When I was four I saw Miracle on 34th Street for the first time. I decided then and there that surely nothing could be more magical than New York City at Christmastime. Over the next twenty years of watching holiday romantic comedies I wove an elaborate NYC holiday fantasy that involved ice-skating at Rockefeller Center, Christmas shopping on 5th Ave, and a declaration of love on top of the Empire State Building. This past weekend Meg met me in the Big Apple and made all of these fantasies come true – well not the declaration of love, still working on that one. Although we spent our weekend making new memories, we filled our cab rides and coffee breaks reminiscing about our sparkly, fuzzy, enchanting Christmas memories from Florence. By the end of the weekend I came to the conclusion that while New York at Christmas was the big flashy exciting Christmas over-dose I was hoping for, nothing quite compares to the simple, enchanting twinkle of Florence all dressed up for the holidays.
As Meg mentioned, one of the best ways to appreciate Natale in Firenze is a simple stroll through the city and this weekend happens to be the perfect time to do it! The feast of the Immaculate Conception will be celebrated on December 8th, and with it, the official kick off of the season.
Although the best Christmas walk you will experience in Florence is your own meandering from twinkling allies to elaborate creches, we thought we would take you to our favorite displays to start you off.
Distance: 4.6 km
Time: at your leisure
The Christmas Market in Piazza Santa Croce
Begin the walk by fueling up with a German pretzel the size of your face or a foot-long würstel from the Santa Croce Christmas market. Ornament displays, candy shops, and the scent of roasting chestnuts are sure to propel you into a festive frenzy!
**Find more details about the market in upcoming events: december 2012
Artisan Market in Piazza Santissima Annunziata
Ride that high all the way to Piazza Santissima Annunziata. To get to Annunziata take Via Giuseppe Verde, on the west side of Piazza Santa Croce. Head north. The name will change to Via Fiesolana, which will eventually dead end at Via dei Pilastri. Turn left and walk west for three blocks. Turn right at Via dei Servi and quickly find yourself in the piazza.
Saturday, December 8, the piazza will be teeming with holiday gift inspiration. Local artisans show off and sell their hand-crafted treasures in the piazza. In the evening folk music will accompany your stroll through the market adding just the right dash of holiday cheer. For more details about the festival click here.
Via dei Servi
Exit the Piazza the same way you entered, from Via dei Servi. If you timed your walk accordingly, the city will just be slipping into twilight and strands of twinkling lights will guide you to Piazza del Duomo.
Piazza del Duomo
As the religious center of the city you should not be surprised to find Christmas here. Red giglio (symbol of Florence) ornaments pepper a large tree on the north side of the Duomo.
Closer to the steps of the Duomo you will find a nearly life-sized nativity scene with classically Tuscan terracotta figures.
Piazza della Repubblica
Exit Piazza del Duomo on the southwest corner and head south on Via Roma. Shortly you will find Piazza della Repubblica glitzing and glamming in holiday cheer. Elaborate garlands decorate Caffe Gilli and street performers compete to fill the piazza with Christmas classics, but you will most likely be distracted by the large, shiny, object in the piazza – the department store La Rinascente. You’ll need sunglasses to look at this display!
For less flashy holiday glamour head to Via Tornabuoni. Exit the piazza on the west side under the large arch onto Via degli Strozzi for a short jaunt to Via Tornabuoni. Turn left and saunter south down the strada towards the river. This high fashion stretch is sure to dazzle and enchant with its mesmerizing window displays and illuminated chandeliers floating overhead.
Follow the lights all the way across the Santa Trinita Bridge and let yourself be drawn into the undeniable charm of the Oltrarno. The unassuming neighborhood weaves delicate strands of lights through almost every winding via. Allow yourself to get lost in the soft glow of these peaceful streets.
Find your way back to the other side of the river by way of the Ponte Vecchio. The bridge that sparkles year round with its diamond rings and gold necklaces kicks it up a notch at Christmastime with trimmings of garlands and lights overhead.
Piazza della Signoria
After you cross the Ponte Vecchio let the Palazzo Vecchio’s peeking tower guide you to Piazza della Signoria.
As I’ve mentioned before this piazza is one of my all time favorite places in the whole wide world, and as you have probably figured out by now, Christmas is my favorite season (to say the least). Put these two together and my Christmas cheer level is off the charts. Now, if I had my way with the piazza I would replace the lion climbing the tippy top of the Palazzo Vecchio with Santa Claus, and tie a large red bow around David’s you know what. Unfortunately for us all, the mayor doesn’t appreciate my refined decorating tastes. Nonetheless, the piazza doesn’t fail to enchant.
Rivoire, famous for its hot chocolate (a perfect accent to your holiday stroll), warms up the piazza with tumbling garlands and sparkling lights. Sipping hot chocolate on the patio of Rivoire (ok a little pricey, but definitely worth a splurge) makes for a great seat to watch the display projected on the facade of the Gucci Museum. Simulated snowstorms, old footage of the bustling early 20th-century piazza, and even La Befana flying over Florence, are projected on the building offering a delightful holiday show to top off your tour of lights.
For the grand finale head up Via Calzaiuoli towards the Duomo. Connecting the public and religious centers of the city, it is no surprise that this prominent, bustling, promenade is the most elaborately decorated. Elegant lanterns wrapped in garland illuminate the street causing one to question whether they are still in Florence, or just entered Narnia. Don’t look up the whole time, however. The shops along Via Calzaiuoli, although touristy, don some very festive displays as well.
While the bright lights of New York City made for a fantastic and festive weekend, I think it is the enchanting streets of Florence that I will be dreaming about this Christmas Eve. So get out there and enjoy the most wonderful city at the most wonderful time of the year. Plus, you never know who you might find…..