Home Christmas Festive Fun all’Italiana – Six of Italy’s Best Christmas Markets

Festive Fun all’Italiana – Six of Italy’s Best Christmas Markets

by Elba Slamecka

As an unusually warm autumn gives way to the first chills of winter, Italy’s Alpine regions, as well as their Southern counterparts, are gearing up for another year of traditional Christmas markets to brighten up their cities as the days get shorter. And if you think Italy has more to do with pasta than with pretzels, you’re in for a surprise – these markets frequently combine the country’s Mediterranean heritage with the Northern regions’ profound historical links with their Germanic neighbours. The result is a colourful display of Christmas decorations, seasonal food and wine, and the best of what local craftsmanship has to offer. Here are six of our favourites.

Vipiteno (Alto Adige/Süd Tirol)

Walk through the Piazza Città (Stadtplatz) at Vipiteno between November 25th and January 6th, and the first thing you’ll notice is the town’s iconic Zwölferturm tower, which dates back to the fifteenth century, lit up à la Harrods. While the more inquisitive can venture inside the tower to see its impressive collection of Nativity cribs, the square itself houses rows of cosy wooden huts selling anything from winter clothing to local gastronomy and traditional handicrafts. 

Around these, the pedestrian area boasts a variety of shops, housed in largely unchanged buildings whose colourful exteriors and quaint oriel windows nostalgically recall the city’s past. Vipiteno is Süd Tirol’s northernmost city, and its over 800-year history as a regional mining and trading centre permeates the city and surrounding areas even today – history enthusiasts will love exploring the Ridnaun-Schneeberg Mining World through its special guided tours.

Finally, for those going to and from the slopes, the town centre is a mere five minutes from the Rosskopf valley station, the local gateway to extensive pistes and Italy’s longest artificial sledging trail – especially thrilling at night, when the track is lit by floodlights.

Christmas market vipiteno
People visiting the Christmas market in the old square of Vipiteno, the main town of the southern Wipptal. The historic center of the town has preserved beautiful bourgeois buildings with the typical structure of South Tyrol, coloured in warm pastel colours.

Verona (Veneto)

Shakespeare’s star-cross’d lovers are not the only foreign import to have left a mark on Verona’s identity. The city has its own holiday traditions – like the iconic Pandoro, which originates in Verona and alongside Panettone is the Italian Christmas dessert par excellence – but from 25th November to 24th December the Nuremberg Christmas Market will descend on the city’s Piazza dei Signori, offering locals and tourists traditional German food, festive decorations and handicrafts. Located in the city centre just two minutes away from the Casa di Giulietta (House of Juliet), one wonders whether Verona’s famous feuding households might have reconciled less dramatically over bratwurst, Stollen, and a glass of mulled wine – or vin brulé, as Italians call it.

verona christmas market
Verona. People in Piazza Bra during the Christmas celebrations. The market stalls around the central garden of the square offer traditional sweets and Christmas gifts.

Aosta (Val d’Aosta)

Visitors to Aosta’s Marché Vert Noël will find themselves transplanted into an idyllic alpine village complete with trails of roads, bridges, charming chalets, festive music and lighting, and even a forest of real fir trees. But this “village”, and the famous Christmas Market it houses, happens to be in the middle of a buzzing city! That’s right – each year the city of Aosta changes into a festive haven in which curious passers-by can hunt for anything from locally-made clothing in leather, hemp, felt and wool, to artisanal wooden sculptures and ceramics. To experience the magic, head to Aosta from November 19th to January 8th (N.B. opens later on Christmas and New Years’ Day).

aosta christmas market
The traditional Christmas village of Aosta is held every year next to the archeological complex of the city, with the impressive old ruin of the Roma Theatre. Alleys, squares, little bridges and stalls with crafts and sweets welcome visitors. Aosta is the principal city in the alpine region of Valle d’Aosta, in northern Italy.

Castiglione del Lago and Orvieto (Umbria)  

Every year Castiglione del Lago metamorphoses into “Luci sul Trasimeno”, a month-long winter wonderland hosting holiday-themed attractions and entertainment for the whole family, complete with the world’s largest Christmas-tree-on-water shimmering on the surface of the Lago Trasimeno, from which the pleasure grounds take their name. Be sure to visit if you’re in the area – #Lucisultrasimeno is open for one month from 8th December.

And while you’re in Umbria, the “Umbria Jazz” Winter programme offers concerts and other events for fans of jazz, gospel, classical music and others, to liven the days between Christmas and New Year’s Day (December 28th to January 1st). The concerts are held in the historic town of Orvieto, home to the unmissable Duomo di Orvieto, one of the world’s most beautiful cathedrals, which dates back to the year 1290 and is a superlative example of the Gothic and Romanesque styles of architecture.

castiglione del lago at christmas
Castiglione del lago, Christmas tree illuminated in the water.

Milano (Lombardia)

Italy’s financial hub and global fashion capital is home to several Christmas markets, the largest of which takes place in Piazza Duomo, overlooked by the imposing fourteenth-century Gothic cathedral. This market houses over 60 chalets, selling a range of typical Christmas arts and crafts, gifts, and the chance to sample Milanese and Lombard delicacies – the best winter sustenance! The market in Piazza Duomo is open between November 25th and January 6th (the Feast of the Epiphany, affectionately referred to as La Befana, after the good old witch who traditionally brings children presents on this day). If you’re in town on December 6th, be sure to head to the Piazza to see the spectacular lighting of the Christmas tree.

Also in Milan is the Il Villaggio delle Meraviglie (literally “The Village of Wonders”), a pop-up festive fair in the Giardini Indro Montanelli open from November 19th to January 8th. The centrally-located gardens, accessible from Corso Venezia, host a Christmas market, skating rink, festive entertainment and include the chance for children to meet Babbo Natale (the Italian Santa Claus). 

For those interested in discovering Milan’s rich cultural and religious heritage, a tour inside the Duomo merits to be followed by a trip to the Oh Bej Oh Bej fair, now located around the Castello Sforzesco in the city centre. Held between the Feast of S. Ambrogio (St. Ambrose) and the following Sunday (this year that’s 7th-11th December), the fair commemorates the fourth-century Bishop of Milan who became the city’s patron saint. On offer at Oh Bej Oh Bej are a range of toys, accessories, antiques, bric-a-brac and local food.

milano christmas market
Milano. Christmas market in Piazza del Duomo in late evening. Behind the stalls there is the gothic cathedral with the stained-glass windows lighted for the festivity.

Napoli (Campania)

Naples’ striking National Railway Museum of Pietrarsa is the perfect venue for an immersive festive experience, and this year it will host the fourth edition of the Città del Natale (“City of Christmas”). Spanning an area of 36,000 square meters on the water’s edge, the museum’s grounds boast breath-taking views of the Gulf of Naples from its nineteenth-century railway pavilions, which contain an impressive collection of railway parts, locomotives and passenger carriages from times gone by. In the holiday season, the Città del Natale adds to the display with its market stalls, food and entertainment. Visit between December 3rd and January 8th to take in the magical atmosphere of a traditional Neapolitan Christmas – complete with street performers, light displays and the best food and wine from the surrounding region of Campania.

Absolutely don’t miss the world-famous exhibition of Nativity Cribs in Via S. Gregorio Armeno, wedged narrowly at the heart of the city’s Centro Storico (Historic Centre) and known for the hand-crafted figurines populating Nativity scenes of all shapes and sizes. 

napoli christmas market
Fairy house at a Christmas market in Naples (Italy).

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