It’s December in Italy: What you Need to Know

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It’s not possible for everyone to dream of traveling to Italy in the summer. Let me tell you all about December in Italy if you are one of those rare tourists who prefers to travel in the off-season. Although it isn’t as off-season as some might believe, there are still many great things to do in December.

The low season for tourism in Italy is winter, but the Christmas holidays cause a slight increase in prices and crowds. Even though the holidays can cause a slight increase in the cost of a vacation, they also make December a month of brightly wrapped packages and twinkling lights. This is what you need to know to travel in Italy in December. It includes what to expect from Italy’s weather and what’s on its calendar.

December Weather in Italy

It’s not always December that Italy has the coldest month. But it is close. There are many places where snow is common, especially in the mountains, at higher elevations and sometimes at sea level. In Venice, for example, you will see one of the most stunning winter scenes in Italy. It’s also possible for it to rain where it isn’t snowing.

The southern regions of Italy are warmer than the northern ones, but December brings colder temperatures to the south. Many of the August tourists are now heading to the mountains to ski or snowboard in December, unlike the August crowds. You might consider visiting a ski resort town for December, regardless of whether you are planning a trip to the mountains. Many have natural hot springs and spas that can warm you up no matter the weather outside.

It can be sunny one day and snowy the next. This sunny photo was taken in Milan in December 2009, and the slushy one a few weeks later. It doesn’t matter where you are going, it is smart to pack warm clothing, an umbrella and waterproof shoes.

These are the average temperatures for different regions of Italy:

  • Northern Italy: 25-45degF (-4-5degC).
  • Central Italy: 40-55degF (5-13degC)
  • Southern Italy: 55-60degF (13-16degC).

As always, make sure to check the extended forecast for the place you are actually going before you leave. This will allow you to know in advance if it is unseasonably warm or cold.

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December Holidays and Festivals in Italy

The Immaculate Conception, which falls on December 8, is the first major Italian holiday. However, Christmas is December’s most important holiday. Although it’s an important date on the Italian holiday schedule, the most important holiday during the Christmas season is Epiphany which falls on January 6th. Many Italians spend Christmas Day and Christmas Eve with their families. However, you can also attend the Christmas Mass in all of Italy’s churches. Many people also participate in religious procession and bonfires. There are also Christmas markets that are set up on piazzas. These markets typically open throughout December, and are usually doing a good trade because Italians often give gifts on both December 6th and December 25th. You can read more about Italian Christmas celebrations in my article Christmas in Italy.

St. Stephen’s Day is Italy’s national holiday, but it is less important than Chrismas. You might also find regional holidays and festivals in December. For example, Milan’s patron saint’s day on December 7th. Browse my (never-going-to-be-comprehensive) list of Italian holidays to get an idea of what might be going on where you’re traveling, and when you arrive in any town ask at the tourist information office if there are any festivals going on while you’re there.

Why travel to Italy in December?

December can be a strange mix of weather that isn’t ideal, at least for most travelers. It doesn’t have the usual perks of thin crowds or bargains. There’s also Christmas. Many visitors consider Christmas in Italy, specifically the Vatican City, a lifelong dream. No other month is suitable for them. You should remember that many people around the globe have the same dream. To get the best hotel rooms (or even get any room at all), you need to plan ahead and book your trip months in advance. You can also request tickets from the Vatican directly for free if you want to see Christmas Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica. People who do not plan ahead or rush to the Vatican at the last minute can view the whole Mass live on huge screens in St. Peter’s Square.

Should you skip Christmas if you aren’t going to Italy for that purpose? Not necessarily. Some great treats are only available in cold weather and are often sold at Christmas markets. The vendors roast the chestnuts on their carts, and then sell them in small paper bags. Vin brule is a hot spiced wine that holiday market vendors often sell. Cafes also bring out their cioccolata calda machines to make delicious Italian hot coco. These are all delicious ways to warm your body from the inside. Even if you love solitude, beach-centric places like the Amalfi coast or hiking-centric spots such as the Cinque Terre might not be the best places for winter travel. Many locals close down shops, restaurants, and hotels in the winter.

Truth be told, most of the attractions in Italy that you want to see are indoors. This includes museums, churches, and art galleries. It doesn’t matter if it’s snowing or sunny outside. While snow will not affect your experience at Pompeii or the Roman Forum, your photos will be different from everyone else’s.

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