Giant sardines floating mid-air over the lake in Villa Borghese, red giraffes stalking down Via Cavour and maverick Spanish hairdressers transforming hair into sculpture with feathers, stars, flowers and iron wires in Piazza Capranica are among the highlights of Romes fourth Notte Bianca (White Night), which this year will take place on Saturday 9 September.

The baby of the citys twice-elected mayor, Walter Veltroni, the Notte Bianca is the night when no-one sleeps: museums, galleries and shops stay open until the morning, while streets and squares are filled with performances, concerts, films, readings and street art. Whats more, most of the events are free, and public transport is guaranteed throughout the night.

This year, over a thousand artists are due to take part in around 400 different events throughout the city. Celebrations kick off a day earlier on Friday 8 September (21.00-24.00) with a preview of the great night itself: city and state museums will stay open until midnight, while a free music concert will be staged at Piazza di Siena starring Pino Daniele, Elisa and Fiorella Mannoia. In addition, the massive landmark Gazometro in Ostiense overlooking the Tiber will be illuminated to create an artwork of light.

The actual Notte Bianca will begin at 20.00 on Saturday 9 September and will continue until 08.00 the next day. To help tourists and residents make sense of the enormous variety of events on offer, they have been divided into five themes: meraviglia (marvel), gioco (play), poesia (poetry), mistero (mystery) and festa (party). People can choose to create an itinerary by following events connected to a particular theme around the city (visible on www.lanottebianca.it) or simply wander about and see where the night will take you.

In addition to the 250 floating sardines over the Villa Borghese lake, events included in the marvel category are the transformation through projections and fireworks of Castel S. Angelo into Pragues Castle Hradcany and dancers performing in waterfalls at Piazza Madonna di Loreto. Among the performances for poetry fall a talkshow in Giardino degli Aranci and a performance by Giorgio Albertazzi entitled La Morte di Cesare e i Gatti di Tony Crast which takes place where Julius Caesar was stabbed in the Area Sacra of Torre Argentina, now a cat sanctuary. The mystery itinerary promises magic and illusion in Villa Paganini and tricks of the light in Villa Torlonia. Events for the party section include a concert by Caparezza at Palazzo Cerere and free tastings of food and wine from the Rome region in Piazza di Pietra. Under the play events for children will be a cast of Disney characters at the Casina Raffaello and a concert by the Geronimo Stilton Band at the Globe Theatre.

The nights flagship performances will take place under the stars at Piazza del Campidoglio, meanwhile. Ballet dancers Alessandra Ferri and Roberto Bolle will perform from Romeo e Giulietta with choreography by Amedeo Amodio (21.00), Gianni Morandi will then take the stage for an acoustic concert (22.30) and Roman actor, comedian and storyteller Gigi Proietti will round off the night with a one-man show (24.00).

A list of all the museums, churches, libraries, sporting venues and public streets and squares taking part in each of seven geographical macroareas across the city is also available on www.lanottebianca.it. The seven stretch well out into the city suburbs and comprise: (1) the historic centre; (2) the Janiculum hill, Trastevere and Villa Pamphili; (3) Villa Borghese, Flaminia and Nomentana; (4) Testaccio, Ostiense and Garbatella; (5) EUR and Laurentina; (6) Tuscolana, Casilina, Cinecitt and Tor Bella Monaca; and (6) San Lorenzo and Pigneto.

To help spectators move safely through the night, Romes limited traffic zones will be completely pedestrianised between 21.00-06.00. Outside these areas, unlimited metro, bus, tram and local railway access will be available with a 1 BIT (biglietto integrato a tempo) ticket that will be valid 22.00-06.00 instead of just for the usual 75 minutes. Both Trenitalia (www.trenitalia.it) and Alitalia (www.alitalia.it) are offering special discounts on national travel to Rome for the Notte Bianca weekend, which weather permitting is set to show off the city at its best.

For more information, see www.lanottebianca.it.