Rome at Christmas: all you need to know for a perfect 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.

The Iconic, the legendary Coliseum of Rome, Italy on christmas

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.

Please note: this post contains affiliate links and, should you make a purchase through them, we might make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

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 December and Christmas Day the 25th.

The 8th of December kicks off the holiday season.

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

December 8th is traditionally when families declares the Christmas tree at home.

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

This 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 festivies 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 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 on this day or 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 several museums and attractions close on this day.

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 days or offer set menus only.

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 (current rules may affect this), public transport frequency is affected, especially later at night.

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

Is Rome busy at Christmas?

Rome at Christmas is very busy!

With October and April, Christmas is one of the busiest times to visit Rome. Advance booking of accommodation and all attractions is a must.

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 sparkly top 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 by 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

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. 

Big supermarket chains tend to have longer opening hours however, Rome doesn’ have the 24/7 shopping facilities you may be used to back home.

Christmas doesn’t usually see sales priced. 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 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.

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

Colosseum tickets by Coopculture: 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.

Colosseum Tour ticket by Get Your Guide: with excellent cancellation options

Colosseum Tour for families with kids by Grey Line: 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‘.

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

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 (5 December 2021 – ( January 2022)

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 traditions and you can see many beautiful ones in Rome.

As well as at the already mentioned ‘100 Presepi’ exhibition, you can see them in several churches and public spaces all around Rome.

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!

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 barcone church with a stunning Ecstasis of St Therese by Bernini

San Luifi dei Francesi, with an important Caravaggio

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

Please note: going to mass in St Peter’s, due to current regulations, may not be possible in 2021.  Last year, the celebration happened in treating to avoid gathering. Info about 2021 arrangements TBC.

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 to 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)

Celebrate Christmas eve eating fish

Christmas eve is a big festivity in Rome. 

Table with several fish specialties

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 to eat 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!

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!

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

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.

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

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

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