Have you ever been to Europe in December? It is magnificent. From bundling up in the winter chill to the smell of chestnuts roasting on the street corners to the Christmas celebrations and decorations, it really is wonderful.
At one point I was going to be working in London at the beginning of December and had planned a quick romp over to the continent immediately after, but the job got cancelled and so this year I am sitting it out at home.
For years I have been trying to convince my son that we need to have Christmas in San Gimignano, but he won’t have it. To him (understandably) Christmas is something that happens at our house, so if I am lucky enough to get over there it is a trip squeezed in between his school events and pre-Christmas parties. I didn’t do any December traveling while he was little, but the past few years it has worked out perfectly.
If you are in a space in your life where you can duck away for a week or two, December is a glorious month to travel to Italy for an entirely different experience. It is also a great time to take advantage of your airline frequent flier miles and get an off-season trip for next to nothing. The closer you get to Christmas the more tricky the flights get, with people flying home in each direction for the holiday, but the middle weeks of December can be a brilliant time to travel.
Why You Should Visit Italy In December (at least once in your life!)
1. The Crowds Are Gone
This alone makes it worth the trip! Your Italian experience is so different when the crowds are gone. You can walk freely everywhere without the streets being full of tour groups, which lets you really appreciate the beauty that to a degree gets lost or minimized when you are hustling through a crowd. I’m in love with Florence at any time of year, but December there is just incredible. When you can wander around and see the streets only populated by the Florentines and yourself you get a whole new appreciation for the city. It’s the same with pretty much everywhere.
2. You Don’t Need To Wait In Line
With the crowds gone there are suddenly no lines to get into the big attractions. Instead of trying to look at The Birth of Venus over someone’s shoulder you have it all to yourself.
When you’re not wasting hours of your vacation time standing in lines waiting to get in, you can wander at leisure through as many museums and churches as you want. It’s quite remarkable just how much more you can see and do when there are no lines. I find I do double or more, but at a relaxed and leisurely pace.
Humans are not supposed to be herded like cattle, and it wasn’t until I was meandering through museums unfettered that I realized just how stressful it can be when you are at the same place while it is crowded!
As much as I love the Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel and St Peter’s I never go with my Glam Italia Tour groups – I hand them off to my local guide and meet back up with them at the end. During the normal travel season more than 25,000 people go through there each day, so it is always packed, which can be quite stressful. In order to move that many people through the guards have to keep hustling everyone along, so much of the time you can’t even look at all the things you want to see. Rather than stop and really have a good look at the tapestries, art work and treasures, you are in motion, moving on.
I learned along the way to plan a few hours of downtime after the Vatican tour for my groups to decompress.
One of my friends sent me photos from the Vatican Museums last December. She was strolling around, taking everything in at her own pace, with very few other people there.
3. The Prices Go Down
I love a bargain, so I extra love traveling to Italy in the off-season. The cost of everything goes way down. When the cost of accommodation drops you have far more money for shopping! Between using frequent flier miles to get there and then having fabulous accommodation for a fraction of the price, the trip becomes really economical.
4. You Can Escape The Heat
As much as I adore spending my summers in Italy with my Glam Italia Tours there are some places that I don’t go to because the heat gets overwhelming. For example I normally don’t take my groups to Pompeii during the summer months because it is just so very hot and dusty. The last time I took a tour group there was in September a few years back. It was so hot and humid that I actually started feeling sick and thought I might pass out.
In December though it is amazing! You can spend much more time there just wandering and really taking it all in. It’s the same with the Valley of the Temples just outside of Agrigento in Sicily. I don’t want my travelers passing out from the heat and I don’t want to get heat sickness, so I seldom go there in the summer. December though is perfect! You can be there for as many hours as you want, not only seeing everything but also really enjoying the more temperate weather.
5. The Food!
Frankly, the food is reason enough to go in December! The pre-Christmas foods, the hearty winter soups and the heavier meals that are too much on hot summer days are fantastic in December.
Every region has its own Christmas specialty foods, from meals to pastries and cookies, things that only show up at this time of year. You can eat them all too, because calories don’t count in Italy!
I tend to spend a lot of time in Tuscany and I love the chilly afternoons and early sunsets in December. One of my favorite things is wandering in to a little trattoria at the end of the day and ordering a bowl of chunky tomato and bread soup. It’s one of those things that loses its magic on a hot summer’s day but is so perfect in winter.
I also love all the Sicilian Christmas cookies and pastries that show up everywhere. I bring home bags of them – they are so unique and wonderful.
6. The Christmas Spirit and Atmosphere
Can I just say I am so fed up with all the Jingle Bells, Ho Ho Ho and Santa Claus Is Coming To Town songs blasting out of every shop, elevator and parking lot loud speaker, from the split second Halloween is over?? The holiday season has become more commercialized than ever and the effort to separate me from my money is exhausting.
When I spend time in Italy in December I fall in love with the Christmas season all over again. Christmas over there isn’t about Santa Claus, it’s about the birth of Jesus, so the decorations, the music, the celebration is completely different.
Even if you don’t celebrate Christmas or are not particularly religious, it is completely charming, and well worth experiencing. I love learning about the different Christmas traditions around the world. I grew up in New Zealand where it is summertime in December, so my childhood Christmas memories are quite different.
Last year I was in Barcelona in December, and their poop based Christmas traditions blew my mind! Read about them here: What The Hell Is Caga Tio??
Italy has wonderful Christmas traditions, and the way the community pulls together to celebrate them is just gorgeous.
7. The Christmas Markets
European Christmas Markets are spectacular. Anywhere you go they are wonderful, but I particularly love the markets in Italy. Visually wonderful, especially up north where the towns turn into fairytale winter wonderlands, every city, town and village hosts Christmas markets. The atmosphere, the smells, the foods, the decorations and crafts to purchase – it is like every Christmas dream you have ever had.
Some have live nativity scenes, some have carousels and acrobats. All have local delicacies, hot drinks, booths filled with Christmas treasures, and the backdrop of the incredible beauty of Italy. I just can’t get enough of them!
Want to know which are the 10 Best Christmas Markets in Italy? This post is already too long, so I have made a separate PDF that you can download, listing the best Christmas markets in Italy, where they are, what they are famous for and why you need to go see them. Each market has photos attached so you can see how beautiful they are!
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