South Tyrol brims with Christmas markets plucked from a fairytale. Discover the ones not to miss and the alpine magic you can expect to taste and see.
If only Ebenezer Scrooge spent one holiday moment in South Tyrol, Italy, the Ghosts of Christmas would have surely found another wretched soul to haunt. The region’s Christmas markets conjure a merry spirit that can make the blackest heart sweeter than candy cane.
Set amidst some of the most spectacular mountain scenery in the world, South Tyrol’s Christmas markets beam with holiday cheer. Especially when the evergreen boughs bend beneath the first snow and the summits gleam silver. Indeed, such storybook sights could make anyone spontaneously burst into carol after carol.
From festively decorated market stalls crafted of fragrant mountain pine to the fresh-from-the-oven aromas tempting your nose to the fascinating handicrafts born deep in the Dolomites, you will find that no place embodies the magic of Christmas quite like here.
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Bolzano Christmas Market
If you’re visiting South Tyrol during the season of tinsel and tidings, there is one market you would be a fool to miss. Bolzano’s Mercantino di Natale is the largest Christmas market in Italy. Like the Dolomites draped above the city’s historic skyline, the market is a grand expression of alpine charm.
We have never inhaled so many delicious aromas as we have walking through Bolzano during Christmas. If you are a fan of beaming holiday decor, you will stand in awe beneath the most gorgeous Christmas tree we have ever seen. It towers over the market like Santa harvested it from the North Pole and lowered it back to earth from his sleigh.
To see more of Bolzano’s Christmas market and discover the best way to visit, check out our market guide.
Merano Christmas Market
Merano possesses what we consider to be the most enchanting walk in Italy so it’s no surprise then this wander-friendly town straddling the roaring Passer River hosts a Christmas market of equal enchantment. Many of Merano’s 70+ market stalls run along the riverfront promenade, but you will find Christmas splendor sprinkled throughout the town when you visit.
Nestled in the Piazza della Rena is the Historic Christmas Village of Merano, which celebrates age-old Christmas traditions and specialties. After walking the procession of stalls on the promenade, the village makes a cozy place to huddle next to a fire with a warm mug of hot chocolate and listen to the holiday melodies radiating from the nearby stage.
Across the river, in the Piazza Terme you can swirl the night away on an outdoor ice-skating rink and dine inside gigantic Christmas bulb ornaments. For a panoramic view of all of Merano’s holiday dazzle, be sure to relax by the fire on the rooftop of the Forst beer garden.
Sterzing Christmas Market
As the smallest of the big markets in South Tyrol, the Sterzing Christmas market (also known as Vipiteno) packs a bundle of charm on every square inch of the town’s Piazza Città. Walking through it is like stepping into a holiday snow globe.
This town seemingly lost in the ages of thrones and stone has often been touted as one of the “most beautiful villages in Italy”. It’s easy to see why any time of year, but a visit during the Christmas season makes it a truly undeniable claim.
The 15th-century Zwölferturm (Tower of the Twelve) clock tower shimmers above the Christmas market like a medieval beacon for St. Nicholas. Romantic two-story houses with massive bay windows adorned in Christmas decor hide their centuries of wear behind colorful facades. Their vivid hues enfold the market’s festive atmosphere.
After browsing the stalls and indulging in a warm bowl of Speckknödelsuppe, savor more of Sterzing’s history by visiting the Church of the Holy Spirit just beyond the market.
Once inside this Gothic marvel from 1399, the bustle of the market recedes into silence allowing you to admire the surprising number of well-preserved frescoes gracing its ancient walls. They are among the most enthralling in South Tyrol.
Brixen Christmas Market
Celebrating the true essence of Christmas in Brixen could have been said to begin nearly 500 years ago when the town’s residents 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 no doubt needed rest before continuing his trek through the Alps to his new home in the north. Brixen welcomed him with open arms.
Arriving in the village just before Christmas, an innkeeper provided a home for the young bull for 14 days. Those two weeks left quite an impression on the town.
In addition to its wonderous Christmas market, held in the historic Piazza Duomo under the guard of the oldest cathedral in northern Italy, Brixen celebrates Soliman’s journey to this day. During the holiday season, you can be whisked away to a fantasy world through a production called “Soliman’s Dream”. Taking place in the courtyard of the 13th-century Bishop’s Palace (Hofburg), the show is a must-see spectacle. Note: The production’s theme and story may change from year to year.
Like Merano, Brixen’s market also includes an outdoor ice-skating rink. For a graceful outing on the ice, we recommend taking a spin before partaking in the joys of Glühwein.
For more about this lovely Christmas market, see our post on how to experience the magic of Christmas in Brixen.
Lago di Carezza Christmas Market
When a remote mountain lake tells of a wizard long ago shattering a rainbow within its pristine waters, there may be no better place for an event as magical as a Christmas market. The Christmas Market at Lake Carezza (Lago di Carezza / Karersee) takes place in the ancient forest surrounding its fabled shore. Stalls shaped like wooden lanterns line a trail that winds from one side of the lake to the other.
If you’re longing to experience a Christmas market within a winter wonderland, Lake Carezza can almost guarantee it. Thanks to the higher altitude it is one of the most picturesque markets.
The market sits within the Dolomites with the Latemar and Rosengarten massifs looming as backdrops. When we wandered the market, countless evergreen boughs held fresh puffs of snow and the mountains wore icy crowns.
For anyone worried about enduring a wintry chill, wood stoves dot the market offering comfort and the enchanting aroma of a crackling wood fire. Standing over flames in the mountains and listening to Christmas tunes from a trio of trumpets will leave you merry long after you have taken your last sip of Glühwein.
We timed our visit to the market when the Krampus was set loose upon the trail. This was our first encounter with the less-than-jolly beasts of lore and we were blown away by the experience.
If you can make it during the weekend that lures the Krampus out of their caves, we highly recommend it. To learn more about the Krampus tradition, be sure to read about our Krampus encounters in South Tyrol.
The Lake Carezza Christmas market occurs each weekend in December from 10 am to 8 pm. It is just 20 minutes from Bolzano by car. For specific details on the event go to the official website for Eggental Valley, which is where Lake Carezza is located.
Forst Brewery Christmas Forest
Since 1857, the Forst brewery in Algund has been spreading cheer well beyond the holiday season. One cannot trek in South Tyrol at any time of year without encountering an opportunity to relax with a refreshing Forst beer at a mountain hut. It’s an invitation we always accept.
But the brewery’s cheerful tidings rise to new heights each year with the opening of its enchanted Christmas Forest (Forster Weihnachtswald / Foresta Natalizia). Dining and drinking at FORST is always a joy, however, our first visit to the Christmas Forest was one of the most relaxing evenings of the holidays.
Out of all of the Christmas markets in South Tyrol, it is the one we would return to multiple times during the season. Admiring the tasteful holiday splendor FORST adorns throughout the brewery is worth the trip alone. The Christmas Forest at FORST creates a cozy atmosphere that the traditional Christmas markets simply cannot match.
Aglow with crackling fires throughout, the Christmas Forest includes a spectacular ice-skating rink softly lit by sparkling lights, a bakery offering culinary wonders such as traditional South Tyrolean Zelten (Christmas Cake), specialty stalls brimming with local crafts and of course a festive beer garden where liters upon liters of FORST beer swirl with holiday magic beneath countless ornaments.
Each year, FORST also opens its gourmet restaurant called “Felsenkeller” for the duration of the market. Guests enjoy a magnificent feast in an ancient stone cellar furnished with exquisite decor including the largest Christmas ball in the world. The dining experience at Felsenkeller is what Christmas dreams are made of.
The FORST Christmas Forest begins enchanting holiday revelers from November 20 through January 6. It is open from 10 am to midnight. We recommend visiting the Christmas Forest after you have strolled the traditional Christmas market in Merano. FORST is located less than 10 minutes away.
In addition to the market festivities, guided tours of the brewery are also available each day. If you wish to experience the Felsenkeller gourmet restaurant, reservations must be made in advance at firstname.lastname@example.org. For those not wanting to splurge on a gourmet feast, you can also dine in the brewery’s traditional restaurant, Bräustüberl Forst, which is delicious and adorned with ornate woodwork that fosters a heart-warming ambiance.
Tyrol Castle Christmas Market
What was it like to celebrate Christmas at a time when lands were ruled from thrones and candles were for more than setting the mood? The Christmas market at Tyrol Castle gives revelers a charming glimpse.
Arguably the most celebrated castle in South Tyrol, Tyrol Castle makes one’s jaw drop long before reaching its gates. The castle’s imposing presence atop a craggy glacial moraine in Dorf Tirol leaves us spellbound every time we lay eyes on it. Without a doubt, it is among the top medieval sights in all of Europe. Built in the 1100s, Tyrol Castle was home to the Counts of Tyrol who wielded enough power to name an entire region.
We reached the castle by parking in a public lot located in Dorf Tirol. From here, we walked along the Falknerweg (Falconers’ Path). This paved path edges along a deep ravine.
Beyond are splendid views of tumbling vineyards and the Texel mountain group of the Oetztal Alps. In addition to fawning over Tyrol Castle during the walk, plenty of vantage points reveal the stunning Brunnenburg Castle, which sits on a crag below the stronghold.
A 260-foot stone-walled tunnel carved out in the 17th century leads visitors through the final stretch to the castle. The entire trek takes roughly 20-30 minutes, but if you’re like us, you’ll linger longer. The path ascends easily, but if you prefer to roll your way to Tyrol Castle, a horse-drawn carriage ride is available.
The market entices with food and refreshment stands within the castle’s courtyard. While we were there a gentleman roasted chestnuts on the spot and a brass band filled the air with notes of cheer. We, in turn, filled ourselves with cheer by sipping on mulled wine. Afterward, we wandered inside the castle to browse crafts and other South Tyrolean specialties for sale. A woodcarver wowed us with his artisanship on the lathe at one of the exhibits.
Upon finishing touring the market we ventured into the castle’s Hall of Knights. The portal leading to the chapel captivated us with remarkable Romanesque marble sculptures from the 12th century. Studying the faces and figures in the marble makes a trip to the castle worth it on its own.
Meandering around the chapel is a moving experience as the haunting expressions of faded frescoes follow your every step. A life-size crucifixion scene looms overhead. Erected in 1330, it reveals the emotions of Jesus, Mary and John with striking realism. On the wall across the chapel is the first known depiction of South Tyrol’s coat of arms.
The Tyrol Castle Christmas market only occurs the first two weekends in December. It takes place from 10 am to 7 pm on Saturday and Sunday. Throughout each day different activities take place and a variety of music groups entertain in the courtyard.
⇒ READ MORE: Visiting Tyrol Castle: Ancient Might of the Alps
How to Visit South Tyrol’s Christmas Markets
If you plan to be in South Tyrol during the Christmas season, it pays to make time to visit all of these markets. The markets themselves can be enjoyed for as little or as long as you like, but each town offers an abundance of additional sights and historic treasures such as castles, churches and monasteries that should not be missed. We recommend planning on either a half or full-day in each town.
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Those seeking a more relaxing stroll through the markets should time their visit during the week. The popularity of South Tyrol’s Christmas Markets means the weekends can become crowded.
No matter when you visit, consider an eco-friendly way by using South Tyrol’s stellar public transportation with the Mobilcard. Doing so contributes to the markets’ certification as “Green Events”. This means South Tyrol ensures its Christmas markets transpire in the most ecological and sustainable manner possible by using local resources, smart waste management practices and more.
The Christmas markets begin at the end of November and end after the first week of January. Opening times for each market can be found on South Tyrol’s official website.
For an additional helping of South Tyrolean Christmas tradition, be sure to visit during one of the many Krampus runs that take place throughout South Tyrol. These fantastical events will elevate your holiday celebrations to a whole new level of fun and fright. Guaranteed.
Where to Stay During the Holidays
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 secluded mountainside 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 wandering amid the old-world charm of 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, you can dip into one of its pools or pamper yourself at the hotel’s full-service spa.
This holiday season, My Arbor is offering an enticing “My Winter Magic” package that includes 3-nights half-board and a ticket to the fantastic “Liora” light and music show at the Bishop’s Palace in Brixen. See more of what is included here.