New Year’s Eve dinner in Italy: All the typical dishes you need to try

Are you wondering what a typical Italian New Year’s Eve dinner looks like?

Eating and drinking well is at the centre of any authentic Italian experience – and it’s no different on New Year’s Eve! If you are in Italy on this special night, you may see the word ‘cenone’, which literally means ‘big dinner’ in English. If you see ‘cenone di Capodanno’, this simply translates to ‘big New Year’s Eve dinner’.

Typical dishes to be enjoyed on New Year’s Eve vary from region to region. Generally, dishes in the north contain more meat, while fish is favoured more in the south. There are also dishes and desserts eaten all across Italy and which are also eaten overseas, such as panettone. There are also many options for vegetarians, so no need to be discouraged if you don’t eat meat or fish!

Let’s break down the typical Italian New Year’s Eve dinner into courses!

ANTIPASTI (ANTIPASTO)

Depending on where you are, antipasto could be the centrepiece of the dinner. In Piedmont in northern Italy, for instance, it is normal to prepare more than ten different entrees! A common antipasto from this region is vitello tonnato, a cold slice of veal with a creamy, mayonnaise-like sauce and a hint of tuna flavour. Another antipasto to be found on New Year’s Eve are small slices of bread with salmon (tartine con salmone).

PRIMO PIATTO (FIRST COURSE)

lasagne: typical first course of an italian new year's eve dinner

First courses usually consist of lasagne or another type of fresh pasta, a tradition more common to northern Italy. In Piedmont, agnolotti, similar to ravioli and normally filled with different types of meat, is very typical. Of course, these dishes can be changed for vegetarians. Dishes with fish like seafood risotto or spaghetti with clams are also examples of what could be on the menu.

SECONDO PIATTO (SECOND COURSE)

There are several typical second course dishes that appear time and again in Italy on New Year’s Eve. One of these is fried baccalà (dried and salted codfish), usually with a side dish of vegetables, commonly potatoes.

Another great culinary tradition is eating lentils with slices of slow-cooked pork sausage (lenticchie e cotechino). Why? Because, according to the Italians, lentils bring money for the coming year. And if you don’t eat them, you may have bad luck! The pork sausage is sold pre-cooked in many supermarkets. As a vegetarian, you can stick to lentils and you’ll get rich anyway!

In Naples, people often eat an insalata di rinforzo (roughly translated, a ‘power salad’), which contains ingredients such as cauliflower, green olives, pickles and anchovies among other things. Naturally, every family has its own special recipe! 

DOLCE (DESSERT)

panettone with chocolate topping

You may already know panettone, a dome-shaped cake of Italian sweet bread with raisins inside. There is also pandoro, different only in that it doesn’t have raisins inside and is coated in vanilla-scented icing sugar. It is also generally a little softer, a little taller and can be stuffed with mascarpone cream – a great tip! In fact, there are several flavours and toppings available for both panettone and pandoro. Many Italians identify themselves as either ‘panettone lovers’ or ‘pandoro lovers’ – which will you be? The only way to find out is to try!

Struffoli, deep-fried balls of dough covered in honey, and mustaccuioli, a traditional biscuit-like pastry covered in chocolate, are often eaten in Naples.

A constant during the festive period – after meals – is a selection of dried fruits, dates, nougat and mandarins. They typically accompany the post-dinner card games played among friends and family over this period and are always to be found in the centre of the table.

DRINKS

You can’t spend New Year’s Eve without having a glass of spumante to toast at midnight. Spumante is Italy’s most famous sparkling wine, produced in several regions in the north. You can find it in every supermarket!

More generally, wine is enjoyed throughout the whole evening. After the meal, to help digest all the food they have eaten, the Italians enjoy what is known as a digestivo or an ammazzacaffèwhich literally means ‘coffee killer’. Examples of this could be the lemon-flavoured limoncello or a herbal liqueur such as Amaro del Capo, Amaro Averna or grappa, to name a few.

italian limoncello

These are the dishes that are most common in Italian households over New Year’s Eve. The restaurants differ in that they offer set menus that also include drinks within the package. In most cases, if you want to eat out on New Year’s Eve you have to book well in advance to secure a spot. Naturally, the menu varies a little at each restaurant but some things are always eaten, such as panettone, lenticchie e cotechino and sparkling wine at midnight.

Practical information for planning your New Year’s Eve in Italy

Are you planning to spend New Year’s Eve in Italy? Here are some useful pieces of information as you plan your holiday in Italy to welcome the new year. If you have any other questions that are not addressed below, feel free to write them in the comments and we will get back to you.

CAN I SEE FIREWORKS ON NEW YEAR’S EVE IN ITALY?

nyye fireworks in italy

Yes! In all big cities, there are organized fireworks for all to marvel at, a great feature of this night all around the country. Most smaller cities and towns do not host official firework displays but there are some exceptions, such as Ferrara, Rimini, Como

In some parts of the city, however, there may be some illegal fireworks. Please be careful to avoid them when you are out and about as getting too close to them can be potentially dangerous.

Sometimes NYE “preparations” start as early as a few days before the 31st, with illegal fireworks and firecrackers being set off as a “warm-up” to the big night. Some local governments in certain cities, however, have banned firecrackers and fireworks altogether

While such bans have certainly helped reduce the overall amount of illegal fireworks and firecrackers used, unfortunately, they are still widely used.

WHAT IS THE WEATHER LIKE IN ITALY ON NEW YEAR’S EVE?

packing to spend new year's eve in italy

The temperature on December 31 depends on which region in Italy you are talking about. If you are celebrating the year’s end in the north (in Turin, Milan, or Venice, for example), you can bet that it will be fairly chilly. So, warm clothing is certainly advised.

If you are roaming the streets and enjoying the festivities outside, you can’t go wrong by sporting a few layers (top, blazer, and jacket, for instance). Additionally, a scarf, gloves, and warm footwear will be key. If you have an indoor event to attend, still dress warmly and leave any accessories in the cloakroom.

Going down to central Italy – anywhere from Florence down to Naples and everything in between – it may still be relatively cold but not as bitingly fresh as in the north.

While temperatures are milder in the south (in Sicily or Naples, for example), we still advise you to dress warmly – it may well be colder indoors than outdoors, as buildings are not as insulated as in northern Europe.

WHAT SHOULD I WEAR TO GET INTO CLUBS?

appropriate dresses to get into a club in italy on new year's eve

People love dressing up in Italy, and New Year’s Eve is no different. What’s more, many Italians dress up in black – either totally or as a dominant theme – on this occasion. Of course, you don’t have to, but this is why you may see a lot of black around!

If you are looking to go to a club, go dancing, or attend a private party, we recommend you put on your best clothes and dress up for the occasion! This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to spend a lot of money or feel the pressure to be too fancy – you can do it as simply as you like. Simply bring an elegant outfit with you on holiday and let it loose on the big night.

Ideas for women could be a nice dress, combined with some matching shoes. Alternatively, you could wear a nice pair of jeans and an elegant jacket.

Ideas for men could be a nice shirt, complemented by a nice jacket, jeans or chinos, and some classy shoes.

However you dress, remember one thing – wear red underwear! It’s an Italian tradition that if followed, is thought to bring you good luck.

DO I NEED TO RESERVE A TABLE FOR A RESTAURANT?

reserved restaurant table

Certainly. Reservations are the way to go on New Year’s Eve as everybody wants to dine out. Our recommendation would be to reserve a table well in advance so you don’t need to stress about finding a table on the night, which might turn out to be a fruitless search.

Most restaurants in Italy on New Year’s Eve offer a set menu. You pay a certain amount and this includes an aperitif, first and second courses, a dessert and, of course, beverages. These are advertised as ‘cenone di Capodanno’ or simply ‘cenone’.

For your Italian skills – ‘cena’ means dinner and ‘cenone’ means big dinner.

WHAT IS OPEN ON DECEMBER 31ST (NEW YEAR’S EVE) AND ON JANUARY 1ST?

closed shop on nye

Almost everything is open on December 31, including supermarkets, pharmacies, hairdressers, and retailers. Some retailers may have already closed but as a general rule, you will find everything you need in preparation for the big night.

If December 31 falls on a Sunday, more shops may be closed – but supermarkets will generally always be open.

On the flip side, almost everything is closed on January 1, including even supermarkets. For this reason, we recommend that you stock up on the days before to have enough to eat in the following days.

7 Italian New Year’s Eve traditions you should try

Italy is not only a beautiful place to be at the end of the year, it also boasts a multitude of traditions both quirky and conventional. In this post, we will provide you a comprehensive overview of the most culturally important traditions practiced on New Year’s Eve throughout the country.

1. CENONE DI CAPODANNO: THE “BIG NEW YEAR’S EVE DINNER”

Let’s start with food. Having a big dinner consisting of multiple courses is an absolute must in the lead-up to midnight. Quick tip – this tradition is called ‘cenone di Capodanno’ in Italian – simply, a ‘big New Year’s Eve dinner’. These dinners are enjoyed typically in the company of family and friends. If held at somebody’s house, each guest is invited to bring a dish to the party. As a tourist, if you are not lucky enough to take part in a dinner at someone’s home, countless restaurants across the country provide stunning multiple course dinners as a package to be reserved in advance.

lentils being cooked on new year's eve for italian dinner

COTECHINO CON LE LENTICCHIE: AN ABSOLUTE MUST ON NYE

You may be asking what is typically eaten on such a grandiose occasion. Well, the most typical dish eaten on December 31 is cotechino con le lenticchiea gelatinous pork sausage in a natural casing (cotechino) with lentils served as a side dish (lenticchie). Why lentils, you might ask? While it may be a surprising choice for Italians, it is said that they bring money in the new year – perhaps because they resemble small coins! So, cotechino con le lenticchie is a must-try combination if you are in Italy on NYE!

EATING DRIED FRUIT WHILE PLAYING CARD GAMES

The Italians also love eating dried fruit – it is a constant throughout the whole Christmas and New Year’s Eve period, particularly as many gatherings are held. It also serves as a nice snack while playing card games together, which the Italians love to do at such times! You can find out more about card games later in the post!

THERE’S NO NYE WITHOUT SPUMANTE

And to drink? As you know, no New Year’s Eve would be complete without a drink to toast with. The poison of choice here is spumante, the Italian version of champagne. It is proudly produced in several regions of Italy, mainly in the cooler northern regions. Spumante is widely available in every supermarket, so there’s no missing it!

Hungry for more? Read all about the typical NYE dinner in Italy.

2. RED UNDERWEAR FOR GOOD LUCK IN THE BEDROOM

red underwear on new year's eve

Another tradition meant to bring luck, this time raunchier however, has to do with red underwear. Yes, indeed, many people in Italy wear red underwear on the last day of the year to usher in good luck in the intimate department for both women and men alike!

3. FUN AND GAMES WITH FAMILY AND FRIENDS

In terms of activities on New Year’s Eve, there are several beloved pastimes that represent true Italian culture. With family and friends, card games are a great staple of New Year’s Eve. It’s typical to play cards – often with money involved – after the NYE dinner has been had. 

MERCHANT AT THE FAIR

One game that is heavily played throughout the festive season is ‘mercante in fiera’ (‘Merchant at the Fair’ in English). This richly traditional game is played with two decks of illustrated cards representing iconic characters that vary from edition to edition. If you want to familiarize yourself with the game and its rules before you play it with your Italian friends on NYE you can play it online first.  

TOMBOLA: THE ITALIAN BINGO

tombola - the italian bingo played on new year's eve

Another game you must know is Tombolathe Italian bingo. One person draws and calls out numbers between 1-99 and, just like bingo, players who have the called-out number on their card can close the corresponding window. In the past, Italian used to use beans to cover their numbers that had been called out. Prizes are assigned to whoever gets 2, 3, 4, and 5 numbers on the same row. ‘Tombola’ happens when all the numbers on the Tombola card get called out.

4. CURIOUS TRADITIONS OF THE PAST

As well as enjoying great food and drink, playing games and rejoicing in the company of loved ones, what else represents the typical NYE sentiment? Until not long ago, in some parts of Southern Italy, people still threw out of their windows and balconies old things they wanted to get rid of. Luckily this tradition has been slowly disappearing in the last few years for the safety of those walking the streets. Today, however, many Italians still throw away old stuff on New Year’s Eve as a sign of a new beginning, only carrying it out in a more civilized and safe manner – using the good old bin! To get a sense of how some city streets might have looked a few decades ago you can watch this clip from two Italian old movies with the famous actors “Totò” and “Fantozzi”:

5. A WORD FROM THE PRESIDENT

There is also always a national broadcast from the President as the year draws to a close. At 8:30 pm each December 31, the President holds a New Year’s Eve speech on TV in which he or she reviews achievements of the year just passed and states the resolutions for the year to come. If you are trying to learn Italian, this could be some great practice!

6. OUTDOOR CONCERTS AND DJ SETS

If you are looking to be out and about on New Year’s Eve, there is plenty of entertainment for you to enjoy. In almost every major Italian city, there are public fireworks to be admired by all. But that’s not all – there are often concerts staged in the main squares downtown with several artists, some well-known nationally and internationally. After midnight, there is generally a DJ set held once the party gets into full swing. To see more details for a certain city you may be going to, visit this post, where concerts in all Italian main cities are listed (the page is in Italian but you still have a good overview of the outdoor concerts in the main cities).

7. FIREWORK DISPLAYS

firework display on new year's eve in italy

The municipality in the bigger cities and other popular tourist destinations always hosts official fireworks which can be admired by everyone there. Depending on where you are going, you can browse our page to find out where exactly they take place in that specific city.

In some places, people set off their own fireworks illegally. It is important to be careful as these can be quite dangerous and they are not controlled. It’s generally best to stick to the areas where official fireworks are held and avoid narrow lanes and alleyways.

As you can see, there are traditions both rich and quirky that are practiced on New Year’s Eve – it is a wonderful place to say farewell to one year and to greet the next. We hope these tips can enrich your New Year’s Eve experience in Italy!