Christmas in Italy is all about the light shows, religious traditions, and decadent shopping. The Eternal City is the best city to experience that Italian festive flare. After all, Rome is an important city to the Christian faith, so Christmas is a very interesting time to visit the city. If you want to “do as the Romans do,” we’ve listed everything you need to know about spending Christmas in Rome.
Pro Tip: Planning a holiday trip to Rome? Bookmark this post in a “Rome Christmas” folder so you can easily find it. See our comprehensive guide to Rome for more planning resources and our curated list of Rome Christmas tours for a memorable trip. We also have a great post about spending Christmas in Florence if you’re heading there too!
How To Spend Christmas in Rome
Rome is an important city to the Christian faith, so it makes sense that you’d be interested in spending this special time of the year in the Italian capital.
You may, however, be wondering what there is to do at Christmas in Rome and how best to enjoy it. In this guide, find out everything you need to know about how to spend a wonderful Christmas in Rome. Here’s what we’ll cover:
- Planning ahead for Christmas in Rome
- What is Rome like at Christmas?
- Worship events on Christmas Eve
- Nativity scenes
- Christmas markets
- Christmas concerts
- Traditional Christmas food in Rome
- Things to do on New Year’s Eve
Not ready to book a tour? Check out our Rome Guide for more info.
Planning Ahead for Christmas in Rome
Here’s an important tip upfront: If you’re planning on spending Christmas in Rome, book everything in advance! Christmas through New Year’s is the high season. Everything is open and everything books up months in advance. From December 24th until January 5th, you’re looking at the same number of visitors as the summer, so be prepared for high season rates and book ahead.
If you’re planning to eat out at special places or want an authentic Roman cuisine experience in the top places to eat, check out our list of the best restaurants in Rome by attraction and reserve in advance.
Hotels and Accommodation
Expect to pay the same rates as the high summer season in Rome and definitely book in advance. If you’re shopping for a particular room type or adjoining rooms, consider booking three or more months out. For more information on the best hotels and where to stay, take a look at our articles on Rome accommodation:
- Where to stay in Rome by neighborhood
- Best hotels in Rome
- Best family-friendly hotels in Rome
- Rome hotels with rooftop terraces and bars
Tours and Activities
Similar to hotels and restaurants, the best tours at Christmas sell out quickly. You’re definitely going to want to visit at least the Colosseum and the Vatican while you’re in Rome.
Not only will visiting with a guide elevate your experience and make it much more memorable, but you’ll also get skip-the-line access to most attractions that generally have very long lines to get in.
It’s worth considering because standing in long queues in winter is not going to be particularly fun. Explore our curated list of holiday Vatican and Colosseum tours as well as the rest of our Rome tours—we have options to suit different travelers and schedules.
Not ready to book a tour? Check out our best Rome tours to take and why.
What Is Rome Like at Christmas?
The week leading up to Christmas will be quiet with very few tourists in town. I would say things really start picking up from December 26th through the New Year. This makes sense because many tourists will enjoy Christmas with their families in their hometowns throughout the world and then venture to the Eternal City for the New Year.
So, surprisingly for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you won’t find nearly as many people as you’ll see just a few days later. From the 26th, the crowds really start to pick up and, of course, culminate over New Year’s.
As in most European Catholic countries, Christmas is usually spent with family. Keep reading to find out about the various events in Rome during this period. It’s definitely not a boring time and there are many activities happening. Enjoy!
Worship Events on Christmas Eve in Rome
Christmas Eve Mass at the Vatican is the most popular place for worship. If you’d like to book a seat inside St. Peter’s Basilica, you must book very far in advance. These tickets are very hard to come by. However, you’ll get to sit (or stand) with people from all over the world coming together to watch the pope.
You can also return to St. Peter’s on Christmas day at noon when the pope gives his Christmas Day Urbi et Orbi speech and blesses the crowd. He only does this on Christmas and Easter, so expect large crowds. Looking for fewer people? Head to the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, one of the oldest churches in Rome.
Few things describe Italy at Christmas better than nativity scenes, or presepi. It’s said that in 1223, St. Francis of Assisi created the first nativity scene, and since then, the tradition has remained strong.
You’ll see presepi in every church around the holidays, as well as most shop and bakery window displays. For an impressive, life-size display, head to St.Peter’s Square next to the Christmas tree.
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Via del Corso is fun to see for the never-ending Christmas lights, but there’s more to explore! Streets vendors will line the busy squares, like Piazza Navona and Campo de’ Fiori, where you can buy unique handcrafted gifts.
There’s also a Christmas market in Piazza Navona. It’s not as full of vendors as it used to be, but you can still find treats and treasures.
The Mercato Monti is another great market that Romans flock to around the holidays. If you’re looking for a special event, head to Wave Market at Lanificio. Think vintage and handcrafted accessories, jewelry, clothes, and even funky and trendy home decor.
Listening to classical music by local musicians in some of the most beautiful churches in the world is an unforgettable experience to have in Rome at Christmas. The main churches that put on concerts every year are Chiesa di Sant’Antonio dei Portoghesi, Santa Maria ai Monti, and Sant’Ignazio.
Check out the Conciliazione Auditorium near the Vatican for their schedule of holiday concerts. It’s not uncommon for school groups or adult choirs to casually gather in Piazza Navona. You may not find signs or schedules, but while wandering around the city, you’re bound to stumble upon a surprise concert!
Traditional Christmas Food in Rome
It’s not difficult to find local Roman hotspots offering special menus around the holiday season. There’s a misconception around town that everything shuts down at Christmas. That’s actually false!
Skip the tourist traps and go for one of these locally approved restaurants in Rome that serve traditional Roman food. The different traditional Italian Christmas foods vary depending on the day of the celebrations. Christmas Eve is all about the fish in Italy, while Christmas Day traditionally starts with a tortellini soup followed by meat.
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Things To Do in Rome on New Year’s Eve
New Year’s Eve Celebrations
If you extend your vacation to New Year’s Eve, Rome won’t disappoint in terms of entertainment! The tradition in Italy is to have a special New Year’s Dinner called cenone. For this reason, many restaurants will offer special menus and rates. It’s best to call and book your favorite culinary experience in advance.
After dinner and some drinks, Romans usually go out to watch fireworks at midnight. The main city-sponsored public event on New Year’s Eve will be a show at Circus Maximus starting at 9:30 pm. The Catalan dance company “La Fura dels Baus” will perform dance and circus shows. After midnight, welcome the new year with a live DJ set.
New Year’s Day Activities
January 1st is a Catholic holiday called Solemnity of Mary. On this day, you can attend the Angelus at noon in St. Peter’s Square. Most shops, restaurants, and sights will be closed on New Year’s Day. However, there are some musical performances that you’ll be able to attend.