Let the crowds pack into Rome and the Vatican on December 25. Instead of joining them, head to Florence, where you'll be one of the few tourists there to enjoy the festivities. The city erects Christmas markets in the main plazas where you can buy ornaments or taste Italian holiday treats from the bakery stalls. Each church in town painstakingly creates a nativity scene, all worth admiring, and most put on impressive free Christmas concerts. Maybe the greatest tradition in town is sipping a cup of otherworldly (and insanely expensive) Florentine hot chocolate at Caffé Rivoire in the Piazza della Signora.
SIDE ADVENTURE: Every winter the city creates the Winter Park at Florence on the right bank of the Arno River, a cold-weather wonderland complete with a skating rink and a 200-foot-long slope for skiing, snowboarding, and tubing. It may not measure up to the big mountains of the Alps, but on the plus side, the park is surrounded by bars and cafes.