If you have yet to experience Christmas in Europe, you are missing out on one of the most beautiful and festive seasons on Earth. Italy, in particular, decks out every shop and street. The narrow walkways are lit up by glowing lights strung from the rooftops, each street designated with its own theme. The shops fill their windows with gifts, treats and decorations that fill you with warmth and spirit as you move through the bustling crowds.
And then there are the annual Christmas markets.
These markets remain one of my favorite experiences in Italy and if you are lucky enough to be in Italy for the holiday season, it is one thing you would regret skipping. Here are six Christmas Markets worth a visit.
Christkindlmarkt – Bolzano
This market is one of the most famous and frequented in the Northern region of Italy. Packed with 80 stalls, natives and tourist alike can roam through picking out seasonal gifts like glass ornaments, carved wooden toys, hand-knit hats, gingerbread and painted decorations. Once you’ve tired your feet with exploring, grab a warm cup of mulled wine and something sweet to eat while taking a horse-drawn carriage ride around the town.
Located: Piazza Walther
Open: November 26 – December 23
Mercato Tedesco di Natale - Florence
Hosting only 40 stalls, this is one of the smaller markets and yet remains my favorite. As the Italian name implies, this authentic German Christmas Market is close to the city center and easy to find. However, it’s far enough removed to feel as warm and intimate as Christmas Eve. The stalls are filled with Nativity figurines, hand-made toys for kids and beautifully created candles (every year my mom displays the one I bought for her here!). The smells of food will send you straight to heaven and whether you choose a crepe or a pretzel or simply ride the carousel with a cup of mulled wine – there are no wrong choices at this market. Though I do recommend the crepes!
Located: Piazza Santa Croce
Open: November 30 – December 17
Piazza Navona – Rome
Would you expect anything less than spectacular from Rome? This piazza holds Rome’s largest and most traditional Christmas market. While the food and souvenirs certainly do add their allure to this spot, it is truly the events held that make it something extraordinary. There is a life-size nativity scene and kids can meet Babbo Natale (Father Christmas)!
The last piece comes on January 6th when Befana (a witch and the Italian version of Santa) roams the streets and hands out presents to visiting children. With so much to see and do, this may be a market you find yourself making multiple trips to.
Located: Piazza Navona
Open: November 26 – January 6
The Arena – Verona
This is a market that I wish I had known about when in Italy. If the story of Romeo and Juliet doesn’t pull you to Verona, this annual holiday market should. Verona holds a Nativity Scene Exhibition with over 400 different scenes to look upon! This is Italy’s largest display of nativities from all across the world. Once you’ve perused the pieces to your liking, just follow the arch of the star to where there are 300 vendors ready to show you their wares.
Be sure to pick up some pandoro (a sweet Christmas bread) or nadalin (star cookies). Stocked with food, gifts and even a carousel – the market in Verona is one of the most beautiful and fun to attend!
Located: Piazza Bra
Open: December 4 – January 23
Oh Bej, Oh Bej – Milan
Milan’s most popular fair is dedicated to Saint Ambrogio, the patron saint of Milan. December 7th is a day dedicated to him; this means that the people of Milan have more than one reason to ring in a great season. The festival called Oh Bej, Oh Bej is a fun, friendly and exciting celebration to their saint outside of the Castello Sforzesco. Here you can try to hit up the 400 stalls packed into the piazza, picking up a variety of hand made gifts and antiques, while sampling treats like frittelle (round, flat pieces of dough) or porchetta (a spiced pork sandwich).
In this city of fast motion, fashion and fun – you’re sure to find the perfect gifts for your loved ones.
Located: Castello Sforzesco
Open: December 5 – 8th
Mercantino di Natale – Trento
Nestled at the foot of the Dolomites, a charming village in the Trento province of the Alto Adige region becomes a magical setting for this Christmas market which seems to be plucked right out of a fairytale; especially if you visit with a dusting of snow. Because of its northern location, over the years the area has absorbed the best of both German and Italian cultures, which work perfectly around the holiday.
About 70 exhibitors, many of which are local artisans, set up covered stalls in the center of the beautiful square where they sell crafts, Christmas gifts and food. Enjoy vin brulé (mulled wine) and local walnut cake, while listening to Christmas tales and watching residents dress up in holiday costumes to entertain crowds. The festivites will be accompanied by songs from local musicians, with a version of the Italian bagpipes making an appearance.
Located : Borgo di Rango
Open: November 20 – December 23
Did you know that Italy is where people first began celebrating Christmas? Under the reign of Emperor Constantine Italians began celebrating the birth of Christ. To this day they have remained devoted, passionate and extravagant when it comes to enjoying Christmas.
Ever been to a Christmas market in Italy? What’s the best find you’ve ever gotten from a holiday market?