As evening falls across Italy and the golden sun inches out of your favorite piazza, an evening ritual is bound to begin: The Italian tradition of passeggiata, a gentle and slow stroll through the main streets of the city or town, usually in the pedestrian zones in the centro storico (the historic center) or along the lungomare if you're by the sea.
You might see more mature adults sitting along the route on a bench or nursing a beer or a glass of wine in a bar along the way and watching for things to gossip about; passeggiata is where new romances and new babies are on display, as well as new shoes.
People of all ages take part in the passeggiata, from the youngest babies being pushed in their strollers to the oldest members of the community who take it all in from the sidelines. Lots of courting and flirting are generally on display. Stop for a gelato, drink, or appetizer as you wend your way through the streets.
What to Wear
Italians tend to dress up for passeggiata and remember they have a reputation for dressing smartly. For some, it's a perfect time to show off new and stylish clothes. Tourists are usually easy to spot in their shorts and day packs. (If you want to blend in instead of looking like an American on vacation, lose the shorts and sneakers in favor of some snazzy clothes. And ditch the day pack. When in Rome...)
Where and When to Go
If you want to find passeggiata in the town or city you're visiting, head out to the main street or the most important piazza. In bigger cities like Rome, you will find several passegiatas every night at various piazzas and on pedestrian-only streets.
Passeggiata happens every evening between about 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. On weekdays, it's a time for socialization after work and before dinner. On the weekends, the whole family often takes part in this ritual, and passeggiata is an especially popular ritual on Sunday evenings. Sunday lunch in Italy is often a big meal that's a long, drawn-out affair, so the evening is the perfect time to abandon the house and take a walk.
Sunday evening is traditionally the time to see and be seen, catch up with old friends, and make good impressions on new ones. If you want a real taste of Italian life, find a Sunday evening passeggiata and either stroll along or find a bench or bar where you can take in the scene.
The long, warm evenings of summer are prime time for the passeggiata. During the summer, some Italians even drive to the coast or the lakes for a special passeggiata. Beaches and seaside towns are often very crowded with locals on summer weekends and for the entire month of August when much of Italy is on vacation, and passeggiata is a big part of the seaside cultural scene.
Passeggiata is more prominent in southern Italy and on the islands of Sicily and Sardinia than in other parts of the country. Passeggiata takes place nearly all year in southern Italian towns, cities, and along the coast, and it happens regularly in just about every big city and small town throughout the country.