February can be chilly in the lovely city of Rome, with an average high temperature of 57 degrees Fahrenheit (13 degrees Celsius). Still, the air is much milder than many northern locales in the United States, making it the perfect late-winter getaway. If you choose to travel to Rome during this month, crowds are usually thin, airfare is low, and hotels and other lodging options tend to offer discounted off-season rates. Plus, you're bound to get a few glorious sunny days while attending the month's plentiful lineup of festivals and events.
Carnevale and Holy Week
The biggest gala in Rome, Carnevale occurs in February, lasts for approximately 10 days, and starts 40 days before Easter. This Mardi Gras-like celebration offers a time for Roman Catholics to cut loose before entering a more serious period of fasting and prayer called Lent. The lead-in to Ash Wednesday (the official start of Lent) involves big parties, parades, and masquerades, particularly on the weekend prior to Martedi Grasso, or Fat Tuesday.
The dates for Carnevale in Italy vary each year, given the timing of Easter. In 2021, Carnevale starts in Rome on Thursday, February 11, and goes through Tuesday, February 16. Festivities are held throughout the city, beginning with the opening parade on Via del Corso, replete with Italian masquerade masks and elaborate costumes. All the major piazzas in Rome—Piazza di Spagna, Piazza Navona, and Piazza della Repubblica—host theatrical plays and children's events. And, don't miss out on sampling the traditional Carnevale sweet, Fritole Veneziane, a glazed fritter topped with pine nuts and booze-infused raisins.
Historically, Carnevale offered a period of time when adults could break the law without repercussion. But today, Carnevale has taken on a more kid-centric vibe. While the holiday gives all ages an excuse for mischief—like dousing friends with handfuls of confetti—the modern representation, complete with the following festivities, is toned down and more appropriate for families.
- Back in the day, the Piazza del Popolo hosted fierce riderless horse races during Carnevale, but today, festivities include more subdued horse-back costumed parades. Expect to see equestrian stars and their horses performing acrobatics, dressage, and music dances.
- Historical productions of seventeenth-century Italian plays (in Italian), as well as puppet shows, are also performed at the Piazza del Popolo. Here, you'll find a merry-go-round and holiday-themed sweets, too.
- Most of the Carnevale parties end on Fat Tuesday (also known as Shrove Tuesday) with local families eating lavish feasts in their home. After that, the city goes quiet as the Roman people transition into Lent.
- Station Churches scattered throughout the city host congregate masses on each day of Lent starting at 7 a.m. 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.
Some Carnevale events may be canceled for 2021. Please check locally with event organizers for the most up-to-date information.
Valentine's Day (February 14)
The origins of Valentine's Day date back to third-century Italy, where this romantic day is considered a feast day for St. Valentine (San Valentino), a third-century Roman priest. This early Christian saint married couples in secret, which was not taken lightly by the emperor, and so he was martyred on February 14, 269. Today—much the same as in the United States—Romans celebrate by giving their loved ones flowers, chocolates, and cards. Many restaurants offer specials with romantic candlelit dinners.
Museums and other entertainment venues in Rome usually have two-for-one entry prices on Valentine's Day, and the world-famous chocolatier, Perugina, makes a Valentine's Day edition of their Baci chocolate. You'll see for sale throughout the city.
Historically, lovers once fastened padlocks to Rome's Ponte Milvio—a bridge over the Tiber River—and threw away the key to immortalize their love. Unfortunately, the custom became too popular and the city government, forced to cut off thousands of padlocks, banned this practice.
Other travelers to Rome like to retrace the steps of Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck in the 1953 movie "Roman Holiday" by visiting the film locations throughout the city, including the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain, and the Mouth of Truth (Bocca della Verita).
Some Valentine's Day offerings may be canceled for 2021. Please check locally with restaurants and venues for the most up-to-date information.
Regulated by the Italian government, saldi (sale day) happens twice a year in Italy, during both the winter and summer. Winter sales start in January and last through early March until winter merchandise is sold-out. February offers tourists a chance to get in on the action and scoop up huge bargains, particularly on fashion and accessory purchases. Bargain hunters can find affordable stores in Rome lining all of Via del Corso, mid- to high-end shopping resides on Via Cola di Rienzo near the Vatican, and for the highest-end, designer shopping, go to Via Veneto and the Spanish Steps. Regardless of the store's chicness, almost everyone hangs their saldi sign in January as a way to make room for spring merchandise.