Christmas in Florence?
January 13, 2007 6:47 PM   Subscribe

As a first-time visitor to Rome and Florence (and Venice?) at next Christmas and New Year's, what can I expect? What is a must-see attraction that might have special holiday hours?
posted by tristanshout to Travel & Transportation around Florence, Italy (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
So much to see it's hard to know where to start. This might have some good tips.

I will tell you this... if you want to see the Statue of David in Florence, get there as early in the day as you can or make reservations in advance. It can get crowded.
posted by miss lynnster at 7:12 PM on January 13, 2007

I really enjoyed the Istituto e Museo di Storia della Scienza in Florence, where they keep Galileo's telescopes and finger.
Also, what Miss Lynnster said: make reservations for David and Uffizi. They're both worth it.
posted by phooky at 7:41 PM on January 13, 2007

Florence: the Uffizi is one of my favorite museums in Europe, and the climb to the top of the duomo is intense but well worth it

Rome: Piazza Navona, Trevi fountain, and Parthenon. I'm not catholic, but went to mass on Easter Sunday and would recommend doing so.

Venice: you can definitely do it in a day. Check out the Peggy Guiggenheim if you like modern art. St. Marks Square is beautiful when musicans play and people dance at night.

Expect crowds, amazing pizza and wine, and very friendly Italian men.
posted by ASM at 7:56 PM on January 13, 2007

I went to Christmas mass in the Duomo a few years ago. It was amazing. There are also Gregorian chant services every Sunday.
posted by Alison at 8:21 PM on January 13, 2007

Oh, when you're in Venice you should get one of those passes they sell that include a bunch of different sites -- they're pretty worth it. Also, buy a vaporetto 3 day pass while you're there and you can go from one end of Venice to the other without always having to walk it. It's pretty easy to figure out how the vaporetto stops work after the first few times. Water taxis are WAY overpriced & gondolas are even more. (If you do decide to go whole hog & splurge on a gondola, try to get one with music if you can... it's funl!)

When you go to the Basilica San Marco, be sure to catch the museum upstairs... most people miss it totally. And across the piazza, you can take the elevator up the Campanile now -- there's an amazing 360° view of the city up there.

I also highly recommend getting a hotel or pension that's relatively near the Piazza San Marco or the Rialto Bridge. The reason is... Venice is a labyrinth of bridges and canals that all look the same after a while. It's SOOO easy to get turned around and lost. But no matter where you are, there are signs pointing to the Rialto or the Piazza, and if there aren't then you can always ask a shopkeeper to point you towards those two places very easily. Makes it a lot easier to keep your bearings.
posted by miss lynnster at 8:22 PM on January 13, 2007

I ended up in Venice on New Year's a few years ago. It wasn't an organized event, but, I spent New Year's Eve at the Piazza San Marco/St. Mark's Square (the main square in front of the Basilica - the picture you basically always see when you see Venice).

The city has no official celebration, but the square was filled to the brim with Italians and tourists alike. Everybody had a bottle of champagne and sat on the steps and chatted or milled around meeting and talking to the people around them. Then at midnight people set off their own fireworks and popped open their bottles.

It was a New Year's Eve celebration that I will always remember!

(And if you can get invited to a private house party Venice, frankly, is THE place to be. Who knows, you might even meet somebody in the Piazza!)
posted by ebeeb at 9:51 PM on January 13, 2007

I just got back from Rome and Florence, my askme post got a lot of good answers.

I Second the Istituto e Museo di Storia della Scienza. Even if they removed all the cool scientific antiquities, it would be worth it just to see Galileo's final Fuck You.

Reserve tickets for the David and the Uffizi, and then laugh at all the people standing in line in the cold, while you enjoy the Botticelli. I'd recommend hitting the David as it opens. If there turns out to not be a line, then you can just skip out on your reservation, and save a couple Euro.

Don't miss the Baptistery doors and Donatello's Mary Magdelen at the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, directly behind the Duomo.

It would also be well advised to make an attempt at seeing works by all four Ninja Turtles in a single day.

Depending on how the weather is treating you (we were nice and toasty, thanks to El Niño), a day trip to Lucca is a nice escape. Very pretty medieval town with intact walls that you can ride rented bikes on. Not far from Pisa either, if you need to get there to take that picture.

We (A Catholic, an Atheist, and a Jew) attended a Wednesday audience with the pope, which was a great way to kick off a poppish day. He read his sermon in 6 languages, and blessed us, our friends and family, and personal items brought to be blessed, so come prepared (for me it was a Pablo Escobar memoriam button).
Tickets are available the day before from the Swiss Guard at the Bronze Doors, or the morning of, if you can talk your way through the security for mass.

Go to the Vatican Museum a little before it opens, so you're part of the initial press in, and make a bee-line for the Sistine Chapel. There's a sign a little ways in that short-cuts you to it. We had a full 15 mins in there with only a very few other people. Once you've had your fill, you can go back out and take in the museum at your leisure.

For a small donation, you can see what a Trading Spaces gone horribly wrong would look like at the Capuchin Crypt beneath the Capuchin Church of the Immaculate Conception, on Via Veneto, and near the Barbarini stop on the A-line subway.

I would recommend hiring a tour guide for some of the larger sites (Coliseum, Palatine Hill, and the Forum), having the context makes them much more impressive. We hooked-up with one outside of the Coliseum who was quite good, got us free pictures with the gladiators (usually 5 euro), and offered a free tour of Palatine Hill the following day.

You can do a nice walk, starting at Piazza del Pollo, sneaking off to see the tomb of Augustus, and then catching the Spanish Stairs, the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon (of particular interest after seeing the Duomo in Florence, built 1000+ years later, plus the final resting place of Ninja Turtle Raphael), and then Piazza Navona for Tartuffo at Tre Scalini.

I can't give you any holiday schedule advice, but be aware that a lot of the outdoor sites do close early during the winter-- 3:30 for the Coliseum, Palatine Hill, and the Forum, and the Vatican Museum had kinda strange hours, too.
posted by cosmonaught at 2:51 AM on January 14, 2007

I was in Florence and Rome this winter. I didn't need to book in advance for the big attractions: there were only two people ahead of me in the queue for the Uffizi, and there was no queue to see Michelangelo's David.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 4:00 AM on January 14, 2007

I can't give you any holiday schedule advice, but be aware that a lot of the outdoor sites do close early during the winter

The first three cosmo mention close at dusk with last entrances/ticket sales being an hour beforehand. Vatican museum winter hours have the museum closing at 13.45 and last entrances at 12.30. The basilica itself (Saint Peter's) closes later, so hit the museums first.

Also a minor correction to cosmo's walk: it's Piazza del Popolo, not Pollo. Popolo= people, Pollo=chicken. Don't want you getting lost before you start your stroll. ;)
posted by romakimmy at 7:22 AM on January 14, 2007

spent Christmas in venice, and here are some thoughts:

1. Lose yourself in the streets. My friend and I didn't take a single water taxi/gondola while in Venice -- the jury's still out on whether this was a mistake -- but it was great to just wander the narrow, twisting alleys and emerge at random spots in the city away from the bustle of the crowds.

2. See slow travel's italy section for great, in-depth travel notes and reports by people who have stayed for extended periods of time in Rome/Venice. I wish I had discovered this site before I left for Venice.

3. I tried to visit the Peggy Guggenheim while I was in Venice, but was confounded by a locked entrance and an intercom that didn't seem to work. Maybe they require you to make an appointment in advance, or maybe they were closed during the Christmas season? I don't know, but this might be something to bear in mind if you plan to visit the place.

4. As an aside, I stayed in a hotel called La Forcola located pretty close to the coach terminal and paid very reasonable rates for a very satisfactory accomodation experience and location. I used to arrange the booking.
posted by nihraguk at 8:02 AM on January 14, 2007

In Florence, you should also see the Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens, about two blocks from the Ponte Vecchio on the south side of the Arno, as well as Piazzale Michelangelo.
posted by kirkaracha at 9:14 AM on January 14, 2007

Also a minor correction to cosmo's walk: it's Piazza del Popolo, not Pollo. Popolo= people, Pollo=chicken. Don't want you getting lost before you start your stroll. ;)

Thanks romakimmy, that's what I get for writing early in the morning. (Though the chicken really are amazing this time of year...)

I was in Florence and Rome this winter. I didn't need to book in advance for the big attractions: there were only two people ahead of me in the queue for the Uffizi, and there was no queue to see Michelangelo's David.

You lucked out, then. I was at the Uffizi four days before you, and the line was ridiculous. It more then stretched the length of the museum, and it didn't look like it was moving.

For the David and the Uffizi, reserved tickets are slightly more expensive, but you pay when you pick them up, so if you don't need them, it doesn't end up costing you anything.
posted by cosmonaught at 11:20 AM on January 14, 2007

The stereotype of Italian women walking all over Italy in stilettos is very wrong. Don't forget that the "sidewalks" and roads are made of really old, uneven, largely-gapped, slippery cobblestone, so make sure you wear flat, water-proof shoes (especially in Rome).

In Florence, almost everyone speaks English, but not so much as in Venice and Rome. Try to have a few basic Italian phrases down.

Don't eat your antipasta with a knife. You cut your ravioli with your fork.

During the christmas holidays, be prepared for plenty of stores and restaurants to be closed, as lots of italians leave the cities during the "bridge" of xmas break (from natale through la befana on january 6)

Don't go to the lesser-known art museums "off-the-beaten-track", especially in Rome. Most of them have one or two "big" works, which are usually undergoing restoration anyway. It's a huge waste of time and money.
posted by naxosaxur at 11:34 AM on January 14, 2007

We took a gondola in Venice and enjoyed it. We thought it would be cheesy, but in fact it was a really good way of seeing a different perspective. We took one from near the Ca' d'Oro and stayed on that side of the Grand Canal, which I think was better - less crowded, and cheaper than the prices we'd been quoted nearer to the tourist hub of St Mark's.

On another issue, we did find it very, very easy to get lost, especially as the street names displayed were not always the same as on the map. OK, it's great to get lost sometimes, but if you're going anywhere specific, take a map and keep checking it.
posted by paduasoy at 12:48 PM on January 14, 2007

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