Christmas in Italy is all about light shows, religious traditions, and decadent shopping. The Eternal City is the best city to experience that Italian festive flare. After all, since Rome is such an important city to the Christian faith, Christmas is an extremely interesting time to visit the city. If you’ve decided to “do as the Romans do,” we’ve listed everything you need to know about Christmas in Rome!
Pro Tip: Planning a holiday trip to Rome? Bookmark this post in a “Rome Christmas” folder so you can circle back to easily. We also have a great post about spending Christmas in Florence. If you are planning on doing tours while in Rome for Christmas, book ahead! Christmas through New Years’ is the high season and restaurants are open. Therefore check out our Best Restaurants in Rome as well to book in advance!
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 for the inside of the Basilica, you must book very far in advance. These tickets are very hard to come by. However, you 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.
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 start really picking up from the 26th and 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.
Therefore, surprisedly for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day you won’t find nearly the crowd as you will see even a few days later. From the 26th the crowds really start to pick up and of course culminate over New Years time.
As in most European Catholic countries, Christmas is usually spent with family. Keep reading to find out the various events that are going on in Rome during this period. It is definitely not a boring time and there are many activities happening. Enjoy!
Few things describe Italy at Christmas better than nativity scenes, or “presepi.” It is said that in 1223 St. Francis of Assisi created the first nativity scene, and since then, the tradition has remained strong.
You will see presepi in every church around the holidays, as well as most shop and bakery display windows. An impressive, life-size display will be in 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 is also a Christmas market in Piazza Navona. It is 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 where Romans frolic 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 décor.
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 during Christmas. The main churches that put up 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 is 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 is a misconception buzzing 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 you 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 is best to call and book your favorite culinary experience.
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 Saint Peter’s Square. Most shops, restaurants and sights will be closed on New Year’s Day. However, these are some musical performances which will be open to attend:
I Want More Italy!
- If you can’t get enough of Rome at Christmas and are looking for some more cool things to do, contact our Trip Planning Team to coordinate an unforgettable Italian experience.
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