Are you looking for the most magical places to spend Christmas in Italy? If so, you’ve stumbled upon the ultimate guide!
My firsthand experience and lifelong bond with Italy offer unique insights into the true essence of Italian Christmas celebrations. Driven by my love for travel and a clear understanding of Italian Christmas traditions, I aim to provide you with a list of the 20 best places to spend your Christmas holidays in Italy.
Christmas in Italy is more than just a holiday – it’s a vibrant fusion of historical Italian traditions, familial warmth, and culinary feasts. The season is marked by delightful festivities, festive decorations, and the quintessential presepe displays that transform cities into live Christmas stories.
This meticulously curated guide focuses on each location’s popularity, historical significance, and unique experiences, covering all aspects of what to see, do, and taste. As you prepare to embark on a memorable journey, keep the Italian sentiment of “Buon Natale” (Merry Christmas) in mind. Experience the magic of the season as you explore.
1. Christmas in Rome
There’s nothing quite like Rome during the festive season. The Eternal City dons its most dazzling attire and becomes a vibrant holiday wonderland.
As the Advent season commences on December 8th, an aura of joy and anticipation envelops Rome, sustaining its festive and cheerful spirit all the way until the day of the Epiphany (la Befana) on January 6th. Its lively streets, adorned with yuletide delights, have a way of welcoming everyone, from local Italian families to global travelers.
Rome’s renowned Christmas markets, especially the Piazza Navona Market, are must-visits. From late November through early January, the market is a treasure trove of Christmas goods, ornaments, and unique Italian gifts like “la Befana” dolls. Another mesmerizing sight is the large nativity scene displayed in late December, which adds a touch of tradition to the modern cityscape.
When in Rome during Christmas, participating in a midnight mass is a treasured experience. The most grandeur of these masses is held in St. Peter’s Square (Vatican City) on Christmas Eve, requiring ticket reservations made several months prior.
Food and Drink
Traditional Italian Christmas treats like torrone (nougat) and richly flavored cakes (panettone and pandoro) are bountiful. Market stalls sell giant donuts that can be filled with Nutella, promising a delightful culinary experience. After attending mass, locals often share a hearty meal of pasta, meat, and desserts, making food an integral part of the Roman Christmas.
The blend of historic charm, festive celebrations, and unforgettable culinary experiences make Rome an enchanting place to spend Christmas. As a born Italian, I’ve had many memorable holiday seasons here.
Suggested Reading: 60 Facts About Christmas in Italy: Fun Holiday Traditions
2. Christmas in Florence
Florence, the charming Renaissance city, is transformed into a festive wonderland during Christmas. Its spectacular light festival, vibrant decorations, and festive events make the holiday season unforgettable.
The official start of the Christmas season in Florence is on December 8th, when the historic center is adorned with festive decorations. The streets come alive with glittery ornaments, the temperatures drop, and enticing treats fill the shop windows.
The massive Christmas tree and nativity scene in Piazza Duomo, the Christmas Market in Piazza Santa Croce, and numerous shopping opportunities are just a few of the holiday highlights. Streets lined with Christmas lights, market stalls brimming with gifts, and public squares boasting grand Christmas trees create a festive spectacle.
Looking for the perfect present? Dive into our 75 Italian Gifts for Italy Lovers: Best 2023 Gift Ideas for an abundance of inspiration.
Food and Drink
Florence becomes a food lover’s paradise during Christmas. Traditional sweet treats appear in pasticcerie, and local food delights are aplenty. Wine sipping and treat tasting become a part of the everyday routine, making it a feast for the eyes and the stomach.
Spending Christmas in Florence is an experience like no other. The city’s unique blend of tradition, celebration, and culinary delights makes it a festive treat.
3. Christmas in the Dolomites
The majestic Dolomites of South Tyrol truly come alive during Christmas. With towering peaks as its backdrop, this region transforms into a magical wonderland during Christmas, offering an unparalleled festive experience.
You’ll feel as if you’ve stepped into a fairy-tale setting, complete with sparkling lights, a distinct festive mood, and the irresistible scent of traditional holiday treats in the air.
The Dolomites mountains play host to some of Italy’s best Christmas markets. With their distinct German/Austrian influence, these markets are scattered across various towns. You can enjoy your holiday sipping hot chocolate, relishing sausages, and soaking in the vibrant festive spirit.
Food and Drink
Christmas in the Dolomites would only be complete with tasting the region’s typical sweets. Zelten, a sweet bread filled with figs, almonds, and honey, and Lebkuchen, traditional Christmas cookies shaped like Christmas trees or stars and flavored with cinnamon, are some of the must-try delicacies.
If you’re looking for an unforgettable Christmas filled with authenticity, rich culture, and mesmerizing beauty, the Dolomites in South Tyrol won’t disappoint.
With popular destinations such as Vipiteno, Merano, Bolzano, Bressanone, and Brunico renowned for their spectacular Christmas charm, your holiday experience will be unique. As someone who has personally spent numerous Christmases here, I can vouch for the extraordinary magic that unfolds.
Suggested Reading: 5 Italian Christmas Trees That Will Add Some Serious Holiday Cheer
4. Christmas in Milan
Christmas in Milan brings a festive spectacle of lights, bustling markets, and tantalizing Italian desserts. This vibrant city offers its unique take on holiday traditions, making it an exciting place to celebrate the season.
Milan’s festive season kicks off in the second week of December, coinciding with two religious celebrations. The city transforms into a winter wonderland, with twinkling lights adorning the streets and a giant Christmas tree gracing the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.
One can’t miss the enchanting Villaggio delle Meraviglie (Village of Wonders) at the gardens of Porta Venezia. Father Christmas (Santa Claus, or Babbo Natale in Italian) on his sleigh, a crystal castle, and a lively circus school create an immersive festive experience.
Don’t forget to check out the traditional “Oh Bej Oh Bej” fair and the traditional Christmas market in Piazza dei Mercanti, offering a range of Italian and European artisan products.
Food and Drink
Milanese bakeries take pride in crafting delectable Italian desserts as the festive spirit takes over. One is the world-renowned panettone – a Christmas cake originating here in Milan. While exploring the city, you’ll find stalls serving up caldarroste – enticing roasted chestnuts. This traditional winter delicacy savored in the bustling Piazza Duomo is quintessential to the Milanese Christmas experience!
Suggested Reading: 10 Fun Things to Do and See in Milan
5. Christmas in Venice
Venice is a city that embraces the spirit of Christmas, immersing itself in celebrations and traditions that draw visitors worldwide. Known for its beautiful lights and romantic gondola rides, it’s a must-visit destination during the holiday season.
Venice takes on a special kind of magic during the Christmas season. As festive lights twinkle and illuminate the city, the charming, decorated buildings and the ever-romantic gondola rides create an unforgettable holiday ambiance.
Venice’s stunning St. Mark’s Square hosts one of Italy’s best Christmas markets, providing ample opportunities for festive cheer. Furthermore, take advantage of St. Nicholas’s arrival on December 23rd, where he makes his grand entry to the city by gondola – a spectacle that children especially adore.
Food and Drink
Stroll through various Christmas markets to explore various decorative and culinary delights. Traditionally, Venetians celebrate “la vigilia di Natale” with a multi-course Christmas Eve dinner and then relish in Ravioli in Brodo di Cappone (Ravioli in Capon broth), salami, potatoes, and spinach on Christmas day.
Venice offers a unique and heartfelt Christmas experience thanks to its vibrant spirit, beautiful attractions, and mouthwatering traditional cuisine.
Suggested Reading: 12 Italian Christmas Drinks: Festive Cocktails from Italy
6. Christmas in Siena
Known for its captivating Gothic architecture and stunning landscapes, Siena transforms into a whimsical town during Christmas. The narrow, medieval streets, draped with festive lights and ornaments, invite visitors into the warmth and magic of a traditional Italian Christmas.
The Medieval Market, held in the famous Piazza del Campo, is a highlight of Siena’s festive season. This bustling marketplace, divided into sections for handicrafts and gourmet food and wine, offers a unique shopping experience, especially when lit up after sunset.
Food and Drink
Siena is famous for its traditional Christmas cake, Panforte di Siena. This all-natural delight, crafted from honey, sugar, almonds, various fruits, and a touch of icing sugar or chocolate, is a must-try. The market also offers many local delicacies, including ham, salami, cheeses, sweets, and more.
With its charming streets, enchanting market, and traditional culinary delights, Siena is a delightful destination for a heartwarming Tuscan Christmas experience.
7. Christmas on the Amalfi Coast
The Amalfi Coast brings a warm, cozy feeling to Christmas, contrary to its usual beach destination reputation. While you can take a brave dip in the Mediterranean Sea on Christmas Day, remember it’s not summer, so warm clothes are necessary.
Amalfi is renowned for its living nativity scene or “presepe vivente,” where locals vividly reenact the biblical nativity scene. This tradition, complete with authentic clothing and live animals, offers a distinctive experience that brings Christmas to life.
Food and Drink
Amalfi boasts a rich culinary tradition during Christmas, showcasing an explosion of flavors, aromas, and colors. Indulge in typical pastries such as zeppole, struffoli, roccocò, susamielli, mostaccioli, and calzoncelli, to name a few.
8. Christmas in Trento
From early November, the streets of Trento sparkle with holiday lights, and two main squares, Piazza Fiera and Piazza Cesare Battisti, are dotted with quaint wooden huts, mimicking the enchanting aesthetic of North-European Christmas markets. The backdrop of the majestic Alps is often blanketed in snow, and the cold weather completes this stunning festive setting.
The Trento Christmas Market has garnered significant international attention. The wooden chalets, beautifully illuminated and filled with traditional Christmas decorations, crafts, and unique gifts, create a captivating stroll. A section dedicated to local gastronomic delights, including strudel, polenta, and mulled wine, offers a taste of Trentino’s Christmas flavors.
To make the most of your holiday, combine your visit to the Christmas market with a day of skiing at the nearby Monte Bondone or a relaxing nature walk in the Valle dei Laghi.
9. Christmas in Sicily
With its warmer climes and unique traditions, Sicily is an enticing destination for Christmas in Italy, where one can witness a fusion of vibrant folklore, rich delicacies, and lively community spirit.
Sicilian towns come alive with impressive nativity scenes and bustling Christmas markets brimming with local specialties. Traditional events, processions, and bonfires light up the squares, adding to the festive fervor. The island’s majestic cathedrals resound with harmonious carols, becoming hubs of jubilation and unity.
Highlight: Living Nativity Scenes (I Presepi Viventi)
Intricate handmade nativity scenes adorn the town of Trapani, while some places, such as Custonaci and Cava d’Ispica, showcase “presepi viventi,” mesmerizing live enactments of nativity scenes by locals, performed in awe-inspiring locations like caves and rugged cliffs.
Food and Drink
Christmas in Sicily is incomplete without its traditional festive treats. Buccellati, delectable biscuits filled with dried figs, almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, and honey, grace every Sicilian home, their variations tracing back to age-old family recipes passed down through generations.
10. Christmas in Turin
Discover the magical aura of Turin during Christmas as it transforms into a spectacular display of art, culture, and festivities, making it an enchanting winter destination for those seeking the Alpine charm.
Turin, known as the gateway to the Alps, radiates with the spirit of Christmas through the “Luci d’Artista” festival, where art and light merge to illuminate the city’s renowned spots like Mole Antonelliana and Piazza San Carlo, creating an awe-inspiring spectacle.
Highlight: Borgo Dora
Amid the festive whirl, the ancient Borgo Dora stands out, a district bustling with antique shops, vibrant bars, traditional restaurants, and quaint Piedmontese trattorias. Wooden chalets and stalls line the square, offering a fascinating array of vintage artifacts, unique creative objects, antique fashion items, and delicious food. This great place contributes to the captivating Christmas ambiance.
Highlight: Christmas Markets
Christmas in Turin would be incomplete without its festive markets, a swirl of lights, colors, gifts, and gastronomical delights. Prominent ones, like those in Piazza Castello, Cortile del Maglio, and Piazza Solferino, adorn the town’s historic center, rendering Turin an irresistible Christmas destination.
11. Christmas in Bologna
Bologna, a beautiful gem in Northern Italy, unveils its added charm during Christmas. With the world’s oldest university, it’s known as ‘La Dotta‘ (the well-educated), its red-bricked structures earn it the nickname ‘La Rossa‘ (the Red one), and its vibrant food scene justifies the label ‘La Grassa‘ (the fat one).
As Christmas nears, Bologna radiates an irresistible allure. Its streets twinkle with colorful lights, while the crisp winter air carries the scent of sweet delicacies. It’s a time when the city hums with joy, bustling with locals and visitors alike, all soaking up the Christmas cheer.
The holiday season in Bologna is a carousel of festivities. Don’t miss the ascent up the “Colle della Guardia” (Guardia Hill) to visit San Luca. The city’s heart beats in Il Quadrilatero, the ancient market district that pulsates with holiday spirit. The Seven Churches, reflecting Christ’s passion, are a must-see. The crown jewel is the Fiera di Santa Lucia, a classic Christmas market nestled alongside the Basilica of Santa Maria dei Servi, brimming with artisanal creations and a traditional nativity scene.
Food and Drink
A gastronomic paradise, Bologna’s Christmas cuisine masterfully combines tradition with indulgence. Here, you must take advantage of sampling the iconic Tortellini, Cotechino, and the sweet treats of Panone and Certosino. The vibrant markets transform into culinary wonderlands, enticing you with a wide selection of festive sweets, treats, and gifts.
Whether you’re a food lover, a history enthusiast, or simply seeking a heartwarming Christmas experience, Bologna’s enchanting atmosphere makes it an ideal holiday destination.
Suggested Reading: Best Bologna Wine Tours & Tastings to Try in 2023
12. Christmas in Naples
The vibrant city of Naples, nestled in Southern Italy, truly comes to life during Christmas. This time is a rich tapestry of family gatherings, festive lights, tantalizing smells, and culinary indulgence. A key highlight is the tradition of setting up the Neapolitan nativity scene, or ‘Presepe,’ which takes precedence over the Christmas tree here.
A contagious, lively spirit characterizes Christmas time in Naples. The city’s streets and boutiques have become vibrant hubs of activity, with Via San Gregorio Armeno standing out.
Christmas in Naples would only be complete with a visit to the bustling market of Via San Gregorio Armeno. Stalls brimming with handmade nativity scenes, including miniature icons of renowned personalities from politics, sports, and entertainment, turn the street into a festive spectacle.
Food and Drink
Christmas in Naples is a culinary dream. Fried fish, particularly “baccalà” (codfish) and “capitone” (eel), are a staple, often bought from the fish market that stays open all night on December 23rd. Neapolitan pastry-making takes center stage, featuring “struffoli,” tiny fried dough balls covered in honey, and “roccocò,” a tough almond-filled donut.
13. Christmas in Montepulciano
The atmosphere in Montepulciano during Christmas is nothing short of magical. The town undergoes a complete festive makeover, with twinkling lights and decorations adorning every corner. The markets buzz with activity, and a special Christmas Village (the largest Christmas market in central Italy) is established, bringing joy to children and adults alike.
The Medieval Fortress in Montepulciano, positioned at the town’s highest point, transforms into Santa Claus’ Castle. Visitors will marvel at the fortress, tastefully decorated with lights, Christmas ornaments, and surprises. Children can meet Babbo Natale (Santa Claus) himself, taking part in workshops, entertainment shows, and more.
Food and Drink
Exploring the Christmas market along the town’s central streets promises a journey of culinary discovery. Must-try treats include panpepato and castagnaccio. And, of course, no visit to Montepulciano is complete without tasting the traditional almond cantucci, perfect for dipping in Vin Santo.
14. Christmas in Gubbio
I must tell you, the moment when the huge Christmas tree on Monte Ingino comes to life is truly spectacular. This event takes place every year on the eve of the feast of the Immaculate Conception, December 7th, and it’s one of those experiences that never fails to fill me with awe.
Highlight: the Gubbio Christmas Tree
From the stone houses nestled at the mountain’s foot, this gigantic tree of light extends up to the venerable basilica of S. Ubaldo, the cherished patron saint of Gubbio. The sight is simply breathtaking. Then, near the basilica, the Star of Bethlehem sparkles until January 10th. This magnificent tableau stretches over 400 meters or 1312 feet in length.
I must emphasize that this isn’t just any Christmas tree – it’s the world’s largest Christmas tree, a unique spectacle that symbolizes Gubbio’s festive spirit. I highly recommend that you witness this record-breaking marvel. The sight of this radiant Christmas tree lighting up the winter night will stay with you long after the holiday season is over.
15. Christmas in Lake Como
During the festive season, Lake Como truly sparkles. The captivating blend of holiday decorations and natural beauty offers a magical charm that is timeless and delightful. Como, in particular, transforms into a lovely winter wonderland.
Holiday lights twinkle in the streets, and giant video projections dance on the cathedral’s façade and nearby buildings, adding to the cheerful ambiance. Christmas markets fill the town center with stalls selling traditional foods, handmade crafts, and holiday decorations. Ice rinks pop up, blaring joyful music as visitors skate under the starlit sky. Choirs fill the air with carols, encapsulating the pure spirit of this festive period.
Cavour Square and Plinio Street host the primary Christmas market with over 30 stalls offering traditional holiday delicacies from all across Italy. You’ll find that each neighborhood adds its charm with festive markets. You’re always close to a cheerful holiday bazaar wherever you’re based!
Food and Drink
For food enthusiasts, it’s a paradise. The holiday season brings a wealth of gastronomic experiences, from market stalls to pop-ups. And take advantage of the Panettone, Italy’s traditional Christmas cake. My advice? Spend your Christmas at Lake Como for an unforgettable holiday experience.
16. Christmas in Matera
Matera, one of Italy’s most beautiful cities, adopts a magical aura during Christmas. Fairy lights fill the streets, and shops burst with festive decorations. Locals take their time with Christmas shopping, cherishing every moment and every encounter with friends and relatives.
Highlight: The Famous Nativity
Christmas in Matera is incomplete without experiencing the renowned “Presepe” or Nativity. Costumed actors play out the nativity story in the streets of the Sassi, making it an immersive theatre experience. Despite its religious significance, the” ‘presepe” attracts spectators of all backgrounds, given the cinematic backdrop of Matera, which has often been used in famous movies depicting biblical stories.
Highlight: Zampognari (Bagpipe-Playing Shepherds)
Matera’s holiday season brings a beautiful symphony of folk music. The ‘Zampognari‘ or bagpipe players grace the streets with their bagpipe-like instruments, enriching the festive spirit. This tradition continues to be a cherished aspect of Matera’s Christmas celebrations, creating a captivating auditory experience for visitors and locals alike.
Food and Drink
Traditional delicacies exclusive to the season include pettole (fried bread dumplings with raisins), cannelloni filled with minced meat, and a rich tomato and béchamel sauce. Desserts are another highlight, from biscuit-like treats topped with local honey or cartellate, to almond brittle. To round off the feast, homemade limoncello or Mandarinetto, a liqueur made from mandarins, is a must.
17. Christmas in Verona
With its famous nativity scenes and festive charm, Verona is a prime destination for holiday visits and excursions throughout December. The city brims with initiatives and events, drawing visitors from near and far.
The city adorns itself in enchanting holiday attire with illuminations and majestic Christmas trees, infusing the streets and squares with a magical ambiance.
The symbol of Verona’s nativity scene exhibition, the Arena Comet, is a mammoth white-painted steel structure. The tail begins at the Roman amphitheater and arches over Piazza Bra, where the star is placed, guiding visitors much like the comet guided the Three Wise Men to the birthplace of baby Jesus. The popular Fiera di Santa Lucia (St. Lucia Fair), Verona’s largest market, is another must-see event.
18. Christmas in Lucca
Lucca might not be your typical snow-covered Christmas destination but trust me, it offers a unique festive charm that’s hard to resist. Imagine markets bustling with festive joy, twinkling street lights adorning charming pathways, and the infectious cheer that fills the air – Lucca has it all.
Come Christmas, Lucca transforms. Its streets, squares, and stairways don a festive makeover, while the historic walls bordered by maples seem even more enchanting. Cafés in the center don red, bows and wreaths abound, and shopping becomes an experience full of festive delights.
The crown jewel of Lucca’s Christmas festivities is the market at Piazza Napoleone. It’s not just a market but a celebration from early December till the dawn of the New Year. You’ll find stalls brimming with delightful gifts, delectable food, and charming trinkets.
Food and Drink
While exploring, remember to indulge in the variety of seasonal delights available at the market stalls. Whether it’s warm mulled wine or traditional Italian Christmas treats, there’s something to satiate every palate.
19. Christmas in Umbria
In the heart of Italy, the Christmas season in Umbria commences with the Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception on December 8th, spanning until the Epiphany on January 6th. This period features a rich tapestry of long-standing traditions, including the quintessential Italian nativity scene, or “presepe.”
Highlight: The Charm of Presepe
In Umbria, Christmas wouldn’t be the same without “presepe.” From a modest manger scene to intricate depictions of entire villages, these beautiful nativity displays adorn shop windows, church alcoves, and plazas. Some are animated with running water fountains, glowing cookfires, and moving figurines. The creativity and craftsmanship of Umbria’s residents shine in these miniature landscapes, crafted with gathered stones, bark, moss, and sand.
Umbria is the birthplace of the live nativity pageant, initiated by St. Francis of Assisi in 1223. This tradition continues today as villages transform into living nativity scenes on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and the Epiphany.
Food and Drink
Christmas in Umbria is incomplete without its traditional holiday foods. The centerpiece is ‘cappelletti in brodo,’ a tortellini filled with chicken, veal, and pork served in a fragrant capon broth. Wandering the torchlit streets, sampling roasted chestnuts, and mulled wine provides a timeless Christmas experience.
20. Christmas in Alberobello
Experience the magic of Christmas in Alberobello, a charming, ancient village lit with warm-hued lights and alive with chimneys puffing out soft, inviting smoke. From December’s start until early January, the holiday spirit infuses Alberobello with an atmosphere hard to replicate anywhere else.
Highlight: The Trullo
End your day by immersing yourself in a one-of-a-kind experience: sleeping in a real “trullo.” These limestone dwellings in Puglia’s southern region embody an ancient building technique that uses roughly worked limestone boulders gathered from nearby fields. Many providers offer various options for a night in a trullo, a unique experience worth trying.
Food and Drink
Indulge in Alberobello’s distinct Christmas delicacies. Savor pettole and cartellate, sweet delights served with honey or cooked wine, or if you prefer savory, try pasta with cod sauce, fried cod, and fish. Most local restaurants in Alberobello offer these festive treats.
The Preeminence of Presepe in Italian Christmas
The ‘presepe,’ or nativity scene, is a central component of Italian Christmas celebrations, reverberating throughout the nation. Particularly in Southern Italy, the presepe is a key element of Christmas decorations, showcased in churches, town squares, and private homes.
Origins and Significance of the Nativity Scene
Interestingly, the nativity scene, featuring a crib filled with straw, finds its roots in Italy. Legend has it that Saint Francis hosted a Christmas mass before a nativity scene, impressing the profound miracle of Christ’s birth in a manger upon the public. This incident made the Nativity crib scene integral to Italian Christmas observances.
Naples: The Heart of Presepe
Naples, renowned for its ‘Presepe Napoletano‘ or Neapolitan nativity scenes, is believed to have hosted the first nativity scene as early as 1025, predating even St. Francis of Assisi’s popularization of the tradition.
A Tradition Uninterrupted
Nativity scenes began to adorn personal residences from the 16th century onward, a trend that continues to this day. While they are typically set up on December 8th, the figure of the baby Jesus isn’t added until the night of December 24th, encapsulating the anticipation and joy inherent in the season.
As we conclude our journey, it’s clear that there are countless ways to experience Christmas in Italy. Each destination, with its unique blend of history, culture, and festive spirit, offers a different flavor of Christmas. From the sparkling streets of Verona to the charming trulli of Alberobello, the Italian Christmas traditions are unmissable and unforgettable. Whether you crave mouthwatering holiday meals or historical insights, Italy has a Christmas experience waiting just for you. Buon Natale!