Have yourself a merry little Christmas like a local in Italy! Here is what to do and where to go for a special holiday season.
Looking for some Christmas inspiration? Check out our list of seven things to do during the festive season. Admire the artist's lights, explore snow-covered villages that even Santa Claus would feel at home in, get some ideas for a weekend away, and don't forget to try the festive menu to celebrate the holidays like a local in Italy.
Check out our hints and start planning your Italian Christmas adventure today!
What to do at Christmas like a local in Italy
Christmas is a time of joy and cheer, and what better way to celebrate it than by absorbing the local culture of Italy? The festive season embodies the perfect chance to surrender to some well-deserved time off, whether just a quick break or a longer trip in the magic of the holidays.
To help you make the most of your Christmas in Italy, we've compiled a list of suggestions to get you in the festive mood.
Have a look at our tips for spending Christmas like a true local in Italy, embrace the spirit of the season, and book an experience that's sure to make the next vacanza di Natale one to remember!
7. Strolling under the Christmas lights
As December rolls around, streets around the world are transformed into a glittering wonderland, with white and coloured lights shining the way and Mariah Carey's voice as canonical music background.
In Italy, the festive season is no exception, with traditional Christmas decorations and plenty of fun and informal events to enjoy.
From the record-breaking Gubbio, which illuminates the world's largest Christmas tree, to Gaeta's stunning light displays and the artistic illuminations of Salerno and Turin. In short, Christmas lights in Italy are serious business.
Rome is one of the best places to experience the magic of the Italian winter. There are numerous cultural initiatives taking place throughout the city that are worth exploring.
For an extensive guide on how to make the most of Christmas in the città eterna, take a look at our detailed article!Find more about Visit Rome Pass❯
6. Shopping at Christmas markets
With sparkling lights, the rich aroma of hot chocolate wafting through the air, and the sound of festive music filling your ears, visiting a Christmas market is sure to get you into the holiday spirit.
You'll find handicrafts of all kinds on display, from quirky trinkets to exquisite gems on the most unlikely of stalls - perfect for finding that special gift for that aunt you only see once a year. No matter where you are in the world, visiting a Christmas market is a must-do during the holiday season.
Italy boasts some precious spots to see, too. From the famous stands arranged in Merano, complete with the picturesque perfect winter postcard backdrop, to the sea-view markets in Sicily, there are plenty of options to explore.
Not sure which to visit? We've carefully curated a list of the most beautiful and magical Christmas markets to see, region by region, in preparation for the 'most wonderful time of the year'.
5. Looking for presepi
Presepe, the representation of the nativity scene, is a symbol of the Italian Christmas. More than just a spiritual and religious emblem, it has become a cultural element that transcends boundaries.
Nativity-scene figurines, the pastori, are crafted with a fusion of sacred and profane elements, and it's fascinating to see how celebrities, kitsch caricatures, and biblical characters coexist in the shop windows of Neapolitan workshops.
The origins can be traced back to the 13th century in the small village of Greccio, in the Lazio region. Since then, it has evolved into a grand show with costumed figures or sets with statues and complex scenographies.
Naples has taken this art to another level, with the peculiar craftsmanship becoming a source of pride for the historic centre.
However, many other cities and towns across Italy have their own ways of paying homage to this centuries-old tradition. For instance, Manarola, a small Ligurian village, has the world's largest presepe, with over 250 luminous figures arranged on the slopes of the Tre Croci hill.Find more about Naples Pass❯
4. Visiting a borgo storico
San Gimignano is the right place to find everything you need to dive into the festivities - lots of free events, music in the streets, markets, exhibitions, gastronomic tastings, tours and entertainment for the little ones. All packed and served in the beautiful UNESCO World Heritage-listed historic centre.
These various initiatives are part of Accade d'Inverno a San Gimignano, which offers an exciting calendar of events every year until February.
Under the shadow of the medieval towers soaring among the Sienese hills, the atmosphere is truly mesmerising. Cobbled alleys, squares adorned with twinkling lights, and period palazzi create a festive picture where history mixes with the magic of Christmas.
The encounter with local tradition is made by savouring typical dishes with the scent of saffron DOP while sipping a glass of Vernaccia, the historic wine produced in town.
3. Spending the holidays by the lake
Indulge in a picturesque winter getaway at the tranquil shores of Lake Garda. For adventure enthusiasts, the nearby Monte Baldo offers various outdoor opportunities for trekking, snowshoeing, and nordic walking.
Foodies can relish in the gastronomic splendour of the Villaggio del Gusto, the annual event held in Riva del Garda, showcasing the best local food and wine production. Children can also revel in the festive spirit with a visit to Santa Clause's village arranged in the ancient castle overlooking the lake, the splendid Rocca di Riva.
The Christmas markets are truly enchanting and add to the already lovely charm of the place. Canale di Tenno's market is a must-visit, especially due to its location among the ancient palazzi of the medieval village. Another worth visiting is Rango nel Bleggio, where the stalls are set up among old farmhouses, stables, and wine cellars.
2. Celebrating the Feast of San Nicola in Bari
Saint Nicholas is both a religious figure and a pop icon among the people of Bari. They celebrate their city's symbol twice a year with great enthusiasm.
On May 8th, curious and faithful locals gather to watch the sacred rites and historical processions on the big patron saint's day. The festive atmosphere is splendid, with illuminated displays decorating the alleys, street vendors offering all kinds of goods, street food, and games for children.
A second round of celebrations takes place on December 6th, marking the beginning of the Apulian Christmas season. The day starts early in the morning with the dawn mass inside the Basilica. Immediately after the service, everyone takes to the streets of Bari Vecchia for a collective breakfast with hot chocolate and polenta fritters, a shared rite of communion and joy that unites the community in a warm and welcoming atmosphere.
1. Dining all together
Sharing a meal is a splendid way to embark on a journey of flavours through the unique and delicious specialities of Italian cuisine.
However, sometimes things can get a bit complex, especially when different generations work together in the kitchen. And when you have a lot of guests to feed, the task can become even more challenging. Each family has its own unique set of rituals and traditions, which can vary in strictness.
Some dishes seem like they just can't be missed on festive tables: fish for Christmas Eve, broth or sumptuous baked pasta on Christmas Day, lentils and cotechino on New Year's Eve.
And let's not forget about desserts! Panettone, pandoro, cantucci, and roccocò are just a few of the sweet treats that have become popular across Italy, while many other regional delicacies remain lesser-known.
In Liguria, it's common to prepare pandolce on December 24th and enjoy it on the following day. Meanwhile, in Bologna, the perfect end to a hearty meal of tortellini and boiled meats is the panone, a dessert made with raisins, dried fruit, and chocolate. Sweet macaroni with cocoa and cinnamon are a staple in Umbria, while struffoli and mostaccioli are a must-try in Campania.
Each dish tells a unique story about the local history and culture, and every family has its own take on these traditional menus.