Christmas in Italy is a magical time. Cities, towns, and villages are lit up with twinkling lights and light shows, Christmas trees decorate piazzas, and Christmas markets pop up throughout the country.
Italy definitely has its popular destinations during the busy tourist season (May through September), and many of those places are also worthy of a visit during the Christmas holidays. But ultimately, the best place for you to spend Christmas in Italy depends on your holiday interests, which may include:
- Christmas markets
- Religious festivals
- Holiday lights
- Snow sports
- Christmas food and drinks
Best Places to Go for Christmas in Italy
Quick Recommendation: For a Christmas visit to Italy, my top picks are the Dolomites (Christmas markets, snow, scenery), Venice (quiet, romantic, lights and decorations), Rome (religious celebrations, Christmas markets and decorations, shopping), and Florence (Christmas lights and decorations, shopping).
|INTEREST||WHERE TO GO|
|Presepi (Nativity scenes)||Naples, Puglia, Matera, Rome, Manarola|
|Religious festivals||Rome, Vatican City, Assisi|
|Holiday lights||Salerno, Torino, Venice, Florence, Bressanone, Como|
|Snow sports||Dolomites, Livigno, Cervinia|
|Photography||Tuscany, Venice, Puglia|
|Christmas food and drinks||Sicily, Puglia|
|Nature||Thermal baths in Tuscany|
|Shopping||Milan, Rome, Florence, Bolzano|
Spending Christmas in Rome
Rome has everything you could want or need for a perfect Christmas holiday. Shop at its multiple Christmas markets, enjoy the Christmas lights scattered throughout the city, see the nativity scene in St. Peter’s Square, be blessed by the Pope(!), go to a Christmas concert, or go to the midnight mass at St. Peter’s Basilica.
Rome is a wonderful place to visit for a first or tenth trip to Italy for Christmas!
Naples for Christmas
Naples is home to Via San Gregorio Armeno, or the Via dei Presepi (Road of the Nativity Scenes). Along the famous street, artisans create beautiful nativity scenes that feature baby Jesus, Joseph, Mary and the three wise men.
The artisans also create figures of soccer players, celebrities, politicians, and more famous (or infamous) public figures.
Stop in at the Museo Nazionale di San Martino to see one of the city’s (and Italy’s) most famous nativity scenes – Presepe Cuciniello. The 19th-century nativity scene has more than 800 figures!
If you’re interested in Italy’s nativity scenes, don’t miss a visit to Naples during the Christmas season.
Learn more about Presepi, Italy’s Nativity Scenes.
Christmas in the Dolomites
The Dolomites are my favorite place to spend Christmas in Italy. The combination of snow and South Tyrolean Christmas spirit can’t be beat!
This part of the country has Italy’s best Christmas markets (they have a German/Austrian feel) and you could easily spend your entire Christmas holiday driving from town to town in the Dolomites to visit the Christmas markets, sip hot chocolate, and eat sausages and traditional South Tyrolean food.
This is also my favorite place for a Christmas trip to Italy with kids. Children will delight in the holiday spirit wherever they go, but the Dolomites are especially magical because there will likely be snow to play in. On Alpe di Siusi, they can build snowmen and go sledding, skiing, or snowboarding.
The best places to base yourself in the Dolomites for Christmas are Bolzano, Merano, Ortisei, or Cortina d’Ampezzo.
Good To Know: Bolzano has an amazing Christmas market and excellent shopping on the Via dei Portici.
Milan for Christmas
Shoppers will delight in Milan any time of the year, but Christmas time in Italy’s fashion capital is enchanting.
Best places to shop in Milan during Christmas:
- Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
- Corso Vittorio Emanuele II
- Via Monte Napoleone
- Brera District
- Corso Buenos Aires
- Corso Como
Even non-shoppers will enjoy looking at the window displays, going to midnight mass at the Duomo, seeing the huge Christmas tree at the Duomo, and the lights at Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II and Castello Sforzesco.
Christmas in Florence
We love Christmas in Florence because the city is compact so it’s easy to wander around on foot and explore the city’s holiday lights and decorations. The best things to do during Christmas in Florence:
- Watch the light show on the Ponte Vecchio
- Walk under the lights of Via Tornabuoni
- See the light display on the Rinascente department store and check out its holiday window displays
- Get a coffee or hot chocolate in Piazza Signoria or Piazza della Repubblica
- Grab a mulled wine at the Christmas market in Piazza Santa Croce
Tuscany for Christmas
I think Florence is the best place in Tuscany to spend Christmas, but other cities like Lucca and Siena are festive as well.
Siena has a full program of events and is lit up with twinkling lights. Hot chocolate in the Piazza del Campo is a wonderful way to pass some time after shopping on the Via Banchi di Sopra.
Lucca has Christmas markets, lights, and events, but still maintains its relaxed ‘real town’ feel. You can also make a quick trip to the beach at Forte dei Marmi to shop at its market.
Photographers will love visiting Tuscany during Christmas. Highlights include the velvety brown hills and light in the Val d’Orcia, the tufa village of Pitigliano lit up, and the lights in Florence and Siena.
Those interested in thermal baths should visit Saturnia or San Casciano dei Bagni, and presepe fans shouldn’t miss Equi Terme’s living nativity scene.
Venice for Christmas
Romance-seekers should head straight to Venice (winter is our favorite time to visit La Serenissima, and Christmas time can’t be beat).
The morning fog gives the city a quiet, calm feel – hard to imagine if you’ve visited Venice during the hot, crowded summer!
The Christmas lights reflect on the canal waters and if you’re lucky, you might even get a little sprinkling of snow!
Christmas in Locorotondo & Puglia
Locorotondo in Puglia is one of Italy’s most charming Christmas villages. The whitewashed town decorates for the holiday with lights and pine boughs. The events begin in November and last through the Epiphany and include concerts, special meals, and more.
Photographers will delight in every corner of the village.
While in Puglia, you shouldn’t miss the decorations in nearby Alberobello and Polignano a Mare.
Good To Know: Luxury hotel Borgo Egnazia has a Christmas market (by reservation) that displays local products like ceramics and food products. It’s worth a visit even to see the property and products, and they make excellent Christmas gifts!
More Places to Visit in Italy During Christmas
- Salerno – light displays
- Torino – light displays
- Sicily – Christmas food, processions, presepi
- Matera – presepe
- Manarola – presepe
- Livigno – skiing and snow sports
- Cervinia – skiing and snow sports
When is the Christmas Season in Italy?
You may think of the Christmas holiday as only being December 25th, but Italy loves a celebration, so the festivities begin on December 8th and wrap up around January 6th.
Good To Know: Below I’m listing what generally happens during the Christmas season in Italy. Be sure to check which events happen (and when) in your chosen destination. For example, the Vatican City’s Christmas tree is lit a day earlier than most places in Italy (December 7th vs. December 8th).
December 8th – Feast of the Immaculate Conception (La Festa della Concezione Immacolata)
December 8th is a national holiday in Italy. Families spend time at home decorating the Christmas tree, Christmas trees are lit in town centers, and holiday festivals and Christmas markets open for the season.
If you’re visiting Italy, this is a great day to be in a city center for the lighting of the city’s Christmas tree and opening of the Christmas Market.
December 24th – Christmas Eve (La Vigilia di Natale)
Christmas Eve is business as usual during the day – adults who haven’t taken time off of work head to the office in the morning. In the evening, families gather for Christmas Eve dinner and many families attend Midnight Mass.
Good To Know: To many Italians, Christmas Eve is more important than Christmas Day.
If you’re visiting Italy, hang out in a town or city with last-minute shoppers, enjoy the lights, and reserve a restaurant for a Christmas dinner. If you’re interested, attend Midnight Mass (and be sure to arrive early so you can get a seat!).
December 25th – Christmas Day (Natale)
Christmas Day is spent with family, including a large meal, enjoying Christmas treats like pandoro or panettone, and opening gifts (although some families open gifts on Christmas Eve).
If you’re visiting Italy, enjoy the slow pace of the day, celebrate with your fellow travelers, and have a Christmas meal at a restaurant or cook one on your own!
December 26th – St. Stephen’s Day (Giorno di Santo Stefano)
On St. Stephen’s Day, Italian families stay home or head out for a passeggiata (walk) with friends or family, often to see a presepe (Nativity Scene).
If you’re visiting Italy, go for a walk, find a presepe to visit, or head out and explore the museums and attractions wherever you are (most things are open).
December 31st – New Year’s Eve (La Vigilia di Capodanno or La Notte di San Silvestro)
New Year’s Eve in Italy is all about celebrating! Depending on where you are, you’ll see Italians following traditions like:
- Wearing red underwear
- Eating lentils or zampone
- Lighting fireworks
What We Do: Pre-kids, we’d head to the city to have a late dinner with friends at a restaurant, where we’d toast the New Year at midnight. Now, we stay home with our kids and light fireworks at ‘midnight’ (when it’s dark!).
If you’re visiting Italy, find out what traditions in your area are and try one! Reserve a restaurant that stays open into the New Year and toast the anno nuovo with friends (old or new)!
January 1st – New Year’s Day (Capodanno)
The first day of the New Year in Italy is quiet. Almost everything is closed, and people sleep in (except for parent) and then relax or go for a stroll.
If you’re visiting Italy, recover from last night’s festivities, go for a walk in the countryside or town, or participate in a local event (like jumping into the cold water at Venice’s Lido beach).
January 7th – Epiphany (L’Epifania)
The Epiphany marks the end of Christmas celebrations in Italy. The night before (January 6th) children leave their stockings out for La Befana, the kind old witch who climbs down the chimney to leave gifts or coal. Many families will head out for a last look at a presepe or presepe vivente (living nativity scene).
If you’re visiting Italy, and you have kids, definitely leave a stocking out for La Befana! It’s a fun way to learn about another culture and kids love it. Kids or not, find a local presepe and enjoy being out mingling with Italians on the national holiday.
Good To Know: Stockings aren’t used on Christmas Eve in Italy – just on the eve of January 6th, for La Befana.
Good To Know: While Italy is a Catholic country (hello Pope!), there are other non-Christmas holiday celebrations during the winter. For example, there are Hannukah celebrations throughout the country, with the more well-known festivities happening in Rome.
Is Christmas a Good Time to Visit Italy?
Advantages of Visiting Italy for Christmas
Magical Atmosphere – Christmas lights, decorations, and music in Italian cities and villages. Christmas markets in northern Italy are the best in the country.
Less Expensive – It’s a less expensive time to visit (except for ski resort towns and Rome right around Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and the Epiphany). You should be able to find better rates on hotels, tours, and transportation than you would find in the spring, summer, and fall months.
Special Seasonal Food – We all come to Italy for the food and you’ll get to sample special Christmas season treats like panforte, and panettone.
Catch the Beginning of Saldi – If you stay into the beginning of January, you’ll catch the beginning of Italy’s winter sale (saldi) season (the other sale season is in the summer).
Spend Time with Locals – If you leave the main cities and venture to smaller towns and villages, you’ll find… locals! Most tourists have left, and those that remain usually come from nearby European countries.
Disadvantages of Visiting Italy for Christmas
Cold Weather – If you’re okay bundling up against the winter chill, Christmastime is a magical time to visit Italy!
- Northern Italy can be very cold and sees snow at higher elevations. Temperatures hover around the 5 Celsius degree mark (41 degrees Fahrenheit).
- Central Italy also tends to have cold winters and can see snow. Temperatures are usually around 10 degrees Celsius (50 degrees Fahrenheit).
- Southern Italy is warmer during December, but it’s not sunbathing weather! Temperatures tend to hover around 14 degrees Celsius (57 Fahrenheit).
Many Italian cities (like Milan and Florence) can feel extra cold during the winter when humidity combines with the chilly temperatures.
Crowds – Most Italians have the Christmas holiday off, and the cities fill up with shoppers and those who want to soak up the Christmas spirit and twinkling lights. Italians aren’t big online shoppers, so you’ll find busy city centers in the few days leading up to the holiday.
Most Italians stay in the country during the Christmas holiday. There’s a famous saying in Italy:
“Natale con i tuoi, Pasqua con chi vuoi!,” which means, “Spend Christmas with your family, and Easter with whoever you want!”
This means trains will be booked just before the holidays as workers leave their adopted cities to travel home to mamma and papa.
Some Things are Closed – You won’t be able to do everything you want. For example, beach towns are mostly closed up, and most shops, museums, and restaurants close up on Christmas Day (December 25th) and Santo Stefano (December 26th).
Italian Christmas Traditions
Depending on how you’re visiting Italy for Christmas (staying with your Italian family, traveling through the country staying in hotels, etc), you’ll be able to participate in Italian Christmas traditions in numerous ways:
- Setting up a Presepe
- Having a Christmas Eve Dinner
- Eating a seafood dinner before heading to Midnight Mass
- Having a Christmas Dinner
- Going to see a Presepe or Living Presepe
- Enjoy Pandoro or Panettone
- Shopping at a Christmas Market
Christmas in Italy with Children
Italian children delight in Babbo Natale (Santa Claus, or literally Father Christmas) just like children in other parts of the world.
Children do Christmas arts and crafts (ornaments, paintings), sing Christmas songs at school, or go out caroling in the school’s neighborhood. Many Italian schools still have religion classes and they teach the Christmas story and talk about the birth of Jesus.
At home, children help decorate the Christmas tree, and also help make Italian sweets.
Where to Spend Christmas in Italy with Children
I would recommend Rome, the Dolomites, or Florence for a Christmas visit with kids. If you’d like to spend time outdoors in the snow, head to Ortisei in the Dolomites. For a city visit, I’d head to Florence, and if you’d like your kids to experience the religious aspect of Italy during Christmas, base yourselves in Rome.
Accommodation Tips for Christmas in Italy
- Traveling with a group or your family? Look into booking an apartment or villa with a kitchen. It’s more complicated to get everyone dressed and out the door to a restaurant in poor weather.
- Book as soon as you can if you’re planning on visiting Rome between December 23rd and January 7th. The city fills up with tourists during this period.
- Think twice about booking agriturismi in some parts of the country. They can be cold and damp in the winter. If you’re excited about a countryside winter holiday, check with the owner to make sure you’ll have ample heat and a way to dry your clothes.
Helpful Tip: Fireplaces are romantic and beautiful, but less so if it’s the only way to heat your living space.
Important: Find out if heat is included in the rental rate. If not, ask for an estimate based on past guests. Electricity is very expensive in Italy, especially after rate increases in 2022.
What to Pack for a Trip to Italy Over Christmas
- Small gifts from home if you want to exchange gifts for Christmas (or buy some here in Italy!)
- Warm, comfortable, waterproof boots. You won’t be able to enjoy the holiday lights or presepi if your toes are wet and numb.
- Slippers for your hotel (if not provided), apartment, or villa.
- Small, quality travel umbrella. Christmas season weather in Italy often includes rain or drizzle, and decent umbrellas are expensive here. Bring your own and avoid wasting 5€ on a ‘disposable’ umbrella.
- Special clothing for activities. For example, bring your own ski suit if you’ll be skiing in the Dolomites. Good To Know: You can also rent most snow sports equipment here, so you don’t need to pack up your own snowboard (unless you want to use your own)
- A scarf is a must have in the winter in Italy, but if you want, you can buy one here at a local market or in a shop of a luxury Italian designer.
How to Say Merry Christmas in Italian
The most common way to say ‘Merry Christmas’ in Italian is Buon Natale! This translates to ‘Have a good Christmas!’
Buon Natale can be used in both formal and informal situations. You can say it to anyone – a shopkeeper when you enter a shop, your friends and family, your taxi driver, or someone sitting next to you on the train.
We typically say Buon Natale before Christmas if you won’t be seeing the person before the holiday (for example, on your last day of work on the 22nd), and on Christmas Eve and Christmas.
If someone wishes you a Buon Natale, you can reply with Buon Natale or Anche a te/lei (informal/formal).
I hope this quick guide has helped you decide where to spend Christmas in Italy. Have a Buon Natale!
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