Sunny and mild with a fair amount of rain, temperatures across the region average 40-54°F (4-12°C), with nights being a little colder and temperatures in the mountains being colder still, hovering freezing. The coast, however, experiences a mild Mediterranean climate, so you can expect slightly warmer temps with about 15 days of rain out of the month. You’ll want to pack an umbrella with your sunglasses as well as warm layers (for both outdoors and indoors—Italian homes stay below 68°F/20°C by law), and winter gear.
Keep in mind the days are shorter, so plan accordingly and schedule your indoor activities for later in the day. And if you’re renting a car, be aware the roads may be icy after dark or in the early morning.
Crowds & Costs
Traveling to Tuscany in December is considered off-season so you can expect cheaper airfare and flights than peak season. However, you’ll want to book your reservations in advance leading up to Christmas as you’ll be competing with Italian tourists holidaying, noting travel prices will spike. Keep in mind, too, that December marks the beginning of ski season and resorts will be charging high-season prices, though resorts in Tuscany are relatively less costly than more popular resorts further north of the country.
Leading up to Christmas bear in mind that transportation services will be operating on a reduced holiday schedule and you’ll want to double check hours for museums, monuments, and churches.
Where to Go
There’s something to experience in all parts of Tuscany in December since the start of the festive Christmas season with Advent (the fourth Sunday before December 25). Florence, the capital of the region, is a great place to make your base of operations or at least start your holiday, with its fabulous restaurants, museums, and seasonal decorations and festivities beginning to develop, including Christmas markets, concerts, and nativity scenes. Most other cities, towns, and villages like Siena, Lucca, and Arezzo, celebrate Christmas with great enthusiasm.
Though ski conditions aren’t as favorable as later in the season (January and February), there is still an excellent chance to hit the slopes or go snowshoeing. Head to the Abetone resort outside of charming Pistoia for plenty of runs with peaks reaching 6,500 feet (2,000 m), or if you’re further south in Val d’Orcia, there is the option to experience Monte Amiata on a smaller scale—perfect for beginners though all levels are welcome.
What better way to warm up in December than to visit any of the number of thermal spas or heated pools throughout the region. Visit Bagno Vignoni in southern Siena for the celebrated Roman period pool in the center of the main square. Other outdoor options include Casciana Terme near Pisa, Saturnia and Petriolo between Siena and Grosseto provinces, or Venturina along the Etruscan coast in Tuscany’s southwest.
Rent a car or travel by train for your best options to see as much of Tuscany as your schedule allows in an efficient and timely manner.
What to Do
Take advantage of the poor weather and head indoors to check out museums without the long lines and crowds. Discover some of the world’s most important works housed in Florence’s Uffizi Gallery or the Bargello Museum for a host of sculptures from Cellini to Donatello to Michelangelo. Next, visit Siena’s Gothic Duomo for its slew of treasures or the Duomo of San Gimignano for its New and Old Testament frescoes. And while you’re staying indoors, make a reservation for a night at the Opera. Try Florence’s modern Opera House or for a more intimate experience, tuck inside St. Stefano church in Siena or Church of San Giovanni in Lucca for a magical evening.
Pop into a historic caffè to break up your outdoor sightseeing amid authentic vintage settings with a warming beverage. Try Café dell’Ussero in Pisa or Caffè dei Costanti in Arezzo (bonus, the latter was a filming location for La Vita è Bella).
As Christmas approaches, every hamlet, town, and city hosts its own festive market offering plenty of Christmas cheer in their respective piazzas (plazas or square). Whatever town or city you happen to be in, wander the numerous stalls for the perfect gift or souvenir and as Tuscany is a region known for its food, sample local specialties like brigidini, befanini, and copate senesi to name a few. Piazza del Campo in Siena hosts the Mercato del Campo one of the region’s largest markets (dating back to the Middle Ages) with over 100 stalls selling crafts and the best local eats and wine. Keep an eye out too for the live nativity scenes (or presepi) throughout the region.
Toward the end of December, the focus shifts away from Christmas and to New Year's celebrations. Most towns across the region, like Pisa, Siena, Cortona, Livorno, and Arezzo ring in the New Year with live musical performances, theater, medieval re-enactments, and fireworks. If you plan on dining out, book in advance and prepare to be served a traditional meal of cotechino or zampone and lentils for good luck.
Events in December
Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Italians celebrate the immaculate conception of the Virgin Mary each year on December 8. 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
La Fiaccole della Notte di Natale. The town of Abbadia San Salvadore continues the 1000-year old tradition of bonfires and torch-lit parades throughout the town to honor Christ’s birth every December 24.
Christmas Eve & Christmas Day. The 24 and 25 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 January 6 and signifies the end of Italy's 12 days of Christmas.
St. Stefano’s Day. December 26 marks a national holiday honoring the martyrdom of St. Stephen and sees people heading out of the home to celebrate with their friends and families. Expect country-wide closures.