Italy may not be at the top of your European Christmas vacation list, but it’s an incredible and unlikely destination that offers culture, amazing food and wine, a huge Christmas tree, as well as unique holiday traditions.
If you’re worried about visiting Italy in the winter, be sure to check out my guide to traveling in Italy in December.
You may not really need to hear any reasons as to why Christmas in Italy is a must, but I thought I’d round up my favorites in case you needed a push to book that Holiday vacation!
1. Christmas Markets in Italy are Amazing
Is there anything more magical than a Christmas market in the crisp winter air? The only thing that could make it better is being in Italy. At Italy Christmas markets, you can really see local delicacies, artisan crafts, and regional customs.
Italy is so large and diverse that you can really experience many different cultures in one trip. In the Tyrol region in the north, you’ll see wooden advent cottages. In Milan, you can explore the historic 16th-century marketplace. In Naples, you’ll witness live nativity scenes. In Florence, you’ll find wood huts selling crafts and food. You can try chocolates, pastries, meats, wine, and more. There’s something for everyone.
2. Christmas Decorations in Italy are Beautiful
During winter, the big cities and small villages in Italy transform into a winter wonderland. Each location has its own unique traditions and atmosphere. You’ll find lights, candles, garlands, and more adorning the streets in Italy.
Some of my favorite Christmas decorations in Italy are in Milan and Venice.
3. Christmas in Italy is Cheaper
Christmas in Italy is definitely not peak season for most regions, so it can be a good time to go to avoid crowds and high prices. If you plan your flights right, you can usually find affordable ones far enough in advance.
4. Italy Has Great Skiing
Italy has some great snow during the Christmas season, especially in the north, and has some fantastic ski resorts. It’s surprisingly much less expensive to ski in Italy than it is in the US. You just have to pack your ski gear or rent it when you get here.
5. Italy Has Cold and Warm Weather in the Winter
The great thing about Italy being such a geographically diverse country is that you can really pick your weather based on your preferences.
If you’re looking for a classic snowy cabin experience for Christmas, consider basing yourself in the Dolomites Mountains. You’ll have plenty of snow, skiing, and cozying up by the fire!
If you’d rather escape the cold and enjoy a more tropical Christmas, somewhere like Sicily or the Amalfi Coast, those in Southern Italy will be a warmer choice.
6. Christmas Food in Italy is Amazing
The food in Italy is already divine. But in Italy at Christmas is even better and so much fun because it revolves around fun Italian Christmas traditions. These are some favorite Christmas food in Italy options:
- Feast of the Seven Fishes, Christmas Eve Dinner in Italy: This is a dish that is served on Christmas Eve where seafood is served such as swordfish, tuna, salmon, octopus, calamari, clams, and the famous Italian salted cod, baccalà. This dinner can include other non-seafood dishes, as long as there is no meat in any of them.
- Natale Lunch: Christmas lunch is served on Christmas, as the name suggests. Unlike the Feast of the Seven Fishes, Christmas lunch is all about the meat. The meal typically includes an antipasto spread, the first course, and a massive spread of meat for the main course. The specific meals will vary depending on what region of Italy you are in.
- Santo Stefano Leftovers: On December 26, Italians celebrate Santo Stefano by eating their leftovers like Insalata russa, a salad made with leftovers from the Feast of the Seven Fishes or passatelli in brodo made from chicken leftovers, or supplì and arancini made from leftover risotto. It’s always creative, fun, and tasty.
- Pannetone: Panettone is a towering round of sweet bread speckled with raisins, citrus, and almonds with a tasty, buttery texture that is popular all over Italy during the Christmas holidays. You’ll find it in grocery stores, restaurants, and bakeries.
7. Italian Christmas Traditions are So Fun
How is Christmas day celebrated in Italy? Italy is full of traditions and they’re even more fun at Christmas. Here are some of our favorite Christmas in Italy traditions:
- La Befana and the Italian Santa Claus, Babbo Natale: You’ve probably heard of Father Christmas and you definitely know Santa Claus, but do you know Babbo Natale? Directly translated, it means Father Christmas.
While Santa brings presents on Christmas Eve, the more traditional way to receive presents in Italy is from La Befana, a woman with a crooked nose on a broomstick, but don’t worry, she’s a good witch. This Christmas witch in Italy brings children presents and sweets and the naughty ones get coal. She drinks wine when she comes to visit and instead of coming on Christmas Eve, she comes on January 6 for Epiphany. It’s a classic Christmas tradition in Italy.
- The Nativity Scene, Presepi: Christmas time in Italy wouldn’t be complete without the Nativity Scene, or Presepi. These are usually found in homes, churches, and some piazzas alongside Christmas trees as well.
- The Bagpipe-playing Shepherds, Zampognari: Zampograni, the tradition of bagpipe-playing shepherds, dates back to ancient Rome and continues today across remote villages. The Zampograni dress as traditional shepherds.
- Christmas Eve Midnight Mass at the Vatican: If you’re religious, or you just want to experience a special Christmas in Italy, you can attend Christmas Eve Midnight Mass at the Vatican with the Pope.
Christmas in Italy FAQ
During Christmas, it’s an Italian tradition to have a feast. Families host a feast of food from lunch until the day’s end. You’ll be able to taste some of their traditional dishes such as past, panettone, and more!
The Christmas markets in Dolomites, the Holiday lights in Venice and Florence, and going to religious festivals are some of the most anticipated places to go to during the Christmas season.