As the skies darken in Italy in the first week of December, the holiday lights of Florence sparkle up the night. Draped over the city streets like curtains of candlelight, the lights create a strangely intimate impression.
During the weekend days, eager shoppers crowd the streets in the city center, only pausing in their flurry to have a quick caffé or snack on some roasted chestnuts (marrone) from a street vendor.
And it just wouldn’t be Christmas without the many Christmas markets (mercati) that spring up throughout the month of December.
The Office of Tourist Information (Ufficio Informazione Turistiche) lists no less than 14 markets here in Florence, and dozens of others outside the city.
Here are a few markets not to be missed:
Families love to bring their children to Florence Noël, the Christmas fair held at the Stazione Leopolda, near Porta al Prato. From November 29 to December 8, this grand former station is transformed into the North Pole. Children can walk through the wondrous, magical rooms of the home of Babbo Natale, Father Christmas. Each room is decked out with holiday cheer, and stars dance overhead to dazzle the children. At the post office, children write their wish list to Santa and mail it on the spot. And they won’t want to miss the chocolate village (Villaggio del Cioccolato), where they can taste some delicious hot chocolate. Also on hand are homemade crafts and decorations for the tree.
On December 8 and 9, the Piazza SS. Annunziata, just down the street from the Duomo, you’ll find the Fierucolina dell’Immacolata, a mercato featuring the work of artisans from the countryside. Here you can buy everything from handmade pottery, knitted hats and sweaters, wine, olive oil, candles, honey, cheese (I bought some delicious aged cheese from Poggio Antico,) and traditional Tuscan cakes and pastries.
One of the most celebrated mercati has to be the Mercato Tedesco di Natale—the German Christmas Market in Piazza Santa Croce, running from December 3 through December 21. Here you can wander the outdoor aisles marveling at the holiday-themed stalls selling everything from ceramic dishware to German sausages and Christmas wine to candy for the children. The name is somewhat misleading, however: while you can buy German specialties in food and crafts, there are also Italian items on sale. This market, open until 11pm, will definitely put you in the Christmas spirit. At the other end of the piazza, a large “carousel” slowly rotates while you sip on some vino caldo (hot spiced wine) and snack on a wurzt and sauerkraut with some patate fritte (fried potatoes).
Being in Florence for the holidays makes you feel like this is how Christmas should be. Year after year, traditions are upheld, and the markets are no different. Whether you’re in Florence this Christmas or the next or even five years from now, you can be sure that these markets will be here waiting for you.