Florence at Christmas... comes complete with Babbo Natale (Santa Claus!)
Visiting Florence at Christmas? Count yourself lucky—it's a gorgeous time of year to visit! While Florence is beautiful year-round, holiday decorations and Christmas cheer add a festive touch.
Still, many shops and restaurants do close down to celebrate the Christmas season... and you'll want to keep some other things in mind, too. Here are our top tips for making the most out of Christmas in Florence!
Sightseeing in Florence over Christmas
The good news: Florence's acclaimed museums are usually less crowded during the holiday season, so you can experience the paintings and sculptures more intimately! Plus, the majority of museums, including the Uffizi and Accademia, are open on both December 24 and 26 to tourists. (Just remember that many sights will be closed, as usual, on Mondays, including Dec. 23 and 30. Here's a helpful list of what to do on Florence on a Monday!).
On Christmas Day, though, most museums are shut. If you want to get an art fix on Christmas, head to Palazzo Strozzi for its modern and contemporary exhibits. Of course, Florence itself is an open-air museum, too: Christmas Day is the perfect time to explore Florence's extraordinary architecture with a walk along the Ponte Vecchio, or take in a panoramic view of the city from Piazzale Michelangelo, in the Oltrarno district. (Here are more reasons to explore Florence's Oltrarno!).
Another option? Take a day trip, like to nearby Fiesole or the Tuscan gems Siena and San Gimignano. While trains will run less often than normal (always check the schedule on the Trenitalia website), visiting a smaller town makes for a wonderful, intimate way to experience Christmas Day.
Just note that in small towns, almost all shops and restaurants will be closed... so return to Florence in time for dinner!
Florence Duomo at Christmas
For a truly Florentine Christmas experience, head to the Duomo for midnight Mass in Italian on Christmas Eve! As entrance to the mass is on a first-come, first-served basis, we recommend arriving before 10:30pm to ensure a spot.
Want to experience the Christmas Mass in English, instead? Head to St. Mark's or St. James (both holding midnight Masses at 11pm), complete with joyful music.
The Duomo is also open for Mass on Christmas Day, with a ceremony featuring Gregorian chants.
Keep in mind that, outside of the hours when Mass is being held, Florence's churches are mainly closed on Christmas Day. Plus, etiquette-wise, visiting to admire the church's art and architecture—rather than partake in a ceremony—is often looked down upon on the holy day. At the Duomo, the entrance to climbing the dome is closed on both Christmas Day and December 26.
Eating out over the Christmas holidays
Unsurprisingly, many family-owned restaurants and stores in Florence close on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and St. Stephen's Day (December 26) so the owners can spend time with loved ones.
But don't worry—there are still some options open for the holidays! Reservations are usually mandatory, especially for Christmas Day, when the main meal is a large lunch (and usually with a fixed-price menu). Some of our favorite picks for celebrating Christmas lunch include Mangiafuoco, La Gisotra, Borgo San Jacopo and Trattoria 4 Leoni.
Browsing Florence's beautiful Christmas markets
Skip the commercial stores and head straight to stands of artisanal crafts for your Christmas shopping! Florence boasts two Christmas markets: the Florence Noel (with a 7 euro entrance fee, located at the Leopolda Center) and the Weihnachtsmarkt (a traditional German market in Piazza Santa Croce). (Click through for more on Italy's best Christmas markets!).
A traditional Christmas market in Florence Italy
Shopping in a Christmas market in Florence. Photo by Around Tuscany (Flickr)
Both markets run from mid-November to Christmas Eve, with unique gifts and local holiday treats like panettone and vin brulé. (Don't miss our post on Italy's sweet Christmas cakes, including panettone!).
Getting around on Christmas Day
Local public transportation and trains from outside of Florence do run on Christmas Day, but may operate on a limited schedule. If you will be moving around, we suggest buying bus tickets tickets the day before because most newsstands and coffee shops that sell them will be closed.
Need to figure out your transport in advance? Be sure to check the ATAF time tables for bus schedules, along with Trenitalia and Italo for trains connecting to Florence.
Ringing in the New Year... as the Florentines do!
Fireworks in Florence... it has a ring to it, don't you think?
Fireworks in Florence... it has a ring to it, don't you think?
Whether you're looking to celebrate in a restaurant, or with locals outside in a piazza, Florence offers a wide range of options for celebrating Capodanno (New Year's)! The city is famous for its concerts in the piazzas and its beautiful firework displays (best places to view them: from along the Arno, or Piazzale Michelangelo).
For dinner, visitors are spoilt for choice. Lots of restaurants are open on New Year's Eve, offering Florentine specialties—and some even with live entertainment. Again, though, make sure you book in advance. And yes, our favorite restaurants for Christmas, above, also serve New Year's Eve dinner!
(By the way: If you really want to celebrate like a local, don't miss our post on New Year's Eve traditions across Italy!).
Want to grab a celebratory drink? Lochness is one of Florence's most popular bars. (Here are four of our other favorite wine bars in Florence!). But remember that many spots will tend to be overcrowded on New Year's Eve, with elevated cover charges to boot.
For a more cultural (and, dare we say, elegant) experience, check out the New Year's Eve Opera & Gala at the gorgeous St. Mark's English Church.
Florence sightseeing on New Year's Eve and Day
Florence's fabulous museums have normal hours on New Year's Eve. And most stores and restaurants are open during the day in preparation for the evening's festivities, too.
Capodanno (New Year's Day) is a national holiday in which most Italians take a day of rest, closing shops and restaurants for the day. Don't want to rest? Palazzo Vecchio—located in Piazza della Signoria—is one of the few museums open on January 1 (from 1pm to 7pm), offering a glimpse into the life of the noble Medici family.