Best Places to visit in January in Italy

The first week of the month is still part of the Christmas period and Italians are often on vacation. The most popular kind of vacation is called “settimana bianca “(literally “white week”), which is a skiing holiday in the mountains.

On Epiphany Day (January 6th), there are many events and celebrations taking place everywhere and involving both the religious side of the feast (masses, processions, etc.) and its folk side with the Befana character. Befana is an old lady bringing sweet treats to the good kids and some charcoal to the naughty ones and she leaves her gifts inside a stocking.

In January, you’ll find cold-weather everywhere and a lot of snow in the mountains. Snowfalls in the lowlands are not uncommon in the Northern Regions too. It’s not a good period to visit Italy if you don’t like cold and grey weather but it’s the perfect period to celebrate the New Year with some typical events and traditions and to have fun in the mountains.

January is the perfect month for winter sports

Best things to do in Italy in January

1. A skiing holiday in Cortina D’Ampezzo (Veneto)

What: Cortina is one of the main tourist locations of the Dolomites and it is a beloved place by skiers and athletes for its abundance of slopes and sports facilities. It is also popular among celebrities and upper-class visitors for its glamorous atmosphere.

What to see: Cortina’s main attractions are its ski slopes and its 51 facilities suitable for any kind of sport, from ski to snowboard. Here you can also find many difficult slopes especially conceived for experts like Forcella Stunies with a gradient of 74%. The best slopes are in Le Tofane area.

How long: 1 week

Why January: because it’s the traditional period for a skiing holiday

Weather: the average temperature is -4°C with frequent snowfalls

Practical tips: to choose the best ski pass visit here.

2. Watch the Befana boat race in Venice (Veneto)

What: on January 6th, you can watch a funny boat race on the Canal Grande. This tradition was born in 1978 from an idea of a couple of members of a local rowing club. They organized a non- competitive race where the participants were dressed up as the Befana. It was so appreciated by locals that it was repeated every year since then!

What to see: the dressing up of the Befane (participants) takes place on the Fondamenta delle Zattere walk, which is also a scenic point you cannot miss to enjoy a great view of Giudecca island. The best place to watch the race is Rialto Bridge and the banks nearby and you should also visit Rialto fish market to immerse yourself in its busy atmosphere.

How long: 1 weekend for the race but at least 4-5 days if you’ve never been to Venice before

Why January: to watch this funny folk event

Weather: the average temperature is 4°C with cloudy weather

Practical tips: to get away from the cold, have some long lunch breaks at the local “bacari”, that is typically Venetian trattorie offering some traditional cuisine and the unmissable “cicchetti” (local tapas) with wine.

Check out what to do in Venice in 2 days. 

3. See the sunrise in Madonna di Campiglio (Trentino Alto Adige)

What: Ski Sunrise is the name of an annual event taking place in January and February at several lodges in the mountains near Madonna di Campiglio. It consists in skiing up to the lodge, seeing the sunrise in the snow, having a traditional breakfast and skiing back to the village.

What to see: the main attractions of Madonna di Campiglio are its ski slopes, especially the Graffer one (very long and scenic) and the Spinale Direttissima one (only for experts). Another attraction is the trail leading to Nambino lake, which is great for snowshoeing. If you like some adventure, try some dog sledding at Athabaska school.

How long: 1 week

Why January: to immerse yourself in a fairy snow-covered landscape

Weather: the average temperature is -3°C with frequent snowfalls

Practical tips: to organize and book your Ski Sunrise experience visit here.

4. Attend the Befana historic and folk parade in Rome (Lazio)

What: on January 6th, you can see a historic parade called “Viva la Befana” in via della Conciliazione in Rome. This event combines both the religious side of the feast (with the presence of the Three Kings) and its folk side (with the Befana) in a huge parade involving costumed characters, horses and marching bands bringing gifts to the Pope in St Peter’s Square.

What to see: Via delle Conciliazione connects S. Angelo Castle to St Peter’s Square and it is the border between Italy and the Vatican State. You can physically see the border highlighted by a stripe of travertine marble on the street. Of course, take the time to visit the Basilica of St Peter and to admire its many works of art and spend at least half a day in the beautiful Vatican Museums.

How long: 1 weekend for the parade but at least 5-6 days if it’s your first time in Rome

Why January: to celebrate Epiphany Day with a local folk evet

Weather: the average temperature is 8°C with frequent rainfalls

Practical tips: you can also find the Befana at the Christmas market of Piazza Navona. On this day, she will be there to personally give candies and sweet treats to children!

5. Reflect on the recent past during the Holocaust Memorial Day in Trieste (Friuli Venezia Giulia)

What: the Holocaust Memorial Day takes place every year on January 27th and it’s an international commemoration of the Jewish victims of the Nazis. This day was chosen to remember the date when Auschwitz camp was liberated in 1945. Trieste is particularly touched by this occasion because there you can still see the remains of the only Italian concentration camp.

What to see: the Risiera di San Sabba was a former rice processing plant turned into a concentration camp during World War II. Today, you can still visit its museum. Start your sightseeing from Piazza Unità d’Italia, which is the heart of the city with many elegant buildings and a beautiful view of the sea. Don’t forget to save some time to visit the majestic Miramare Castle too!

How long: 1 weekend

Why January: to see the places where the history was made

Weather: the average temperature is 6°C with cloudy weather

Practical tips: Trieste is very well connected to the main Northern cities by train it is only 2h away from Venice too, so it’s an unmissable stop of a Northern Italy’s tour!

6. Take a dip in the sea in Naples (Campania)

What: on January 1st, some brave locals gather for the so-called “Cimento Invernale” (winter endeavor), which consists of a dip into the sea to celebrate the New Year. This feat takes place at noon at Rotonda Diaz on the waterfront.  

What to see: Lungomare Caracciolo (the local waterfront) is beautiful in every season and a winter walk will offer you an amazing view of the sea and the chance to enjoy some mild weather. Have a stop at Castel dell’Ovo to admire the view from its top and learn more about its weird legend. Don’t miss a visit to the upper-class and hilly district of Posillipo and take some pictures of Capri, Ischia, and Procida from its Virgiliano park.

How long: 4 -5 days

Why January: to enjoy some early spring

Weather: the average temperature is 12°C with an alternation of sun and rain

Practical tips: rent a car and drive around the Amalfi Coast to see some beautiful landscapes without the usual crowds of tourists!

You might also like: How to spend 3 days in Naples and the best areas to stay in Naples. 

7. Enjoy some ice-skating in Milan (Lombardia)

What: ice-skating is one of the favorite winter activities of both children and adults and Milan has several places where you can have fun both indoor and outdoor.

What to see: one of the best ice-skating rinks is in Gae Aulent Square, in the heart of the most modern and futuristic district of the city. If you prefer a fairy atmosphere, head to the Village of Wonders at Indro Montanelli Park, where you can skate indoor close to Santa’s House and the Christmas market. Another scenic location is the garden of Villa Scheibler, where you can skate in the setting of an elegant XVI century mansion.

How long: 1 weekend

Why January: because Milan is the Italian capital of entertainment in every month of the year

Weather: the average temperature is 5°C with cloudy weather

Practical tips: to get away from the cold, have a long lunch break at a typical trattoria to taste the best local specialties like yellow rice, Milanese cutlet and marrow bone.

Check out my One day Milan itinerary. 

8. Relax at the spa in Salsomaggiore Terme (Emilia Romagna)

What: Salsolmaggiore is the most popular spa town in Italy and its saline water has so many beneficial properties that it was already used for treatments by Celts and Romans. This nice town is also rich in artistic heritage, especially in Liberty buildings.

What to see: the main spa is housed in the elegant Berzieri building in Liberty style, which also offers the most glamorous atmosphere and the most luxurious wellness treatments. Have a walk through the Old Town and admire the beautiful wrought-iron decorations of the Scotti Well, that is where the curative waters sprung. Don’t forget to visit S. Vitale Cathedral, which you cannot miss because of its 30m high dome!

How long: 1 weekend

Why January: to get away from the cold inside a hot curative water pool

Weather: the average temperature is 4°C with frequent rainfalls

Practical tips: if you still have some time to spend nearby, head to the Fidenza Outlet Village (only 13 Km away from Salsomaggiore) to enjoy some shopping and remember that it’s time for winter sales in Italy!

9. Enjoy some snow on the top of Mount Etna (Sicily)

What: you might not think that a volcano can be covered up in the snow, but it’s what happens on top of Mount Etna in winter! You’ll find several ski slopes and many skiers having fun everywhere!

What to see: the main ski slopes are at Piano Provenzana at 1810m, but there is also another popular ski area near Nicolosi at 1910m. If you are tired of being in the open air and you want to warm up indoor, head to Zafferana Etnea, where you can find the largest planetarium of Sicily offering both entertainment and educational activities.

How long: 1day trip from Catania, Taormina or Siracusa

Why January: to experience what’s like skiing on top of an active volcano

Weather: the average temperature is -4°C with frequent snowfalls

Practical tips: if you’d like to spend a whole week there, you can attend one of the many ski training courses organized by local schools! As an alternative, learn to ski in Catania on a synthetic grass ski slope!

Check out my Sicily in winter itinerary. 

10. Have fun in Courmayeur (Valle d’Aosta)

What: the main ski resort on the Mont Blanc is also the most glamorous and trendy mountain location in the Western area of Northern Italy. It is especially loved by young people searching for a vibrant nightlife for their after-ski time!

What to see: the ski slopes of course! The most popular ones are the Youla-Dolonne and the difficult and dangerous Pista dell’Orso. If you are a real pro, head off-piste on the Mer de Glace glacier. During your stay, don’t miss a ride on the futuristic Skyway Mont Blanc, that is the cable car taking you straight to the top!

How long: 1 week

Why January: it’s the perfect location for your New Year’s celebrations because it combines sport, landscapes, and wild nightlife!

Weather: the average temperature is 0°C with frequent snowfalls

Practical tips: the best clubs are The Club, which is the local version of the homonymous club in Milan and the Shatush, which is also a hotel and a restaurant and it is housed inside a typical stone chalet. If you like some glamour, head to the Privé Cocktail Bar before dinner!

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