Everyone will tell you that Christmas in Italy is a magical time, and I would not hesitate to agree. Yuletide visitors get to enjoy the twinkling lights and tasteful city decorations that enhance the already charming historic centres.
Italians extend their celebrations through the Feast of Epiphany (also known as Twelfth Night), so those visitors who take a post-Christmas break can find themselves immersed in the festive spirit up to 6 January. Epiphany marks the arrival of the Three Kings who brought gifts to the infant Jesus, and the Italians celebrate it through the character of La Befana who brings present to the children. This is an unfamiliar tradition for most visitors to Italy, and it’s a great opportunity for a new cultural experience.
If you’re considering a Christmas stay here, we have highlighted three destinations that are particularly atmospheric at this time of year.
One would expect the Pope’s city to put on an impressive show at Christmas, and Rome certainly meets and exceeds this expectation. Our walking tours of Rome that are held after the sun goes down offer a particularly magical way to see the streets lit up with lights and decorations. The monuments are illuminated with festive drama, and the piazze sparkle. Our guides will lead you to the best and most impressive illuminations, both in the main thoroughfares and off the beaten path.
It’s also worth popping into the myriad churches that grace almost every street in the city. Each will have set up its own Nativity Scene, often with almost life-size models. We can show you some of the most charming when you join us for one of our Rome tours.
And of course you’ll probably want to attend the Christmas Market in Piazza Navona. The food stalls, ornaments for sale and general atmosphere of festivity make this a magnet for multiple visits.
The Neapolitan celebrations for the Christmas period are legendary even among Italians. The native passion of the local population culminates in the flamboyant Nativity Crib displays, which the residents of Naples build with exuberant and extravagant dedication.
Any of our tours of the city at this time of year will take you down Via San Gregorio Armeno, which is lined with the shops and workshops of the Nativity Scene makers. They sculpt and sell figurines of the various biblical characters, as well as the more ‘unique’ protagonists such as the miniatures of politicians, football stars, pizzeria chefs and exotic animals who all get cameo appearances in these extraordinary displays. This street has been dedicated to the craft of the Nativity Scene since the 1300s.
If you really get into this, I strongly recommend a visit to the National Museum of San Martino on the Vomero Hill. It houses a famous collection of Neapolitan Nativity Scenes, including the world’s largest, the Presepe Cuciniello, with its 162 people, 80 animals, angels and 450 miniature objects.
At any time of year, but particularly during the festive period, Naples is a city to see on foot. Angelo, our expert guide who leads the Bespoke Naples Walking Tour, will navigate a route with you through the vibrant streets with their enchanting Christmas decorations.
Florence is also one of my favourite Italian cities for a special Christmas experience. Whether you’re attending midnight Mass in the Duomo or browsing the renowned Christmas markets, you’ll witness how the Florentines approach the festive season with the same elegance and panache that they bestow on anything decorative. It’s hard to surpass the atmosphere of the candlelit Masses that are held against the backdrop of the heavenly Renaissance architecture and accompanied by celestial music.
We hold an evening tour of the city, which is particularly magical during the Christmas season. Your guide will lead you down the illuminated cobblestone streets and take you to those picturesque views that are even more spectacular when lit for the Yuletide celebrations.
If you want to explore the city by day with us, one of our local guides has put together a special off season tour that will show you the main outdoor sights and monuments. After you’ve warmed your hands on the Florentine hot chocolates served at the end of the tour, your guide will leave you at the Via Tornabuoni to do your holiday shopping in style.
Christmas Season Visits
The Christmas season really is a great time to enjoy a city break to an Italian city. It’s a slightly quieter period than the spring and summer seasons, so you have fewer crowds with which to contend.
However, in my mind the real attraction is the opportunity to experience the absolutely unique character of the Italian celebrations. From the beginning of December through to 6 January, the cities are a treasure trove of sparkling lights, cultural traditions and delicious gastronomical delicacies.