Ten ways to spend the holiday weekend in Milan

Milan celebrates local and national public holidays this week, giving it a four-day weekend packed with festivities. Local writer Rachael Martin presents her top picks for how to spend the holiday.

Ten ways to spend the holiday weekend in Milan
Milan's Piazza del Duomo. Photo: Marco Bertorello/AFP

Milan's annual Christmas celebrations kicked off on December 6th with the official lighting of the Sky Italia Christmas tree in Piazza del Duomo.

December 7th is the Festa di Sant’Ambrogio, feast of Saint Ambrose and a local public holiday. Saint Ambrose is the patron saint of the city and was the fourth-century bishop of Milan responsible for the construction of various city churches, including the Basilica di Sant’Ambrogio. 

The evening of December 7th marks the traditional opening of the season at Teatro alla Scala, as Umberto Giordano's Andrea Chénier, directed by Riccardo Chailly, takes to the stage and opera-goers are out in their finery.

The following day is also a national holiday – the Feast of the Immaculate Conception – thus making it a long weekend of festivities here in Milan. 

Photo: Rachael Martin

If you're in the city, then chances are you'll be heading to the annual Oh Bej! Oh Bej! market (Piazza Castello, via Gadio and Piazza del Cannone, until December 10th). Try the local speciality firunatt – roast chestnuts on a string – and stock up on Christmas gifts non-edible and edible, not least panettone. 

Christmas in Milan is still all about the panettone: despite the fact that the sweet bread may be famous (and available) worldwide, there is still something very special about eating it in Milan, where it all began.

One legend states that it is pan de’ Toni – Toni’s bread. He burnt the dessert for a banquet at the court of Ludovico the Moor, a 15th-century duke of Milan, so he improvised. The result was panettone, an immediate success. 


A post shared by Rachael Martin (@rachinitaly) on Nov 15, 2017 at 11:02pm PST

Other Christmas markets are the Christmas Village in Piazza Gae Aulenti (until January 7th) and the Darsena Christmas Village (until January 6th), each with an ice rink. Both are worth a visit, but the Navigli canals around Darsena are particularly suggestive at Christmas time. Head to the Tortona design district while you’re down there for chic gifts. 

This weekend also sees the last days of Artigiano in Fiera with artisans from all over the world (Fiera Milano Rho, until December 10th). There’s also the Wunder Mrkt at Cargo&HighTech, (via privata Meucci 43, December 9th and 10th), where you'll find vintage clothes, art, design, music and food with an activities corner for kids. 

Don’t miss the Funk Off concerts organized by Umbria Jazz in the Piazza del Duomo (December 9th and 10th at 12.30 and 17.30). The performers will take to the square in the style of a New Orleans marching band – hardly Milanese, but just enjoy the music and take in the ambiance of the cathedral square.

And don’t forget to stop by the nearby Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II and see the sparkling Swarovski Christmas tree. Look up and marvel at the lights in the dome – and if you’re there this evening, you can watch the opera from La Scala live on screen.

Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

On the cultural side, Palazzo Reale has two photography exhibitions: there’s fashion photographer Paolo Roversi (until December 17th) and James Nachtwey’s Memoria, a reflection upon war (until March 4th). 

Finally, if you want to enjoy a view that brings together some of the best of all that is Milanese, visit the Museo del Novecento. Dedicated to 20th-century art, it has works by international and Italian and artists, but when the lights have come on at Christmas time it has what is – in my opinion – one of the most beautiful views of Milan.

Head up to the room where Lucio Fontana’s Structure in Neon is on show. Above you and reflected in the mirror are the swirls of Fontana’s light installation. To the right you have the gothic cathedral, straight ahead is the 19th-century Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II and below is the Piazza del Duomo in all its vastness – and with its newly inaugurated Christmas tree.

This is Milan, and it’s beautiful. 


A post shared by Rachael Martin (@rachinitaly) on Dec 7, 2017 at 8:51am PST

Rachael Martin is a writer and journalist based near Milan. Find her online at Northern Italian Diaries and on Instagram as @rachinitaly.

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Five of Italy’s most magical Christmas markets in 2021

Even though Covid cases are rising in Italy, most of the country's Christmas markets will open to spread some festive cheer and fill our hearts (and bellies) with glad tidings. Here's a rundown of five of Italy's most magical Christmas markets.

The Italian Christmas markets you should put on your wish list for 2021.
The Italian Christmas markets you should put on your wish list for 2021. Photo by Daniil Silantev on Unsplash

In 2020, many Christmas markets in Italy had to close or were scaled back because of the pandemic restrictions. This year, at least at the time of writing, lots of markets are set to open in the coming weeks.

Some have safety measures in place, such as mask-wearing and the requirement to show a green pass, so remember to check the rules before you travel.

READ ALSO: Where do you now need to show a Covid green pass in Italy?

While most of the larger and more famous Christmas markets are in the north of Italy, smaller markets and other seasonal events are held in towns and cities all over the country.

With that said, here are five of the most enchanting Christmas markets in Italy that count among our favourites.

Photo by on Unsplash

Trento, Trentino–Alto Adige

‘I mercatini di Trento’ is one of Italy’s most famous Christmas markets. Set in the northern region of Trentino-Alto Adige, which borders Austria and Switzerland, Trento is full of that mountainous frosty glee that warms the cockles of your heart.

Every year, visitors are attracted by the artisanal goods, the abundant offering of seasonal gastronomical treats and the cosy atmosphere of a historic centre decked out in twinkling lights.

More and more stalls come to Trento each year, meaning there’s always something new to see, buy and eat every time you go.

The city’s two main squares welcome visitors with their cosy lodges, where you can watch live demonstrations and listen to traditional music. And with the snow-peaked backdrop and fresh air, Trento puts on a Christmas market to remember.

Trento Christmas market runs from November 20th to January 9th.

READ ALSO: Is Italy likely to bring back Covid restrictions this Christmas?

Christmas decorations on display in a market in central Bolzano. Photo by ANDREAS SOLARO / AFP

Bolzano, South Tyrol

Another Christmas market not to be missed in the north of Italy is the spectacular display in Bolzano, arguably one of the most beautiful in Italy.

This festive extravaganza located in the region of South Tyrol is claimed to be Italy’s biggest Christmas market and, after almost two decades of the event, always has something new to delight return visitors.

New for 2021 are some stalls dedicated to grappa and beer with tastings of South Tyrolean spirits and craft beers, while for wine lovers, there’s a dedicated wine lodge offering tastings of the local labels.

Those delicious yuletide aromas of pine, cinnamon and mulled wine fill the streets, while squares are bathed in a romantic glow when the stalls come to town and transform the city into a spellbinding winter wonderland.

What better time to sample a local strudel, feast on some salty speck or indulge in some alpine homemade sweets?

The big Christmas tree in the central Piazza Walther will be lit up on Thursday November 25th to launch the market, which will remain open until January 6th.

Christmas lights during the “Luci d’Artista” (Artist’s Lights of Salerno) (Photo by MARIO LAPORTA / AFP)

Salerno, Campania

The northern mountain cities don’t claim complete ownership of Italy’s best Christmas markets, however.

One of the most eagerly awaited Christmas events can be found in the southern region of Campania: the illuminations called Luci d’artista (Artist’s Lights) in Salerno.

After being cancelled last year, the display is back for 2021 offering visitors a show of real works of art made in lights.

Due to the pandemic measures, access to the city will be restricted, especially on weekends when buses will be limited.

Strolling around the city, you can see this world-famous spectacle as you go, while also taking a tour of the Christmas markets, located on the city’s seafront. All in all, it makes for an unusually marvellous Christmas shopping experience right on the coast.

The lights will run from November 26th until January 30th.

Photo by Lynda Hinton on Unsplash

Verona, Veneto

How much more romantic and magical can you get than a Christmas market in Italy’s city of love? In fact, the market’s organisers describe Verona as, “The city of love, the city of Christmas”.

Even Romeo and Juliet’s tragedy lights up with the seasonal colours, sounds and smells. The city’s streets and squares transform into a dreamy setting for festive shopping and socialising: handicraft products in glass, wood, ceramics and many food and wine specialities tempt and delight.

The entrance to the city will be illuminated by hundreds of lights, creating what they call “a Champs Elysees effect”, continuing through all the streets of the historic centre. All the sparkles and glow are set against a backdrop of the famous Roman Arena and the unmissable Christmas star in front.

There will be more than 100 exhibitors this year and for 2021, the market will run in collaboration with the “Christkindlmarkt” of Nuremberg in Germany, bringing a heartwarming fairy-tale atmosphere to the fair city.

Verona’s Christmas market will run from November 12th to December 26th.

Photo by Christian Della Torre on Unsplash

Como, Lombardy

The lake setting and Christmas atmosphere make this a unique festive market you’ll look back on for years to come – and where better to get excited about the exchanging of Christmas gifts than Italy’s so-called city of toys ‘la città dei balocchi‘?

Starting with the Magic Light festival, its projections and lights transform the city’s building and squares into an open-air gallery. Meanwhile, delightful wooden huts create a Christmas village, offering local specialities, gifts and mouthwatering dishes.

There are also numerous refreshment and tasting points giving visitors the chance to sample menus typical of the area. And the unmissable giant ferris wheel is worth a whirl too.

If you want to work off some of those festive chocolates, waffles and gingerbread hearts, you can get your cheeks rosy at the ice rink in Piazza Cavour.

Plus, you can’t miss (literally) the traditional Christmas fir tree, illuminated by thousands of lights.

Como’s Christmas market runs from November 27th to January 6th.

Where are your favourite Christmas markets in Italy? If you have any suggestions, please leave a comment below.