A few times a year Milan outdoes Rome as the place to be (it doesn’t happen often, but it does happen). That’s during both annual Milan Fashion Weeks and in the weeks running up to Christmas.
The reason, as you would expect, is Christmas shopping in Milan. From December 7th to December 11th Milan hosts its annual Oh Bej! Oh, Bej! Christmas market. The tradition dates all the way back to 1510 when a religious figure arrived in town with presents for all the children. When they opened them, they shouted “Oh Bej! Oh Bej!”, “How beautiful! How beautiful!” You may well be tempted to utter the words yourself too if you’re lucky enough to be in town on the right dates. Last year the market had over 400 stalls selling everything you could want from toys to trinkets, clothes, food, and drink. There will be bands performing live and the location, around Castello Sforzesco isn’t too shabby either.
There is a whole host of other markets on throughout the festive period around Milan too, from the Smart Market based around the theme of reusing and recycling, to a Christmas edition of the regular market at Piazza Sant' Ambrogio which ends on December 23rd. Browse the stalls soaking up the festive mood of locals busy about their daily chores and pick up a loaf of Pannetone, the famous Italian holiday sweet bread that is a symbol of Milan. You can’t beat the versions you’ll buy here, cooked by locals from recipes passed down from generation to generation.
Another shopping trip well worth its salt is the Christmas market at Lazzate, a small village outside of Milan. This year the market runs on December 10th and 11th from 11 AM to 7 PM on Saturday and from 10 AM to 7 PM on Sunday. It’s always a firm favorite for the atmosphere as much as shopping, with events to keep the kids happy and a mouth-watering array of products, many hand-made. Many of the stalls are housed in tiny wooden chalets that wouldn't be out of place in Santa’s grotto. The town is a bit of a foodie mecca too, hosting a few festivals throughout the year, so be sure to include lunch or dinner in your plans.
Of course, there are other things to do in Milan during the Christmas period too. The Teatro alla Scala opens its doors to punters with its Christmas opera. This year it’s the spectacular Don Giovanni which starts on December 7th. We recommend that you buy tickets as soon as you can put a date on it.
Then there are the religious events (well it is Christmas) which, by the way, offer a great chance to see il Duomo in all its glory – full of singing choirs and flickering candlelight.
Regarding opening hours, it’s safest to presume that everything will be closed on Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve with a few changeable dates depending on the establishment. Museums close on a Monday year-round in Milan too so factor this into your plans for Boxing Day and be sure to check opening and closing hours for any particular spots you want to visit. For our part, we’ll be running skip the line tours to The Last Supper on December 24th, and December 27th but not the 25th and 26th since Galleria dell’Accademia will be closed both those days (it always closes on a Monday).
If you’re spending Christmas Day in Milan, expect it to be a little quiet. There will be restaurants in Milan open, but most will close by 1 pm so plan on an early dinner and book ahead! La Cadrega on Via Vincenzo Viviani will be open every day through the festive season (as it is throughout the year) from 12 PM to 12 AM. You can make reservations for Christmas day on their website.
Christmas in Italy is a fantastic and lively experience quite unlike any other time of year. Throw out your to-do list and spend your time wandering the Christmas markets and shopping streets, eating where the locals eat and shopping where they shop. Just make sure to bring a coat, double-check that your hotel has heating and be sure to book ahead. Enjoy!