When a picturesque mountain town offers visitors more than 1,000 years of history, it’s difficult to imagine how it can become even more charming. But leave it to the passionate souls of Brixen (Bressanone) to do just that each Christmas season.
Every year the oldest town in South Tyrol elevates holiday enchantment by pairing an authentic Christmas market with a one-of-a-kind light and music show in the courtyard of a 13th-century palace. Both are a must-experience for anyone relishing a feeling of awe that only Christmas morning can rival.
Merriment Beneath the Bell Towers
The Christmas market in Brixen (also known as Bressanone in Italian) sprinkles the season’s spirit on practically every cobblestone of the Piazza Duomo. Nearly 40 decorated stalls dot the piazza beneath the soaring bell towers of South Tyrol’s most cherished cathedral: The Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta and San Cassiano. This medieval wonder dates to 980 AD and is well worth visiting in addition to the market.
The stalls offer everything from handcrafted ornaments to scented delights to bread and Christmas cookies. Tip: Do not walk through this market without trying one of its gingerbread creations.
An antique carousel in the piazza’s center and an ice skating rink next to the Bishop’s Palace fill the atmosphere with a merry-go-round of cheer. Thankfully, you can skip figuring out how to squeeze ice skates into your suitcase. They are available to rent for only a few euros.
Beyond the dozens of stands selling South Tyrolean handmade goods, the market offers plenty of culinary specialties to tempt your eyes, nose and mouth. Perhaps the best bratwurst we ever had the pleasure of devouring came from Annemarie’s Standl. Of course, after a few mugs of Glühwein, we might say that about anything we consumed.
We also nibbled on fresh krapfen (a doughnut-like pastry), which was made on the spot by a lovely lady who was certainly some lucky soul’s Grandma. It tasted as homemade as can be.
If mulled wine is not your go-to warm-up drink, you can also enjoy steamy apple cider, which given the splendor of South Tyrol’s apples is practically as good as wine in our book.
Whatever you prefer to sip, we recommend ordering a mug and taking a seat at one of the many fire-lit tables dotting the Christmas market. Watching the season swirl around you is a treat in itself.
Watching Historic Walls Come Alive
After indulging in the charm of Brixen’s Christmas market, dazzle your eyes and ears by taking in the light and music show “NATALIE” at the Hofburg Bishop’s Palace located on the south end of the Piazza Duomo. Created with the internationally acclaimed French light artists Spectaculaires – Allumeurs d’Images, the show whisks you away to a fairy tale world within the regal setting of the palace’s courtyard.
The imaginative visual wizardry of NATALIE is utterly spellbinding. The ancient walls surrounding you in the courtyard burst into life with a kaleidoscope of colors, imagery and song. Suddenly, you’re immersed in a fantasy where the palace lives and breathes.
An actress playing the role of Natalie interacts with the dancing facade singing through a story about a young maid awakening the soul of the Hofburg. She is commanded to throw a great celebration for the residents of Brixen — embarking on a magical adventure filled with a myriad of colorful characters.
Taking photos and videos of the show is not only permitted, but encouraged. Below you’ll find a few of our favorite images from our evening with NATALIE.
The story is told in a mix of German and Italian, but that did not detract from our enjoyment or ability to understand its essence. The show runs for approximately 20 minutes. Since it takes place in the open air of the courtyard it’s wise to bundle up.
Note: The show’s theme and story can change from year to year. In 2023, a new show called “Colors – A Homage to Peace” will be taking place in the palace. The show revolves around a colorful hummingbird who guides the audience on a journey through life’s seasons and the world’s continents, embodying themes of love, light, and peace.
In previous years, a light and music show called “Soliman’s Dream” was held in the courtyard of the palace. It creatively re-imagined the time when Brixen welcomed a most unusual guest: an elephant.
In 1551, Soliman, a magnificent Asian bull, was on the last leg of his long journey from Portugal to Vienna. A gift from King John III of Portugal to his nephew, Archduke Maximilian of Austria, Soliman required rest before continuing his trek through the Alps to his new home in the north.
Brixen welcomed the elephant with open arms. Arriving in the village just before Christmas, an innkeeper provided a home for the young bull for 14 days. The inn where Soliman stayed still stands and welcomes guests to this day. Appropriately named Hotel Elephant, a centuries-old fresco on the oldest part of the hotel’s facade continues to tell the tale of what was certainly an exotic and magical creature to the residents of Brixen at the time.
When to Visit Brixen’s Christmas Market in 2023
Brixen’s Christmas market begins in late November and ends the first week of January. Exact dates can change from year to year as well as the show’s theme so be sure to visit the official event calendar before planning a trip. On most days the market opens at 10 AM and closes at 7-7:30 PM. The food stands are open an hour longer to ensure enough good cheer is spread to each visitor.
The light and music show takes place throughout the Christmas market. Shows occur twice a day at 5:30 PM and 6:30 PM with an additional show at 7:30 PM on Fridays and Saturdays (except December 24th-25th). Ticket prices vary depending on the day and age group but are very reasonable ranging from 2 – 12 EUROs.
You could easily spend a full day exploring in and around Brixen. Any lover of history, architecture, art and wine would be a fool not to. But if you’re looking to just enjoy the Brixen Christmas market and the light and music show, then we recommend arriving two hours before showtime.
Restaurant Fink is a delightful place to eat either before or after the show if you still have room after wandering the Christmas Market. Their dessert dishes are divine. The restaurant is conveniently located in Brixen’s old town. It is one of only 25 establishments in South Tyrol to earn the official designation “Südtiroler Gasthaus”. This means Restaurant Fink meets the rigid standards necessary to ensure guests an authentic South Tyrolean dining experience.
Where to Stay
What could be more magical during Christmas than waking up to a treetop view of snow-kissed evergreens? My Arbor is a new adults-only wellness resort set on a peaceful slope high above Brixen. It seemingly floats above the forest inviting a personal connection to the pines, peaks and pistes.
Within minutes from the resort, you can be strolling Brixen’s Christmas market or carving up powder on the slopes. My Arbor offers ski-in and ski-out access to Plose, one of the best places in South Tyrol to experience panoramic views of the Dolomites. Afterward, soak in one of the hotel’s luxurious pools or pamper yourself at its full-service spa.
Each holiday season, My Arbor offers enticing “My Winter Magic” packages that include 3-nights half-board and a ticket to the fantastic light and music show at the Bishop’s Palace mentioned above. Explore availability at My Arbor.
Getting to Brixen – Let Enchantment Be Your Guide
Getting to Brixen is easy. It is located right off Autostrada A22 and is just 30 minutes northeast of Bolzano. We had no problems finding parking near the town center. Winding through its cobblestone alleys to the Piazza Duomo is a delight all by itself.
Concerned about driving? Don’t be. Anyone with common sense and a little pre-trip prep can handle it. Check out our post on driving in Italy for practical tips.
Brixen beams with charm no matter the season. But the holidays are an especially enchanting time in this corner of South Tyrol. Wandering the town’s Christmas market offers an endless assortment of enticing traditional South Tyrolean specialties and handmade creations. You’ll come away in awe at the talented craftsmanship of artisans from the region. And not to mention no shortage of treasured gifts for the loved ones in your life.