Christmas is a lovely time to be in Italy, but most people probably don’t think of Milan as a cozy or festive place to spend the holiday. Milan has a few things going for it in the winter, however, not least is the fact that the holidays last for nearly a solid month.
Milan’s patron saint, Sant’Ambrogio, has his feast day on December 7th – which is a citywide holiday. This is followed by the nationwide holiday of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8th, so you can see that by the end of the first week of December the Milanese are already in quite a festive mood. By this point, Christmas decor is up all around the city, too, including lighted designs strung over streets in the city center and a Christmas tree in the Piazza del Duomo.
Christmas markets spring up around the city, and there are vendors selling roast chestnuts in little paper bags – they’re as good for warming your hands as they are tasty. Cafes and bars add hot mulled wine and that thick European drinking chocolate (“cioccolato caldo” in Italian) to their menus, and brightly-wrapped “panettone” – Milan’s sweet Christmas bread – decorate the windows of bakeries throughout the city.
Of course, shopping in Milan is known for being chic and fantastic, so if you’ve still got a few people on your Christmas list to buy for the Galleria or the Brera and Quadrilatero d’Oro neighborhoods might be the places to do it. Keep in mind the prices here may require a trust fund, but at least the window shopping is free. For more budget-friendly shopping, try department store Rinascente near the Duomo or one of the weekly outdoor markets, or sleuth out the often-hidden locations of the city’s designer-filled secondhand shops.
Christmas Eve means big family dinners and mass in churches throughout Milan, but the fun doesn’t end there. New Year’s Eve is another festive occasion, and the holiday season finally comes to an end with Epiphany on January 6th. It’s on Epiphany when children get gifts left in stockings, from a witch on a broomstick called “La Befana” – not from Father Christmas.
Milan at Christmas can be quite cold, foggy, and sometimes rainy, so plan to bring warmer layers of clothing and an umbrella – and also plan to enjoy long visits to indoor sights, as well as longer-than-usual stops at cafes throughout the day to warm up with coffee and snacks. The usual list of things to do in Milan is still good for an itinerary, but keep in mind many sights are closed on Christmas Day and Epiphany.