Christmas is probably the most loved festivity in Italy. Lights, Christmas carols and trees decorate every corner of the country, from the smallest villages to the largest cities. During this time of the year, Italians love going for walks, shopping and breathing in the magic atmosphere of the season, especially if there is an authentic Christmas market to visit.
In a way, Christmas street markets are the true protagonists of the Christmas shopping frenzy. From north to south, these traditional gatherings are known for selling handmade objects, gifts and decorations.
Besides stands selling traditionally crafted objects, you will find little wooden houses selling typical Christmas food and cakes. When it comes to food, sweets top the list of most beloved treats. Torrone is sold at nearly all markets, as well as dried fruit and nuts. Every child's dream of gum drops, fudge, caramels and hard sugary candies can be found at various stalls: Palermo's holiday market even boasts candy dolls. Other markets around the country offer holiday spice cakes or Italy's customary Christmas cake, panettone. Cookies can be purchased in decorative boxes and pastries of all sorts are readily available. Be sure to look for marzipan, gingerbread and Turkish delights to treat your holiday guests.
Walk through the market and invariably see snackers munching on a special holiday sandwich of porchetta, a traditional roasted pork. Foods of all kinds-both Italian and exotic-flavor the December air. Rounds of spiced sausage such as capicolli are popular purchases. Other holiday meats like hams, turkeys and capons are purchased widely as well from these enchanting market scenes.
Of course, small towns and big cities alike congregate at these extraordinarily decorated fairs to meet and celebrate special holiday ceremonies. The old and young alike shop among the amused vendors, while bells clang from nearby churches and musicians play everybody's favorite carols and songs. Christmas is a special time in Italy that is well reflected by its colorful and bountiful markets.
The most traditional and beautiful Christmas markets are usually in the northern regions, in particular in Trentino Alto-Adige, maybe because of its closeness to Austria and Germany, both big into the tradition of Christmas markets, or because of the snow and the mountains, which make the atmosphere so wintery. Either way, the markets of Alto Adige are among the most evocative in the country.
Here is a list of the best Christmas markets in Italy. Keep in mind, though, that this is far from complete: wherever you go, you'll be likely to encounter a local Christmas market of incredible prettiness and charm!
Trentino Alto Adige
- Arco (Riva del Garda) - Known for several Christmas street markets, as well as the Hapsburg market.
- Bolzano - certainly the most renowned town in Italy for its mercatini di Natale, Christmas street markets. Walther square, with its stands and wooden houses, will make you feel as you were in a fairytale.
- Bressanone - Once you're done with the street markets, you can also have a go at the Museo dei Presepi, at the Palazzo Vescovile.
- Brunico - Situated at the very north of the country, this town is home to a charming market famous for its folk objects.
- Merano - This town is a frequent destination for its Christmas street market in Alto Adige.
- Trento - If you visit Christmas markets in this town you must try a cup of vin- brûlé.
- Bassano del Grappa - Here, you can visit beautiful street markets and the whole town on the "Liliputian train".
- Belluno - The street markets are, here, situated in the historic town center.
- Cortina d'Ampezzo - This is a very famous winter destination in Veneto, with a famous Christmas market in Corso Italia.
- Treviso - The town of Treviso organizes the event Rossotreviso, where you will find the famous radicchio rosso, along with many Christmas objects and decorations.
- Verona - Here Christmas markets are organized in piazza Bra.
Friuli Venezia Giulia
Milan hosts Christmas street markets in piazza Duomo (Dec. 11 - Jan. 8) and Sant'Ambrogio Fair (at the Castle, Dec. 7-10), where you can find decorative ornaments, figurines for the manger, as well as many terrific gift ideas. This market avenues are filled with crowds enjoying holiday treats and searching for the ideal gifts for relatives and friends.
In Emilia Romagna you will find street markets in Bologna, Cervia and Ferrara. Cervia is specialized in the sales of cakes and chocolate at the Coccole di Natale, "Christmas cuddles", market and Ferrara organizes the market of Piplò and Pitacò.
- Palassuolo su Senio- This town is not only known for its Christmas markets, but also for being the "village of 1.000 presepi".
- Piazza Santa Croce in Firenze looks like a German town in this period of the year. Several foreign stands are placed in the square which is turned into the Christmas market of Heidelberg, a German town twinned with Florence.
- In Tuscany, you will find other Christmas markets in Pisa and Lucca, both of them very popular.
The most famous Christmas market in Lazio is certainly the one in piazza Navona in Rome. Piazza Navona showcases a memorable portrait of beauty each Christmas season, with its spectacle of lights and extravaganza of stalls selling all manner of items. Balloons, jars of preserves, bunches of holly, colorful shawls, pots of poinsettias, stuffed bears, porcelain dolls, trinkets and sparkling baubles can be purchased at this lovely time. Just before Christmas, the auxiliary bishop of Rome blesses this famous square and walks its length of colorfully roofed kiosks.
Nevertheless, nice Christmas markets can be found in Greccio, the village of Nativity scenes (presepi) and Tivoli, where a Christmas village, including a rink for ice-skating, is organized.
Apart from Christmas markets, in this region you will find what is known as the most important and famous nativity scenes street market: San Gregorio Armeno. This market in Naples is very old and you will be able to find real works of art, crafted following an ancient tradition.
In Sicily, Siracusa organizes the Fiera del Sud "Natale in Fiera", a Christmas fair that runs for the whole month of December. In Palermo, two main Christmas markets are organized: one in Campolo square and the other in S.Oliva square.
These are some of the most visited Christmas markets in the country. However, never forget that, wherever you are in Italy, you'll always have the opportunity to breathe in the magic Christmas atmosphere, especially in the most remote and hidden villages of the country. Whether you are in the north, center or south of Italy there will be always a street market where you can buy gifts and eat traditional food.
Text: Anna De Filippo and J.A.Young
*Pictures credit: Azienda di Soggiorno Merano/R. Forcellini