The best-known of all Festivals in Tuscany has to be Siena’s Palio, but there are plenty more to enjoy. Towns in Tuscany often have their own annual fairs, which range from the eccentric to the noisy and colourful, and many have been going on since Medieval times. Here’s a list of the ones to look out for.
Festivals in Tuscany – FLORENCE:
Cavalcata dei Magi (6th January, the parade starts from Piazza Pitti at 2pm and arrives at the Cathedral al 3.30pm) – FREE
Here Epiphany is celebrated with a parade in colourful historical costumes from Palazzo Pitti to Piazza Duomo, where the Wise Men offer their gold, frankincense and myrrh to the baby Jesus. A relatively modern festival that recreates a 15th century Florentine tradition. Spectacular and elegant.
Scoppio del Carro – Explosion of the Cart (Easter Sunday morning, 11am in front of the Cathedral) – FREE
Easter is a special time in Florence. Every year, on Easter morning, Florence celebrates spring with a big show in front of the Cathedral, enjoyed by adults and kids alike. This is an ancient festival of religious origin that ritualises the harvest with fireworks lit by a holy fire. The cart is hauled by white oxen, accompanied by music and a costumed parade. If the mechanical dove or “colombina” runs smoothly along the wire that stretches from the main altar, and manages to light the cart, the new harvest will be good and plentiful. Colourful, exciting and entertaining.
Calcio in costume – (24th of June) – TICKETS REQUIRED
A mixture of football and rugby played out in historical costume, with plenty of violence thrown in. This happens in Piazza Santa Croce on the 24th June. Don’t miss the amazing parade through the city. Competitive, loud, and action-packed.
Rificolona – (7 September, evening. Parade from Piazza Signoria starts at around 8.30pm, going through Piazza Duomo and arriving in Piazza SS. Annunziata at around 9.30 pm) – FREE
Of all the Festivals in Tuscany, the Paper Lanterns Festival is the one that will appeal the most to children. It’s an event with curious origins. Peasants used to walk during the night to Florence from the countryside on the 8th September, to celebrate the birth of the Virgin Mary. Using lanterns they would camp in Piazza SS. Annunziata, and the following day sell their products after Mass. Florentine youngsters would make fun of these poor country women, and call them names. Hence: ‘rificolona’ – a disparaging term for a shapely woman who is poorly dressed. Today, elaborately shaped and coloured lanterns are carried through the centre of Florence by children, while others try to set fire to them by firing at them with peashooters. Evocative and exciting, and you’ll see the historical centre of Florence lit by hundreds of lanterns.
Festivals in SIENA
Palio – (Twice a year. 29th June – 2nd July; 13th – 16th August) – TICKETS REQUIRED FOR SPECIAL VIEWING POINTS
Arguably the most famous of all the festivals in Tuscany. A 900 year old horse race that turns Siena into a feast of multi-coloured banners and heartfelt competition. It’s a crowded, lively display of local pride and rivalry in which horses race each other around the Piazza del Campo, their riders dressed in the colours and costumes of their contrada. It’s exciting for spectators, if not for the horses who are often injured.
Festivals in AREZZO
Giostra del Saraceno (Third Saturday of June and first Sunday of September) – TICKETS REQUIRED
A Medieval jousting tournament in one of the best looking squares in Tuscany: Piazza Grande in Arezzo. Knights on horses charge a wooden target representing the Saracen shield. There’s a parade before the joust. It’s full of Medieval excitement and an enjoyable atmosphere. One of the most entertaining of all the Festivals in Tuscany.
Runs on the penultimate Saturday in June – At 8.30pm the parade leaves Piazza Duomo to reach Piazza Grande where the joust starts at 9.30. Also on the first Sunday in September – Starts at 3pm in Piazza Duomo from where the costume parade reaches Piazza Grande and the joust begins – 5pm. Tickets start at 6 euros for standing room. Seats are more expensive.
Festivals in LUCCA
Volto Santo – Luminaria della Santa Croce (13th September evening, Lucca’s city centre) – FREE
The most important religious festivals in Lucca celebrates the holy crucifix known as the Volto Santo. The parade leaves from the Church of San Frediano, after the blessing, and arrives at the Cathedral of San Martino. Here the wooden crucifix is guarded in an elegant small temple.
Lucca’s city centre is adorned with candles mounted on the buildings, making it a truly suggestive sight. The procession follows a banner that depicts the Volto Santo, accompanied by music and people dressed in historical costume.
Festivals in PISA
Luminaria di San Ranieri (16th June, evening along the river Arno) and San Ranieri Regata (17th June) – FREE
The embankments of Pisa are lit up by thousands of candles that adorn the palaces and the streets, creating a uniquely evocative atmosphere. The evening of the 17th June is dedicated to San Ranieri the patron of Pisa, and attracts a lively crowd. The day ends with a bang, offering spectacular fireworks that are best appreciated from the riverfront. The Leaning Tower is also lit up during this occasion. Crowded but spectacular.
The following day is San Ranieri, the 17th June. Pisa is the background to an historical Regatta, a boat race on the river Arno whose tradition dates back to the time when Pisa was a naval power and its fleet used to fight against the Ottomans in the Mediterranean Sea.
Gioco del Ponte- Battle of the Bridge (last Saturday of June) – FREE or 10 euro for seating.
Pisa gets very busy every June, and this game played on the Ponte di Mezzo, ends the month in great style. A parade in gaudy 15th century Spanish-style costumes precedes the game itself, a competitive affair that fills the river banks with a loud crowd.
A large and heavy iron cart is pushed on rails by two teams of twenty men guided by captains who defend the colours of their neighbourhood team.
Festivals in PIENZA
Cheese Game (Gioco del Cacio al Fuso) – first Saturday and Sunday of September – FREE
The tasty ‘pecorino’ (sheep’s milk cheese) is the protagonist of this curious game that was once a typical peasant pastime. In the elegant Pio II square in Pienza the players of each district have to roll an entire round of pecorino cheese around the “fuso”, a wooden spindle located at the centre of the square. It’s an occasion to join in the town’s fun, and try one of Tuscany’s most celebrated cheeses in one of the many stalls. The most appetising of all festivals in Tuscany.
Festivals in MONTEPULCIANO
Bravio delle Botti – (Last Sunday of August) – TICKETS 6 Euro for stands and stalls.
As Pienza shows off its cheese, Montepulciano uses wine barrels for this exhilarating though physically demanding game. The competitors from the different districts have to push an 80 kilogram barrel uphill for over a kilometre. It takes place along the steep streets of the town centre which on this occasion gets ‘dolled up’ in Medieval gear. A parade in colourful costume at the end of the game which ends in the charming Piazza Duomo.
Festivals in LIVORNO
Palio Marinaro (First Sunday of July) -FREE
Excitement at sea in Livorno. This rowing race is held on the open sea, and gets the easy-going Livornesi into a competitive froth. The finishing line of the 2000 metre race is visible from the Terrazza Mascagni. A fun, lively affair.
Eight of Livorno’s sixteen historic districts (rioni) take place in the four-man boat race (gozzette). The other eight take part in the big event in ten-man boat. For more information see the official site: www.paliomarinaro.com
Festivals in PISTOIA
Giostra dell’orso (Joust of the Bear) (25TH JULY) – TICKETS Check the official site – 22 euro for the seats, 8 for standing
Piazza Duomo. This is a jousting tournament in Medieval costume that honours the patron Saint James. You will see four historical districts of Pistoia competing in the joust, each recognisable by their coats of arms and colours. Each district has 3 knights, and each round takes place in pairs, with the knights aiming for a target that resembles the shape of a bear.
Festivals in LUCIGNANO (AR)
Maggiolata (last two sundays of May)- tickets 7 euro
In the pretty little town of Lucignano, every May, spring is celebrated in style. The town is filled with bright colours and extravagant decoration. There are four carts decorated with flowers, that celebrate a fruitful harvest. There are musicians and a parade in historical costume that enhances the festive spirit. It’s colourful, joyful, and kids of all ages will love it.
Viareggio’s Carnival is one of the most popular in Italy. But you’ll find that every town in Tuscany celebrates this festival during February with masquerades and parties from dawn to dusk. Cities are filled with confetti, music and enthusiastic revellers. In Viareggio there’s a spectacular parade of ‘carri’ (floats), weird and wonderful masks and concerts in the evening. The carnivals in San Gimignano and Foiano della Chiana are amongst the most spectacular.
To find out about the festivals that light up Tuscany at Christmas, check our post about the best things to do in Tuscany during Christmas.