When a town holds a man lost in a tomb of glacial ice for 5,300 years, you better believe they know how to celebrate the blessings of winter. Bolzano boasts the largest Christmas market in Italy…and the most stunning Christmas tree we have ever laid eyes on. Here is your guide to a festive visit.
Bolzano’s famous Christmas market (commonly referred to as Mercatino di Natale or Christkindlmarkt) is surrounded by epic history. It takes place in Bolzano’s 900+-year-old city center beneath the shadow of the Dolomites and the soulful marble statue of Walther von der Vogelweide, a Minnesinger who brought joy to peasants and royals alike in the 12th and 13th centuries.
Just steps away stands the gorgeous Our Lady of Assumption Cathedral with its staggering Gothic bell tower. And not far from here, in a chamber as cold as the North Pole, lies the victim of the world’s oldest murder mystery: Ötzi the Iceman. His new home at the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology is a mere 10,000+ feet lower than where he succumbed to an arrow fired by an enemy 50 centuries ago.
Amid all this fascinating antiquity, Bolzano’s Christmas market pulsates day and night with patrons. The Piazza Walther (Waltherplatz) is dotted with 70+ wooden chalets selling everything from mountain cheeses to felt slippers to alpine wellness oils, lotions and herbs culled from the pines and prairies of the South Tyrol. If you cannot find a worthy stocking stuffer here, it’s only because you are distracted by all of the fresh-out-of-the-oven aromas radiating around you.
What to Savor at Bolzano’s Christmas Market
As you stroll the market, hints of cinnamon, gingerbread, roasted chestnuts, pretzels and strudel swirl together like snowflakes on the wind. The scent of the season seems to follow you everywhere. Exercising restraint is futile.
We recommend immediately diving into fluffy Krapfen, a traditional South Tyrolean pastry, and buying a bag of Sptizbuben to enjoy while walking the market. Sptizbuben is a delicious South Tyrolean holiday cookie filled with raspberry or apricot jam. They sing Christmas carols in your mouth.
Even more intoxicating, in more ways than one, is the sweet smell of oranges and cloves mingling with red wine. Several stands around the square serve up generous pours of Glühwein and other seasonal libations. The lively atmosphere of Bolzano’s Christmas market makes it a joy to order mug after mug and simply sip away the hours by a glowing fire.
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What to See at Bolzano’s Christmas Market
As tempting as it is to get lost in a mug of mulled wine, you should also make time to admire the local craftsmanship on display at Bolzano’s Christmas market. Throughout the market, you can find handicrafts exemplifying the creative spirit of South Tyroleans.
We are particularly fond of the region’s woodcarvings, which exude alpine charm with every chip and chisel. If you time your visit right, you can even catch an artist bringing their work to life on the spot.
Beyond the stalls themselves, taking in the decor abounding the square is a visual feast all its own. The huge Christmas tree anchoring the market looks as if Santa decorated it himself. It is a glorious sight during the day as much as it is at night.
If none of the above makes your spirit bright, a stroll through Bolzano’s Christmas market during a music performance certainly will. The Piazza Walther and the nearby cathedral hosts concerts during the duration of the season.
When is Bolzano’s Christmas Market in 2023
If you are visiting other Christmas markets in the Alps such as in Geneva or Innsbruck, be sure to include a visit to Bolzano as well. The Bolzano Mercatino di Natale begins during Advent, the four weeks leading up to Christmas. For 2023, it opens on November 24 and runs through January 6. The market generally operates from 10 AM to 7 PM, although food and drink stands have the option to stay open until 10:30 PM. On Christmas Eve, it shuts its doors early at 2 PM and remains closed for the entirety of Christmas Day.
By the way, if you are a snowbird, you can include a visit to the market during your ski getaway. Most ski resorts in the Dolomites and the surrounding mountains begin operating in early December.
Consider visiting the Dolomiti Superski region. Its closest slopes are only 30 minutes from Bolzano in Val d’Ega, home to Lago di Carezza, one of the most beautiful lakes in the Dolomites. A single pass with Dolomiti Superski gives you access to 15 ski resorts covering 745 (1200 km) miles of pristine powder amid the most spectacular mountain scenery in the world.
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How to Arrive
As the largest Christmas market in Italy, the Bolzano Mercatino di Natale can be crowded therefore we recommend arriving via bus or train to avoid the hassles of parking. Plus, you’ll help keep the market’s certification as a “Green Event” meaning you are enjoying the tradition in an environmentally-friendly manner.
If you choose to arrive by car, we suggest planning your visit during the week or arriving as early as possible on the weekend. See our guide to visiting Bolzano for our recommendation on where to park, as well as discover other historic sights to see in South Tyrol’s capital.
Tip: By the way, no matter how you arrive, be sure to walk Bolzano’s historic center to experience Christmas like the locals. Additional boutique Christmas markets are tucked in the Piazza Municipio, Piazza del Grano and in the courtyard of Palazzo Campofranco.