Rome at Christmas: all you need to know for a magical stay

by marta

All you need to know about visiting Rome at Christmas: practical travel guide to make the most of the holiday season in the Eternal City.

Rome is fantastic in the holiday season. 

During the festive period, the city is buzzing with activity.

Christmas lights and decorations frost with festive cheer streets and piazzas; shops showcase their best window displays and churches gear up for one of the biggest celebrations of the Christian calendar.

Image of the Colosseum in Rome at Christmas with Christmas tree in front

Families start planning the Christmas gatherings typical of the seasons and tourists fill the place, their eyes and bellies filled with Rome’s most beautiful sites and warming Christmas Rome delicacies.

Rome at Christmas is a busy, lively, cheerful place and if you have the chance to visit Rome at this time, I highly recommend you do! 

In a previous article, I talked about visiting Rome in December.

Todays’ guide complements it and looks specifically at Rome at Christmas, the festive thing you can do in the city at this time and our best tips for a Christmas holiday Rome style.

Looking for kids’ events specifically? See also: Christmas events in Rome for children.

Please note: this post contains affiliate links and, should you make a purchase through them, we might make a small commission.

When is Christmas in Rome?

The Christmas season in Rome lasts from December the 8th to January the 6th.

Christmas Eve is celebrated on the 24th of December and Christmas Day on the 25th. St Stephen’s Day is on the 26th.

The 8th of December kicks off the holiday season.

On this day, the city celebrates the Immaculate Conception: this is a Catholic holiday and schools and offices have a day off.

December 8th is traditionally when families decorate the Christmas tree at home and when the Christmas trees in the main square light up fully.

January the 6th is the Epiphany, the day when Rome celebrates the arrival of the Three Kings into Bethlehem. 

The day of the Epiphany in Rome is a day off and also the day that traditionally marks the end of the holidays: as the Italian saying goes ‘Epifania, tutte le feste porta via‘ (epiphany takes all the festivities away)!

Need to know! The weeks between the 8th of December and the 6th of January are very busy in Rome. Make sure you book accommodation and attractions well in advance. Consider also additional bookings such as Christmas eve dinner, Christmas lunch and dinner and New Years’ eve dinner (24th December, 25th December, 31st December).

Christmas Tree in Rome PIazza Venezia at dusk

Christmas holidays in Rome

The main festive days you need to be aware of in Rome at Christmas are:

December 8th

December 8th is a day off for locals. However, it usually does not affect your ability to visit museums and attractions, open on this day. 

24th December

Christmas eve in Rome is pre-festive.

Some museums and attractions may close in the afternoon and observe shorter opening hours. Public transport schedule and frequency may be affected especially later in the day/ night.

Traditionally, Rome families gather at home on this day.

This means many restaurants close on this occasion: book dinner in advance to make sure your establishment of choice is open and expect set menus rather than a-la-carte (this is not a rule but very common on festive days in Rome.

25th December: Christmas day

December 25th in Rome is festive and most museums and attractions close on this day. You can still visit all Rome’s free and outdoor attractions.

Public transport may be affected.

If you are planning on eating out, make sure you book in advance. Local restaurants may be closed on this day or offer set menus only. Restraurants catering to tourism in the city center are usually open – however, making plans is recommended.

This is a day when local families are most likely at home so don’t be surprised if you encounter mostly tourists in restaurants and cafes.

26th December: St Stephen’s day

This is a festive day. Some museums stay close on this day.

31st December: New Year’s Eve

Early closures are possible. Big dinners and gatherings are traditional and public transport frequency is affected, especially later at night.

Book well in advance if planning on dining at a restaurant (see below).

6th January: the Epiphany

the 6th of January is the last day of the Christmas holidays in Rome and a day off for locals.

This is the day when Italian kids receive a visit from La Befana, a magical creature often referred abroad as a “Christmas Witch”.

You can learn here >>> all about the epiphany in Rome

Is Rome busy at Christmas?

Rome at Christmas is very busy!

With October, Easter, May and June, Christmas is one of the busiest times to visit Rome.

Advance booking of accommodation and all attractions is a must.

Piazza Venezia Rome at Christmas with chirstmas tree lit up

Does it snow in Rome at Christmas?

Usually, no.

Snow in Rome is a very rare event and a white Christmas in the Eternal City is pretty much unheard of.

While cold, December tends to see blue sky and brisk days. I recommend you wrap up for winter but no need to bring bulky snow gear with you.

What to pack for visiting Rome at Christmas

To visit Rome in December you will need good, warm, walking shoes, a coat (ideally waterproof) a scarf and an umbrella.

Heating is not as strong in Italy as you may be used to in other countries, so don’t expect to have to take off many layers once entering museums or restaurants.

I recommend you wear a long sleeve top and a nice woolen top, so you are warm outside and appropriate and comfortable when indoors.

Rome is not dressy but a nice top / suit shirt or shoes other than sneakers/trainers will be best for evenings out in the Christmas season and for more upscale hotels.

You do not need a thermal layer in Rome but scarves, gloves and a hat may come in handy.

Find here >>> my packing list for Rome in December.

Where to stay in Rome at Christmas

The best place to stay in Rome at Christmas is the city center.

A central location will allow you to be less dependant on public transport, busy and erratic at this time, and will offer the best atmosphere in terms of lights and Christmas shopping.

Fantastic hotels you may enjoy in Rome at Christmas are:

NH Fori Imperiali – modern hotel overlooking Piazza Venezia and the Roman Forum

Otivm hotel – boutique style hotel beside Piazza Venezia

Hotel Le Meridien Visconti Palace – in good position between the center and the Vatican

Grand Hotel de La Minerve – historical hotel in Piazza della Minerva, beside the Pantheon

Hotel Kolbe – nice family hotel close to the Colosseum and the Roman Forum. This hotel also offers special dinner packaged for Christmas Lunch and New Years’ Eve.

Top tip: if you prefer to cook for yourself at Christmas and New Years’ Eve and avoid potentially pricey restaurants, you can opt for an apartment with a kitchenette such as this one or this one: they are independent, in lovely central locations yet attached to hotels for any extra service you may need.

venice square in Rome on the night before Christmas

Christmas in Rome shops opening hours

Shops have prolonged opening hours during the Christmas weeks but do close early on December the 24th and often stay closed until the 27th, especially outside of the center.

Big supermarket chains tend to have longer opening hours however, Rome doesn’t have the 24/7 shopping facilities you may be used to back home.

Christmas doesn’t usually see sales priced. The official sales season in Rome starts in January.

Rome restaurants at Christmas

Eating out in Rome on Christmas eve and Christmas day is not always easy.

Many restaurants close on the 24th and the ones that are open tend to have a special Christmas menu with equally ‘special’ price tags.

The same happens for New Year’s eve when restaurants tend to be booked for events or offer special festive menus. 

Book in advance to make sure you are happy with the deal you are offered or to do as the Romans do: stock up on food at home and join the celebrations after dinner!

Museums and attractions you can visit in Rome at Christmas + special closures

The Colosseum and the Roman Forum

The Colosseum and the Roman Forum close on the 25th of December only.

Booking tickets in advance is paramount. Find them at the following link:

Colosseum tickets by Parco Colosseo: the cheapest form of ticket, with tours organized by the official Colosseum concession. Excellent in quality but with no flexibility on the booking date/time once purchased – a good option if you are sure of your plans. Getting tickets this way may require a bit of patience. Check here >>> how to buy Colosseum tickets from the official website

Colosseum Tour ticket by Get Your Guide: standard entry tickets to the colosseum, a good option if you don’t need a tour bu cannot get hold of thickets from the official site

Children Tour of the Colosseum by Mariaclaudia Tours: an excellent and well prices tour for kids with a game approach, perfect especially for kids 6 to 11 (includes entry tickets)

Express, tour of the Colosseum by LivTours: a great and swift tour that will allow you to see the Colosseum with the aid of a wonderful guide. Long enough to enjoy the Colosseum yet short enough not to tale up all your day or energy!

Colosseum Tour for families with kids by GreyLine: well-priced tour with a special eye for children’s needs and interests.

Colosseum Rome with Christmas tree in front

Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel at Christmas

The Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel usually close on the 8th, 24th and 25th of December.

They also usually close early on the 31st of December.

Christmas is a beautiful yet very busy time to visit the Museum: I highly recommend you book a tour and, if you can, opt for one early in the morning such as this one, when crowds tend to be smaller.

Good to know: you can find here >>> our guide ‘how to visit the Vatican at Christmas‘.

Vatican City at Christmas at night

The Borghese Gallery at Christmas

The Borghese Gallery is closed on the 25th of December.

Tickets for all other December dates are available here (with escorted entrance), here (with guided tour), and here (simple entry).

Find my guide to the Borghese Gallery here

Tip for families! Sourcing tours at this time may not be easy. In that case, you may like to equip your kids with my kids’ guide to the Borghese Gallery (free) so they can learn about what they are seeing anyway!

Capitoline Museums and other Rome municipal Museums

All Rome municipal museums open shorter opening hours on 24 and 31 December (9.30-14.00) and are closed on December 25th.

This includes Palazzo Massimo alla Terme, Terme di Dicleziano, Cipta Balbi, Musei Caitolini, Centrale Montemartini and all the museums in the ‘Musei in Comune’ network. Find the list here.

Top 10 Christmas things to do in Rome this year

With all these closures you may wonder if there is anything you can actually do in Rome at Christmas. Indeed, there is plenty in Rome to fill your holiday!

Admire Piazza San Pietro in its Christmas setup

Piazza San Pietro is the monumental piazza in front of St Peter’s basilica. It is free to access and wonderful to visit during the Christmas season.

St Peter Square in Vatican City Rome with big Christmas tree

Here, you will find:

  • The Vatican Christmas tree, one of the most beautiful in the city
  • The Christmas Crib, different every year and usually beautiful and touching
  • The 100 presepi exhibition, showcasing nativity scenes from all over the world (free)

Piazza San Pietro is also where you find St Peter’s Basilica, which is stunning and a must-see.

Christmas celebrations and current restrictions may affect your ability to visit – keep an eye on the official Vatican City Website for news.

Check out nativity scenes

Nativity scenes are a big Italian Christmas tradition and you can see many beautiful ones in Rome.

There are two main ways to enjoy Nativity scene in Rome:

1 – Go to the 100 Presepi Exhibition, mentioned above. This is a free event in Piazza San Pietro showcasing nativity scenes form all over the world.

2 – Explore churches! Many churches in Rome have beautiful nativity scenes, sometimes ‘announced’ outside, sometimes a surpise fo the adventurous soul who steps in inside!

Last year for instance I randomly discovered a stunning one in Piazza Sant’Eustachio which was so good and elaborate, I tend to believe will be there again this year!

Those in Piazza di Spagna (the same location as the Spanish Steps) and Piazza del Popolo are easy to add to your Rome itinerary as hosted in some of Rome’s most locations!

Nativity scene in Rome Sant'Eustachio church

Visit Rome’s churches

Rome has hundreds of stunning churches and Christmas is a brilliant time to visit them as it is a time of joy for Christianity, waiting to celebrate the birth of Jesus.

There are too many churches in Rome to mention them all but some I love are:

Santa Prassede, wonderful ancient church with some of the best mosaics in Rome

Santa Maria della Vittoria, a baroque church with a stunning Extasis of St Therese by Bernini

San Luigi dei Francesi, one of the best places in Rome to admire Caravaggio paintings for free.

You can find here >>> my selection of the top 10 churches in Rome

Main altar san pietro in Vincoli church Rome

Celebrate Christmas mass at the Vatican

On Christmas, the eyes of the catholic world turn to St Peter’s square and if you are spending Christmas in Rome, you may want to participate to this event and see the Pope in person. 

Tickets for the mass in the Vatican are free but limited and hard to get: the official booking site is here.

Should you not be able to secure on, you can also opt for an outdoor alternative.

On Christmas eve, you can head to St Peter’s square and join the many visitors who follow the mass from the big screens in the square or, on Christmas day, you can participate in the mass held in the square at noon.

This one does not require tickets (but does get super busy). 

Go ice skating

Rome doesn’t see snow at Christmas but ice skate rings do pop up during the festivities. 

One I love is the small but beautiful ring in the Auditorium (Via De Courbetin), open until late in the evening.

You can find more Ice rinks in Rome at Porta di Roma (Via Alberto Lionello, 201), Cinecitta’ World, Christmas Wonderland Roma (Viale Angelico), Euroma 2 (Viale dell’Oceano Pacifico, 83)

Visit Rome’s Christmas markets

Christmas markets are not part of the Italian Christmas traditions, but they have become quite popular in the last few years.

You can find some in the city and they are great places to pick up sweets, local specialities and knick-knacks.

The most famous market in Rome is the Christmas market in Piazza Navona, which takes place in one of the most spectacular squares in the city.

However, there are several others, in various parts of the city.

You can find here >>> a list of Christmas markets in Rome

Check out Christmas World

This year, the Borghese Gardens host a large Christmas even called Christmas World.

The event promises to be an immersive Christmas experience, where families can walk though replicas of differs parts of the word, all in Christmas style!

According to the organisers, you” be able to walk across the street of Berlin and London (and more!), enjoy shows, ice skate, board hte Christmas train and of course have plenty of Christmas food!

The event website currently offers the option of signing up to their waiting list. You can join here >>

  • Where: Borghese Gardens
  • When: 1st December 2023 – 8th January 2024
  • What: food stalls, Christmas train, shows, light installations, shows

Celebrate Christmas eve eating fish

Christmas eve is a big festivity in Rome. 

Families gather on Christmas eve and celebrate the occasion with glorious meals with, usually, a fish menu.

This tradition has roots in the Christian habit of fasting or at least eating light on the day preceding a big religious event, but over the course of the centuries, it has changed and has become a gourmand extravaganza.

Salmon, oily fish and shrimps are the most popular starters and shellfish pasta and roast fillets of fish are traditional mains.

If you are renting an apartment in Rome for the festivities, which I highly recommend, you can join this tradition.

Just be aware that shops do close early on Christmas eve: make sure you plan your food shopping accordingly!

Eat chestnuts

Chestnuts are another great Christmas in Rome classic and the best way to enjoy them is buying them for a street seller and munching on them as you stroll around the city, the warmth of the chestnuts keeping your hands cozy!

Sellers are easy to find especially in Piazza Navona, where you normally have a stand. Bring coins.

Roast chestnut on street stall in Rome at Christmas

Go Shopping

Rome has wonderful shops so if you are looking for things for yourself or gifts for friends and families, you won’t be disappointed! Make sure you plan all your shopping before and after the 24-25-26th December when the holidays impact on opening hours.

You can find here >>> my guide to the best shopping in Rome.

Buy sweet coal

Italy celebrates the epiphany (January the 6th) with a very special character: La Befana. 

Abroad it is often referred to as Italy’s Christmas which and she is an old witch-like lady who on the night of the 5/6th of January flies around Italy on a broomstick to deliver sweet to the good kids and coal (sugar in the shape of coal, nowadays) to the naughty ones.

If you want to introduce your kids to this tradition, Rome is the perfect place to do it!

Sweet coal keeps several days so you can get it from a Rome Christmas market and take it out on the 6th of December and still find it intact.

You can read all about epiphany in Italy here.

Choose between panettone and pandoro

Panettone and pandoro are the most famous Christmas foods in Rome.

You can, and should, taste both and you will most likely like both however, there is a fun fact you should know.

Romand and Italians in general are divided into what I can only call two opposing teams: team pandoro and team panettone.

Like all ‘serious’ team rivalries, they accept no middle ground: if a local asks you which one you prefer, pick either, but don’t play the newbies and say ‘I like them both’!

You can read about this fun rivalry between pandoro and panettone here.

 See Rome’s Christmas lights

Rome City center gets pretty lights during the Christmas season.  

While the displays are not as impressive as the ones in, let’s say, New York, the city puts on a nice show.

The best areas to enjoy the Christmas lights in Rome are the streets between Piazza di Spagna and Piazza Venezia (Via del Corso, Via dei Coronoari), Trastevere and Piazza Navona, Via dei Coronari.

Where to see the best Christmas trees in Rome

The Three best Christmas trees in Rome are in:

  • Piazza San Pietro at the Vatican, the best one of all!
  • Piazza del Popolo, new for 2023
  • Piazza di Spagna, smaller but in an unbeatable location

The Colosseum hasn’t had proper Christmas tree in a long time as there are metro work going on that take up the space in front of it.

I hope you enjoyed reading about Rome at Christmas. Safe travels!

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