Christmas in Florence is festive treat, thanks to a spectacular light festival, and plenty of festive decorations and events. From the huge Christmas tree and nativity scene in Piazza Duomo, the Christmas Market in Piazza Santa Croce and plenty of shopping opportunities… Here’s a list of our favourite things to do at this sparkling and special time of year.
Christmas is approaching, the temperatures have dropped and the shop windows start filling with all sorts of inviting treats and glittery ornaments. The 8th December is the ‘official’ start of the Christmas season in Florence, where the historic centre gets dressed up with festive decorations and a myriad of traditional sweet treats make an appearance in the pasticcerie – a feast for the eyes and the stomach… Enjoy!
Christmas holidays in Florence – 6 Things to do
1.Christmas tree and nativity scene in Piazza Duomo
The Cathedral Square, the religious heart of Florence, welcomes the festivities with the two symbols of Natale, a traditional presepe – or nativity scene – in terracotta and the huge Christmas tree that is switched on on the 8th of December.
The nativity scene is an ancient Italian tradition that commemorates the birth of Christ – Saint Francis is credited with creating the very first one in 1223. Presepi appear in every church and many Italian homes. The one in Piazza Duomo in Florence is handmade by a local potter, using the famous terracotta from Impruneta.
2. See the Ponte Vecchio in a different light
In Florence, the Christmas holidays bring the dazzling L-Festivals (from 8th December 2018 to 6th January 2019) that literally illuminate the city. This is a video mapping show made of multicoloured light projected on famous landmarks like the Ponte Vecchio, Palazzo Vecchio and Santo Spirito Church. In this way, the famous ancient monuments are given a contemporary new look, as the city fills with the festive feel of Christmas. Let there be light!
3. Get into the spirit with Benozzo Gozzoli and Santa Trinita Church
Why not get into the spirit of Christmas, by going to see some beautiful examples of sacred art in Florence? Florentine sacred art can surely help to get into the spirit of Christmas time. If you visit the splendid Magi Chapel in Palazzo Medici-Riccardi you’ll be immersed in a world of devotion, elegance and vivid colours. The scene depicts the journeys of the three Magi, or Wise Men, travelling to Bethlehem to pay homage to the newborn Jesus.
This famous fresco series was also an excuse to celebrate the Medici family, who commissioned Benozzo Gozzoli to decorate the private chapel of their residence.
For a more intimate nativity scene visit the Sassetti Chapel in the Church of Santa Trinita. Here the “Adoration of the Shepherds” by Domenico Ghirlandaio (1485) shows an exquisite ‘Renaissance nativity scene’. The entrance to this church is free.
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4. Shop ’til you drop around the dazzling Florentine streets
Moving from the sacred to the worldly, Florence is always a great opportunity for a bit of retail therapy, and Christmas is a great occasion to buy all sorts of gifts. From the luxurious Via Tornabuoni to the lively Borgo degli Albizi and Via del Corso, from the big Rinascente store in Piazza della Repubblica to the area around San Lorenzo Market where you can have fun trying on all sorts of leather jackets and accessories, everyone will find something to suit their taste, and their pockets.
Special tip for shoppers! Don’t miss the Officina Farmaceutica di Santa maria Novella. This historic pharmacy looks stunning all year round, but the Christmas decorations add even more charm to its rooms filled with the scent of their artisanal soaps and perfumes.
5. Explore the Christmas market in Piazza Santa Croce
Italy isn’t known for the Christmas Markets, and Florence has ‘imported’ its version from northern Europe. The annual Weihnachtsmarkt (28th November – 20th December 2018) brings to town 50 wooden stalls selling decorations, candles and some food specialities from Germany. You won’t find traditional Tuscan artefacts, but the setting itself is spectacular: Piazza Santa Croce, with the background of the beautiful Santa Croce church.
6. Making Christmas sweeter than ever in Florence
During your stay in Florence you can take your sweet tooth on a journey, starting at Rivoire in Piazza Signoria, where you can enjoy a luscious hot chocolate in one of Florence’s historic cafés. Other hot spots for chocolate lovers are: the Cioccolateria Hemingway in Piazza Piattellina in the heart of the San Frediano neighbourhood, or L’Arte del Cioccolato near the Duomo in Piazza Santa Elisabetta.
Then it’s time to go in search of the traditional Christmas treats like panettone or the Sienese panforte and delicious ricciarelli, a great way to celebrate Natale Italian style. Try Robiglio in via de’ Servi or Caffé Gilli in via Roma, both iconic Florentine pasticcerie.
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Practical tips: most museums are closed on Christmas Day and on 1st January, but they are normally open on 24th December and 26th which is a bank holiday (Saint Stephen’s Day) – Churches are open for Mass on 25th, including the Duomo, so don’t plan a visit on Christmas Day.