Italy in December is definitely worth a visit, even though it’s considered the offseason. While some places may be cold, visiting in December has a ton of benefits. The prices are lower on activities, travel, and accommodation. And, there aren’t as many crowds of tourists. If you are looking for a romantic getaway or a fun family holiday, Italy has something for everyone.
You won’t be waiting in long lines, fighting off crowds of people or paying exuberant prices. But, it gets even better. December is a special time in Italy, full of festivals, Christmas markets, and skiing opportunities. It offers its own unique atmosphere and experiences. Planning on visiting Italy in December? Here are the best things to see and do.
Visit The Museums
Italy is packed with fantastic museums that will school you on history and culture. The best part, most of them are indoors, so you can stay warm while learning more about the country. December is the perfect museum-seeing month as the crowds are small and the prices often drop. Which museums should you visit? Here are a few:
The Vatican Museums will keep you busy for days. There are more than 20,000 pieces of artwork and artefacts collected by the Pope over the years. Wander the museums and stay warm all day long as you learn about Italy’s religious history. Some of the Vatican highlights include the sculpture museums, artworks by Raphael, the Sistine Chapel, and the Gallery of Maps. Everything is beautifully displayed and the architecture of the museums alone is worth the visit. Make sure to check out the Vatican Historical Museum, Collection of Modern Religious Art, and the Pinacoteca Vaticana art gallery.
Visiting Florence in December? You’ll want to spend plenty of time exploring the museums. This city has some of the most famous museums in the world and they are welcome retreats from the winter weather. You’ll have a ton of options but make sure to check out Museo Galileo, Palazzo Publico, Palatine Gallery, Bargello, and Palazzo Pitti. A must-see is the Accademia Gallery, which is home to Michelangelo’s David statue. The Uffizi Gallery should make the list too, as it has famous works by Michelangelo, Botticelli, da Vinci, and Giotto. You can see our villas in Florence here.
When in Milan, spend some time wandering the museums to stay warm. Visit one of Italy’s best art galleries, Pinacoteca di Brera, which features paintings dating back to the Middle Ages and the Romantic period. See Leonardo di Vinci’s most famous work, The Last Supper, or the MUDEC museum, which features art from all over the world.
This historical city is full of fantastic museums. There are so many that it’s nearly impossible to see them all in one trip. Pay a visit to the Galleria Borghese, a former art collector’s private collection, which features Baroque and Renaissance works. See the marble and bronze statues in the Capitoline Museums, which are considered the first museums in the world.
The National Gallery of Modern Art has Italy’s largest collection of 19th and 20th-century artwork. And, witness the luxurious Palazzo Doria Pamphili, which has one of the largest private collections of art in Rome. Here are some top tips for visiting Rome during the festive season.
If you’re spending time in romantic Venice, a visit to the museums is necessary. They pack in the architecture, culture, and history that makes the city so interesting. If you want to stay warm but still get the most out of the city, a little museum hopping is in order. Make sure to check out Doge’s Palace, a collection of smaller museums displaying beautiful artworks.
Stop into the Ca’Rezzonico, an 18th-century museum displaying three floors of paintings and sculptures. There’s the Galleria dell’Accademia which is full of Venetian treasures, and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, which is one of Italy’s leading modern art museums. You can see our Venice villas here.
Experience The Christmas Markets
During the month of December Italy is full of Christmas Markets. They happen all over the country and are gathering places for locals and tourists. Many of them are similar, but some of these markets are well-known and loved for their decor and offerings. Here are some of the best Christmas Markets to check out:
Oh Bej!, Milan
Found in Milan, this market is one of the top choices for experiencing authentic, Italian traditions. It’s located in Piazza Castello from December 7th to the 10th, and dates back to the 1500s. Visitors love this market for its selection of toys, flowers, candy, crafts, and knick-knacks. The market is lined with vendors, so expect to spend plenty of time here exploring.
While wandering the stalls you’ll find prints, books, copper and wrought iron fixtures, roasted chestnuts, and local honey. Don’t forget to grab yourself a nice hot beverage while you shop.
Santa Maria Maggiore, Piedmont
Piedmont’s largest Christmas Market takes place from December 8th until the 10th. It can be found in Piazza Risorgimento and features more than 200 stalls of goodies. Local craftsmen typically open up their shops for visitors to see them at work, which adds to the festive atmosphere.
Guests can find traditional food, warm drinks, and lots of opportunity for Christmas shopping. This market has a lot going on so don’t be surprised if you stumble upon bagpipe players, performers on stilts, and chainsaw carvings.
Merano, South Tyrol
Travelling with children? This is one of the best Christmas markets to bring them to. It’s well known for those trying to get a glimpse of Santa, and is long-running, from November 24th until December 6th. The traditional Santa makes multiple appearances here during the month of December, wearing his traditional, red Bishop’s hat. He gives gifts to the children lifting their spirits after seeing The Krampus (mask-wearing demons who try to steal presents.) Wander the stalls, enjoy some mulled wine, and go ice skating with the kids.
Candelera, Le Marche
You’ll need to visit the quaint town of Candelera to enjoy this Christmas Market. It runs from December 2nd through the 10th and is known for its unique atmosphere. The town has a past of candle making, and the locals celebrate this as part of the Christmas festivities.
During December, they turn off the street lights and illuminate the city by candlelight. In addition to the beauty of this sight, there is a full-fledged Christmas market with a live nativity scene and Santa pipers. It’s a great place to bring the kids, especially since they can get involved in candle making while you shop.
Bolzano, Trentino Alto Adige
Bolzano has been one of Italy’s top Christmas markets for 30 years. Midway through November, it opens up its 80 stalls for business. There’s traditional food, children activities, a real nativity scene, and a giant Christmas tree. Visitors here will find Christmas candy, handmade crafts, Christmas ornaments, and colourful stationery.
Craftsmen set up their workshops in public view so market-goers can see how things are made before they buy. Hungry? This market has quite the culinary scene. Enjoy some mulled wine, sweets, apple fritters, and Strudel. Kids will love this market too as they have a puppet theatre, miniature train, and a merry-go-round.
In addition to the Christmas markets, Italy puts on a few festivals during the month of December too. Here are some of the best ones to experience:
Visit Tuscany to experience the fire festivals that take place around the region. These festivals are rooted in tradition and spirituality, making them a great way to learn about local culture. Fire festivals involve lots of candlelight, torches, and bonfires, and traditionally are held during the wintertime.
Locals celebrate the fire festivals as a way to ask for protection against the cold winter ahead. The top fire festivals to visit in Tuscany include Fiaccolata di Abbadia San Salvatore, Fiaccolata di Santa Fiora, and Falò di Sant’Antonio.
Como Festival in Toy City
Taking place from November 7th until January, this Christmas-themed festival is loved by families with children. There are festive events, workshops, shows, and shopping for adults and children. Wander the Christmas market, go ice skating, or visit Santa’s post office to send letters. There’s usually some kind of light festival and appearances by Santa himself.
Umbria Jazz Festival
If you’re a jazz fan you’ll love this festival. It takes place every December in the scenic town of Orvieto. From December 28th until January 1st you can listen to the music of Little Freddie King, Jazzmeia Horn, Marc Ribot, and other jazz legends from around the globe.
During this festival, live music can be seen in restaurants, the streets, museums, and theatres. You never know when you’ll stumble across a live jazz band. Plus, the medieval town is really charming and easily reached by train from Rome.
This festival takes place in Urbino on December 8th and 9th. There are musical performances, historical re-enactments, festive parades, and lots of stalls. Visitors will find antique vendors, jewellery, furniture, games, and nativity scenes. And, one of the top attractions is the Renaissance Nativity Scene which can be found in the Palazzo Ducale basement. It’s a sight that shouldn’t be missed.
Wild Boar Festival
This two-week festival takes place in the Tuscan town of Suvereto. It runs from the end of November through December 10th and is centred around a giant feast. Wild boar is definitely the main attraction but there are other local foods like honey, olive oil, and wine. Expect to see people dressed in medieval costumes, having battles and providing entertainment even for those who don’t like wild boar.
Not everyone is aware that Italy is a hotspot for hot springs. They can be found all over the country and are both beautiful and soothing. December is a great time to soak in the steamy, healing waters and stay warm while in nature. Check out:
This set of hot springs is located inside the cave, Grotta Delle Ninfe. The pools are usually around 30°C, and the entry fee is very cheap. Since the water here is so rich in sulfur-carbon, locals believe that a dip here can cure rheumatoid arthritis and skin diseases. Regardless of your health, a soak here will make the body feel fantastic.
Get a natural spa treatment while in the Alps. This town is right on the border with Switzerland and is where you’ll find Bagni di Bormio, a gorgeous hot spring with a stunning view. It’s nestled in the mountains and water temperatures are usually around 37 to 43 °C. For many, this destination is a wellness retreat as the water is brimming with minerals. There’s also an onsite spa with thermal pools and saunas carved right from the natural stone.
Aeolian Archipelago, Sicily
Found in Sicily, the Aeolian archipelago is home to Thermae of Vulcano. The baths here are known and loved for their soothing mud. If you visit, you’ll be sure to see other bathers covered from head to toe in the soothing mud taken from the pools. Even if mud isn’t your thing, you can appreciate the opportunity this spot gives to bathe in a volcanic crater. Plus, the views of the beach and the sea are well worth a visit alone. You can find out more about the best time to visit Sicily here.
Northern Italy is a hotspot for skiing and snowboarding. It’s right along the Alps and has some of the best conditions for hitting the slopes. Make sure to check out:
This resort is perfect for intermediate skiers. It offers long runs and has some of the driest snow conditions in Italy, especially in December. While it isn’t the most luxurious or visually pleasing resort, it does have incredible runs for all levels. And, while the architecture may not be the prettiest, the views of the 4,000m mountain peaks are.
This northern city is considered the gateway to the Alps. It’s a destination within itself and is a popular hangout during the winter months. Turin is a great foodie destination and has a restaurant scene that is becoming more renowned. Most people will stay in Turin and venture off to the mountains to ski during the day.
Italy is a great destination to visit throughout the year, and there is certainly plenty to do if you visit in December. From Christmas activities to winter sports and museum-hopping, you’ll never be bored. And, pair the festivities with the low season prices and you’ll be wondering why more people don’t travel to Italy in December. Get in touch with us today to start planning your festive getaway.