Nine quirky Christmas nativity scenes you can see in Italy

Nativity scenes appear in homes, churches and public buildings across the country in December, each one a little different. But while they may be a staple of the Christmas season, there's nothing traditional about these quirky examples...

Nine quirky Christmas nativity scenes you can see in Italy
Photo: Christopher Brown/Flickr

1. The world's largest

Let's start with the world's largest nativity, in Cinque Terre. Each year, the picturesque town of Manarola in the Liguria tourist spot is illuminated with over 15,000 lights – a tradition which began back in 1961 with a single cross. It's not only an incredible sight but is also eco-friendly, made entirely of recycled materials.

2. The Vatican's life-size effort

The scene in Rome's Piazza San Pietro is probably the most famous. This year, the traditional nativity scene is accompanied by the cross and debris from Norcia's destroyed basilica, in a tribute to the victims of the earthquakes in central Italy. As per tradition, the baby Jesus will be added to the scene by the pope himself on Christmas Eve.

3. Pasta

It's Italy. Of course someone made a pasta presepe. This one can be seen at Rome's annual 100 presepi exhibition, displaying nativities of all materials and sizes from around the world.


A photo posted by Elena Toni (@ele_nina1103) on Dec 13, 2016 at 3:45am PST

4. A modern version

This version imagines how Jesus' birth might have been different had it happened in 2016 – selfie sticks and all.


A photo posted by ( on Dec 13, 2016 at 1:55am PST

5. On the water

The 'floating nativities' of port town Cesenatico are the only ones of their kind in the world. The boats display around 50 life-size statues throughout December, portraying a scene typical of the fishing village. Each year a new statue is added, and at night, lights bring the whole scene to life.

6. Nutella

This improvised version may be less elaborate than the others, but it's the most delicious on the list.


A photo posted by Pasquale Sabatino (@pasqualesab72) on Dec 19, 2016 at 9:45pm PST

7. On the road

We love this brightly coloured car nativity, spotted in Reggio Calabria in the south of the country.


A photo posted by Yallers Calabria (@yallerscalabria) on Dec 20, 2016 at 12:11am PST

8. Live

You might do a double take when you first see one of Italy's presepi viventi – not only are they life-size, but they are made up of real people, each acting out a character in the rural scene. There are several living nativities across the country, but this one in Matera is one of the most famous and most beautiful. Walking through a 5km route to the town centre, visitors pass shepherds and artisans who will direct them to the actual crib.

9. Sand

In Jesolo near Venice, a nativity scene made entirely of sand is inaugurated each year. This year, the scene honours the many refugees who make the journey to Italy each year, seeking shelter like the holy family.

Photo: christopher_brown/Flickr


La Bella Vita: The best Italian-language podcasts, and unexpected foods you’ll find in Italy

From Italian podcasts to surprising delicacies and our favourite overlooked travel destinations, new weekly newsletter La Bella Vita offers you an essential starting point for eating, talking, drinking and living like an Italian.

La Bella Vita: The best Italian-language podcasts, and unexpected foods you'll find in Italy

La Bella Vita is our regular look at the real culture of Italy – from language to cuisine, manners to art. This new newsletter will be published weekly and you can receive it directly to your inbox, by going to newsletter preferences in ‘My Account’ or follow the instructions in the newsletter box below.

A cornerstone of Italian culture, the tabaccheria is used for much more than just buying cigarettes. In fact, these little shops are pretty central to everyday life and anyone who moves to or just spends time in Italy will need to become as familiar with them as they are with the local coffee bar.

From paying bills to purchasing bus tickets, here are just some of the services you should know about and a few tips for your first visit.

Why the tabaccheria is essential to life in Italy – even if you don’t smoke

For Italian language learners: listening to podcasts is a great way to immerse yourself in a new language. Luckily there’s a vast range of audio shows for people wanting to learn Italian, whether you’re studying at an advanced level or learning from scratch. Here we’ve selected a few of our favourites, plus readers’ suggestions:

Some of the best podcasts for learners of Italian

Italy is known worldwide for pizza and gelato, but Italian cuisine is incredibly diverse and visitors are often surprised by some of the local delicacies on offer. I know rustic Tuscan cuisine didn’t exactly match my expectations when I first arrived in Italy. I quickly learned to love it – but my mother-in-law’s homemade chocolate cake made with pig’s blood (sanguinaccio is a delicacy in Puglia…) was a step too far!

So, from fried brains and tripe to suggestive desserts that you definitely wouldn’t expect the local priest to approve of, here’s a look at some more of the traditional foods loved by Italians – but not always by foreigners.

From fried brains to ‘sexy’ cakes: The Italian foods you might not expect in Italy

Visitors can find more than they bargained for at a traditional Italian food market. (Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP)

As regular visitors know, there’s much more to Italy than just the glamour of Rome, Venice or Florence, but some destinations suffer – we think unfairly – from negative reputations. From Caserta to Reggio Calabria and beyond, here are some of the overlooked Italian towns that are home to incredible sights that everyone should see at least once.

Nine overlooked Italian towns you should visit

If you’re planning a visit to Italy (or to another part of Europe from Italy) this year but want to cut down your carbon footprint, train travel is a great option and there are more routes than ever connecting Italy’s major cities to other parts of the continent.

Here are some of the main direct international train services you can use for travel between Italy and other European countries this year.

The train routes connecting Italy to the rest of Europe in 2023

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Is there an aspect of the Italian way of life you’d like to see us write more about on The Local? Please email me at [email protected]