December in Italy may not be as cold as it is in January, but that isn't saying much. For example, if you're arriving in Rome, expect the average temperature to be 50°F/10°C. Of course, temps fluctuate depending on the region, but you can expect ranges of between 25-45°F/-4-5°C in the north, 40-55°F/5-13°C in Central Italy, and 55-60°F/13-16°C in the south of the country. This means there's snow the further north you travel, with some cities and towns straddling the line between heavy snows and sunny weather. Milan, for example, is typically dry with clear skies early in the month and blanketed with snow towards the end.
Crowds & Costs
December does fall in the low season, with the exception to this being a noticeable increase in tourism during Christmas. That means you get the benefit of low-season prices on airfare and hotels, which can be even 100% lower than in high season. That said, there are two exceptions to this: ski/snowboarding resorts in the north of Italy will be charging high-season prices now that they're officially open, and during the week of Christmas costs will spike as well.
Where to Go
If you're a winter sports enthusiast head straight for the slopes. However, know that ski conditions in December aren't quite as ideal as they are in January (although they're still pretty good). One of the best places in the country for early-season skiing is the Alpine resort Cervina, located in the Valle d’Aosta region of northwest Italy. Its higher altitude (6,725 feet/2,050 meters) means there are good conditions by December; in fact, it's often open by the end of October.
And what better city to make your base of operations in Italy in December than Rome? With between three and seven days you could have a great time in the capital, as the city is alive during this holiday month despite the cold and slushy weather. If you're a committed Catholic (or even just a sucker for pageantry), head to the Basilica of St. Peter in Vatican City and attend Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. If you are planning on attending this event, you'll need to get your tickets as far in advance as possible (the Vatican gives them out for free).
Know that in many popular spring and summer destinations, such as the Amalfi Coast and Cinque Terre, certain restaurants and hotels will be closed for the offseason. And if you are planning on traveling around the country during your holiday, the best overland way to do this is by train. The other forms of public transport in Italy are unreliable.
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What to Do
If you find yourself in Rome during December, then eschew the outdoor excursions for the indoor sights and museums. No matter the weather outside, you can marvel at the Sistine Chapel or the Vatican Museum in perfect peace—and with fewer crowds to boot. This is a good rule of thumb no matter where you find yourself in Italy.
Traveling to Florence? Enjoy the shorter lines at the Uffizi Gallery. You could also head to Milan and the Pinacoteca di Brera Gallery to view an equally impressive collection of Renaissance art. And you don't have to worry about museums keeping irregular hours—in Italy, the museums are open 363 days per year.
If you're in Italy later in the month, definitely head to the piazzas (plazas) in whatever town or city you happen to find yourself and stroll the outdoor Christmas markets. The chestnut-roasting vendors will be out in force, and it's a great time to sample some vin brulé (hot mulled wine). Chocoholics should make a beeline for the streetside cafes, most of which will be selling cups of rich and creamy cioccolata calda (hot chocolate).
Events in December
Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Italians celebrate the immaculate conception of the Virgin Mary each year on Dec 8th. Of course, this is a national holiday, which means all public offices are closed and many businesses as well. Special masses are held in churches and in Rome there's a celebration in which the Pope lays a floral wreath on the Madonna statue at Piazza Mignanelli.
Christmas Eve/Christmas Day. The 24th and 25th of December are celebrated in much the same way as they are in many English-speaking countries, with Italians spending time with their families. Although businesses and offices are closed for this national holiday, it's actually a relatively low-key affair. That's because the main Christmas holiday in Italy is Epiphany, which is celebrated on Jan 6th and signifies the end of Italy's 12 days of Christmas.
Traveling to Italy in December? Check out these great itineraries.
Explore Rome - 5 Days. Discover historic and modern highlights of the Eternal City in this 5-day tour. Hear stories of gladiators in Rome's ancient Colosseum, tour the iconic Pantheon and visit the Vatican Museum to see the world-famous Sistine Chapel.
Food & Wine in Italy - 11 Days. Eat like royalty, drink like a Roman, and explore Italy's top cultural and historic sites on this packed 11-day trip.