Religious experiences in Italy

Pope Benedict XVI at a Papal Audience in Rome.
Pope Benedict XVI at a Papal Audience in Rome. (Photo by Padmanaba01)

Experiences and activities for the church-minded in Italy


Attend mass

Italy is a deeply Catholic country (heck, it's the Catholic country), and while most modern Italians are fairly non-observant in their daily lives and may only attend church on major holidays, religion and the church still exert a huge influence on Italy's culture and, obviously, its history. Attend services in at least one church at least once during your trip...

Duration: 3 hours
Cost: $0–$30 per group

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An audience with the Pope

Every Wednesday morning that the Pope is in residence in Rome, he addresses and blesses his many international visitors: in Piazza San Pietro on warmer days and inside the Sala Nervi during the winter. Join other pilgrims to see and hear the leader of the Catholic Church. Catholic or not, you'll find a Papal Audience a very special and memorable experience...

Duration: 1–3 hours
Cost: $33–$86 per person
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Tour Christian Rome

Rome is the world capital of Christendom, home to the Pope himself and more than 900 churches, from tiny frescoed chapels to St. Peter's basilica. Explore everything from guided walks of St. Peter's to excursions to the catacombs, audiences with the Pope to seminars on the medeival basilicas of Rome, an academic tour of the Renaissance papal state to a tour of the famous and elaborate nativity creches around Christmas time, here are the best Christian-themed tours or Rome...

Duration: 3 hours
Cost: From $65 per person
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Venice's Jewish Ghetto

The world's first ghetto was the walled quarter Venice created for its Jews in the 16th century. These days, Venice is home only to an estimated 500–600 Jews, of which only 30 or so still live in the historic Ghetto. It remains, however, the focal point of Jewish life in Venice, with two operating synagogues, a Jewish library, day school, kosher food shops, a Jewish bakery, and—this being Venice, after all—a glass shop selling tiny glass rabbis and glass Hanukkah lamps...

Duration: 3–4 hours
Cost: From $40 per person
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Jewish Rome

With all the focus on Rome's role as the capital of Christendom, many folks forget that Rome is also home to one of the oldest Jewish populations in the world outside of Israel or Egypt. The kernal of Rome's Jewish community dates back to the age of the Roman Empire, when Jews emigrated to Rome to settle. To this day, Rome has a thriving Jewish population, with the focus still centered on the medieval Jewish Ghetto neighborhood, a tangle of quiet streets directly north of Tiber Island...

Tips & links

Useful links & resources
Book ahead

While for some activities you can just show up, this is one travel item you really should try to reserve in advance.

Popular activities like cooking classes can sell out.

Many are available only on certain days of the week, so it pays to know that you'll have to set aside, say, Tuesday morning for that guided market walk with a local cookbook author.

Many of the best activities are available by advance booking or appointment only—particularly wineries. Some vineyards welcome walk-ins, true, but many more will give you a cellar tour and wine tasting only if you call ahead a few days (and those tend to be the ones most liberal with the free samples).

If you have your heart set on dining in a particular restaurant, go ahead and call ahead,even if it's just earlier on the same day—though a day ahead is preferable. I have found that a corrollary of Muphy's Law applies to this aspect of travel. Any restaurant I am particularly keen on but blithely assume I can just waltz into will inevitably be filled to the brim: no tables available. However, half the time when I do book a table in advance I'll end up being the only guy in the place (nor near enough for my advance booking to feel like overkill). Still, better safe than sorry. Reserving a table is quick and painless; getting turned away at the door can be crushing.

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