Read on to learn more about the Italian passeggiata, one of our country’s time-honored traditions. It involves gentle casual strolling, friendly chatting and lots of people-watching!
Good old Mark Twain once said that “the true charm of pedestrianism does not lie in the walking, or in the scenery, but in the talking”, which explains quite well what the Italian passeggiata is all about.
When I lived in London, Sunday walks were epic journeys on foot through the English countryside. And I’m sure it’s the same in many parts of the world: people walk for a purpose, be it visiting a specific destination, accomplishing something or burning off surplus calories. But guys, for an Italian, walking has very little to do with purpose and physical effort.
So, today I’ll take you on a deep dive into the magical world of the Italian passeggiata, so that you know what to expect when the time’s right for your next trip to our bella Italia.
What exactly is the Italian passeggiata?
The word passeggiata refers to the act of leisurely strolling up and down the town’s main street with family or friends. It’s a veritable social ritual that involves walking with no particular purpose other than socializing and staying together. But most importantly, it’s a see-and-be-seen occasion, particularly in small towns and villages. In fact, you could think of it as our very own version of a red carpet!
We dress up nicely (first rule: fare bella figura!) and head to the historic center, where we walk up and down the same street for hours. Youngsters often call the passeggiata a “vasca” (lap) because it’s really like doing a series of “laps”. Along the way, we do a bit of window shopping and indulge in an impromptu aperitivo or a refreshing gelato. Oh, and we gossip. A lot. We comment on the latest couples, newborns, divorces, upcoming weddings. You name it. Nothing necessarily mischievous, just a way to keep up to date with the latest community news.
The passeggiata is an event that sees the participation of the entire community, from infants in their strollers to seniors all caught up in animated conversations about politics. There are friends catching up on each other’s life, couples of all ages strolling arm in arm, and entire families hanging out together. And then you’ll see teenagers often walking in large, cheerful groups, busy taking selfies and experiencing their first crushes.
Ah, how many couples were born after exchanging some secret glances during the ritual passeggiata! Just to give you an idea of what I’m talking about, in her book “The Passeggiata and Popular Culture in an Italian Town”, Italian sociologist Giovanna Del Negro precisely points out that this timeless Italian tradition provides a “socially sanctioned opportunity for flirting and courting”. Super!
When and where does the passeggiata take place?
The passeggiata is usually performed on weekends, when it’s likely to be the main event of the day. However, in bigger cities like Milan and Rome, you’ll see people enjoying a passeggiata also on weekdays after work. On Saturdays, it starts late in the afternoon and continues after dinner (especially on long summer evenings), while on Sundays it’s more common to have a passeggiata late in the morning or in the afternoon.
These leisurely strolls often take place on the Corso (the town’s main street) and around the central piazza. In Rome, for example, Via del Corso and Piazza Navona are popular destinations, while in Naples strollers gravitate to places like Via Toledo, Via Chiaia and Via Caracciolo. Other interesting spots for a walk in true Italian style include Via Roma in Padova, Via Maqueda in Palermo, Strada Nuova in Pavia, Via Trinchese in Lecce, and Via dell’Indipendenza in Bologna. Along the coast, the lungomare (seafront) is another wonderful location for a passeggiata. One of my favorites is undoubtedly the Lungomare Trieste in Salerno.
What I love the most about the Italian passeggiata is the sense of community you breath when joining the crowd on the street, particularly in small towns and villages. Also, let’s not forget that the passeggiata offers the chance for some great people-watching experiences, revealing a precious microcosm of local humanity that speaks volumes about life in Italy. So, next time you’re traveling around Italy and you want to catch a true glimpse of local life, just look for the main street, grab a seat on a bench or at a bar, and enjoy locals strolling by. As simple as that!
Ciao for now,