Enjoy winter wonderlands and yuletide joy at these Christmas markets across Italy.
Italy in winter is pure magic. Exploring is less strenuous without stifling summer temperatures and the high-season hordes and, from north to south, you can experience everything from soaking in hot springs to winter comfort food to skiing in the alps. And of course, there is Christmas. In Italy, ‘Natale’ is about family, food, a whole lot of nativity scenes and, of course, the Christmas markets. Seasonal magic is sprinkled up and down the boot as festive celebrations take place everywhere from big cities to tiny villages. With local artisans showing off their creative wares, a plethora of activities and events for both big and small, and a seemingly inexhaustible supply of roasted chestnuts and mulled wine, Italy’s winter markets are without a doubt the best place to immerse yourself in the spirit of Christmas. Here are some of the most popular.
WHERE: Alto Adige
The Alpine town of Merano gets its Christmas groove on from the end of November through to early January when wooden huts set up along the Passirio river to host visiting craftsmen and workshops. The streets of twinkling lights, cozy cottages, and decorated trees reach their peak in Piazza della Rena where you will find a traditional Christmas village complete with ice-skating, delicious South Tyrolean cuisine, life-size nativity scenes and entertainment for all ages. For the best way to explore, hop in a horse-drawn carriage and admire the festive scene with its stunning snowy backdrop.
Where to Stay: Miramonti Boutique Hotel
WHERE: Alto Adige
As one of the largest and most evocative markets in all Italy, it is no surprise that Trento’s Yuletide celebration has earned the northern city the nickname of ‘The Christmas Town’. Spanning two main squares; Piazza Fiera and Piazza Cesare Battisti, this winter wonderland takes place from late November and is overflowing with stands selling crafts, food, and decorations, making it a great place to pick up some unique gifts while sampling the tasty specialties of the Alto-Adigo region. The Trento market also prides itself on its reduced environmental impact making it one of the most sustainable in Italy.
Where to Stay: Lefay Resort and Spa Dolomiti
For a touch of holiday magic at any time of the year take a trip to Naples where the art of the Presepi (nativity scenes) is so important that, in a small part of town, it is always Christmas. The narrow street of Via San Gregorio Armeno is home to Napoli’s nativity craftsmen who make and sell figurines and accessories for the elaborate cribs found in every Italian home over the festive season. From traditional bible figures to those of international celebrities and politicians, you won’t resist taking home your own little slice of Neapolitan Christmas.
Where to Stay: Renaissance Naples Hotel Mediterraneo
Add a little Baroque beauty to your Christmas celebrations and head to Rome’s annual market in Piazza Navona, in the heart of the historic center. For more than a century, the elegant square has hosted the capital’s festive frolics with games, musicians, puppet shows, artisans and a whole lot of happy holiday vibes, especially after nightfall when the carnival atmosphere reaches its peak. The event starts on 8 December, the religious feast day of the Immaculate Conception and concludes on Epiphany when Italy’s folkloristic witch, La Befana, arrives by broomstick to distribute candy to well-behaved children and coal (made from sugar) to those who have been naughty.
Where to Stay: Corso 281 Luxury Suites
For full-on Italian Christmas tradition head to Milan for its “Oh Bej! Oh Bej” (Oh Beautiful! Oh Beautiful!) festival, which every year on the first weekend of December straddles the feast day of St. Ambrose, the city’s patron saint. The celebration is thought to date back to 1510 when an envoy of the pope traveled to Milan bringing gifts for the children of the city to earn favor with the locals. Positioned around the imposing Castello Sforzesco, there are more than 350 stalls to explore with vendors peddling everything from toys and candy to books and handicrafts.
Where to Stay: Baglioni Hotel Carlton
Verona’s picturesque ‘Christkindlmarkt’ is an annual collaboration with the Christmas market of Nuremberg and the result is the perfect blend of both German and Italian folklore and festivities. Rustic wooden huts are assembled in the city’s pretty central square, Piazza dei Signori, which is adorned with shimmering fairy lights and decorated trees to create a fairytale atmosphere. Bring your appetite to devour the amazing Bavarian food and keep warm with a cup of Glühwein as you peruse the stalls selling a tempting array of objects from both Italy and further afield.
Where to Stay: Due Torri Hotel
Every year from mid-September the small Lazio town of Vetralla in the province of Viterbo, hosts its renowned Christmas Kingdom: a sprawling 3500sqm temple dedicated to seasonal merriment. If it’s Christmas-related you will find it here, with everything from Santa’s House to a full-on Victorian Village complete with a food court and ice rink, a giant shop selling all the decorations you could ever need, and even a special auditorium for shows and entertainment. And if it rains? No worry, the whole thing takes place either inside or under a giant portico to protect against the elements.
Where to Stay: Hotel Salus Terme
WHERE: Alto Adige
Situated just 10km from the Swiss border, the tiny town of Glorenza’s gorgeous medieval porticos, alleyways and piazzas are infused with the aroma of cinnamon during this Advent festival which sees 40 producers and artisans from Italy, Germany, Austria, and Switzerland along with visitors from all over the world convene to celebrate the arrival of Christmas. The result is an enchanting 3-day event usually on the first weekend of December, complete with traditional sweets and treats, old-style handmade gifts including wooden toys, ornaments and candles, and performances of songs and concerts, all framed by the stunning mountain skyline.
Where to Stay: QC Terme Bagni di Bormio
WHERE: Alto Adige
As well as being the largest Christmas market in Italy, Bolzano is also one of the oldest and each year is bedecked in lights and garlands from the end of November through to early January. One of the best-loved market destinations, the city is completely enveloped Christmas cheer, offering almost limitless activities for both children and adults. Kids will marvel at the giant Christmas tree, puppet shows, carousel, and miniature train while older visitors can browse over 80 stalls, including a special area where craftsmen demonstrate their skills while munching on comforting apple fritters and locally baked strudel.
Where to Stay: Castel Hörtenberg
There are several Christmas markets in Florence but the Yule season truly gets going when the established Weihnachtsmarkt of Heidelberg transfers to Piazza Santa Croce for a month at the end of November. Brightly colored stalls set up in one of Florence’s most lovely squares bringing with them gifts and decorations, hearty German cuisine, rivers of beer and a good dose of high festive spirits. Don’t miss the chance to taste the authentic würstel with sauerkraut, Heidelberg lebkuchen, warming gingerbread, and hot, spiced wine as you pick up some last-minute stocking-fillers.
Where to Stay: Hotel Savoy
WHERE: Emilia Romagna
The annual Fiera di Santa Lucia has been a fixed point in Bologna’s calendar for the past four centuries and, to this day, the stands which annually line the portico of Santa Maria dei Servi on the Strada Maggiore from about mid-November are the place to come for one-off presents, winter sweets and quality nativity statues which have been painstakingly handmade. Originally conceived as the celebration of St Lucy, one of the patron saints of the city, over the years the distinctly religious-themed market has expanded to encompass around 40 stands selling a wide range of Christmas paraphernalia.
Where to Stay: Grand Hotel Majestic Già Baglioni
WHERE: Valle d’Aosta
The archaeological remains of Aosta’s ancient Roman theatre and the craggy peaks of the Italian Alps provide an awe-inspiring backdrop to Aosta’s annual winter festival, the Marché Vert Noël. From late November to early January, more than 40 quaint wooden chalets set up shop in the center of town to promote the excellence of the Valle d’Aosta region with locally produced ceramics, hand-carved wooden objects, toys, textiles, antiques, clothing, and gastronomy, as well as the requisite Christmas decorations. In addition, there is a full program of entertainment and concerts to spread the magic of Christmas to visitors from near and far.
Where to Stay: Hotel Mont Blanc