Visiting Italy during the Christmas season offers two bonuses: you’ll avoid the high summer season tourist crowds and you’ll get to see the country decked out in all its holiday finery. You’ll find a festive atmosphere in every corner of the country. There are a few areas, however, that seem to take the holidays to another level. Here are a few suggestions for the best places to spend Christmas in Italy.
Rome & Vatican City
Heading for Rome over Christmas is probably the most best choice: in addition to the festivities in Rome itself, you also have Vatican City‘s celebrations. It’s like getting two cities’ worth of holiday in one spot.
At the Vatican, the Pope delivers a Christmas Eve midnight mass (book tickets well in advance if you want to sit in St. Peter’s), there’s a huge Christmas tree in St. Peter’s Square and a life-sized Nativity scene in front of the basilica.
Even if you’re not lucky enough to witness snow falling on the canals and gondolas, Venetians know how to ward off the chill with hot spiced wine and other holiday treats, sold in the Christmas markets. No matter your age, you’re bound to be charmed by the figure of Santa Claus arriving by gondola to distribute goodies, and Christmas Eve mass held in St. Mark’s Basilica is enough to make any trip to Venice worth it.
Naples is home to a street that can rightfully be called “Christmas Alley” year-round. This city is the epicenter of Italy’s Nativity scene tradition, and the shops along Via San Gregorio Armeno that make both the detailed structures and the myriad figurines that inhabit them work (and sell) all year long.
The figurines range from the expected (holy family and shepherds) to the regional (pizza makers) to the topical (current political or sports personalities).
For a location with loads of Italian Christmas traditions but with much milder weather, head south to Sicily. Second only to the Neapolitans in terms of their affection for the Nativity scene, Sicilians erect elaborate Nativities everywhere (from public squares to churches to private homes), including a living Nativity in a cave near Trapani. In other words, locals dress up and re-enact the Nativity daily from Christmas Eve through the Epiphany.
Spend Christmas in the Trentino-Alto Adige and you’ll have snowy winter scenery straight out of a postcard while you sip mulled wine in the market squares.
This area is also a good base if you want to take day-trips into Venice or Verona.