Wondering what to expect during Christmas in Rome, Florence or Venice?
The scent of spiced wine in the frosty air. Streets of sparkly, shimmering lights. Nativity scenes in every piazza. Fab, festive artisanal treats to take home.
And mostly: a collective desire to unwind, celebrate and indulge. AKA it’s the perfect time to visit (short lines for monuments and low hotel rates are an added bonus).
Each Italian city is totally unique in how they celebrate, but they do share a couple of things under their collective Christmas tree.
First, there is a pretty strictly delineated Christmas season.
And it’s a generous time span! Christmastime here is considered to run from December 8th to January 6th. Why these dates in particular?
- December 8th is the holiday of the Immaculate Conception, or Immacolata.
- January 5th is Befana, the night when a good witch flies around and fills children’s stockings with gifts, celebrating the Day of Kings, or Epiphany.
Second, they tend to keep similar hours.
With the exception of December 24th, 25th, 26th and January 1st, you still, for the most part, be able to access monuments and pop into restaurants as usual during regular operating hours. That’s why it’s one of the best times to be here –– the cities are calmer and lines are very, very short.
But to each city, their own Christmas quirks. Here’s what to expect if you’re in Rome, Florence or Venice over the holidays:
Christmas in Rome
We love spending Christmas in Rome for three good reasons: hotel rooms are a steal, lines for attractions and monuments are *way* shorter than usual, and overall, it slowly morphs into a quiet city filled with Christmas cheer. It’s the perfect time to enjoy the city if you don’t mind a little chill –– and chances are you won’t, once you’ve treated yourself to a new pair of leather gloves.
- What to see during Christmas in Rome: Piazza Navona –– that’s where you’ll find the Rome Christmas market and fair, featuring a carousel, nativity scene, and lots of fun stalls and stands selling food and gifts. And of course, the Christmas lights everywhere –– the best ones are strung up around the Spanish Steps, via del Corso, via el Coronari, Trastevere, and Piazza Navona.
- What to eat during Christmas in Rome: You gotta try Roman artichokes AKA carciofi alla romana stewed or fried –– they’ll be in full season. Chicory will also be in season, so you must order puntarelle, a raw chicory salad dressed in olive oil, garlic, lemon and anchovies. Don’t forget to get your Vitamin C fix, either –– December is also when the markets are filled with mandarins, clementines and tall glasses of Sicilian blood orange juice (spremuta). Delish!
- Hot tips: During the holiday season, most of the city is open as normal, with the exception of Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, December 26th, and January 1st. You can expect the Colosseum, Forum, and Borghese Gallery to be closed on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. They will, however, be open on December 26th, so that’s a great day to check those sites out as they will be less crowded.
Christmas in Florence
Florence isn’t shy about how much she digs Christmastime. Every window? Sparkling from top to bottom. Every piazza? Decked out in lights. Every street? Bustling with the scent of freshly wrapped gifts, panettone and the anticipation of the next holiday party to get to. It’s pretty freaking magical, and given how walkable the city is, the holiday spirit rubs off on you pretty quick!
- What to see during Christmas in Florence: Visit the Weihnachtsmarkt German Market in Piazza Santa Croce –– it’s our number one pick for scooping up artisanal goods and gifts, and it’s parked right in front of a romantic, Gothic basilica backdrop. And if you’re around in early December, park your tushy in Piazza del Duomo to see the lighting of the most gigantic Christmas tree and gush over the life-size terracotta statues in the Nativity scene.
- What to eat during Christmas in Florence: With all the German markets on site, you must try a classic bratwurst n’ beer combo, apple strudel, traditional Heidelberg Lebkuchen cookies and of course, spiced vin brulè with spiced fruit cake (panforte).
- Hot tips: Museums in Florence are generally closed on December 25th and January 1st only, in addition to their usual closing day (often on Monday). On New Year’s Eve, you can expect plenty of parties and concerts filling every piazza and kicking off at 9PM. Most restaurants will have a special menu, so be sure to make a reservation if you want to snag a dinnertime spot for December 31st!
Christmas in Venice
Truth be told, the wintertime isn’t *totally* the ideal time to visit Venice –– you may encounter flooding and the temperatures aren’t exactly balmy… But that doesn’t mean Venetians abstain from filling up on all the festive spirit! If you’re in Venice during Christmas, there’s still plenty to do and experience in this romantic city that gets decked out in gorgeous murano glass baubles. Plus, hotel prices can’t be beat in December in Venice, so we say treat yourself and go big or go home!
- What to see during Christmas in Venice: The Venetian Winter Festival, naturally. Throughout December and January, the city rolls out a fully stacked line-up of events for visitors and Venetians alike: your biggest problem will be trying to choose between the opera concerts, open-air markets, theater performances and ice skating. Catch all these events around Campo San Polo and the Basilica Santi Giovanni e Paolo.
- What to eat during Christmas in Venice: Venetians love their chocolate –– they’re pros at making *and* eating it. That means that during the winter, they’re serving up thick, rich and smoother-than-chocolate-mousse hot chocolate to carry you through the day. We suggest booking a room at Hotel Locando Vivaldi (once the home of Venice’s much-loved composer) and sipping a delicious cup of hot chocolate from their terrace, which overlooks the Grand Canal. If you just want a hot cuppa pronto, the most iconic spot is Café Florian in St. Mark’s Square. And of course, you gotta have sweet treats to take those sugar levels from 80 to 100, so make sure you get your woolly mitts on some traditional, festive cookies, cakes and sweets. Typical Venetian Christmas treats include essi, zaeti and baci. The real seasonal showstopper though? Fritelle –– fried doughnuts, and brittle galani.
- Hot tips: If you’re planning to spend New Year’s Eve in Venice, expect fireworks. Lots of them! Most New Year’s celebrations will take place around St. Mark’s Basin in front of the Doge’s Palace, with thousands of locals gathering along the waterfront to raise a toast to the New Year. Bars throughout the city charge up the evening’s revelers with an ombra (a small glass of wine) and aperitivi, before everyone heads to St. Mark’s Square for the midnight fireworks show that spectacularly lights up the historic skyline. It’s a wonderful way to end one year and kick off the next, creating memories that will last a lifetime.
Want more up-to-date intel on what to do every month in Rome, Florence and Venice –– including special Christmas events? Get all the deets when you grab Gigi Guides:
Here are some more blog posts too:
- The Most Charming Christmas Markets in Italy
- The Top 5 Places to Visit in Italy in the Winter
- The Top 10 Spots in Northern Italy (And Why You Should Go)
Got questions about visiting Italy during Christmas? Let us know in the comments and we’ll jump in to help you.