10 Enchanting Christmas Markets in Italy
by Darya Boronilo
If you’re looking for a truly festive Christmas experience, there’s no better place to be than Italy. Natale in Italian starts its festivities with markets selling traditional Christmas foods and gifts appearing in towns and cities across the country. And local Christmas markets are some of the most attractive in Europe! They are a mix of Mediterranean and German traditions. They sell typical New Year’s treats and wine, gifts and souvenirs, festive decorations, and handicrafts from local artisans. Ready to discover the best of them? Here are our top suggestions for the most magical winter Fairy Tale experience.
1. Bolzano: Alpine-Mediterranean Christmas (South Tyrol)
If you want to see the largest Christmas market in all of South Tyrol, head to Bolzano. It’s arranged in the heart of the old town, as the gorgeous Walterplatz Square is flooded with lights.
In Bolzano, a unique combination of entrenched traditional local values and a relaxed Mediterranean way of life create an atmosphere of magic. In addition, it’s an excellent destination for families. Children will enjoy a fascinating program at the Christmas market open on Münsterplatz with an abundance of gifts and treats. At the same time, adults can relax and drink a glass of mulled wine in the courtyard of the mysterious Palais Campofranco. Don’t forget to attend the numerous concerts and performances at the Piazza Walter. And be sure to try the traditional Christmas gingerbread Zelten, deliciously smelling of cinnamon and cloves.
2. Bressanone: History and Art (South Tyrol)
The Christmas market in Bressanone takes place on the magnificent Domplatz square, next to the famous cathedral, St. Michael’s Church. If you want to please friends and family with unusual gifts, here you will find many interesting items. Firstly, take a look at handmade Christmas decorations and wooden carvings sold in traditional wooden houses. Inhale the light sweet fragrance as you get closer to natural wax candles and handmade soaps, feel the rough surface of the fir cones as you run your hand over the cute Christmas wreath, and wrap yourself in a cozy hand-knitted scarf you just bought to feel warmer.
Secondly, if you are travelling with your family, to the delight of young visitors is a historic steam carousel. Watch your children carelessly circle on fairy horses. Get a cup of chocolate, and enjoy the moment. Let the familiar creamy taste you feel in your mouth take you back to your own childhood days. Finally, take a fascinating ride in an elegant horse-drawn carriage through the historic winter center of Bressanone. Flying at a speed along snowy roads, feel how the prickly wind burns your face as you wrap yourself in huge scarves and can’t stop laughing, for its so much fun!
After that, it’s time to stop, relax and slowly soak in an exceptionally intimate atmosphere at a small piazza drinking a cup of vin brulé to warm up. It’s so lovely to feel a hot cup in your hands slowly warming your palms as you walk to the Hofburg, the impressive former residence of the prince-bishops of Bressanone. Look at the Diocesan Museum with a rich collection of Christmas crèches and treasures.
3. Arco: Christmas Fairy Tale (Lake Garda, Veneto)
The pre-Christmas period in Arco is a special time. It’s full of festive lights, bright flowers, New Year’s treats, mulled wine, and Christmas sweets. There are four dozen Christmas stalls located throughout the center of Arco. You can buy Christmas decorations, gifts for the holiday, various artistic products, and local delicacies. Don’t forget to attend the evening activities which make the Christmas market in Arco even more attractive. Here you will find art workshops, watch the parade with Santa Claus and his reindeer, and ride one of the colorful little trains running through the streets of Arco. For children it will become an unforgettable adventure. Just imagine the excitement in their eyes when they see a huge Santa. He drops down to their level and holds out a bag of gifts. And as they hug him by the neck, their face buried in his thick white beard they believe – magic exists!
In other words, spending a couple of days in Arco during this festive period feels like a revived Christmas Fairy Tale.
4. Levico Terme: Winter Magic Land (Trentino Alto Adige)
In the fabulous Habsburg Park in Levico, many magnificent Christmas decorations are displayed yearly. Here, the Austrian traditions come to life. They remind of the old days when the Habsburgs chose Levico as their summer residence. When everything around is covered with snow, this park is incredibly stunning. Among the enormous trees throughout its territory, about three dozen bright fair kiosks are installed. It makes the garden look like a winter magic land. Breathe in the incomparable Christmas smell of fresh pine needles, mixed with the smell of oranges, ginger, and fresh bakery wafting from the fair shops.
Here you can buy local handicrafts, Christmas decorations, gifts for the holiday, and local products, such as honey, sausages “luganega,” and ham from wild boar meat. In addition to the Christmas market, you will find concerts, music, and performances of folk ensembles. If you are traveling with children, check out the Magic City for the youngest visitors. Don’t miss the exhibition with more than a hundred Christmas nativity scenes presented. But above all, Levico Terme is one of the most famous spa towns in the world, so if you’ve been long waiting for a relaxation opportunity in Italy, this is your time! Take a relaxing dip in the warm waters of the thermal springs as you feel energized and rejuvenated for a successful start to the new year.
5. Aosta: A Colorful Alpine Village (Valle D’Aosta)
The Green Christmas Market, located in the heart of Aosta, is the most famous in the Aosta Valley. A colorful alpine village, drowning in the sounds of music and lights, is recreated to host the event. Take a stroll among its’ paths, squares, bridges, wooden houses, and a fir forest. Visitors searching for suitable gifts can stroll through the “streets” of the village or simply admire the wooden objects, ceramics, handmade soap, candles, and felt accessories presented by the local craftsmen. Perhaps, by a few ornaments at the fair, you can reminisce upon happy memories for years to come. Every year, decorating the Christmas tree at home and hanging ornaments from your trip, you will remember those Italian stories and share them with your family and friends.
6. Naples: The Birthplace of Nativity Scene (Campania)
Naples celebrates Christmas with a lot of gusto. The city sparks with colorful lights, street musicians play concerts, and massive parades take place in the “city of the sun.” The tradition of the Christmas crib originated in Naples, and it remains an important part of the city’s holiday celebrations. Walk down the street of San Gregorio Armeno with seasonal decorations stands, the ancient Neapolitan bakeries, and the artisans’ small shops. Marvel at small Christmas figures produced by nativity makers who pass their skills through generations. Visitors from all over the world come to see the intricately designed cribs. Many believe that they bring good luck. And if you are a proud foodie, December is the best time to taste typical Christmas treats. Get some stuffoli, susamelli, roccoco, and the list goes on. Take time for cozy family get-togethers at a small local cafe. Spend happy moments with your kids as they fill their mouths with those sweets. They smell of spices and chocolates, squeak with delight and listen to the Christmas stories behind the Neapolitan crib art.
7. Milan: Winter Wonderland (Lombardy)
Milan is the must-see place during Christmas, ideal for a glamorous experience and dreamy shopping. Meet friends at Galleria Vittorio Emanuele and marvel at the Swarovsky Tree under its dome, which boasts over 35 000 lights. Then head to the Garden of Indro Montanelli, where the festive events for adults and children occur.
Don’t miss the famous yearly fair “Oh Bej Oh Bej.” This is the oldest of Milan’s Christmas markets, where you can buy local delicacies, great Italian wines, and handmade gifts. Welcome to the magic world where you can playfully touch the sparkling fluffy garlands, listen to the small bells ringing, admire the hand-painted nutcrackers, and feel how your fingers stick together as you hold an armful of lollipops. Finish your day attending a Christmas concert at Teatro La Scala, Italy’s most famous opera house.
8. Bologna: Authentic Christmas Scents
Attend the ancient fair Santa Lucia, the most beloved Christmas market in Bologna. It takes place under the marble portico of the church of Santa Maria dei Servi. The event dates back to the 16th century and is a part of the city’s historical heritage. Parade through the typical tiny houses that sell numerous gifts, from souvenirs and clothing to sweets. Enjoy the authentic atmosphere as you get surrounded by the fresh scent of nougat, fascinated by handcrafted Christmas tree decorations. After you check the market’s stands, take a few moments to enter the Basilica. It’s one of the most beautiful churches in Bologna. The church hosts the beautiful organ and great artworks of Bolognese school artists.
9. Venice: More Magical Than Ever (Veneto)
The festive atmosphere makes Venice look more magical than ever as the city gets dressed up in golden lights. In Venice, Christmas markets are some of the busiest in Italy. They are held in various squares called “campo”: Campo San Bartolomeo, Campo San Salvador, Campo San Luca, Campo Manin, Strada Nuova. Stroll through the markets to find unique artistic souvenirs and plenty of places to grab a bite, including traditional Venetian Cicchetti.
In addition, a big Christmas market takes place on the outskirts of Venice. In Mestre an impressive ice rink is flooded in Piazza Ferretto. Have fun skating with your friends, then head to a nearby bar for the aperitivo. Don’t miss numerous concerts with joyful songs at various churches and piazzas throughout December. Stop for a break and listen to the church bells ringing on Christmas from the St. Mark’s Square bell tower. Finally, sit at the sunny terrace, order a glass of Prosecco. Simply take your time to appreciate this genuinely magical season as you create memories that will last for a lifetime.
10. Vipiteno: Living Traditions (South Tyrol)
In Vipiteno, the northernmost and highest-located city of South Tyrol, there is a fascinating Christmas market. Its’ cozy festive atmosphere, which can be found only in the heart of the Alps. In the pre-Christmas period, head to the light-drenched medieval tower of the Twelve “Zwelferturm” where you can see an exhibition of Christmas nativity scenes. The tower rises majestically on the picturesque Stadplatz square. At its foot, in wooden Christmas stalls, there is a brisk trade in handicrafts that local artisans created.
In addition, from the famous pedestrian shopping street Vipiteno, you can take the cable car and reach the top of Rosskopf Mountain in just a few minutes. Here you will find a variety of trails and the longest toboggan route in Italy, with night lighting and guaranteed snow cover. This Christmas ride will be unforgettable! Imagine as you are rushing through fluffy snowdrifts. Your eyes are blinded by the bright sun, and your face is covered with snow; your long scarf flatters in the wind, leaving you laughing happily with your family and new friends.
Don’t Miss This Magical Season
Christmas in Italy is a fantastic period of magic, beauty, and expectation of a miracle. Italians decorate city streets, churches, and squares with Christmas trees, festive lights, and famous nativity scenes. All over the country, there are fairy-tale Christmas markets, children are waiting for gifts from Babbo Natale or the kind witch Befana, and a feeling of the approaching holiday in the air. Don’t miss an opportunity to experience Italy during this magical season. Contact us to build your tailor-made Italian Christmas itinerary.