Perhaps one of the best times to travel, Christmas in Rome is a magical experience filled with cozy experiences and stunning sights. From traditional Italian traditions to sparkling light displays, the city of Rome is chock full of amazing things to do during the holiday season.
Because it is a hotspot for tourists and travelers, you won’t have to worry about places being closed or running limited hours and is the perfect destination for a magical Christmas experience. Be sure to read on for everything you will need to know before spending Christmas in Rome.
Christmas in Rome: The Ultimate Guide
Traditional Italian Christmas celebrations last for a little over a month and Christmas in Rome is no exception to this rule. The holiday season begins around December 8th, known as the Day of the Immaculate Conception and continues through Epiphany, which is on January 6th.
With the exception of a few establishments, most places maintain normal hours of operation, some even hosting extended hours on select days around the holidays. As with anywhere where Christmas is celebrated, some places will close early on Christmas Eve and most will be closed on Christmas Day as well as New Year’s Day, so it helps to research ahead of time when making plans for those specific days.
Otherwise, you’ll find that it is business as usual in this vacation destination during the Christmas season.
When in Rome, you should strive to do as the Romans do, and their traditions are no exception to this rule. From attending special mass to partaking in traditional feasts, Christmas in Rome will be filled with many opportunities to make unique memories together.
If you are traveling with children, be sure to practice the tradition of La Befana! On Epiphany, folklore claims that the good witch La Befana flies through the city on her broomstick and brings gifts for the children of the land, making it a very unique and special experience, especially for children visiting the city during the holiday season.
Additionally, be sure to try as many of these other Italian traditions during your magical trip during Christmas in Rome!
Visit the Christmas Markets
Christmas in Rome is most well known for the splendid markets filled with wonders. There are tons of markers to choose from, each one offering something different and unique. With so much to offer, there is more than could be described in a small passage but when talking about the holiday season in the Eternal City, the markets are something worth mentioning!
You will be able to find hundreds of unique and one of a kind pieces to give as gifts, making the experience truly special! Be sure to read more about these markets so you can visit the perfect one for your needs, but you will most likely want to visit them all to see the wealth of goods available!
Marvel at the Christmas Lights
There is a childlike wonder surrounding the sparkling lights that can be seen all over during the holiday season and Christmas in Rome is no exception! The light displays in Rome are particularly spectacular, due in no small part to the fact that they are strung throughout alleys and roads dating back thousands of years!
Boulevards, plazas and alleys alike will be all decked out in colorful, twinkling lights that accentuate the lavish Baroque architecture and highlight the unique monuments that date back millenia! In particular, the Centro Storico, or historic city center, is washed in thousands of magical Christmas lights, adding an extra sense of wonder and magic to the already breathtaking sights you’ll find there!
Visit the massive Christmas trees throughout the city
Christmas trees weren’t always part of Italian holiday traditions, but in the last few decades, it has become an increasingly popular tradition.
You’ll find these beautiful and sometimes massive trees in plazas and piazzas as well as near some of the biggest attractions throughout Rome. The tree found outside St Peter’s Basilica is a truly magical sight!
Perhaps one of the most popular during Christmas in Rome is the tree found near the Colosseum. Nearly as tall as some of the trees put up in Rockefeller Center, this gigantic Christmas tree is somehow dwarfed by the monumental Colosseum behind it! With such a majestic and iconic backdrop, it is no wonder why the Christmas tree found near the Colosseum is one of the most popular of all the Christmas trees in Rome!
Research ahead of time if you want to experience the lighting of the trees. The tree in Vatican Square outside St Peter’s Basilica is lit up with a huge ceremony sometime around December 8th, making for a truly unique holiday experience in Rome.
View the magnificent Nativity scenes
One of the most exceptional sights during Christmas in Rome is the Nativity scenes found everywhere throughout the city. Nativity scenes have always been a huge part of the culture in Italy, and Rome has truly embraced the tradition.
You’ll find a Nativity at almost every single church and chapel as well as in some of the larger squares, ranging in size, style and theme. The life-size Nativities are particularly stunning and on occasion, you can even experience the magical sight of a living Nativity.
Complete with historically accurate costumes and live animals, actors reenact the story of the Nativity from start to finish and can be found on display in select locations throughout the holiday season. Be sure to shop around in the many stores and boutiques to find a smaller version of the Italian Nativity to take home as a memento of your Christmas in Rome.
Listen to all different forms of Christmas music
As a hub of culture and art for thousands of years, you’ll find that Christmas in Rome comes with all kinds of Christmas music. Full scale opera performances can be found alongside religious choirs and music halls performing traditional and beloved Christmas carols.
You’ll have to research ahead of time to find exactly what appeals to you and reserve tickets to more popular shows, but the effort is well worth it! Imagine strolling the festive streets after a magical Christmas themed Roman opera performance or a night of classic Christmas carols performed by some of the best of the best performers.
Try ice skating among the splendor of Rome
A surprising fact is that ice skating during the holiday season is an incredibly popular pastime during Christmas in Rome. You’ll find a number of different ice skating rinks available in the city, perfectly situated to enjoy while sightseeing and shopping.
From rinks near concert halls and rinks in the middle of museum grounds, historic sites or Christmas themed markets, you’ll be able to enjoy everything there is to enjoy while also partaking in a popular holiday event. You’ll find ice skates for rent at all the locations and there is bound to be a shop or stall nearby selling delicious roasted chestnuts, hot coffee or delightful holiday treats!
Savor the Feast of the Seven Fishes
One particularly Italian tradition to try while celebrating Christmas in Rome is the Feast of the Seven Fishes. This traditional Italian custom is enjoyed on Christmas Eve throughout Italy and you’ll be sure to find a number of restaurants that serve this meal.
As the name suggests, the highlight of the meal is of course seafood, from fish to shellfish and served in a variety of different ways. Like any traditional dinner in Rome, there are a number of courses to be enjoyed one after the other. You’ll feast on not only fish but also pasta, cheese, bread, meat and of course, dessert!
Experience Christmas Eve Mass at St Peter’s Basilica
Christmas Eve Mass is a popular tradition around the world, but in the Vatican City, they take the experience to the next level. What better place to experience the custom than in the seat of power for the Catholic Church?
The Pope himself will deliver part of the service which usually starts around 10 pm and fills up incredibly rapidly. People flock to the Vatican to experience the special moment of Christmas Eve Mass delivered by the Pope, so it is advisable to plan ahead, book tickets early and show up early to get a seat.
The experience of witnessing Christmas Eve Mass in the Vatican is a rare and incredibly special moment, making all the preparations you’ll have to do ahead of time well worth the effort!
Receive a blessing from the Pope on Christmas Day
If you’d rather spend Christmas Eve in, you can always venture to the Vatican on Christmas Day for a blessing delivered by the Pope in person! Every year, the Pope makes an appearance at noon on Christmas Day to deliver an address to the people of Rome as well as the world, giving a blessing of peace and joy.
Because this event is free and incredibly special, it fills up with huge crowds very fast, so you will have to arrive early to be sure to get a good spot to partake in the experience. Seeing Vatican Square dressed in all its holiday finery while receiving a memorable blessing from the Pope himself is surely one of the most special memories you could make while spending Christmas in Rome.
Afterward, enjoy a classic Christmas lunch
In Rome and much of the country of Italy beyond, the tradition of Christmas lunch has become a very popular custom. Instead of spending the day at home, most Romans and travelers visiting Rome will spend the morning relaxing and opening presents before heading out to enjoy a lavish lunch meal.
The custom is so popular, in fact, that you’ll find numerous restaurants and cafes actually open for lunch on Christmas. Of course not every restaurant will be open, particularly smaller businesses run by families who are most likely out enjoying Christmas lunch themselves, so it pays to research and plan your destination well ahead of time to avoid any surprises or miss lunch entirely!
Stock up on sweet treats to bring home
Italy is known for its delicious baked goods and confections, so it should come as no surprise that you’ll find them everywhere during Christmas in Rome!
Of course, the classic Italian Christmas cookies will be readily available and most likely won’t last till you get home (if only because you’ll probably eat them all first!) But you’ll find dozens of other delicious treats to bring home as a souvenir for friends and family who were not fortunate to be able to spend such a memorable Christmas in Rome!
Panetone is a popular Italian sweetbread, filled with candied fruit and nuts. You’ll be able to find these in specialty shops and food stores in the United States, but they don’t hold a candle to the delicious quality of a fresh version straight from the source!
Torrone is also readily available and travels quite well, making it an ideal souvenir to bring home and is quite popular during the holiday season as a decadent treat. Regardless of which treats you choose, you’ll be sure to enjoy taking a tiny taste of Rome home with you after the Christmas holiday season!
Additional tips for visiting Rome:
- Local currency is is the Euro
- Credit cards are widely accepted but for markets and smaller restaurants it is advised to have cash
- Latin is the official language in Rome, however English is widely spoken
- It has not snowed since 2012 in Rome – so if you are lucky to get it, enjoy it!
- Average weather in December is about 40-50 degrees Fahrenheit
Christmas in Rome is a truly magical time, filled with one of a kind experiences and splendid sights unlike any found elsewhere. No where else in the world could you receive a Papal blessing, ice skate through lush Christmas markets, stroll thousand year old streets covered in Christmas lights and feast on decadent Italian cuisine all in one trip.
For this reason, the holiday season in Rome is an experience sought by many! Plan ahead and you too could enjoy a once in a lifetime, truly memorable holiday season and perhaps adopt some Italian Christmas traditions of your own!
A new Christmas tradition is a souvenir that lasts a lifetime and can be passed on from generation to generation, resulting in memories not only from your trip abroad but also for years and years to come!
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