Ten ways to celebrate New Year’s Eve 2018 in Italy
However your 2017 was, Italy is a great place to see it out. You can expect everything from fireworks to feasts, music until dawn and more than one midnight kiss.
The only thing you shouldn’t count on, in fact, is a quiet night in.
1. Stay in, pig out
To celebrate New Year’s like an Italian, you don’t have to go out – but you do have to eat. The classic way to spend the night is at dinner with loved ones.
Tradition dictates the menu: lentils to symbolize wealth and health (their round, flat shape and golden-brown colour resembles coins, while they’re long-lasting and so represent longevity), pork sausage (or for the brave, stuffed pig’s trotters) to symbolize riches, and grapes or dried fruit to round it all off: they ensure you’ll be frugal with your new-found wealth, because it was thought that only someone with excellent willpower could save grapes from the spring harvest until the New Year meal.
If you don’t want to cook, many restaurants offer a New Year’s menu. Just remember to book ahead.
2. Out with the old
If you’ve had a rough year, Italy has the custom for you: breaking things. In parts of the south it’s traditional to throw things – old plates, pans, clothes, anything you no longer want – out the window to show you’re ready for a new start. Like spring cleaning, but louder and more dangerous (and more fun).
3. Make some noise
December 31st is one of the loudest nights of the year in Italy, partly because it’s full of Italians and partly because there’s an old belief that evil spirits hate noise. Therefore, the superstition goes, making a lot of it at midnight on NYE will keep the demons away for the coming year.
Favourite ways to get loud include setting off fireworks (more on that later), banging together pots and pans at your front door, or simply popping open a bottle of Prosecco.
4. Music galore
There are plenty of more tuneful sounds on New Year’s Eve. After the cenone (big meal) comes the concertone (big concert): cities across Italy go all out to put on music in the heart of town, many of which are free.
One of the biggest parties in Italy is in Rimini, which considers itself the capital of New Year’s celebrations. The seaside town’s Piazza Fellini hosts an open-air concert of Italian pop, while there’s a DJ playing at the Sismondo Castle.
More than 100 artists will perform in Naples’ Piazza del Plebiscito before the seafront Via Caracciolo turns into an open-air disco. Milan hosts a huge concert in the Piazza Duomo featuring rapper Fabri Fibra, Florence has Italian pop in the Piazzale Michelangelo as well as classical musicians and marching bands in other squares around the centre, while Turin has an indoor benefit at its PalaAlpitour arena (tickets cost €3 with all proceeds going to charity).
Fans of Italian opera can enjoy an evening dedicated to Vincenzo Bellini in Catania, Sicily, where Piazza Università and Piazza Duomo will both host concerts dedicated to the local composer. Jazz more your thing? Check out the Umbria Jazz Winter Festival in Orvieto, where the party will finish in the streets.
And Rome has organized 24 hours of not just music but theatre, dance, circus tricks and cinema, outdoors and free of charge. Most of the fun takes place along the Tiber and in and around the Circo Massimo – where there will be an actual circus performing – while the ancient monuments of the Palatine Hill will be lit up for the occasion for the first time in 13 years.
5. Midnight at the museum
If you need a break from the noise, Italy’s cultural institutions can provide it: some museums will open throughout the night on December 31st.
Check out Picasso masterpieces at midnight at the Palazzo Ducale in Genova, where eight of the city’s famous Palazzi dei Rolli will also be open to visitors until the early hours (book ahead). The newly opened Museum of the Ancient Delta in Comacchio, meanwhile, will celebrate its first ever New Year’s Eve with a guided tour and gala dinner amongst its artefacts.
A word to the wise: if you’re counting on visiting a museum any time around New Year’s, make sure you check the opening hours beforehand. Some museums close early or altogether on December 31st or January 1st.
5. Party like it’s 1599
If you’re looking for an “only in Italy” New Year, it’s hard to top the celebrations at magnificent Estense Castle in Ferrara.
Fight the passing of one year by going back several centuries to a Renaissance-themed New Year’s Eve banquet, complete with period food, music and costumes. Or, if you're looking for a cheaper option, watch the spectacular free fireworks show above the castle walls at midnight.
6. Pay the piper
It’s an old Neapolitan tradition that amateur musicians, some with instruments they made themselves, would go from house to house on New Year’s Eve. In return for their performances, residents would give the minstrels a few coins or something to eat.
The custom, called sciuscio, can still be found here and there around Naples – most reliably, in the pretty port of Gaeta up the coast. Young musicians dressed in red and white roam the town’s medieval quarter on New Year’s Eve playing traditional tunes. If you see them, be sure to give them something: it’s considered bad luck to send them away empty-handed.
7. Burn away the blues
Another New Year's tradition not to be missed takes place in Bologna, where each December 31st a specially made dummy known as the Vecchione (the old man) is ceremonially flung on a bonfire to symbolize the end of the old year.
The burning takes place at midnight in Piazza Maggiore, but get there earlier to enjoy a concert beforehand. And make sure you get a look at the Vecchione before he goes on the fire: each year the dummy is designed by a different artist.
8. Work the fireworks
Fireworks are everywhere on New Year’s Eve in Italy: not just overhead but seemingly in every courtyard, car park and street corner, especially in the south.
Some of the biggest and most beautiful displays in Italy are in Rome, where sparks light up the Colosseum; Florence, where the rockets are reflected in the Arno; Venice, where the bangs echo over the lagoon; and Naples, where the riotous display over the Castel dell’Ovo lasts for up to an hour.
9. Kiss everyone
A midnight kiss is traditional almost everywhere for New Year’s Eve, but Venice takes it to a new level. The last midnight of each year, Piazza San Marco is the scene of a mass kiss-in as tens of thousands of people see in the new year with a snog.
It might have something to do with bringing love and peace, it might just be that people want a smooch – either way, it’s a lot of fun. If you can’t make it to the floating city, find a willing partner (or ten) and recreate the tradition wherever you are in Italy.
10. See in the sunrise
It’s 1 am, the fireworks are over, everyone’s been kissed, you’ve had a great night – time for bed, right? Not in Italy. Italians typically stay up til the dawn of New Year’s Day, so be prepared to chase your Prosecco with an expresso.
Close your Italian New Year’s Eve by watching the first sunrise of the year at around 7:30 am. The most spectacular place to do it is Otranto in Apulia, the easternmost point of Italy and the first town to see the rising sun. Or if you’re in Rome, make your way to the Ponte della Scienza bridge to hear jazz pianist Daniele Rea accompany the sun-up.