Florence embraces the holiday season with open arms, lighting the palaces, piazze and streets from late November through the entire season. Thousands of lights bathe the whole city in a warm glow, and because it is a low season for tourism, visitors then can enjoy Florence in the company of locals in a holiday mood.
Outdoor Christmas markets fill the squares, and a former rail station is transformed into a Christmas wonderland for children. So buy a paper cone of roasted chestnuts (ask for marrone) to nibble on and join the throngs of shoppers at these highlights:
Florence Noël for Children
Stazione Leopolda, near Porta al Prato becomes a magical rendition of the North Pole from December 5 through 13, as children are mesmerized by the star-lit rooms of Babbo Natale’s house, then stop at the Villaggio del Cioccolato for a hot cocoa. A market displays and sells Christmas decorations and crafts.
Fair Trade Christmas
Villaggio dei Popoli, Italy’s association to promote Fair Trade practices, has two markets in Florence. One is in Piazza Annigoni from December 8 to 24, open weekdays 10 am to 8 pm and weekends until 11 pm. The other is in Piazza Isolotto from December 12 to 24, open daily from 10 am to 7 pm.
German Christmas Market
Piazza Santa Croce turns into a giant German Christmas market from the 3rd to the 21st of December. The Mercato Tedesco di Natale sells crafts and foods from the Alpine regions, and it’s a taste of the markets that spring up in every city throughout Germany, Austria and Swittzerland in December. Look for delicious grilled sausages, hot mulled wine, decorated gingerbread, and traditional alpine crafts along with locally made Italian crafts and foods – it’s not entirely German. The market is open daily from 10 am to 10 pm.
Italian Christmas Market
From December 16 to 21, Piazza Indipendenza is filled with stalls selling Itralian-made crafts, foods and decorations. This market is open from 10 am to 10 pm daily. It’s a good place to look for Italian food delicacies, many of which travel well to bring home as gifts.
Florence Daily Markets
During the entire holiday season the usual markets at Piazza San Lorenzo and Piazza del Mercato Nuovo are open. Although these are not geared specifically to the holidays, they are also sources of gifts and foods. Look for leather goods at San Lorenzo and for Florentine straw work, embroidery, leather and wood crafts at the Old Straw Market. The Straw Market is open Tuesday through Saturday. While there, be sure to rub the shiny nose of Il Porcellino, the wild boar statue just inside the arcade.
Florence fairly bursts with other Christmas celebrations, making December a perfect time to visit the city. Most of the churches have presepi, beautifully crafted manger scenes, and some are also decorated in greens and flowers. Churches and other venues have holiday concerts, and museums often have exhibits relating to the holidays.