In 2019, Stromboli volcano experienced one of the most violent eruptive crises in the last hundred years. Two paroxysmal explosions interrupted the ‘normal’ mild explosive activity during the tourist season. Here we integrate visual and field observations, textural and chemical data of eruptive products, and numerical simulations to analyze the eruptive patterns leading to the paroxysmal explosions. Heralded by 24 days of intensified normal activity and 45 minutes of lava outpouring, on 3 July a paroxysm ejected ~6 x 107 kg of bombs, lapilli and ash up to 6 km high, damaging the monitoring network and falling towards SW on the inhabited areas. Intensified activity continued until the less energetic, 28 August paroxysm, which dispersed tephra mainly towards NE. We argue that all paroxysms at Stromboli share a common pre-eruptive weeks-to months-long unrest phase, marking the perturbation of the magmatic system. Our analysis points to an urgent implementation of volcanic monitoring at Stromboli to detect such long-term precursors.