Christmas in Italy offers the chance to enjoy great weather and advantageous rates while enjoying the festive beauty, traditional food and wine and the fantastic Christmas markets.
The Christmas season is a celebration that lasts for weeks in Italy, turning one of Europe’s most enticing countries into an inspiring combination of lights and art. With piazzas from Milan to Rome, Naples to Palermo spreading the festivities, decorations fill cities and towns while carolers and bagpipe players fill the air with song and nativity scenes decorate historic churches.
With style, glamour, and beauty, Italy celebrates Christmas like no other, and there are many ways to enjoy it.
Whether you prefer the comforting cold of a winter wonderland or the cozy warmth of a Mediterranean dream, Italy can immerse you in the unique ambiance of Christmas. The distinctive regions have their own particular weather patterns and atmosphere that can change your perspective of what Christmas could and should be like.
“First of all, the weather is nice, just consider that in the last five years, Christmas day has been over 68 degrees Fahrenheit in Rome, and down south in Sicily, it gets even warmer,” says Mario, an Italy travel specialist. But if you are looking for the true winter experience, you can find the charismatic cold of winter in places like Milan on the alpine foothills or Bolzano, located in the Dolomite mountains.
Beyond the weather, Christmas in Italy feels welcoming and open for exploration. Instead of contending with the large crowds and high peak season rates, winter offers fewer tourists, a festive atmosphere, and advantageous accommodation rates. “It is generally not so crowded since Italians don’t travel much around Italy during Christmas, and this helps with rates which can be about twenty to thirty percent cheaper than October," adds Mario.
Italian tradition is not just an action but an important value that honors history, family, and heritage that has been weaved into the tapestry of daily life. Christmas brings the customs of Italy and specific regions to the forefront as people immerse themselves in the festive essence of the season.
Whether looking for seaside charm in Sorrento, Tuscan beauty in Lucca, or wonderment of medieval towns with fortified city walls, each corner of Italy erupts with the charm of Christmas decorations. “Being a strong Catholic country, Christmas is really ‘felt’ everywhere and there are plenty of beautiful decorations all over Italy’s bigger cities, as well as tiny villages,” says Mario.
Cities and towns start to glow with light around the 8th of December and lasts until the 6th of January stringing together weeks of excitement, beauty, and activity from the Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception to the arrival of La Befana.
These three Italian Christmas traditions are sure to be seen, and can be authentically experienced with the help of your Zicasso travel specialist.
Zampognari of Central Italy
While the sound of bagpipes in Italy may surprise you, many in Italy would feel the season incomplete without hearing the ethereal sounds crack through the piazzas. The tradition dates back to ancient Rome and continues today across remote villages from Lazio to Abruzzo, Basilicata to Molise, Campania to Puglia. Bagpipers wear garments representing the traditional dress of shepherds that celebrates the regional heritage and long lineage of sheep herding across central and southern Italy.
The importance of the shepherd and bagpipes relates to the legend of Mary in Bethlehem. After giving birth, bagpipers played upon first gazing at the newborn. To pay homage to the myth and to respect the tradition, when bagpipers reach a public Nativity scene, they will stop playing and give themselves, as well as others, a moment of quiet contemplation. The bagpipers play traditional music accompanied by an oboe player as they wander through the cities, towns, and villages.
Much of the English-speaking world knows Santa Claus, but Italy celebrates Christmas with La Befana. The traditional image features a woman with a crooked nose and broomstick, but instead of being a witch, she brings good Italian children sweets and naughty Italian children coal. Instead of milk and cookies, she drinks wine for her midnight treat. La Befana is a comforting and welcoming grandmother who not only delivers goodies but also tidies up before she leaves on the Feast of the Epiphany.
The original legend stems from the story of the Three Kings of the Epiphany, who visited the old woman as they followed the star to Bethlehem. After declining the invitation to accompany the travelers, she had a change of heart and ran after the kings with her broom and a small gift for the child. But she never reached them. Every year, she returns and celebrates the children of Italy, especially in her hometown of Urbania, where they dance, juggle, sing in the streets, and attract up to 50,000 people a year.
While Christmas trees may have made their way into the public piazzas around Italy, the authentic Italian tradition of a presepio fills the heart of a private home. The presepio is a Nativity Scene, including Mary, Joseph, Jesus, a donkey, and an ox. The home displays can be intimate or grand but are generally made from wood, clay, or plaster. The churches and cathedrals across the country often bring the intimacy of a personal presepio to a grander scale, whether by featuring life-size figures or the intricate aesthetic of an artisan craftsman.
The source of the most intriguing presepi in Italy is Naples, where artists continue to handmake elaborate interpretations of the Nativity with entire streets devoted to the workshops. “Tourists can enjoy a magical Christmas atmosphere among the artisan workshops. You can see top artisans creating, exhibiting, and selling the miniature figures that make up the Nativity scene, masterpieces realized through the skills passed down from generation to generation," says Giulio.
The scent of cinnamon, the crisp winter air, the faint sounds of a choir in the distance all contribute to the essential charisma of Christmas in Italy, but the markets bring the traditional ambiance alive by displaying local delicacies, artisan crafts, and specific regional customs. From South Tyrol and the wooden advent cottages to Milan’s historic marketplace dating back to the 16th century, Florence’s wooden huts selling German and Italian delicacies to nativity scene makers in Naples, the Christmas Market is a quintessential way to celebrate the season in Italy.
While the streets may be washed with lights and decorations, the Christmas markets truly embody the festive spirit as people swirl through the lanes sampling decadent chocolates, sipping soothing drinks, or searching for the perfect holiday gift. “Almost every little village offers its own Christmas Market,” says Giulio, “The most popular are those of South Tyrol: Bolzano, Merano, Bressanone, Brunico, and Vipiteno.” Wherever you are in Italy, our Zicasso travel specialists can recommend the best Christmas markets for you to explore.
Tradition is not just found in the customary activities in Italy but also in the dishes people enjoy across the country. The cuisine overflows into feasts as restaurants, home cooks, and bakeries prepare for Christmas Eve, midnight Mass, and Christmas Day. Apart from the visions of holiday life, the experience of an Italian Christmas is not complete without delicious food. “Panettone represents Italian tradition and food culture and welcomes the Christmas season,” says Giulio. “Although it is a symbol of Milan’s baking tradition, different versions are now made throughout the country.”
The season becomes a vibrant and lavish celebration in which you can indulge in typical flavors of savory and sweet. Lunch can last all day with typical dishes like pasta in brodo and panettone. Each dish reveals how tradition brings the wonders of Christmas to life in an authentic way. “Of course, food is big,” says Mario. “Experiencing a proper Christmas Eve dinner shows seafood at its best, and a Christmas lunch focuses on meat and tortellini.”
Your Italy travel specialist can not only guide you to the best restaurants in a specific town or city to enjoy traditional food but can also help organize other ways for you to indulge in seasonal flavors. A food tour with a private guide can uncover the variety of flavors of an Italian Christmas, while a cooking class in a private kitchen can reveal exceptional homemade comforts and reveal long-held family culinary secrets.
Winter in Italy is a wonderland of joy and beauty. Whether skiing in the Alps or enjoying the warm Mediterranean light spreading across Puglia, you can find the perfect Christmas ambiance you prefer. “Visiting Italy in winter is fascinating, but visiting Italy during Christmas time is a romantic moment not to be missed. You will not find any place that better embodies the magic of Christmas,” says Giulio, a Zicasso Italy travel specialist.
Each city, town, and village creates its own unique atmosphere that represents the local traditions, embodies the regional flavor, and immerses the streets in the intoxicating spirit of the holidays. With so many different ways to celebrate Christmas, you can find variety and charm across the country.
Milan is a fantasyland of winter splendor with the streets and buildings decorated with vibrant light. Shops fill their windows with Christmas displays adding to the welcoming warmth of the season. As one of the world’s most fashionable cities, Christmas shopping takes center stage from large department stores to small boutiques while the delicate aroma of candied fruits and citrus fill bakeries as they stuff their shelves with panettone. One of the best ways to enjoy the city is by visiting the artisan crafts on display in the 15th-century Castello Sforzesco.
As the birthplaces of elaborate Nativity scenes, Naples exudes tradition around every corner of the historic city center. With charm and warmth, the city makes art and intricate artisan crafts palpable with the displays along San Gregorio Armeno as the aromas of cinnamon and candied citrus drift over the cobblestone streets. The city brims with culinary indulgence year-round but even more so on Christmas Eve during the “Feast of the Seven Fishes,” with each dish focusing on comforting seafood flavors from salt cod to fried calamari.
Christmas in Venice is dazzling as the spirit of the season emerges from winding alleys and canals glinting with light. Christmas market stalls overtake Campo Santo Stefano, nearly guiding locals to the atmospheric midnight Mass at Saint Mark’s Basilica when the ethereal sounds of traditional hymns join with the shimmer of candlelight. Murano glass takes on a particular glow in the winter light and ice skaters take to the rink in San Polo with turning the city into an ornament of the winter holidays.
Rome feels particularly religious and celebratory around Christmas with more than 100 Nativity scenes and festive Christmas markets. The Pope leads midnight Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica and may even bless the piazza. Seasonal sweets like struffoli turn the air fragrant with aromas of fried dough and honey, while the outdoor ice rink by Castel Sant’Angelo combines winter charm and the city’s captivating history. From the unique artisan gifts to the mixture of ancient architecture and draped in flickering lights, Rome feels majestic during the Christmas season.
As Christmas approaches, Florence embodies festivity and joy. The bakeries fill with sweet aromas as the windows display seasonal treats like sugar cookies, yule logs, and pandoro. The life-size Nativity scene at the Cathedral reflects the religious heart of the city while the lights drape across medieval and Renaissance architecture, bringing a cozy radiance to the streets. Whether visiting the sacred art, watching the Ponte Vecchio glow above the Arno River, or wandering the vibrant lanes of the Christmas market in Santa Croce, Florence has its own unique way of celebrating.
You can embrace the spiced flavor of mulled wine or bask in the enticing sounds of traditional bagpipes, visit elaborate nativity scenes or celebrate with midnight Mass at the Vatican. Visiting Italy during the Christmas season will immerse you in an experience that few visitors ever have to create lasting memories. “During Christmas season, every city and town in Italy has a warm and magical atmosphere,” says Giulio.
Italy is a land of medieval villages and ancient ruins, elaborate churches, and exceptional art. Our travel specialists can bring the fantasy of Christmas in Italy to life for you. As destination experts, they are uniquely positioned to guide your plans by focusing on how you wish to experience the holiday season. Their local connections, knowledge, and creativity can help them personalize your trip with a design that will make your Christmas in Italy your best trip yet.
For more ideas as you consider your holiday season, you can find inspiration with our Italy Travel Guide. If you are planning your Italy trip, you can speak with an Italy travel specialist by filling out a Trip Request or by calling our team at 1-888-265-9707.