Best places to spend Christmas in Italy

Best places to spend Christmas in Italy

Fancy swapping the UK for some alternative Xmas traditions over the festive period? Head to Italy for glittering gondolas, magical markets and enchanting processions. The age-old display of the nativity scene actually comes from Italy, so the holiday staples here aren’t too far from what you already know. Same, same but different. Here are some top picks for places to spend Christmas in Italy…buon natale! 


Pick the gorgeous coastal town of Sorrento in the Neapolitan Riviera for your Christmas break and explore the twisted lanes of the old town covered in pretty decorations. The churches create elaborate nativity displays, and there’s street entertainment in the town square every weekend from the end of November to the first week of January. Pose by the giant Christmas tree in Piazza Tasso, which plays a timed light and music show every so often or pay a visit to the powdery Piazza Lauro, which is decorated like a snow village. If you’re travelling with little ones in tow, take them to the Igloo Christmas Village in Villa Fiorentino where they can meet the big man himself. He’s known as Babbo Natale here. 


Christmas in Sicily is a traditional, rather than commercial, affair. Decorations go up on the 8th of December – the Day of the Immaculate Conception marks a National holiday and the start of the festivities for the Italians. From here on out, you’ll find plenty of festive markets and nativity scenes, and see processions through the towns. Head to the Madonie Mountains on Christmas Eve, commonly known as the night of the Luminari, and you’ll see bonfires lit up in all the small towns, signifying the tradition of ‘keeping Baby Jesus warm’. Pick the hillside town of Taormina on Sicily’s east coast as your base for a vibrant festive atmosphere and soak up stunning views of the snow-capped Mount Etna. Keep an eye out for the zampognari or bagpipe players– they come from the mountains to play you their folklore carols.  


Venice is magical at the best of times, but during Christmas, the city is decorated with thousands of lights, giving it a truly enchanting look. Build a city on water and the evening glow just gets better. Even the gondolas are given a festive fairy light makeover for the holiday season. Forget Santa’s sleigh, he takes to the water here. A costumed regatta means you might catch a glimpse of his Christmas suit racing across the canals. In the town, the main piazzas are full of Christmas markets where you can pick up handmade crafts and Murano glass gifts, while listening to the concerts going on in the local churches. In the nearby Murano suburb of Venice – famous for making the finest glass in the world – you can also catch the largest glass-blown Christmas tree, which is 3 metres wide and 8.5 metres high. 


Get your sightseeing fix in Florence over Christmas, as the famous galleries and acclaimed museums are much quieter. The Uffizi and Accademia are even open on Christmas Eve and Boxing Day so you can unwrap Michelangelo’s David and The Birth of Venus. To really kick off Christmas Eve, head to the Duomo for midnight mass. Tradition is slightly tweaked here, setting up the giant Christmas tree in the Piazza del Duomo on the 7th December, rather than the 8th. Make the most of this early start and catch the evening’s concerts and entertainment as part of a public lighting ceremony. You also can’t miss the set up in front of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, made with local terracotta. 

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Authors: Lily Owen and Selina Akhtar

Last updated: 04/07/2023