Spending The Perfect Easter In Florence
Easter is a special time in Florence. As scenes of solemn masses its dozens of churches are given new lease of life; its streets are awash with the colour of passing processions (their Florentine participants decked out in the same medieval regalia once worn by their ancestors); and, come the evening, the city’s Easter festivities spill out onto the streets and piazzas, creating a buzz that’s unique to this time of year.
But Easter is also a time of rebirth for the city of the Renaissance; a time at which Florence springs once again to life having finally left the chill of winter behind. Each Italian town and city has its own traditions and spectacles around Easter. But if you’re lucky enough to be spending yours in Tuscany, we’ve prepared this expert guide for you on how you can pass the perfect Easter in Florence.
Good Friday in Florence
|Re-enactment of the Passion in Grassina|
However you choose to spend your day, on the evening of Good Friday you should head outside Florence to the nearby village of Grassina. It’s just 15 minutes outside the city and the journey is absolutely worth it. For at 9pm over 500 of its locals gather in the streets to re-enact the Passion of Christ (though not Mel Gibson’s version, you’ll be pleased to know). The best way to get there is by taking the number 31 bus from Piazza San Marco. And you can buy your tickets here to avoid disappointment on the night.
Easter Saturday in Florence
|Sunset from Piazzale Michelangelo|
We’ve already published a guide for how to spend a Saturday in Firenze. But Easter Saturday is unlike any other. It’s something of a calm before the storm, a time at which the city readies itself for the cart, crowds, and fireworks set to light up its central piazza the following day. It would be a good day to do something relaxing like tour a museum or two… that’s if they weren’t free on Easter Sunday (more on this later).
So why not just take the day slow. Start off by choosing one of Florence’s main churches like Santa Maria Novella or Santa Croce and losing yourself in the art, architecture, and even the tombs of historical giants like Michelangelo, Machiavelli, and Galileo that surround you. Linger over a long lunch on the piazza at Osteria Santo Spirito. Then finish off with a stroll up to Piazzale Michelangelo to catch the sunset (which Google is telling me will be at around 7:41pm on Easter Saturday—thanks Google).
It gets predictably busy at night. From around 8 o’clock onwards friends and families disperse among Florence’s hundreds of famous restaurants, osterie, and trattorie to take their time over delicious plates of pastas, meats, fish, and contorni (sides), while the city’s young and beautiful congregate around Piazza Santo Spirito to rough it with beers, bongos, and acoustic guitars until the early ours.
There’s no reason not to join them though—not on the cold steps of one of the piazzas surrounded by a makeshift band, but in one of the bars overlooking a piazza, like Santa Croce’s Oibò or Santo Spirito’s Volume, where they serve up some of the best aperitivo in Florence.
Easter Sunday in Florence
The best way to kick-start your day on Easter Sunday is by heading out for a cup of coffee. Grab a quick coffee and croissant at the bar at Caffè Concerto Paszkowski on the Piazza della Republica or linger with a view overlooking the Duomo at Il Caffè del Verone (both of which feature in our guide to best coffee in Florence). Don’t wander too far from Brunelleschi’s great dome though; you’re going to want to get there early for one of the main events of Florence’s calendar year.
The Explosion of the Cart
|The explosion of the cart|
Of all the things to see in Florence at Easter, the most spectacular is the ritual event that takes place outside the Basilica of Santa Maria del Fiore (more commonly known as “the Duomo”) on Easter Sunday. The event, which starts around 10am, is known as il scoppio del carro or “the explosion of the cart”. And as you might expect from a ritual dating all the way back to 1622, it’s a pretty strange affair—a blend of pagan and Christian elements with some good old fashioned fireworks thrown in for good measure.
So where does this bizarre ritual come from? According to tradition, when the first crusaders captured Jerusalem in 1099, a young Florentine and member of the famous Pazzi family—read more about them here—by the name of Pazzino de’ Pazzi was the first to scale the Holy City’s walls. His reward for this courageous feat was the perfect gift for any crusading Christian: three flints taken straight from the Holy Sepulchre.
If you want to see these flints for yourself you can. Normally they are kept on show inside a church on the Borgo Santi Apostoli, a small street just off the Ponte Vecchio. But on Easter Sunday they are taken from their display and used as a vital prop in the day’s proceedings. At around 10am inside the Church of Santi Apostoli, a priest rubs the flints together to spark the Holy Fire. And this Holy Fire, in turn, is used to light some coals borne atop a sixteenth century cart pulled by oxen called the Brindellone.
|Two oxen, having to work on Sunday, make their way towards the cart|
Clerics, city officials, and members of the Pazzi family then process behind this nine-metre high festooned cart as two oxen roll it towards the Piazza del Duomo and Basilica of Santa Maria del Fiore. Here, at around 11am, the High Priest uses the Holy Fire to light a dove-shape rocket—I told you it got strange—while the choir triumphantly sings the “Gloria”.
And zizzing down a zip-wire all the way from the nave of the cathedral, this dove-shaped rocket flies out of the front door where it ignites the cart waiting patiently outside (the oxen you’ll be pleased to know have long since made their escape).
|Florence’s colours fly from the cart before the fireworks begin|
Naturally the cart is packed with fireworks, explosives, and a pinwheel. And the effect of this is a dramatic and colourful pyrotechnical display unrivalled elsewhere in the region (if not in Italy) and getting more elaborate every year. Should all go well (the definition of which presumably being that no bystanders are set alight), the city can expect a bountiful harvest (guaranteed anyway after the amount of rain this year) as well as stable civic life and booming business.
You’d be mad to miss the explosion of the cart if you’re visiting Florence at Easter. But a word of advice: make sure you get here early. With each passing year the event grows in fame, and if you want to stake out a good viewing point on the piazza you’re going to have to beat the crowds!
Try some traditional Easter Food in Florence
|The sweet sensation that is the Columba di Pasqua|
After the fire and flames of the explosion of the cart, you might want to cool down with some gelato. There are some decent—albeit highly commercialised—gelaterie in the area directly around the Duomo. But if you’re happy to walk for five minutes towards the river, you can track down some of the best gelato in Florence at either Gelateria dei Neri near Santa Croce or Gelateria della Passera near Piazza Pitti.
But if gelato doesn’t satisfy your sweet tooth and you’re in the market for something more traditional, you should check out Italy’s traditional Easter cake: the Colomba di Pasqua. Apart from being shaped like a dove and packed with candied peel instead of raisins, it’s much the same as panettone. Which is all the more reason to try it.
|These eggs are more works of art than edible food (though the line in Italy is admittedly often blurred)|
Of course, even with enough Sunday mass services and exploding carts to last a lifetime, no Easter would be complete without one thing… chocolate eggs. Easter eggs are just as big in Italy—both figuratively and literally—as they are in Anglophone countries. And although the quality of the chocolate is mouth-watering in itself, it’s the design of the packaging, which is what you might expect from a country that places so much pride in its culinary culture, that strikes you as being most tasteful.
Take Advantage of Florence’s Free Museums
|Botticelli’s Nascita di Venere (Birth of Venus) in the Uffizi Gallery|
If you’ve booked your trip Tuscany this Easter (2018), you’re in luck! This year Easter Sunday falls on the first Sunday of the month, which in Italy can only mean one thing—free museums! Here’s a list of the state museums in Florence that will be free on this day, including the Uffizi, the Accademia (home to Michelangelo’s David), the Bargello, and the Palazzo Pitti.
Do bear in mind though that with the Easter crowds fresh from the explosion of the cart adding to numbers visiting these already popular places, you can expect to queue: especially for the Uffizi and the Accademia. Or join us on one of our tours and one of our experts will take you right through.
Easter Dining in Florence
|Food at the Florentine institution that is Trattoria Cibreo|
When it comes to delicious Tuscan food, Easter doesn’t disappoint. Florence’s famous T-bone Bistecca alla Fiorentina tends to give way to lamb at this time of year, but otherwise everything remains pretty much unchanged. Most restaurants are open for Easter Sunday and Easter Monday. And many deviate from tradition to offer set price menus that will take you through everything from spring favas and pecorino, pasta dishes with ragù, roast lamb with sides and, of course, some Colomba di Pasqua or tiramisu to finish.
For specific recommendations on where to go for Easter Sunday dinner, check out this post from the blog The Curious Appetite. As the author says though, just make sure that wherever you want to go you book ahead. You can normally phone the restaurant up directly (most restaurateurs speak English). But if you want to save yourself the hassle and make sure everything runs smoothly, just ask your hotel concierge to call them for you.
Take a Day Trip from Florence on Easter Monday
Easter Monday, or Pasquettaas the Italians call it, is one of the best times of year to visit some of the smaller towns and villages in the Tuscan countryside. “Christmas is for family; Easter is for whomever you like”, the Italians say, and groups of families, friends, and lovers take full advantage of their day off to travel around the region and soak in some of that spring sun.
|The Leaning Tower and Square of Miracles in Pisa|
If you want to join them, we run day trips from Florence to Siena and San Gimignano; two of the most famous and beautiful destinations in the Tuscan countryside, famous for their food, their scenery, and their stunning architecture. Or if you’re leaning more towards something more monumental, we’ll take you to Pisa to see its Leaning Tower and forever captivating Square of Miracles.
For those adventure seekers amongst you looking to lose yourselves off the beaten track, Easter in Tuscany is the perfect time to take a road trip. Or, if your idea of a dream holiday is sampling some of the finest wines known to humanity, why not go food and wine tasting in Tuscany! (don’t worry about driving though; talk to us about one of our tailored tours and we’ll take care of that for you).
|Arch of wisteria in the Bardini Gardens|
But if your heart is set on staying in Firenze, be sure to check out the city’s gardens, some of which are offering free entrance on April 2. One of these is the Bardini Gardens, which, at the foot of Fort Belvedere on the southern side of the Arno, offers a beautiful retreat from the otherwise bustling neighbourhood of Oltrarno.
Roman Candle Tours in Florence
Easter is one of the best times of the year in Florence. It’s quieter, milder, and more relaxed than any time during the more oppressive summer months while a lot warmer and drier than any of the months immediately following Christmas.
That’s not to say that the winter months are to be avoided though. If it’s an action-packed holiday you’re after, have a look at this guide where we suggest some of the best places to ski and snowboard in Italy. Or if some indulgent Italian Christmas food sounds more up your street, why not treat yourself to that instead by coming on your own winter adventure here in Florence!
And remember that whatever you expect from your time in Florence, we at Roman Candle Tours are here to make sure you get it. We offer a wide range of tours in Tuscany and Florence. But if you have any other ideas for how you’d like to spend your holiday in the birthplace of the Renaissance, be sure to contact us. We’ll be delighted to hear your thoughts and start working on how we can tailor one of our tours just for you.