What do you think when you think of Italy?
A nice terrace facing the sea, a stroll in the Tuscan countryside, a glass of wine at sunset while sitting in a Medieval piazza, a deep dive into the Mediterranean sea, gelato on a hot summer night. I bet that all your thoughts of Italy include endless summers, sea breeze, and cold drinks to face the heat.
But Italy can be quite amazing in winter as well.
We have beautiful mountains where you can ski or just relax in a spa while watching the snow fall outside. But if you aren’t exactly a fan of cold and winter, you can enjoy warm days in the south of Italy. Moreover, if you love Christmas, there are lots of amazing traditions all around the country. Basically, Italy is so perfect that you can always find what is best for you.
Since it’s almost Christmas, I have selected some of the most important Christmas events or traditions you can find here in Italy. I tried to make a selection and include a variety of different things for different kinds of taste. As usual, I’ve tried to include a bit of every part of Italy, going from north to south.
Let’s see some of the nicest places to visit in Italy at Christmas, then.
Luci d’artista a Torino (Christmas Lights in Turin)
Turin is an amazing city in Piedmont, which is famous for things that are quite different from one another: the automotive industry (it’s the place where Fiat industry is born), chocolate and for being somehow haunted (there are a lot of legends regarding magic and esoteric beliefs). But it is also the vegan capital of Italy and simply one of the most beautiful cities in the country.
At Christmas, it is especially nice thanks to the Luci d’artista: a collection of works of art made with light, created by renowned international artists, which beautify some of the most important squares and streets in the city. The lights are up from October 29th to January 15th and give the city a truly magical atmosphere.
Photo Guida Torino
Mercatini di Natale – Trento and Bolzano (Christmas Markets in Trento and Bolzano)
Christmas Markets are a tradition of northern Italian regions. The two most famous ones are those of Trento and Bolzano, but you can find them almost everywhere in Trentino-Alto Adige. They are usually located in the main city square and have small stalls selling handmade items, Christmas decorations, and traditional food.
Once a tradition of Alpine regions only, they have now become very popular and can be found in a lot of Italian locations, but the markets in Trentino are always the most enchanting ones.
Photo Mercatino di Natale
Il presepe di Manarola, Cinque Terre (Manarola’s Nativity Scene)
The biggest nativity scene in the world takes place every year in Manarola, one of the five stunning villages that constitute the Cinque Terre. It is usually lighted on December 8th and remains up until the end of January, on a hill facing the village.
The nativity scene has been invented by Mr. Mario Andreoli, who began building it in 1976 as a promise to his father. He started with just three statues, but after 40 years now Mario has been able to cover an entire hill with 300 life-size statues and 17,000 light bulbs. It’s an incredible and magical sight!
Photo Cinque Terre Tourist
Albero di Natale di Gubbio (Gubbio’s Christmas Tree)
Not only do we have the biggest nativity scene, here in Italy, but we also pride ourselves on the biggest Christmas tree in the world. It is in Gubbio, Umbria, where in 1981 people decided to build a Christmas tree to honor Sant’Ubaldo, the patron saint of the city.
The Christmas tree is 650 meters high, it has 250 green light bulbs, 300 multicolored lights and a 1000-square-meter star on top of it, on the hill of Mount Igino. Traditionally, it is lighted on December 7th and remains on until the 6th of January.
Photo Albero di Gubbio
Presepe rinascimentale vivente di Urbino (Urbino’s renaissance nativity scene)
Another very popular tradition, at Christmas time, is the living nativity scene. You can find them in almost every Italian town and they are a recreation of the time when Christ was born. They usually do not only represent just the nativity scene, but they also recreate the atmosphere of a rural village, with people wearing costumes and artisans working at their trades.
If you go to Urbino at Christmas time, you’ll find a very special living nativity scene. It’s called presepe rinascimentale or festa del Duca d’inverno and usually takes place for a few days around December 8th. The presepe is set inside Palazzo Albani, but there are celebrations all around town: there’s a renaissance market, artisans and craftsmen reenacting the crafts and trades of the Renaissance and all kinds of plays and games.
Photo Marche in festa
Il presepe galleggiante di Cesenatico (Cesenatico’s floating nativity scene)
Another very special nativity scene takes place in Cesenatico, in Emilia Romagna. It’s the presepe della Marineria and it’s the only floating nativity scene in the world – it seems we have a lot of records when it comes to Christmas, here in Italy!
This particular nativity scene takes place every year in the port of Cesenatico, where the statues are placed on a few different boats. The nativity scene was born in 1986 and the first statue made was the one of Saint James, the patron saint of Cesenatico. Over the years, more than 50 statues have been added to the nativity scene, which can be admired in the city until January 6th.
Photo Presepe della Marineria
La via dei presepi: San Gregorio Armeno a Napoli (the street of nativity scenes in Naples)
As you can read in this post I wrote last year, we take the art of arranging nativity scenes very seriously. Many families do not set a presepe in their house, but if you do and are very passionate about it, you give great importance to the statues you choose and the setting you want to recreate.
The art of presepe is especially felt in Naples, where there is a whole street devoted to the statues and everything you need to arrange the perfect presepe. The street is Via Gregorio Armeno and it’s literally packed with shops and artisans creating statues for the nativity scene, some of which are really traditional while some others are a bit funkier. It’s an amazing stroll at Christmas time.
Photo Napoli da vivere
Luci d’artista a Salerno (Salerno’s Christmas Lights)
I began this list of places to visit in Italy at Christmas with an artistic Christmas light display in Turin, now I am going to end it with a similar event – this time in Salerno, a nice town near the Amalfi Coast. Just like what happens in Turin, there are lights installations all around the city, lasting from the beginning of November until mid-January.
It’s a very popular event, which attracts lots of people from everywhere in Italy. If you do not mind the crowds, it is definitely an amazing experience!
Photo Luci d’artista Salerno