Christmas in July: What to Expect during a Winter Trip to Italy

The lion's share of visitors to Italy plan their trips during the high season summer months, but Italy in the winter has a singular charm as the cities empty of tourists and locals return to their daily routine, the biggest museums and attractions are delightfully quiet, and the cooler temperatures make it more pleasant to tour, despite the shorter days.

january-travel-italy-ciutravel-cr-brian-dore(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

What can you expect during a winter holiday trip to Italy? Here are some of the seasonal specialties and activities that can be the highlight of a vacation during the most wonderful time of the year:

december-pienza-tuscany-cr-brian-dore(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

Winter Dishes


Italian cuisine is deeply rooted in seasonal ingredients, and that includes winter dishes. The cooler months are perfect for indulging in the rich comfort foods for which Italy is famous: filling pastas, creamy risottos, and savory roasted meats are just the hearty dishes you need after a morning touring in the cool winter air. Try some of the regional heirloom legumes in a warming soup, like lentils from Castelluccio in Umbria or Tuscan cannellini. Settle in for a steaming dish of polenta topped with a thick ragu', a platter of local game fresh from the oven, or anything and everything flavored with delicate white truffles.

polenta-sausage-cr-brian-dore(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

If you are planning a trip over the Christmas holidays, you can sample some of Italy's traditional dishes found only during the final weeks of December. From handmade cappelletti or tortellini in a delicate meat broth to sweet Christmas panettone and pandoro breads, your festive meal will be one to remember.

ravioli-white-truffle-cr-brian-dore(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

Winter Shopping


Shopping in Italy during the quieter winter months is much less stressful than in high season, as you are not elbowing your way through the markets and souvenir shops and artisans and shopkeepers have time to dedicate to each customer and are more amenable to a little off-season bargaining. Take home some hand-painted traditional majolica or fine linens for yourself or as a special gift, stock up on the year's new olive oil or hard-to-find wine, get fitted for a custom shirt or even an entire suit from a traditional tailor, or hunt down the best souvenirs from each stop on your travel itinerary that go beyond the expendable trinkets and can be mementos to last a lifetime. Perhaps the most unique seasonal shopping can be had at the Christmas markets which take over town squares from Rome to the Alps, with pretty wooden stands lit with fairy lights selling local gourmet specialties, handicrafts, and Christmas decorations.

shirt-fitting-lemmi-perugia-italy-cr-brian-dore(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

If you are looking for some elegant Italian fashion, winter is a great season to take advantage of “saldi invernali”, or the winter sale season that runs from early January to early March in most regions. Shops and boutiques in Italy try to clear out their stock from the previous season and make room for the summer fashions, so you can find some of the most beautiful clothing, shoes, and accessories in Italy at a deep discount. You can also stop at one of the many outlet centers for even better discounts, and remember to consider claiming your VAT refunds if you plan on making large purchases.

winter-shopping-italy-cr-brian-dore(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

Winter Sights


Though we recommend avoiding destinations like Italy's islands and the rural hilltowns of Tuscany and Umbria during the quietest months of the winter, it is the perfect season to enjoy other sights in Italy that can be very crowded and uncomfortably hot during the summer months. The sprawling archaeological parks of Pompeii and Herculaneum are much more pleasant during the southern Italy's temperate winter season, as are the Valley of the Temples and the Neapolis Park in Sicily. Even the famed Forum and Colosseum in Rome are delightfully quiet and lovely to visit on a sunny winter day in Rome, and you'll be thrilled to have the Vatican - and most other museums and attractions across Italy - virtually to yourself in low season.

Opera Glasses(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

Winter is also a wonderful time to enjoy Italy's breathtaking historic theaters during the music and opera season, which generally run from December to May or June. Indulge in an evening at Milan's iconic La Scala, Venice's opulent La Fenice, or the historic opera houses in Bologna, Naples, or Palermo to experience the timeless elegance of some of the most beautiful performance spaces in Europe.

Winter Sports


By winter sports, we mean, of course, skiing! Italy's ski season begins in November, but the best snow usually falls from January to March on the Alps and Dolomites. An Italian ski holiday offers some of the world's most beautiful Alpine scenery and excellent runs, of course, but with the leisurely pace, fantastic food, fashionable people-watching, and chic après ski scene unique to the Bel Paese. You can easily work you ski break into a longer holiday, visiting destinations in northern Italy like Venice or Turin or heading across the Alps into Switzerland.

Cortina13(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

The most popular resorts in Italy are Cortina d'Ampezzo, just a few hours from Venice and famous for its Olympic-class runs paired with luxury shopping and exclusive accommodations; Madonna di Campiglio, beloved for excellent local cuisine, charming boutiques, and a bustling nightlife; and Cervinia near the Swiss border at the base of Monte Cervino (the Matterhorn) and a short drive to Zermatt. All of these destinations are well-organized for the logistics of equipment rental, shuttle services, lift passes, and ski schools and instructors, so you don't need to lug your skis overseas and can easily arrange for lessons for everyone from beginning skiers to experienced snowboarders.

winter-in-italy-cr-brian-dore(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

Related posts:
Coming Soon: Switzerland!
Outlet Shopping in Italy
So...You Want to Ski in Italy

Contributor: Rebecca Winke

Concierge in Umbria
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