Christmas in Italy is a big deal. In fact, celebrations run from December 24th all the way through January 6th. People in Italy absolutely love to celebrate Christmas, and if you happen to be visiting during December, you’ll get to fall in love with this holiday all over again, the Italian way. There are festivals, events, shows, decorative displays and tons of Italian traditions to experience. If you’re visiting Italy for Christmas, here is everything you should know.
Italian Christmas Traditions
Christmas Decorations: You’ll start seeing Christmas decorations in Italy around December 8th. Sure, it’s early, but Italians are excited to get the festivities started. In fact, Christmas decorations can start popping up as early as November. All of the typical holiday decorations can be found around the streets and buildings. There will be Christmas trees, lights, and many Nativity Scenes. Pass any church and you’re bound to see this scene during Christmas time.
Fish Dinners On Christmas Eve: It’s tradition to eat fish for dinner on Christmas Eve. Families typically get together and enjoy a meal which is typically followed by a visit to a live nativity scene and then midnight mass. Christmas Eve is also a special time for bonfires and get togethers with family and friends.
Babbo Natale: This is Italy’s equivalent to Santa Claus. While he comes around on the night before Christmas, he also makes a big appearance on January 6th, Epiphany, the day of gift giving. According to legend, the 12th day of Christmas is when Baby Jesus received gifts from the wise men, which is where this tradition stems from. There is also La Befana, a nice witch who comes during the night before Christmas to leave candy in the stockings for children.
The Christmas Markets
One of the highlights of Christmas in Italy is the selection of Christmas markets. You can do your holiday shopping, try lots of festive treats, and see live entertainment pretty much anywhere you go. Wandering around these markets is a fantastic way to soak up the holiday culture while in Italy. Which Christmas market should you choose? Here are some of the main markets you should try to visit:
Santa Maria Maggiore, Piedmont
This is Piedmont’s largest Christmas market and it runs from December 8th through the 10th. It can be found in Piazza Risorgimento, and has over 200 stalls. Visitors can see local craftsmen at work in their shops and buy souvenirs right from the source. While you’re visiting make sure to check out the chainsaw carvings, bagpipers, stilt walkers, and traditional food.
Vipiteno, South Tyrol
This Christmas market is found in the city center and is visited by both locals and tourists. It’s considered one of the most romantic Christmas markets in Italy due to its decorations and the town’s natural atmosphere. Make sure to check out the bakeries, the sweets stalls, and the mulled wine. Take your time wandering around both the town and the market.
Merano, South Tyrol
If you want to see Santa, this is the spot. This Christmas markets runs from November 24th until December 6th and can be found at Piazza Terme. Saint Nicholas will come and make an appearance, giving gifts to all of the well-behaved children. Make sure to wander around the stalls and enjoy some mulled wine and cider. It’s a great spot for the kids, especially if they like music and ice skating.
Oh Bej!, Milan
This market can be found in Milan and is one of the top choices for experiencing Italian traditions. It takes place from December 7th through the 10th so you’ll need to get there a little earlier than Christmas. This market dates back to the 1500s, and is known for its offerings of toys, knick knacks, crafts, flowers, and candy. The walkways are lined with vendors selling handmade goods like prints, books, copper fixtures, and wrought iron wares. Make sure to pick up some local honey as it’s a great souvenir to bring back home. If you work up an appetite make sure to try the roasted chestnuts! They’re incredible.
Candelera, Le Marche
This Christmas market can be found in Candelera. It runs from December 2nd and 3rd and also December 8th through the 10th. It’s one of Italy’s more unique Christmas markets as many of the festivities are based around candle making (due to the city’s past as the epicenter of candles.) It’s beautiful at night when thousands of candles light up this medieval town. Visitors, and their children are always welcomed to get involved in the candle-making activities.
Marché Vert Nöel, Aosta
Aosta is a beautiful town set in the alpine forests of Italy. It’s considered one of the country’s prettiest market too. The town itself is definitely worth a visit as it’s historic and features an impressive Roman theater. While here, make sure to try as many local dishes as you can while shopping for handmade crafts. There will be live entertainment, music, and historical presentations going on as well.
Trento, Trentino Alto Adige
This famous market runs from the middle of November through the 6th of January. You’ll find it in two locations, Piazza Fiera Square and Piazza Cesare Battisti. The streets are lined with wooden stalls filled with street vendors. Visitors can find local products and handmade crafts. Look out for a long list of Christmas-themed events going on here.
Bolzano, Trentino Alto Adige
This Christmas market has been an institution in Italy for almost thirty years. It starts up in mid-November and offers a whopping 80 exhibit stalls. There’s a market dedicated just to children too. Make sure to check out the nativity scene, the giant Christmas tree, and the endless stalls of sweets. Visitors can shop for Christmas ornaments, stationary, candles, and handmade crafts. If you get hungry, make sure to sample the strudel, apple fritters, and mulled wine. And, if you’re traveling with children, let them experience the merry-go-round, miniature train, horse-drawn carriages, and puppet theater.
Villaggio delle Meraviglie, Milan
This market is referred to as the ‘Wonderland Village.’ It’s a great spot for families with kids as Santa Claus is usually wandering around the stalls. The background is gorgeous as it’s situated inside Indro Montanelli Parks. During the Christmas season, the entire town is decorated to look like the North Pole. Kids can ride the carousels and roller coasters or write their own letters to Santa. Befana is also known to make an appearance, bringing candy and treats for the kids. There’s mulled wine, ice skating, and shopping so the adults can have just as much fun as the kids.
Pordenone, Friuli-Venezia Giulia
This festival is known for its giant Christmas tree and adorable wooden huts. It’s everything an Italian Christmas market should be. Expect live music, hand-carved wooden statues, live entertainment, and a life-sized nativity scene. Since this part of Italy borders Austria, you can expect lots of natural beauty and an intense holiday spirit from the locals.
Cortina d’Ampezzo, Veneto
This market can be found in the shadow of the Tofane mountains. The atmosphere is alive with holiday spirit as Christmas decorations, wooden huts, and colorful lights set the scene. Wander around with a hot mug of mulled wine in hand as you shop for homemade goods. You’ll find handmade soap, dried citrus, sheepskin mittens and slippers for sale. If you want a scenic market with high-quality goods, this is the spot.
East Market, Milan
Inspired by the East Market in London, this Christmas market is one of the most unique in Italy. There’s a major focus on handicrafts, so it makes for a fantastic day of shopping. Anyone can come and sell here, so visitors can expect a ton of options while they shop. Expect to find vintage collectibles, antiques decorations, clothing, and furniture. It’s a hot spot for youth culture too as there are festivals, concerts, and happy hours. In fact, this market is here most of the year but around Christmas it becomes extra festive.
Mercato Tedesco di Natale, Florence
This market is inspired by the Heidelberg market from Germany. It’s full of Christmas tradition and is a great place to find gifts for your friends back home. Expect over 50 wooden stalls selling handicrafts, decorations, and local food. Vendors from all over the country come here to sell their products so you won’t want to miss it.
Nuremberg Christmas Market, Verona
This market is held each year in the central square of the city. It’s a German-style event so expect lots of European culture. Wander around the lineup of wooden huts and shop for handicrafts and local dishes. This is one of the best destinations for food as they offer a hearty lineup of lebkuchen biscuits, bratwurst, stollen fruit cake, and mulled wine. Visitors can take a stagecoach tour or wander the Market of Sister Cities for international gifts like Scottish kilts and Czech wooden angels. Plus, if you climb up to the top of Church of Our Lady, you’ll have an incredible view of the city and the markets. Kids will love this market too as they can see Santa Claus, visit the bakery, and ride the merry-go-round.
Weihnachtsmarkt German Market, Florence
Running from the end of November until the middle of December, this Christmas market is very similar to those in Germany. It’s so authentic that it might feel like you’ve left Italy for a few hours. Check out the main square which is lined with wooden stalls selling both Italian and German gifts. It’s a great place to experience culture and try different foods from two different countries. Make sure to try the panforte and the bratwurst.
Some places in Italy just do Christmas a little bigger than others. If you want the full holiday experience, make sure to visit these places:
Rome celebrates Christmas all throughout December and January. While visiting, make sure to check out their large Christmas market as well as the giant Christmas tree and the various nativity scenes. Wander the city to find the different Christmas trees set up in Saint Peter’s Square and Piazza Venezia.
To celebrate the more religious side of Christmas, a visit to the Vatican City is a must. You can see a traditional Roman Mass in St. Peter’s Square, which is definitely one of the highlights. On Christmas day make sure to visit the square again as the Pope notoriously gives a Christmas message to the people from the window of his apartment.
Naples is known for its grand nativity scene displays. Visitors will most likely witness live musical entertainment from costumed bagpipe players who come from the surrounding villages to share their music. And, of course, there’s a Christmas market that makes for a great day out shopping and drinking mulled wine.
Located in Italy’s northern region, this city is a great spot for enjoying the Christmas cheer. Light artists come from around Europe to make grand displays that keep the city lit up beautifully throughout the season. This is a great spot for photographers who are looking to capture the holiday spirit. Torino also is home to a Christmas market which shouldn’t be missed.
Verona is the city of Romeo and Juliet, so you can expect a romantic atmosphere. Visit the life-sized nativity scene, the Christmas market, and Juliet’s balcony! There is great food, wine, and plenty of handicrafts for sale.
This is a top choice for visitors in Italy. It’s in this gorgeous region that you can see some of the largest Christmas trees in all of Italy. There’s interesting nativity scenes in beautiful places, and a blues festival that performs with a holiday twist.
If you’re visiting Italy for Christmas you’ll find plenty of holiday spirit and things to see and do. Between the Christmas markets, religious traditions and festive atmosphere, you’ll fall even deeper in love with this winter holiday. Christmas doesn’t always have to be spent at home so if you’re interested in doing something different this year, plan a trip to Italy.