Florence is a city famed for its beauty at any time of year with its palaces, elegant squares and outdoors statues creating a city like no other. Yet there is something magical over the winter season, especially the lead up to Christmas when the narrow cobbled street become lit with twinkly lights and the cozy wooden interiors of local trattorias make for the perfect dinner spot, tucked in a corner with a bowl of fresh pasta and a glass of Tuscan red wine. From Christmas trees to traditional markets, music shows to mulled wine, grab a bag of bruciate (roasted chestnuts) and discover ten of the best festive activities in Florence this December.
1. SEE THE CHRISTMAS TREE IN PIAZZA DEL DUOMO
Immaculate Conception Day is a National holiday in Italy that for many begins the countdown to Christmas. In the center of Florence, the annual Christmas tree is lit on 8 December with a number of events in celebration of its arrival (it remains until 6 January). Sitting next to the newly cleaned Baptistery in piazza del Duomo, from this day Florence becomes very festive creating a perfect picture opportunity as well.
2. DRINK HOT CHOCOLATE IN A CLASSIC CAFÉ
In the winter months classic cafes in Florence add an indulgent drink to their menus – hot chocolate. Unlike in some countries, this comforting beverage in Italy is thick to the point of being a desert substitute. In the center of Florence, Riviore Café, in piazza della Signora, is the perfect pit stop to try this traditional hot chocolate. Beyond beverages, Riviore specialise in chocolate pieces and pastries that you can peruse inside at their gleaming glass counter.
3. GO WINDOW SHOPPING DOWN VIA DE’ TORNABUONI
It’s not just lights which come alive – so do the window displays along many shopping streets including via de’ Tornabuoni. The Bond Street or Rodeo Drive of Florence, via de’ Tornabuoni houses all the big name brands including Gucci, Pucci, Bulgari and Ferragamo. If feeling fancy, try a truffle panino and glass of wine from Procacci, a 19th century wine bar selling truffles from a Liberty style counter.
4. TAKE IN A CHRISTMAS CONCERT AT TEATRO VERDI
One of the city’s most beloved concert venues, Verdi Theatre will host a night of classical music by Bach/Respighi, Maxwell Davies, and Dvorak. Conducted by Donato Renzetti and featuring Andrea Tacchi on violin, it’s a musical away to get into the festive spirit. Thursday December 24 at 5pm. Via Ghibellina 99r, Santa Croce.
5. DRINK MULLED WINE IN SANTA CROCE
The beautiful piazza of Santa Croce hosts its annual Christmas market this year from 2 December. Rows of wooden stalls selling Christmas trinkets, clothing, beauty products and food, mostly inspired by German markets of the same style. Come and enjoy a glass of Vin Brule (hot mulled wine) while you peruse what’s on offer. Food stalls including ones selling bratwurst sausages are also popular. Daily from 10 am to 10 pm until December 2 – 20.
6. GO ICE-SKATING AT PARTERRE
In the north part of Florence historic center, Parterre hosts an open aired ice rink throughout December. Rent skates and take to the ice to show off your skating flair just by the pretty Piazza della Libertà. Or, head east to the annual Firenze Winter Park at Obihall which runs until 6 March 2016.
7. BE MOVED BY MIDNIGHT MASS AT DUOMO
The Cardinal of Florence celebrates the traditional Christmas Eve Mass at midnight (with Vigil prayers starting at 11pm) in the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (better known as the Duomo). On Christmas morning, Mass is celebrated at 10:30am, in conjunction with the Pope’s blessing in Rome.
8. ENJOY OPERA AT IL TEATRO DEL MAGGIO MUSICALE FIORENTINO
The new Opera theatre of Florence opened in 2011 and is a contemporary space showcasing classical performances all year round. By the tranquil Cascine Park, December performances include a Christmas concert on 23 December and New Years Eve program on 31 December.
9. DISCOVER DIVINE BEAUTY AT PALAZZO STROZZI
Palazzo Strozzi is one of the most magnificent Renaissance palaces in Florence, a stunning example of domestic architecture of that time. Today, it’s a gallery with regular exhibitions including Divine Beauty which looks at the work of over one hundred well known Italian and international artists exploring the relationship between art and religion in the 19th and 20th centuries. On until 24 Jan 2016.
10. FESTIVE MENU AT LA BOTTEGA DEL BUON CAFFÉ
After all this festive fun, come into the comfort of La Bottega Del Buon Caffé, Borgo Santo Pietro’s fine dining restaurant in the heart of Florence. A warm and welcoming dining room awaits with plush sofa seating and cozy intimate tables under brick arches serving a Michelin-starred menu by Antonello Sardi. Go to page 22 to find more on our New Years Eve menu.