Best places to visit in Italy in December

Best places to visit in Italy in December

Visiting Italy in December might not seem the most obvious choice but actually, visiting off season can offer huge benefits. Weather wise, December on much of Italy’s mainland will feel rather chilly. Average temperatures in Italy in December hover around 13°C, making it one of the coldest months of the year. In Northern Italy, temperatures can be much lower than this, whilst in central areas such as around Florence and Rome, they’re slightly warmer. However, the highest temperatures will be found in the south in Sicily, Puglia and Calabria where average peak daily temperatures are closer to 15°C. However, whatever the temperature, visitors to Italy in December have to assume that the weather will be unpredictable. You may well have some rainy days to contend with (although actually average rainfall is far less in December than in the preceding 3 months).

Because of the unpredictable nature of the weather, whenever visiting Italy in the Winter, we do think it’s important that you set expectations in the right place. You could, for example, visit the Italian Lakes in December and have gorgeously cold, crisp, dry days with blue skies when the lakes will look absolutely stunning. Equally, you could travel to the same region a few days later and be stuck with a week of constant rain! If you haven’t factored in this possibility before you went, the risk is that you’ll end up having a miserable time! But if you have already planned what to do in the Italian Lakes when it’s raining, you’ll still be able to make the most of every day of your holiday in Italy.

It’s probably because of the unreliability of the weather that we’re big fans of city breaks in Italy off season. Cities will typically have more indoor activities to keep you entertained than rural areas will should the weather be unkind. And in the big cities, you tend to find that the attractions, restaurants and accommodation options tend to stay open all year round. And, of course, if the weather is poor, then it just gives you an excuse to enjoy more time in Italy’s wonderful restaurants and cafes, sampling the festive fare! This is the time of the year that you’ll be able to enjoy plenty of sweet treats such as panettone, torrone and pandoro.

And, setting weather conditions aside, there are lots of other positives about visiting Italy in December. You’ll definitely get more for your money. Flights to Italy tend to be excellent value in December and Italy villa rentals are also great value for money at this time of year. Not only that, but when you’re enjoying the sights, you won’t have to battle with the crowds (or the heat of the Summer sun). Just think about it – shorter waiting times at the most popular monuments and museums and no selfie sticks to battle!

December in Italy is also a truly magical month. So many towns, villages and cities light up in this festive period and there are an abundance of Christmas markets and nativity scenes to enjoy along with some incredible festivals to participate in. The days may be shorter but who wants sunlight when the evenings glimmer so magically with festive lights? And, of course, for those who love the great outdoors, Italy offers some fantastic skiing too.

Just one small thing to be aware of if travelling to Italy in December is that there are a number of public holidays in Italy this month. The first of these is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (La Festa della Concezione Immacolata) on the 8th, however, since this marks the start of the Christmas season in Italy, it shouldn’t impact holidaymakers too much as most businesses stay open. Just be aware that any museums or attractions that have religious links such as the Vatican in Rome will be closed as this is a religious festival. The 24th December is not a public holiday. Just be aware that some places may close early for the day. However, the 25th is a public holiday and as such, all businesses, large stores, banks and post offices will be closed on this day. The following day – Santo Stefano (St Stephen’s Day) – is also a day off for many Italians but you should find that most restaurants and tourist attractions are back open again in the bigger cities at least, so it hopefully shouldn’t affect your holiday plans too much.

The Dolomites

Italy in December

December marks the start of the ski season in Italy which runs until April. The slopes in the Dolomites normally open around 8th December but if snow comes earlier, they’ll open up sooner too. Italy is blessed with hundreds of ski resorts and thousands of kilometres of slopes. Opt to head to the ski resorts of the Dolomites – Cortina, Alta Badia, Kronplatz and Val Gardena – in December, all areas where you can ski surrounded by incredible natural beauty. Also in the Dolomites is the Dolomiti Superski carousel, the world’s biggest network of ski slopes and lifts. Here, a single ski pass will give you access to 12 ski resorts, over 1200 kilometres of ski slopes and around 450 ski lifts. There is also a great après-ski scene too. Plenty of food and drink can be enjoyed on large sunny terraces and in charming rustic chalets. Skiing is also possible in the Alps in December too however at the beginning of the month, skiing here tends to be more restricted to the glacier and high elevation resorts or those which can make the snow themselves.


Italy in December

Italy’s capital, Rome, is definitely a great city to visit in December. The festive decorations that adorn the city give it a truly magical feel. Head to St Peter’s Basilica to admire the Christmas decorations and nativity scene there. As you would expect, the life size nativity scene in the Vatican City is the largest in Rome and takes a team a month to construct! If you are in Rome on December 24th, you may also want to head back to St Peter’s Square to witness the Pope celebrating Midnight Mass. Or make your way there on 25th December to hear the Pope’s Urbi et Orbi, a blessing to the citizens of Rome and the wider world which takes place from high up in the Papal apartments above St Mark’s Square. Expect the square to be extremely busy but don’t worry, if you can’t get a view of the Pope’s window, you’ll still be able to watch it on big screens.

You can soak up the festive atmosphere elsewhere in the city too. We recommend you also make the most of the festive atmosphere in the Piazza Navona and the Piazza Venezia as well as along the Via Condotti and Via del Corso. The Piazza Navona is where you will find the most famous of Rome’s Christmas markets. Stalls are filled with sweets, chocolate, gifts and crafts and there is a traditional carousel along with a number of other amusement rides. Or head to the traditional Christmas stalls in the Piazza Mazzini or to the temporary ice rink that is set up every year in the Parco della Musica in Rome.

There are plenty of other reasons to visit Rome in December though. Head to Rome in the Summer months and you can expect its streets to be crowded and temperatures far too stifling to be sightseeing much. In contrast, if you head to Rome in December you will find the crowds far fewer and Rome hotels much better priced. Fewer crowds mean shorter queues for Rome’s attractions too. Even so, we still recommend you purchase your Rome skip the line tickets in advance just in case. However, that said, Rome is a great city full stop if you’re travelling on a budget as an incredibly surprising number of its attractions are free to visit. Check out our guide to the top 20 free things to do in Rome for more information.


Italy in December

For the same reasons as Rome, Florence is a great city to explore in December. Here, the Piazza Santa Croce is the setting for Florence’s Mercato Tedesco di Natale (German Christmas market) where traditional crafts, toys and seasonal decorations and gifts are sold out of charming wooden huts. The whole city is lit up as part of Firenze Light Festival and the gardens at the Fortezza da Basso is transformed into a Winter Wonderland with a theme park, giant ferris wheel and outdoor ice rink.

And of course, just as in Rome, all those wanting to visit Florence’s main attractions can do so without the crowds you’ll find in peak season. In fact, those visiting the Uffizi and Accademia Gallery in the Summer can only dream of the lack of queues you would find in these galleries in December. Once again, we still recommend you purchase your Florence tickets in advance to make your stay in Florence most efficient.


Italy in December

Venice can also be really atmospheric in December. Like with Florence and Rome, Venice also plays host to annual Christmas markets. The main one is in the Campo Santo Stefano, but the Campo San Bartolomeo, the Campo San Salvador and the Campo San Luca all have various Christmas fairs taking place throughout the month. The Campo San Polo also plays host to a temporary ice skating rink. Not only that, but there are another three Christmas markets on the Venice mainland at Mestre. These include the Mercatino di Natale in the Piazza Ferreto (which also has an ice rink), the Christmas market in Via Allegri and the Mercato dei Portici in Via Palazzo. Rest assured, with all these Christmas markets to choose from, you’re bound to get your Christmas shopping sewn up!

Venice also plays host to some wonderful festivals in December too. Celebrating the La Festa della Concezione Immacolata on the 8th December, a parade of Venetian boats processes through the Grand Canal and from the Piazzale Roma to the Rialto Fish Market, whilst in Murano, artworks of the island’s glassmakers are displayed around the island’s markets.

And once again, whilst the city will certainly still have its fair share of visitors, it’s far quieter than in the Spring, Summer or Autumn months. Whilst we still recommend you book your Venice tickets in advance to avoid disappointment, you should find that there are minimal queues for gondola rides or entry into Venice’s top attractions such as St Mark’s Basilica or the Doge’s Palace.


Naples is definitely one of Italy’s more edgy, gritty cities and we think it’s a great city to explore in December. The Via S. Gregio Armeno in Naples is famous all year round for its handcrafted nativity crib figurines which are found here but there is no better time to witness these than in December. In this quarter of the city, Neapolitan presepi (nativity figures) and pastori (pastoral figures) are still modelled by hand. The latter include entertaining versions of well known figures from popular culture including politicians, celebrities and even papal figures.

Naples is also a great base from which to explore Pompeii and Herculaneum, which is open pretty much every day of the year (except 25 December, 1 January and 1 May). We have to confess that we’re not fans of visiting Pompeii in the peak of the Summer sunshine – ruins don’t provide much shade after all – so visiting in the cooler Winter months is a far better time to really absorb the incredible site and take it all in.

You may also want to combine your trip to Naples with a trip to the Amalfi Coast. I’m pretty sure Italy’s coastline is not a destination that immediately springs to mind for a December holiday, but the scenery is stunning all year round. And there is certainly much to be said for navigating the high iconic cliffs tops of the ‘Amalfi Drive‘ connecting Sorrento and Amalfi without all the traffic build up and queues of July and August.


Italy in December

Marche may be one of Italy’s least well known regions amongst holidaymakers but December is the perfect month to discover its charms. For a start, it hosts one of our favourite non religious festivals – Candles in Candelara. During this event, the street lights are completely switched off in the village and instead, it is beautifully lit by thousands of candles, providing the most idyllic backdrop as you wander around the Christmas market and listen to the festive mucis of the bagpipe players.

Mention must also be made of the live nativity scenes (presepio) that take place across Italy in December, the most famous of which is in Genga, Le Marche. Held on 26 December and 29 December each year, it is set in the stunning backdrop of a cave in the beautiful Frasassi Gorge. During the spectacle, 300 actors re-create the nativity scene making this the largest living nativity in the whole world. All the performers make their way up to the cave, dressed as local craftsmen from blacksmiths to bakers and from cobblers to carpenters.

And let’s not forget that there are also ski resorts in Marche too, perfect to enjoy on that December trip to Italy! Whilst they may not satisfy the most experienced skiers, the region’s 66 km of slopes are perfect for beginners.


Italy in December

We think Tuscany is one of those places which is worth a visit whatever the season. OK, so you won’t be relaxing on its stunning beaches or spending lazy by the pool, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a host of things to see and do.

For a start, Tuscany is full of cities where you can find plenty to do all year round and whatever the weather. We’ve already mentioned Florence. I promise you it’s far more satisfying admiring Michelangelo’s statue of David or Botticelli’s Birth of Venus without the crowds. But there are also plenty of other cities to discover in December in Tuscany including Montalcino, SienaPisaLuccaMontepulciano and San Gimignano.

However, Tuscany’s countryside is also incredibly beautiful at this time of year and, just like in neighbouring Marche, it is home to ski resorts. In fact, less than 2 hours drive from the heart of Florence you will be at the slopes of Abetone.

And at the different end of the spectrum, Tuscany is also home to some wonderful thermal spas which are equally perfect to enjoy at this time of year. Those at Saturnia are arguably the most famous – they are certainly the most photographed! Here, the Cascate del Mulino flows down over the rocks creating hot pools of water that sits at a constant temperature of 37.5 degrees. Steam rises from the pools in the Winter months as it meets the colder air creating a truly atmospheric experience. Other thermal baths in Tuscany include the scenic Bagni San Filippo and the Bagno Vignoni, both of which are in the Val d’Orcia, along with the more functional baths at Chianciano Terme and the baths at Venturina and Sassetta in the Maremma region of Tuscany.


Italy in December

Tuscany’s neighbour, Umbria, is just as a great destination to visit in Italy in December. It may not have the large cities that Tuscany boasts but it does have a number of stunning hilltop towns and villages which are equally worthy of a visit in December. Alongside Montefalco, Perugia, Spello and Orvieto, these include Arezzo, which plays host to one of the most important religious festivals in the yearly calendar. During the Feast of the Immaculate Conception here, townsfolk in both and Assisi and nearby Santa Maria degli Angeli will gather around a huge bonfire lit at both the Rocca Maggiore in Assisi and the Basilica in Santa Maria degli Angeli. And, not surprisingly given its importance in the Christian religion, Assisi also has a rather impressive lifesize presepi that sits in front of the Basilica of St Francis during the month of December.

But there is plenty to do in December in Umbria for those who aren’t religious too. The Winter edition of this Umbrian Jazz Festival takes place at the end of December each year, offering some incredible jazz performances across seven different venues across Orvieto. Over 150 performers take part across the five day festival.


Italy in December

I can assure you that, whilst it’s not unheard of for Puglia to see snow, it’s certainly not a common sight in the region! In the far south of Italy, Puglia actually offers some of the best opportunities to enjoy some milder weather, although with average high temperatures in December peaking at 15°C, you’ll still need to wrap up warm.

Just as in Tuscany, Umbria and Marche, Puglia has a number of wonderful Christmas markets that take place each December. Probably the most famous of these are the Magie di Natale in the central Piazza dell’ Economia in Bari or the market in the Piazza Liberta in the whitewashed hilltop town of Ostuni. Other towns and cities such as Monopoli, Polignano a Mare, Lecce, Otranto and Martins Franca also host their own Christmas markets for you to enjoy.

And just as elsewhere in Italy, there are a number of live nativity scenes to discover in Puglia in December. In fact, more than 30 towns in the region organise them, among them Lecce, Ostuni and Alberobello.

However, December is also an important time agriculturally in Puglia. 68 per cent of Italy’s olive oil is produced in Puglia and Calabria and as such, much of Puglia is covered in olive groves. The olive harvest in Puglia takes place from November to January each year and is great to see. Enjoy the newly pressed olive oil along with a number of sweet treats particular to this time of the year. These include cartellate (spirals of dough that have been fried and covered with cooked wine) and purciadduzzi (fried dough balls that have this time been covered with honey and nuts).


Italy in December

Like Puglia, one of the reasons that Sicily can be a good place to visit in December is its milder climate. OK – so once again, it’s not warm enough to be sunbathing in your bikini on the beaches or swimming in the sea, but it’s a great time to enjoy a holiday in Italy to admire its cultural sights. Sicily has a fascinating history. It’s home to 7 of Italy’s 58 UNESCO World Heritage sites and there is truly a wealth of architectural sights to explore and fascinating towns and villages to discover. And did you know that it’s even possible to go skiing on Etna’s slopes in the Winter months too?

Italian Lakes

Italy in December

Last but definitely not least, the Italian Lakes is also a great place to visit in Italy in December. The region is probably not the first idea that comes to mind for a Winter holiday in Italy, but we think it’s a great option, offering the best of all worlds.

After all, for skiers, the Italian Lakes offers a range of ski slopes within easy reach. For example, on Lake Maggiore, you’ll find 21 runs on the Mottarone above Stresa along with the pistes of Cardada above Locarno or the smaller slopes at Passo Forcora on the Eastern side of the lake. And just 20 minutes from Lecco on Lake Como are the slopes at Piani di Bobbio. There are also slopes on Lake Como at Valtorta, Pian delle Betulle and Alpe Cainallo.

But if you prefer, you can easily use the Italian Lakes as a base to visit Milan. Despite the cold weather in December, Milan lights up more than any other city in Italy and the enormous Christmas tree that is placed in the centre of the central piazza seems to make the Duomo appear even more spectacular than ever. December also sees the O Bej! O Bej! festival in the city. This always starts on 7 December to mark the feast day of the city’s patron saint, Saint Ambrose. And just like with Italy’s other cities, we think it’s far more enjoyable to explore the city without the tourists. Milan has so many things to see and do, not least Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper.

And when you’re tired out from exploring the city, you have the peace, tranquility and beauty of the lakeside towns and villages to enjoy. Just one word of caution – a number of businesses in some of these will close down over the Winter months so just choose your base carefully. We think Luino is a good option on Lake Maggiore whilst the principal city of Como

Wherever you fancy holidaying in Italy in December, take a look at the villa rentals in Italy available from Italy villa rental specialists, Bookings For You.