In lovely Rome, February is chilly—the average temperature highs are in the mid-fifties Fahrenheit (13 degrees Celsius)—and occasionally rainy. But crowds are usually thinner, and there are a few important festivals to warm your heart.
Carnevale (Dates Vary)
The most important festival in Rome in February is the eight-day-long festival called Carnevale. Carnevale is the Italian name for Mardi Gras, the annual celebration preceding Christian Lent.
Lent is a religious observation in which its participants hold 40 days of fasting and prayer. That period begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Easter Sunday: The run-up to Lent is one big party, particularly on the weekend just prior to Martedi grasso, or Fat Tuesday, the last day of the festivities.
Dates for Carnevale in Italy vary with the official Vatican calendar for Easter, but the festival starting date is always between February 3 and March 9. Events are held throughout the city, beginning with the opening parade in the Via del Corso, replete with Italian masquerade masks and elaborate costumes. All the major plazas in Rome—Piazza di Spagna, Piazza Navona, and Piazza della Repubblica—hold theatrical and children's events. The Castel Sant'Angelo usually has a decorated artificial ice rink for mid-winter skating.
Carnevale is also an excuse for kids to be mischievous, from dousing friends and adults with handfuls of confetti, to even throwing raw eggs and flour at each other.
You'll see sidewalks strewn with thousands of little pieces of colorful confetti.
Events During Carnevale—and After
The Piazza del Popolo, where once fierce riderless horse races occurred, today features horse-back costumed parades during Carnevale, culminating in a horse show where equestrian stars and their horses perform acrobatics, dressage, and dancing to music.
You can also find historical reproductions of 16th-17th-century Italian plays (in Italian), a merry-go-round, puppet shows, and holiday-themed sweets.
All the parties end on Fat Tuesday (also known as Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras). If you find yourself staying in Rome for Lent, you will find Rome a quieter, more reflective place. Station Churches scattered through the city have been selected by the Vatican to host congregate masses on each day of Lent starting at 7:00 am. Although there are no processions from church to church, each church has its own day throughout the period. During Holy Week, the most beautiful churches in Rome are selected for worship, including the Basilica di Santa Sabina where the Pope celebrates Ash Wednesday.
Valentine's Day (February 14th)
Valentine's day is the Feast day for St. Valentine (Festa di San Valentino or La Festa degli Innamorati) in Italy. San Valentino was a Roman priest who lived in Rome in the 3rd century; he was an early Christian who married Christian couples in secret and was martyred on February 14, 269. Today, modern Romans celebrate by giving each other flowers, chocolates, and cards. Many restaurants offer specials with romantic candlelit dinners.
Museums and other entertainment events around the city often have two-for-one entry prices, and the world-famous chocolatier Perugina makes a Valentine's Day edition of their fabulous Baci chocolate, which you'll see for sale everywhere. Lovers once fastened padlocks to Rome's Ponte Milvio and threw away the key to immortalize their love. Unfortunately, the custom became too popular and the city government was forced to cut off thousands of the padlocks and ban the practice. Other lovers remember Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck in the 1953 movie Roman Holiday by visiting the film locations throughout Rome including the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain, and the Mouth of Truth (Bocca della Verita).