The Christmas holidays are a perfect time to organize a trip to Italy, visit ancient towns or go to the discovery of the most beautiful Christmas markets. The Christmas markets are in fact the most attractive proposal for those who want to spend Christmas day away from home and do not want to miss the magical atmosphere of this party.
Those in Bressanone and Merano are among the most beautiful Christmas markets in Italy, along with those of Trento and Bolzano. In fact, in Trentino Alto Adige, the German tradition of the Christmas market is extremely alive and ancient. But also in the rest of Italy in recent years original Christmas markets have been organized that are worth visiting.
Best places to visit in Italy at Christmas
The Christmas market in Bressanone is famous for its magical atmospheres, side events, and the best of the South Tyrolean Christmas tradition. Illuminations smells of cinnamon and ginger, apple fritters, strudel and other homemade desserts await you along with carriage rides and handmade nativity scenes. Surrounded by the cathedral of Bressanone, the church of San Michele, and the town hall, the Christmas market in Bressanone is one of the most beautiful in the Alps. The market stalls sell wood carvings, handmade ceramics, alpine herbs, soaps made with milk, felt slippers, typical Tyrolean Christmas tree decorations, decorated candles, hand-painted glass balls, nativity scenes, sweets and typical gastronomy of the area, all around the large Christmas tree in Piazza Duomo, accompanied by a cup of hot chocolate, apple juice or mulled wine (hot drink prepared with red wine and flavored with spices and citrus fruits, typical of mountain areas).
Even in Merano the Christmas markets are a fixed and very old event. In Merano, the tradition is in fact the typically German “Christkindlmarkt” which has taken place for centuries in the central square of the city during the Advent period. The appointment is with typical sweets and artisan products in Piazza della Rena, the beating heart of the Merano Christmas market. Among the various little wooden houses that give life to the market, there is the one where the horses will stay and the solidarity stall, where associations will sell their products for charity.
The Bolzano Christmas markets are among the most famous Christmas markets in Italy. It is precisely here that the tradition of Christmas markets in Italy was born, which reaches these areas from Germany, transforming the fairs of the Christmas period into a real celebration of Christmas and its atmospheres. Piazza Walther is the magical place where the South Tyrolean Christmas tradition meets the smells and flavours of the Christmas market. Fried apples and hot apple juice, strudel and mulled wine, cinnamon and more music, lights and an atmosphere that transforms Piazza Walther into a magical place, where the scents, colours, sounds and warmth of Christmas will hug you. The numerous wooden stalls will host decorations and artifacts, food, decorations and statues for the nativity scenes. The craftsmanship is given maximum prominence with entirely handmade products. Every day, then, a full and varied program will accompany the event with traditional music, with Alpine horns, harps and lyres.
Read also: Things to do in Bolzano
Even in Trento, the Christmas markets are among the most beautiful and characteristic of Italy, immersed in the enchanting scenery of the Alps, where the cold temperatures offer suggestive snowy landscapes. The Trento Christmas market has existed for just over 30 years, but in a short time, it has gained international importance. The style is that of the markets of northern Europe with small wooden houses, lights, and handicrafts. Stroll among the wooden chalets in Piazza Fiera which will offer you traditional decorations for the Christmas tree and the nativity scene, beautiful handicrafts, sweets and exquisite local specialties and unique gift items. Do not miss the special section dedicated to the flavours and gastronomic specialties of the area. In fact, there will be 16 small wooden houses where you can taste strudel, “polenta” and all the oldest recipes of the Trentino and Tyrolean tradition, all accompanied by delicious mulled wine.
An excellent alternative is also to spend Christmas in Tuscany. In fact, you can combine a visit to the most beautiful and unknown places in Tuscany with a tour of the Christmas markets of Montepulciano, the largest market in Tuscany.
Christmas in Montepulciano is a huge party in which the town is completely transformed. In addition to the markets, there is a real Santa Claus village set up in the Medici fortress, in the upper part of Montepulciano, with an ice rink and creative workshops for children.
The fortress of Montepulciano at Christmas is in fact decorated with lights, Christmas decorations and surprises where children can meet Santa Claus in person by participating in creative workshops, entertainment shows and many other activities. In the garden you will find the docile animals of Santa’s Farm (there are also ponies to ride on inside the fortress park), while in the 1000 square meters indoor you can participate in workshops of magic, woodworking, creation of Christmas decorations, cake design, storytellers, group dances, children’s make-up, balloon sculptures and much more. In addition, the toy exhibition exhibits vintage toys from private collections. In the highest part of the town of Montepulciano, in the streets that go from the Medici Fortress to Piazza Grande, there are 80 little wooden houses set up in perfect Tyrolean style. The magically set up chalets create a perfect Christmas atmosphere. Original handicrafts, gift ideas, clothing and leather goods and Christmas decorations are on display. There is obviously no shortage of street food, gastronomy and Christmas sweets.
However, other towns and cities also have their own Christmas markets to visit. In Siena, not far from Montepulciano, there is not a real traditional Christmas market, but a very interesting fair where you can buy handicrafts, food and wine, antiques, objects, decorations, books, and other ideas for Christmas gifts. It is held in Piazza del Campo and among the stalls, there will also be Christmas-themed exhibitors.
Then there are the Christmas markets in Florence and Lucca. In Florence, the Christmas markets do not have a long historical tradition. However, the city has been able to use its most beautiful spaces and squares to organize a calendar full of events for Christmas and among these, the classic wooden chalets and fairs where you can buy original gift ideas cannot be missing. The Christmas market held in Piazza Santa Croce in Florence is a market in perfect German-style, where crafts and gift ideas and decorations for the Christmas tree and the crib dominate. Then there are stalls of Tuscan gastronomic products and of the different Italian and European regions. There are also small rustic wooden houses that cook typical Christmas products, such as gingerbread and strudel of all kinds. In the square, there is also a carousel to entertain the little ones. At the Boboli Gardens and in via Romana and surroundings, Christmas is celebrated with games, projections, lights and animations dedicated especially to children.
In Lucca during the Christmas period, there is a Christmas market with one of the most magical atmospheres in Tuscany. The most traditional one takes place in Piazza Napoleone with the stalls and gastronomy of street vendors and with an ice skating rink.
Even in Arezzo, Christmas enlivens the streets of the historic center, hosting a Tyrolean market with over 25 stalls of products from northern Italy, workshops for children, the home of Santa Claus, and an ice skating rink.
Abbadia San Salvatore
Finally, in Abbadia San Salvatore, in the province of Siena, a series of events related to Christmas take place every year. The night of the torches is a millenary tradition. In the historic center of the town on Christmas night a series of wooden piles are burned while Christmas carols are sung and typical products are tasted.
Returning to northern Italy, and more precisely to Milan, as usual, the appointment with Christmas returns to the gardens of Porta Venezia with the Village of Wonders. For the Christmas holidays, the doors of the theme park dedicated to families reopen. Santa Claus on his sleigh, accompanied by jokey elves, a crystal castle out of fairy tales and the circus school create an enchanted scenario. In the heart of the city you can also stroll in search of original ideas through the streets of a typical Christmas market, which offers, in the over forty wooden chalets decorated with gnomes and elves, tasty food and wine specialties and particular Italian and European artisan products. Don’t miss the appointment with the traditional “Oh Bej Oh Bej” fair and the Christmas market in Piazza dei Mercanti.
Turin is the other great city in northern Italy that will be enveloped by the magical atmosphere of Christmas with a rich calendar of art, music, theater and dance. The festive atmosphere of Christmas is the protagonist at the ancient Borgo Dora: an area home to various antique shops, bars, restaurants and ancient Piedmontese trattorias, with many wooden chalets in Borgo Dora square and a hundred stalls inside the Courtyard of the Maglio. Along the streets of Borgo Dora there will also be thematic stalls: from vintage to creative objects, from antique fashion items to art objects; and then, musical instruments and unobtainable vinyl records, strange tools, furnishing accessories of the past and food delicacies. The “Luci d’Artista” event will also be staged in the city: 18 light installations by important national and international contemporary artists who transform the centre of Turin into an open-air museum.
Govone, one of the most beautiful towns in Piedmont, is transformed into the Magical Village of Christmas. In the historic centre there are markets with exhibitors, the inevitable Santa Claus House and the opportunity to visit the local castle. But what distinguishes Govone’s Christmas markets from other markets is the style and atmosphere. The ancient Belle Epoque-style carousel flanked by a pastry corner where you can taste Piedmontese sweets.
Verona also offers a perfect setting to recreate a wonderful Christmas atmosphere. Every year at Christmas, in the central Piazza Bra, the giant comet shines which boasts, in addition to beauty, a record: it is the largest mobile sculpture in Italy. Then there is the fair of Saint Lucy which is the largest market in Verona. According to legend, the saint arrives at night with delicious treats for good children and with coal for bad children. The classic German-style Christmas market takes place in Piazza dei Signori.
Naturally, the city of Rome cannot be missing, where the magic of Christmas returns to Piazza Navona with the characteristic markets dedicated to the Befana (the ugly but generous old woman of the fantasy world of children, who, going down the chimney, brings gifts to the good children and coal to the bad ones, on the night before the Epiphany), which will be represented in many ways. The square will be filled with numerous stalls offering gastronomic specialties, socks containing sweets and chocolate and decorations for the Christmas tree.
Going further south we find the historic appointment in Naples with the famous Christmas market in Via San Gregorio Armeno, the street of the handmade nativity scenes. Here you will find numerous shops, stalls and kiosks selling statuettes of each manufacture. In particular, you will find characters from art, politics and the world of sport and entertainment who become miniature icons of the nativity scene. The famous Neapolitan nativity scenes are also available in all sizes and at many prices.
Last but not least, among all the beautiful towns that at Christmas seem to have an extra charm, Pietracupa (in Molise region) is at the top of the list: dominated by a huge rocky spur, this tiny cluster of houses all built perched on the rock, is called Bethlehem of Molise. Pietracupa has a mysterious cave, called the Rock Crypt, which over the centuries has been used as a place of prayer, as a prison and court during the years of the Inquisition, as a refuge during the air raids of the Second World War and as a place of capital executions. Yet during Christmas, the crypt shines with its own light, attracting crowds of people who in the intimacy of the cave find that ancient original message of the deepest meaning of the holiday. You sit on spartan wooden benches and listen to the silence of the place in front of an ancient millstone used as an altar.