August 15th (and its entire week) is a bank holiday in Italy. If you are visiting major cities like Rome, Milan, Florence, etc, you may wonder why every shop, public and private office are closed: “chiuso per ferie”.
Ferragosto is a catholic festivity. It celebrates the assumption of the virgin Mary into Heaven. It was originally a Latin holiday, which derived from the “Latin Feriae Augusti” (the festivals of the Emperor Augustus), probably in celebration of a battle or war victory followed by the well-deserved rest afterwards.
During Fascism, the regime organized especially discounted trips from the 13th-15th August, in order to poor people a chance to visit the country.
Nowadays “ferragosto” is a mix between catholic and “pagan” activities. In some villages you can join their religious processions, but on this day, most Italians are just laying on the beach or travelling around, enjoying the summer.
If you prefer to remain in town, you can visit some museums (even on Mondays, which is usually the Italian day off for museums), get around freely without traffic jams, go to the local swimming pools, sunbathe in a park, have an ice cream and …. enjoy the silence of the city! You will love it.