals fleeing the big cities for other destinations, perhaps this is a good time to visit Rome, Florence, Venice or Milan. They will most certainly still be crowded with tourists, they always are, but with fewer locals around it might just be a little more tolerable. What is certain to be crowded are the coastal beach areas and islands that Italians love to frequent.

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Italy’s beaches are bound to be crowded in August

Italy’s beaches are bound to be crowded in August

This other assumption that Italy shuts down for the entire month is also being slowly dispelled. Most Italians will limit their holiday time away to one to two weeks. The simple fact is that most businesses, especially small locally owned businesses, simply cannot afford to close down for an entire month. You may find some cafes or restaurants closed for a week or two in the middle of August, but there will be plenty of others open and ready to serve your pasta and pour your wine.

Vernazza, one of the villages of the Cinque Terre

Vernazza, one of the villages of the Cinque Terre

One of the great joys of traveling through Italy is discovering firsthand that it is, indeed, a dream destination.

— Debra Levinson

So, exactly when and how did this tradition start? Surprisingly, it goes all the way back to the days of Caesar Augustus in 27 BC. Legend has it that he wanted to combine several festivals into the month of August so he could give laborers an extended time off to rest and recover. The concept continued during the Christian period after the Roman Empire with the Church declaring August 15th as the date of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into heaven - known in Italy as the Ferragosto. As it was also the hottest time of the year, people would take a few days prior to and after for a getaway. Today, August 15th is still a national holiday in Italy and many establishments do close on this day.

St. Peter’s Square

St. Peter’s Square

Tips for Visiting Italy in August

  • Pack light with plenty of thin layers. If visiting some of Italy’s grand cathedrals remember that most of them have a strict dress code.
  • Bring a hat and plenty of sunscreen.
  • Try to visit sites early in the morning when they first open or in the late afternoon just prior to closing.
  • Use the middle of the day to rest, take a nap, cool off, and recharge before heading back out to sightsee.
  • Absolutely make sure your accommodations have A/C. Air conditioning in Italy is not quite what it is here in the United States so ask before booking.
  • For sites that offer tickets online ahead of time, take advantage of this to avoid waiting in long, hot, lines.
  • Locals may leave the cities for their summer holiday, but they will still be packed with tourists. Watch for pickpockets preying on tourists especially on trains and buses.
  • Beaches will be especially crowded as locals flock to the water to cool off for their summer holiday.
  • Brush up on the public transportation options where you are visiting to reduce the amount of walking.
  • Consider visiting some of Italy’s more northern destinations that may be more temperate. Lake Como, Lake Garda, Venice, and the Dolomites are all spectacular.
Head to the Dolomites where the cows may outnumber the tourists.

Head to the Dolomites where the cows may outnumber the tourists.

I’m not exactly sure why Italy seems to get the bad rap for taking August off. Most of the other Mediterranean countries do pretty much the same. Spain, southern France, and Greece get just as hot during the month of August and locals in these countries head off on their summer holiday also. The bottom line is, don’t let this stop you from traveling to Italy if this is the only time you can visit. It will be hot, it will be crowded, but you will not go hungry or miss out on visiting any of the iconic destinations that Italy is so famous for.

Or head to Lake Como for stunning scenery

Or head to Lake Como for stunning scenery

© 2019 Bill De Giulio

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