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ITALY'S CHRISTMAS MARKETS

TOURISM

Italy’s most enchanting Christmas markets

As Christmas quickly approaches, The Local takes a tour of the most magical markets getting underway across the country, all offering the perfect opportunity to shop for gifts, or simply sup some mulled wine.

Italy's most enchanting Christmas markets
Trento's Christmas market. Photo: Shutterstock

Bressanone, South Tyrol

Photo: PIZZO76/

When? Until January 6th

This beautiful market in South Tyrol is the perfect way to start the Christmas season. With opportunities for carriage rides through the city and a unique light show featuring “Soliman” the elephant, the Christmas market in Bressanone will celebrate its 25th anniversary in style this year.

Merano, South Tyrol

Photo: Matteo Paccioti

When? Until January 6th

A particular favourite for families, the Christmas market in Merano has a wide range of activities to thrill and delight. From Christmas-themed origami workshops to pony rides through the market, there is something for every child. The patron saint of Merano, Saint Nicholas, will also parade through the streets, handing out gifts to all children. 

Santa Maria Maggiore, Piedmont

Photo: Dorli Photography

When? December 6th-8th 

Arguably Piedmont’s best Christmas market, with 200 stalls offering a variety of crafts and homemade specialities, this market truly brings its own unique flare. Here you have the opportunity to try the famous “stincheèt”, a thin sheet of flour cooked on a stove topped with butter and a pinch of salt. Combined with the widely available mulled wine and roasted chestnuts, this market earns its place as one of the best in Italy.

Verona, Veneto

Photo: A.Currell

When? Until December 27th

This German-style market offers a slightly different take on those typically found in Italy, offering bratwurst, a type of sausage; stollen, a fruit bread and lebkuchen, a biscuit similar to gingerbread, among many other culinary delights. The entrance to the city is illuminated with thousands of Christmas lights, setting the scene for a fairy-tale like experience.

Pordenone, Friuli-Venezia Giulia

Photo: Giovy

When? Until January 6th

Offering a life-size nativity scene which is erected on December 8th, this market offers its own unique spectacle. There is also a carousel in Piazza Cavour and live music can always be heard. From DJ sets to blues concerts and Big Band performances, this market has something for everyone.

Vipiteno, South Tyrol

 

Photo: Kari

When?  Until January 6th

During the Advent period, this medieval town in South Tyrol becomes rich with the smell of freshly baked Christmas pastries. This year you have the opportunity to watch one of the craftsmen at work, an expert wicker basket maker who will explain his art on stage. Then there is the chance to buy a variety of hand-made, traditional Christmas gifts, all whilst eating apple strudel.

Trento, South Tyrol

Photo: Michela Simoncini

When? Until January 6th

The perfect event for young children, this market offers the chance to write and post a letter to Father Christmas, telling him which gifts they’d like to receive. Some 90 exhibitors offer products including beeswax candles, gnomes carved from wood and local cheeses. You’ll also have the opportunity to buy some trecciamochèna, a plaited pastry cake which is unique to the region.

Rovereto, South Tyrol

Photo: Angelo Ambodi

When? Until January 6th

This market hopes to combine the Christmas traditions of Italy and Hungary in one original event. Offering typical Hungarian sweets and classic Italian dishes, as well as a garden of nativity scenes to admire, this market is one of Italy’s treasures. There is also a “House of Christmas” where children can sit and listen to festive stories.

Florence, Tuscany 

Photo: Any colour you like

When? December 2nd–20th

Although there are a variety of Christmas markets in Florence, the traditional Weihnachtsmarkt is one of Italy’s best. Fifty-five wooden houses will line the streets of Florence’s Santa Croce offering hand-made toys and ceramics as well as traditional German delicacies. Gospel concerts will also be taking place to enhance the festive spirit.

Bolzano, South Tyrol

Photo: djandrea.enet

When? Until January 6th

Located in Italy’s South Tyrol, the close cultural links with Germany delight many during the festive season at the Christmas market in Bolzano. The largest Christmas market in Italy, this event captures the magic of Christmas and offers the festive treats of home-made cookies and strudel, accompanied by traditional Christmas music.

Milan, Lombardy

Photo: Shutterstock

When? December 5th-8th

One of the largest Christmas markets in Italy, Milan’s “Oh bej! Oh bej!” (“How beautiful!” in local dialect) festive offering has over 400 stalls. This year they set up in the shadow of the city’s castle, the Castello Sforzesco.

Cagliari, Sardinia

Photo: Shutterstock

When? December 5th-28th

Organizers in the Sardinian capital describe their festive event at Piazza del Carmine as “a real paradise for gluttons and foodies”. The focus here is on local “Made in Sardinia” products, rather than imports from abroad. 

By Ellie Bennett

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MONEY

How to avoid huge ‘roaming’ phone bills while visiting Italy

If you're visiting Italy from outside the EU you risk running up a huge phone bill in roaming charges - but there are ways to keep your internet access while avoiding being hit by extra charges.

How to avoid huge ‘roaming’ phone bills while visiting Italy

Travelling without access to the internet is almost impossible these days. We use our phones for mapping applications, contacting the Airbnb, even scanning the QR code for the restaurant menu.

If you’re lucky enough to have a phone registered in an EU country then you don’t need to worry, thanks to the EU’s cap on charges for people travelling, but people visiting from non-EU countries – which of course now includes the UK – need to be careful with their phone use abroad.

First things first, if you are looking to avoid roaming charges, be sure to go into your settings and turn off “data roaming.” Do it right before your plane lands or your train arrives – you don’t want to risk the phone company in your home country starting the clock on ‘one day of roaming fees’ without knowing it.

READ ALSO: Ten ways to save money on your trip to Italy this summer

But these days travelling without internet access can be difficult and annoying, especially as a growing number of tourist attractions require booking in advance online, while restaurants often display their menus on a QR code.

So here are some techniques to keep the bills low.

Check your phone company’s roaming plan

Before leaving home, check to see what your phone plan offers for pre-paid roaming deals.

For Brits, if you have a phone plan with Three for example, you can ask about their “Go Roam” plan for add-on allowance. You can choose to pay monthly or as you go. Vodafone offers eight day and 15 day passes that are available for £1 a day.

For Americans, T-Mobile offers you to add an “international pass” which will charge you $5 per day. Verizon and AT&T’s roaming plans will charge you $10 per day. For AT&T, you are automatically opted into this as soon as your phone tries to access data abroad.

READ ALSO: Seven things to do in Italy in summer 2022

These all allow you to retain your normal phone number and plan.

Beware that these prices are only available if you sign up in advance, otherwise you will likely be facing a much bigger bill for using mobile data in Italy. 

Buy a pre-paid SIM card

However, if you are travelling for a longer period of time it might work out cheaper to turn off your phone data and buy a pre-paid SIM card in Italy.

In order to get a pre-paid SIM card, you will need your passport or proof of identity (drivers’ licences do not count).

READ ALSO: TRAVEL: Why now’s the best time to discover Italy’s secret lakes and mountains

Keep in mind that you will not be able to use your normal phone number with the new SIM card in, but will be able to access your internet enabled messaging services, like WhatsApp, Facebook and iMessage. Your phone will need to be ‘unlocked’ (ask your carrier about whether yours is) in order to put a new SIM card in.

Here are some of the plans you can choose from:

WindTre

WindTre, the result of a 2020 merger between the Italian company Wind and the UK network provider Three, currently offers a “Tourist Pass” SIM card for foreign nationals. For €24.99 (it’s sneakily marketed as €14.99, but read the small print and you’ll see you need to fork out an additional €10), you’ll have access to 20GB of data for up to 30 days.

The offer includes 100 minutes of calls within Italy plus an additional 100 minutes to 55 foreign countries listed on the WindTre website. Up to 13.7GB can be used for roaming within the EU. The card is automatically deactivated after 30 days, so there’s no need to worry about surprise charges after you return from your holiday. To get this SIM card, you can go into any WindTre store and request it.

A tourist protects herself from the sun with a paper umbrella as she walks at Piazza di Spagna near the Spanish Steps in Rome.
A tourist protects herself from the sun with a paper umbrella as she walks at Piazza di Spagna near the Spanish Steps in Rome.

Vodafone

Vodafone has had better deals in the past, but lately appears to have downgraded its plan for tourists, now called “Vodafone Holiday” (formerly “Dolce Vita”), to a paltry 2GB for €30. You get a total of 300 minutes of calls and 300 texts to Italian numbers or to your home country; EU roaming costs €3 per day.

Existing Vodafone customers can access the offer by paying €19 – the charge will be made to your Vodafone SIM within 72 hours of activating the deal. 

READ ALSO: MAP: The best Italian villages to visit this year

The Vodafone Holiday offer automatically renews every four weeks for €29 – in order to cancel you’ll need to call a toll-free number. The Vodafone website says that the €30 includes the first renewal, suggesting the payment will cover the first four weeks plus an additional four after that, but you’ll want to double check before buying. You’ll need to go to a store in person to get the card.

TIM

TIM is one of Italy’s longest-standing and most well-established network providers, having been founded in 1994 following a merger between several state-owned companies.

The “Tim Tourist” SIM card costs €20 for 15GB of data and 200 minutes of calls within Italy and to 58 foreign countries, and promises “no surprises” when it comes to charges.

You can use the full 15GB when roaming within the EU at no extra charge, and in the EU can use your minutes to call Italian numbers. The deal is non-renewable, so at the end of the 30 days you won’t be charged any additional fees.

READ ALSO: MAP: Which regions of Italy have the most Blue Flag beaches?

To access the offer, you can either buy it directly from a TIM store in Italy, or pre-order using an online form and pay with your bank card. Once you’ve done this, you’ll receive a PIN which you should be able to present at any TIM store on arrival in Italy (along with your ID) to collect your pre-paid card. The card won’t be activated until you pick it up.

Iliad

Iliad is the newest and one of the most competitive of the four major phone companies operating in Italy, and currently has an offer of 120GBP of €9.99 a month. For this reason, some travel blogs recommend Iliad as the best choice for foreigners – but unfortunately all of their plans appear to require an Italian tax ID, which rules it out as an option for tourists.

Contract

Though buying a pre-paid SIM card is a very useful option for visitors spending a decent amount of time in Italy, as mentioned above, there’s a significant different difference between buying a one-time pre-paid SIM versus a monthly plan that auto-renews.

Make sure you know which one you’re signing up for, and that if you choose a plan that will continue charging you after your vacation has ended, you remember to cancel it.

UK contracts

If you have a UK-registered mobile phone, check your plan carefully before travelling. Before Brexit, Brits benefited from the EU cap on roaming charges, but this no longer applies.

Some phone companies have announced the return of roaming charges, while others have not, or only apply roaming charges only on certain contracts.

In short, check before you set off and don’t assume that because you have never been charged extra before, you won’t be this time.

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