Busking in Europe, Italy

watching-sunset

Italy was a country that we wanted to see, so we thought why not double up and busk it at the same time. We entered Italy in the north, near Como and explored all the way down to Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast. Italy was definitely a memorable experience, for both good and bad reasons. We’ve spent nearly two months in the country in total.

Como

We had assumed that the town of Como, being on the lake known for wealth and rich people would be along the same kind of lines as the villages around the lake. It turns out that wasn’t really the case in the streets. It was very hard to be noticed in Como. There are many streets and no definite one that we found, which would be seen as the main street for busking. We also arrived at around siesta time, which seems to run from around 12 to 3 ish every day, so there were more people asleep or relaxing in the houses above us than there were in the streets. If there were rules, we didn’t stay long enough to learn them. Instead we spent most of our time here on the lake, exploring around.

lake-como

Lecco

Lecco was originally a great town to busk in. For one, we were given a laid out set of rules by a policeman.

Busking Rules

  • You can only play for an hour in each spot (apparently)

We played for a day, but there were a few other buskers next to us. In Lecco we were also treated to a carbonara lunch by a lady who stopped to watch us play and offered us to go back to meet her daughter and have lunch with the both of them. We also played a song in a cafe in exchange for two free beers! The second time, a carabinieri police car drove by and the younger officer got out to tell us that we had to move because his superior guy did not like our music. Despite learning the rules earlier, they seemed to have changed in a week, so we left.

Bergamo

Bergamo is split into old town and new. We tried the new town and didn’t realise until too late in the day that the old town might have been better. The old town lies at the top of a very steep hill (unless you take a cable car) and is worth a visit, but much of it was closed by the time we got there. We took the place of another busker and played for a little while, but nearly everything was shut. There were also very few people about in the new town and the street was quite wide for an acoustic guitar.

Trieste

Trieste was only just still in Italy! It was amazing how different this town felt, compared to the rest of the country. It is right on the edge of the Adriatic Sea and almost in Slovenia.

The streets were long and it took a while for us to find a space. We set up in a small square and tried to catch the attention of people passing by. A woman came and bought us a drink in the nearby cafe and people sat around to watch for a while. A lot of them did not seem as sure of what was going on. It seemed to us like Trieste gets a lot less buskers than the rest of Italy. The one benefit of that was that at least we did not get stopped!

Piacenza

This was a town we literally drove by and thought why not stop off? We quickly parked up and went to check it out. It was all right, for a smaller town. I don’t think they got many buskers because we received a lot of strange looks. We played for an hour and decided it wasn’t worth sticking around for an extra day and drove before anyone could come and tell us to stop.

Parma

Parma was a town that started off good and gradually got worse and worse. We played it for a few times on the way down Italy and it went well. We didn’t get stopped by any police and we even risked using an amp, with no bad consequences. One of the people watching us came up to us the second time we played. He gave us a printed photo he had taken on the first day.

On the way back up Italy we obviously stopped over again. The first time, we were met by a policeman, who literally said that busking was not allowed in Parma, but because we like your music you can stay, only no amps. Surprised that Italian police rules were actually working in our favour for once, we carried on played. Not all the police seemed to have been told though, because the next time we were stopped completely. Only by the third police people we saw though. The first two seemed OK with it…

Pisa

Pisa was a little like Parma. We played it both with an amp and acoustic. We also saw other buskers in the town and it seemed to be allowed on the first few times we tried it.

On the last time, two police passed us three times and on the third they decided to come tell us that busking was not allowed. We stayed away from the leaning tower itself, as there were so many police there. Not to mention the army that turned up as well. Instead we busked in the main street with most of the shops.

The best thing about busking in Pisa was the ice cream shop we discovered, with crazy flavours like peanuts and caramel and earl grey tea!

Florence

To busk legally in Florence requires a lot of planning in advance. You have to email artedistrada@comune.fi.it and you pay €50 for a week of busking when they can fit you in, which for us was about a month in advance. They also give you a choice of a few available spots in the city. The ones we were offered did not look too great. In the end, we did not end up getting the permit in Florence. The €50 fee was enough to put us off playing there, because we only would have been in town for a few days. To apply for a permit you also need a passport/ID and residency permit if you’re not in the EU.

The address for the busking office is Piazza Artom 18. It is open from 9-1pm on a Mon and 3-5pm on Thursday, so hopefully those days work for you!

We tried busking way out on one of the bridges in Florence, just to see if it would have been worth it to get a licence. We picked a terrible spot to play, but we did meet a group who gave us some useful tips about Florence so it was kind of worth it!

Busking Rules

  • Amplification is allowed in certain areas
  • You can reserve a place in one location per month
  • You can busk in that spot for a maximum of seven days
  • The space you have is limited to 2m square
  • The place you pick has to be reserved at least 10 days before arrival
  • If you want to use a chair there is an extra charge of €0.50 a day …

Florence is a beautiful place and our favourite town on the trip, just not for busking! It was a great place to spend a few days off, wandering around.

Sienna

Sienna was a hilarious experience for busking. We arrived and played for a small while before being unsurprisingly stopped by the Police. They told us to go to the station and ask them for a permit there the next morning. So we went along and did everything they told us to do. After queuing for ages, the man behind the desk told us that there was no permit. At all.

After wandering the streets we heard a few others playing, for a short time before they presumably got stopped as well. Then on the last day we met a man who told us that there was one place in the city you could play without being bothered. He said that it was a local legend you could perform in front of l’Accademia Musicale Chigian. This is a music school in Sienna. He said you could play outside the door and the police had no authority to stop you. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to test out his rumour.

Sienna

Naples

We took the train into Naples and spent a good hour trying to find the shopping area. Eventually we found a place between a few other buskers. It was a loud city and needed a lot of shouting. We found that without an amp it was very hard to get anyone’s attention here.

Soon after we moved on to the old town area, with much narrower streets. It was better here, but there is so much going on in Naples that everybody is too busy looking at other things! After travelling through tiny Italian towns along the coast the size of Naples was a shock to us. If there were any proper busking rules, we never found them out. We didn’t get stopped, but that was probably because the Police didn’t even notice us!

Sorrento

Sorrento was a nice sized town to try. Tourists are everywhere here, especially British ones. I think we heard more Northern accents than Italian ones during our time in the town. There are very few places to play where you would actually want to. But when you did find a spot that was not in the way of a market seller or another street person, the people seemed to enjoy our music. An old man came to the balcony of his upstairs window every time we played to look out and watch. Whether he wanted us to go away or whether he enjoyed it, we’re not sure.

One night in Sorrento we played drunkenly at 10pm to earn back the money we’d spent on cocktails and that was one of the best busks we had in Sorrento!

Amalfi Coast

We also journeyed on a little on the Amalfi Coast, mainly to see what it was like. We tried a busk in Amalfi and Positano. We were immediately stopped both times. Even though the people and shopkeepers were enjoying our music, the police did not. They did not want the Amalfi Coast to become crowded by buskers and we kind of see their point. It was worth a visit here purely for the lemons alone!

Busking in Italy

All in all, the best way to describe Italy for busking is memorable. It can be really hard at times. If you don’t stick to the major towns, there are huge areas where there is just no town to play in. Occasionally you come across somewhere that is amazing, then you return the next day and are stopped instantly. Italy is completely about luck, we found. Most of our busking experiences in Italy were terrible. They were only countered by our good experiences travelling and exploring around. After the experience there I think I’d say that it felt more like a country that I would want to go on holiday to or travel in the van, rather than busk it.

The main thing to note, which we didn’t realise at first, was the siesta time between about 12 and 3/4 in the afternoon. Everything closes and the towns become deserted. A lot of older residents also have issues if you play early in the afternoon because you wake them up. They tend to shout out of their windows in Italian at you, or send someone down to tell you to move.

Busking in Italy was an exhausting experience. We were constantly on edge, but it made the days that were good, felt 100 times better. There are some really beautiful parts to Italy, but we’re not sure if we want to go back and busk it again just yet! I’d say these pigeons pretty accurately depict a before and after or how our experience felt.