As the air gets chillier and the streets begin to sparkle with festive lights, spending Christmas in Milan transforms into a truly magical experience! Known for its stylish flair, Milan is also a city of deep-rooted traditions, warm hospitality, and mouth-watering culinary delights. If you find yourself here during the holiday season, you're in for a treat.
What to Expect in Milan During Christmas
Christmas in Milan begins early, with the city transforming into a winter wonderland from late November onwards. Trees twinkle with lights, streets are decorated, and the sweet smell of traditional Italian Christmas treats wafts through the air. The city’s iconic Duomo, adorned with lights and surrounded by a bustling Christmas market, becomes the heart of the festive celebrations.
Weather in Milan During Christmas Season
In December, Milan is officially in the midst of winter. As one of the coldest months of the year, it hardly sees temperatures rise over 10°C. The temperature fluctuates between 6-7°C on average and can get as low as 0°C in the evening. You might get a few showers of rain, which isn't very regular but is a possibility in Milan in December, making the air even colder.
How to Spend Christmas in Milan
Beyond the markets and Christmas treats, the city offers a plethora of activities to make your holiday season even more memorable. Here are some additional activities to consider during your stay:
Visit the Duomo di Milano and the Piazza del Duomo
In Milan, Christmas begins on the seventh of December. On this day, the magnificent Christmas tree in the Piazza Duomo, which is next to the city's most prominent landmark cathedral, is lit up in all its splendour.
Against the cathedral's background, this tree appears especially gorgeous. It typically stands at a height of 25 meters, and in the past, 80,000 lights, 800 ornaments, and 60 bows have been used to adorn it.
Coming to the Duomo, no trip to Milan is complete without marvelling at the magnificent Duomo. During Christmas, the cathedral is beautifully decorated with lights and a towering Christmas tree. You can also attend special Christmas concerts and services that are sometimes held within the Duomo to enjoy the festive spirit.
Explore Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
If you're in for a Christmas shopping spree, adjacent to the Duomo, this elegant shopping gallery is a hub of luxury brands, exquisite cafes, and restaurants. But during Christmas, the Galleria is adorned with dazzling lights and decorations, creating a magical atmosphere. The tree adds a festive touch to Milan's shopping at that time of year as it soars gracefully toward the glass atrium of the renowned mall. It is 12 metres tall and is incredibly embellished with Swarovski crystals, hundreds of lights, and a star on top, making it a wonderful sight to witness!
Make sure to take a leisurely stroll as you give into some shopping time, and savour a cup of hot chocolate or a glass of prosecco at one of the charming cafes.
Enjoy Ice Skating
Lace-up your skates and glide across the ice at one of Milan's temporary ice rinks. During the Christmas season, several locations, such as the Piazza Gae Aulenti or the gardens of Castello Sforzesco, transform into winter wonderlands with ice-skating rinks. It's a delightful activity for both adults and children alike.
Another ice skating rink is inside the Daresena Christmas Village, which is close to Navigli and is a really 'cool' spot to go ice skating. You can go ice skating there and then end your evening with a few drinks in the Navigli Canal region.
Attend a Christmas Concert at Teatro alla Scala
Now, Milan is renowned for its vibrant music scene, and during the holiday season, you can enjoy a variety of concerts and performances. From classical symphonies to festive choral recitals, there are numerous venues throughout the city where you can immerse yourself in the enchanting melodies of the season.
The world-famous La Scala Opera House in Milan hosts several operas, ballets, and concerts over the holiday season, including the Christmas Concert.
You can watch out for the famed stage, the spectacular interior and some of the costumes, paintings, instruments and set designs that are all accessible if you book tours of La Scala's museum.
No matter what time of year you visit the canal district, you're guaranteed to experience the best of Milan at night and have a fantastic time while enjoying an aperitivo, or pre-dinner drink.
But during the holiday season, you witness a very different scenario. Navigli comes alive with decorations, lights, and a large number of Christmas market stalls.
Similarly, you can also visit the Brera district, which is known for its artistic charm and bohemian atmosphere. During Christmas, the streets come alive with special events and exhibitions. If you have time on your hands, apart from strolling through the cobblestoned streets, you can also explore the Brera Art Gallery, wander through the narrow alleys lined with boutiques and art studios and savour a cosy dinner at one of the neighbourhood's traditional trattorias.
Witness the Lighting Ceremony
Milan celebrates the official start of the Christmas season with a grand lighting ceremony. The city's main squares, including Piazza del Duomo and Piazza della Scala, are adorned with captivating light displays. If you're looking for a refreshing way to enjoy the season, join the locals as they gather to witness the magical moment when the lights are switched on which signals the beginning of the festive period!
Board a Historic Tram for the Ultimate Milan Christmas Lights Tour
Getting aboard one of Milan's historic trams and riding about the city centre, is a wonderful way to live up to the Christmas Spirit in Milan. A tour of the same allows you to enjoy the views and take in the spectacular Christmas decorations and lights if you're looking to avoid the cold while still seeing some of the city's attractions.
While the majority of the trams you see today date to the early 1900s, some of Milan's yellow historic trams date back to 1876 when they were first hauled by horses.
To take the city's historic tram, you need to either take tram line 1 or 2, which will take you through the city's old streets and is a relaxing way to travel around at Christmas.
The public tram makes frequent stops, and these two lines in particular pass by significant locations. Along the trip, you'll get to see Milan, splendidly decorated for the holidays!
The Christmas Markets in Milan
When it comes to authentic Italian Christmas experiences, the Christmas markets in Milan are an absolute must-visit. It usually begins on December 7, coinciding with the patron saint of Milan, Saint Ambrose's feast day, and continues for about a week. Let's take a look at the few markets that should be on your checklist when you visit Milan!
Mercatino di Natale
Location: To the left of Piazza Duomo
Time: 9 am to 9 pm Daily
The Piazza Duomo Christmas Market, which is the most well-known and popular in Milan, is difficult to miss. This market, located on Corso Vittorio Emmanuele II's main retail route, has over 60 wooden stalls selling a variety of traditional ornaments, baubles, nativity scenes, and materials, as well as a mouthwatering selection of regional specialities and holiday snacks.
If you want to avoid the crowds, make your plans in advance because this is Milan's busiest Christmas Market! The weekend before Christmas that is least frequently visited is typically the opening weekend.
O Bej, O Bej
Location: Castello Sforzesco
Time: 10 am – 12 am Daily
The most famous amongst them is arguably the "Oh Bej! Oh Bej!" market, which translates to "Oh Beautiful! Oh Beautiful!" in the local dialect. This market is steeped in history, dating back to 1510. The first recorded celebrations of the fair were conducted in 1288 to honour Sant'Ambrogio, the patron saint of the city. Presently, the famed Castello Sforzesco is home to this Christmas Market. You can reach the stalls by tram or foot from Piazza Duomo.
However, you must plan to visit this place in advance because this Christmas Market usually only lasts 4 to 5 days.
It offers a range of products from antiques to crafts and food. Here, you'll find an array of traditional Italian Christmas decorations, unique gifts and, of course, mouth-watering food!
Darsena Christmas Village
Location: Darsena di Milano (Close to the Navigli)
Time: Mon – Fri: 3 pm – 10 pm; Sat-Sun: 11 am – 11 pm
The little Christmas Village in Milan's charming and historic neighbourhood of Navigli is another holiday attraction that is worthwhile visiting. The canals in this region of Milan, which were constructed between 1177 and 1257, are famous. Even though they are no longer in use, the city's 50 km of canals were once utilised to convey a variety of items, including the enormous blocks of marble that were used to construct some of the city's most impressive monuments and structures.
Many cafes, restaurants, tiny boutique shops, and galleries can all be found in the area today, which has a stylish bohemian vibe and can be explored before visiting the Christmas Market.
The Darsena Christmas Market is a relatively new addition to the calendar, and it frequently features an ice skating rink to further enhance the enchanted winter atmosphere. Since this Christmas Market is a little outside of the tourist area, the locals make the most use of it. You can discover a wider range of handicrafts, delicious local cuisine, and a "visit Santa" booth if you're travelling with family.
To reach here, take the metro at Porta Genova FS to get to the Christmas Market. Several trams stop here as well.
Artisan Market at Rho Fiera
Location: Rho Fiera Exhibition Centre
Time: 10:00 am to 11:00 pm Daily
This international fair, which is held in Rho is about 20 minutes outside of Milan and features handicrafts from all over the world to showcase international crafts and cultures.
The fair is organized into three sections: fashion and design, innovative hand-made goods, and home furnishings and décor.
The wonderful part about this fair is that you can buy a variety of stuff besides Christmas-related items, such as apparel, spices, jewellery, food items, and regional specialities from all over the world. Throughout the period, you can also enjoy the excellent dance and musical performances that the locals perform there, which enhances the overall experience.
With over 3,000 exhibitors from more than 100 countries, you'll find a stunning array of handmade crafts, artwork, and culinary traditions from across the globe!
What to Eat in Milan during Christmas
The holiday season in Milan is a culinary journey through traditional Italian Christmas cuisine. The Milanese take their food very seriously, especially during the Christmas season when tables are laden with traditional dishes.
Panettone is the crown jewel of Milan's Christmas treats. This sweet, bread-like cake is studded with candied fruits and raisins and is a staple in every Milanese home during the holidays. It's typically enjoyed with a sweet wine or mascarpone cream and is a perfect way to finish your Christmas meal.
Torrone, a nougat made with honey, egg whites, and nuts is another traditional Christmas sweet widely available in the Christmas markets. It comes in a variety of flavours with some variations including chocolate or dried fruits.
If you're looking for a savoury treat, don’t miss out on the cotechino and zampone. These are rich and flavorful sausages made with pork, rind, and a special mix of spices. They're traditionally served with lentils on New Year's Eve which is a symbol of good luck and prosperity for the coming year.
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