Padua is a lot of fun to explore in the run-up to Christmas!
This is the conclusion I reached after a fun evening spent in what probably is Italy’s most underrated city.
It was a last-minute decision to make the short journey from Vicenza where we live to nearby Padua late in the afternoon this past Saturday. And although, once in Padua, for a short second it felt like our plans were going to get derailed, a ride on the city’s Christmas train, a wander through Padua’s 800-years old market underneath twinkling Christmas lights, and a nice helping of chocolate were all that was needed for the Christmas cheer to get hold of us.
The original plan had been, after a quiet morning spent at home, to rock it in Padua in the late afternoon just in time for the lightning of the city’s Christmas tree. I had seen the event promoted on Facebook. Always eager for yet another Christmas adventure, my husband and little daughter didn’t need any convincing at all.
After a short drive on the highway, we arrived in the city just as late autumn darkness fell. It never ceases to amaze me how quick is the journey from Vicenza to Padua. I mean, it used to take me longer to get from London’s Zone 4 to its central Zone 1 when I lived there in the noughties.
Yet here you have the very proper and even a bit snobbish Vicenza on one hand and just 20 mins down the highway (or 17 mins away by train) you have the raucous and lively Padua. Two cities that are so close to one another and yet are so different in terms of spirit.
As usual, we found Padua full of life. Historically a University city, there is a certain zesty zest and strong vibe to it. Life here doesn’t stop as soon as people clock off work in the evening. Instead, they go out to enjoy an aperitivo with friends, to shop on the high street and to see what’s on in one of the city’s many venues.
Unlike Padua, Vicenza can be quite sedate at night with streets quickly emptying on autumn and winter evenings. So Padua always feel like a fresh breath of life on the rare occasions when we make the effort to drive there in the late afternoon/early evening.
Anyway, we were in Padua and the rain that had soaked Vicenza all throughout the day was making only feeble attempts to drizzle here.
The evening started really well as we discovered that Padua was in the midst of a chocolate fair.
A chocolate fair is one of the highlights of living in Italy. It’s basically a market with stalls selling nothing but chocolate. Although we have been to many chocolate fairs over our five years here, the novelty never wears off. So, we browsed for a bit and this is how we ended with a slab of cremino and a fancy-shaped chocolate figurine.
And just after this very delightful experience, we had the shock of our evening…
There was no Christmas tree in front of Palazzo Moroni!
Palazzo Moroni serves as Padua’s municipal seat. Every year a large Christmas tree is erected in front of it and we had come all the way from Vicenza to see it being lit up!
Yet, there was no Christmas tree there! The huge grey building was adorned with lovely festive lights but the actual tree was nowhere to be seen!
I was incensed. How come?!
One of our merry party (I am not divulging who) threw a strop and stamped their foot on the ground in a mighty show of frustration.
Where was the Christmas tree? The Christmas tree! The very big one! The one that was supposed to be right here?!
Another one of our merry party (that would be my husband) kept a cool head and searched for the event that I had seen promoted on Facebook to check what was going on.
After staring at the screens of our mobiles for a while it all started to make some sense. Three things transpired:
1. Padua’s Christmas tree was to be lit up next Saturday.
2. Even though the event I had seen promoted used a photo of Palazzo Moroni without any Christmas lights but with a Christmas tree in front of it, the event actually was for the lighting up of the city’s Christmas lights!
3. The finish it off, even though the lighting ceremony had been advertised to happen at 5 pm, it actually happened at 4 pm. Hence, we had missed it.
I felt most dejected, most un-Christmassy, and totally sad even…
A very Christmassy bell rung at that very moment. We looked around and spotted a white train making its way through the crowded street. Beautifully decorated, it stopped right where we were standing and in the spur of the moment we jumped on board.
Behind us sat a family with a small child. The father – full of Christmas cheer and joy – started shouting ‘Buon Natale!‘ to the people passing by as our train took us on a ride around Padua’s historic centre. ‘Salutali! Salutali!‘, he was also encouraging his little child to wave to the people outside.
Caught in this father’s festive mood, soon we all started shouting ‘Buon Natale!‘ followed by ‘Aaaah! Oooh! Uuuuh’ every time the train made a sharp turn. It was raucous. It was fun.
In case you’ve been walking around Padua on Saturday’s night, peacefully minding your own business and someone shouted ‘Buon Natale!‘ to you from a passing electric Christmas-decorated train, that was most probably us.
With the train ride over, we went for a walk around Padua’s 800-years old food market. Held daily around and on the ground floor of the stunning Palazzo della Ragione, the market usually closes for business much earlier in the afternoon. Yet, it was open this Saturday evening! (Perhaps it has extended opening times for the holidays, I thought.) So, we walked from stall to stall and from shop to shop taking in the lovely Christmas decorations…
and the amazing food on display.
Hand-filled tramezzini, rows of thick salami, fresh fish, handmade pasta, huge wheels of cheese, air-dried cod, local cakes, dried and sliced porcini mushrooms, salted capers. There were even English herrings!
This abundant display of delicious food was heartwarming. A warm feeling of being happy and at the right place at the right time took hold of us.
Next, we headed to Padua’s Christmas stalls which you will find nicely arranged right next to the Church of the Eremitani.
We popped into Santa’s Workshop to say hello to a tall elf with a curly hat. Santa, we were told, would be making appearances from the 8th December onwards.
Inside we saw an old printing press with stamps that were a hundred or so years old. For a small donation, you could get a lovely letterhead to Santa printed by hand. A letter to Santa written on a hand-printed festive letterhead? He definitely must give priority to those! How to resist?! Of course, we had a letterhead printed for us. It’s so beautiful! Now, I have to decide what we want for Christmas.
Inner joy and peace for the world, of course!
Then we browsed quickly the Christmas stalls. Honey, festive decorations, warm mittens and socks, huge pretzels, even a pop-up restaurant. Now, we were in full Christmas mode.
The evening was turning into a great success.
To round it all off, we headed to Padua’s current highlight. A large exhibition dedicated to the life and work of one of the city’s most noteworthy sons. Called Giovanni Battista Belzoni and born in 1778, he was a handsome giant of a man of many talents. Above all, he was an archaeologist and explorer of Ancient Egypt.
The exhibition traces Belzoni’s life and it showcases many Ancient Egyptian artifacts from some of Europe’s most important museums like the British Museum in London, the Louvre in Paris and the Egyptian Museum in Florence. A huge pyramid is the exhibition’s showstopper.
Conveniently for us, it turned out that on Saturdays (and Fridays, too), the exhibition stays open until midnight. So, we were able to fully enjoy it unhurried and without crowds. It was great!
So, this was our visit to Padua in the run-up to Christmas. For a second there, it seemed like our little trip was going to be a bit of a miss. Yet, thanks to a fun Christmas train ride, the many festive lights decorating the city’s streets and historic buildings, a visit to Santa’s workshop, and a great exhibition we had a lovely Christmas experience.
Here’s to many heartwarming experiences to you all throughout the run-up to Christmas!
P.S. And if you make it to Padua’s Christmas tree’s lighting ceremony, let me know how it went.
What Christmas experiences are you most looking forward to this year? Where in the world would you like to spend this Christmas? Have you already been to a Christmas event this year? Let me know in the Comments section below!
More Helpful Links:
- 10 Reasons to Stay in Padua During Your Italy Holidays
- Padua, Italy – 89 Reasons to Visit the City of the Saint
- Christmas Guide for Northern Italy – The Ultimate List of Christmas Markets, Events, and Happenings
- Christmas in Italy – 50 Fun Facts About the Italian Holiday Season
- Italy’s Five Christmas Gift Bearers
- Christmas Markets – Best 5 Things to Buy This Festive Season
- La Corsa dei Babbi Natale – The Funtastic Santa Runs Taking Over Italy Every Christmas
- 18 of the Best Cities to Visit in Northern Italy (With Travel Tips and Nearest Airports)
- Top 15 Places to Visit in the Veneto, Italy – The Ultimate Guide
- Mandorlato Veneto – The Taste of Italian Christmas
- Christmas at Lake Garda – A Great Italian Day Trip
- Our Second Christmas in Italy
- My Best Italian Christmas Experience: The Living Nativity Scene in Vicenza
- Setting Up for a Magical Christmas
- Photos from the Christmas market in the town of Garda on Lake Garda
- MotoBabbo – video of a Santa motorbiking event in Mirano, the Veneto
- Underwater Nativity scene in Garda Town on Lake Garda – video
- Switching of the Christmas lights in Vicenza, Northern Italy – video
- Christmas lights in Vicenza, Northern Italy – video
- Nativity scene in the Convent on Mount Berico in Vicenza, Northern Italy – video
- Putting up the Christmas lights in Vicenza, Northern Italy – video
- Ice rink in Cittadella,Veneto, Northern Italy – video
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