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 Christmas markets of South Tyrol conjure a merry spirit that never leaves your heart.
Set amidst some of the most spectacular mountain backdrops in the world, South Tyrol’s Christmas markets beam with Alpine tidings and charm. Especially when the evergreen boughs bend beneath the first kiss of snow and the summits gleam silver under the winter moonlight.
Indeed, such storybook sights could make anyone spontaneously burst into carol.
But even if you’re not lucky enough to witness the sparkle of fresh-fallen mountain snow while in South Tyrol, you will still glisten with glee strolling its Christmas markets. They alight even the Scroogiest amongst us with holiday cheer.
From the festively decorated market stalls crafted of mountain pine to the tempting aromas of South Tyrolean pastries tickling your nose to the traditional handicrafts born deep in the Dolomites, you will find no place embodies the magic of Christmas quite like the Italian Alps.
In this post, we take you on a sweeping journey through South Tyrol’s most popular markets. Not only will you get a peek into their individual charms, but you’ll also discover our advice on how to enjoy them in person.
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 cup of Glühwein 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 snowglobe.
This town seemingly lost in the ages of thrones and stone has often been touted as one 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 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.
Bolzano Christmas Market
When a town holds a man lost in a tomb of glacial ice for 5,300 years, you better believe they know how to revel in the blessings of winter. Bolzano boasts the largest Christmas market in Italy…and the most stunning Christmas tree we have ever laid eyes on.
Centered around the soulful marble statue of medieval Minnesinger Walther von der Vogelweide in the Waltherplatz, Bolzano’s market pulsates day and night with patrons. Those keen on finding novel Christmas gifts can peruse 80+ stalls selling everything from South Tyrolean cheeses to felt slippers to Alpine wellness oils, lotions and herbs culled from the pines and prairies of the Dolomites.
For those keener on amplifying their Christmas spirit than pursuing stocking stuffers, several stands around the square begift generous pours of Glühwein and other seasonal libations. The lively atmosphere of Bolzano’s Christmas market makes it a joy to simply sip by a glowing fire and socialize with those around you.
After filling up on the tidings of Bolzano’s traditional market, experience Christmas like the locals by venturing beyond the Waltherplatz to its boutique Christmas markets tucked in the Piazza Municipio, Piazza del Grano and in the courtyard of Palazzo Campofranco.
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How to Visit Italy’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.
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 a “Green Event”. 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.