Although some elements of Christmas in Rome might not live up to expectations - this year’s Christmas tree in Piazza Venezia has been dubbed “the ugliest Christmas tree in the world” - overall, the Eternal City does not disappoint. December is a fantastic time to visit Rome, with fewer crowds, beautiful weather, and a festive atmosphere. Go for a passeggiata through the sparkling streets of the centro storico, and you soon forgive Rome for its substandard Christmas tree.
If you find yourself in Rome around Christmas, here are some ideas:
Enjoy the sights without the crowds
There are still plenty of visitors in Rome in December, but the comparative lack of crowds makes Christmas a pleasant time to visit. The city centre is less crowded than you might expect, and there are fewer queues and crowds at the main attractions. Make the most of being in Rome in “low season” and enjoy a vist to the Colosseum and Roman Forum.
Go to a Christmas concert in a church
Visit one of Rome’s beautiful baroque churches over the Christmas period and you may well stumble across a spectacular live concert, from choral concerts to piano performances of Beethoven or Bach. A series of Christmas baroque concerts is taking place at Sant’Agnese in Piazza Navona, and the spooky Capuchin Crypt is the setting of haunting concerts that include Gregorian chanting. You’ll have to pay for some of these concerts, but others are completely free, so keep an eye out for posters while you’re walking around the centre.
Attend Christmas mass
Going to Christmas mass in Rome can be an incredibly atmospheric and memorable experience, especially if you’re lucky enough to get tickets to the papal mass at the Vatican. Tickets are free, but you need to try booking at least three months in advance, which means you’re unlikely to get in this year. Try for 2017...
Indulge in some traditional Christmas food
The most popular Christmas cakes are panettone (a bread-like cake filled with raisins and candied fruit peel) and pandoro (sweet yeast bread generally topped with vanilla flavoured icing sugar). If you want to indulge in a full Christmas meal, start with a primo such as meat-filled tortellini pasta, and then choose something with meat or fish for your secondo. Fish is more traditional for Christmas Eve - seafood and baccala’ (salted cod) are particularly popular. There are lots of excellent restaurants open in Rome over the Christmas period, but make sure you book in advance if you’re planning on eating out on Christmas day.
See some nativity scenes
To truly appreciate the art of presepi (nativity scenes) you need to take a trip to Naples, but you’ll also find lots on display in Rome. The most impressive can be found at the annual exhibition at the Sala del Bramante in Piazza del Popolo, which finishes on 8 January. While the majority of nativity scenes are fairly traditional and designed to look realistic, you’ll also find some more unusual and innovative works, which look like they belong in a modern art gallery. One year there was even a nativity scene made out of pasta!
Do some Christmas shopping
If you need inspiration, go for a walk along Via del Corso or the shopping streets surrounding Piazza Navona and the Pantheon; you’re bound to find something on Via del Governo Vecchio or Via dei Coronari. As well as the traditional Christmas market in Piazza Navona there are plenty of quirky alternatives, such as Mercato Monti and the vintage market at Teatro Quirinetta. For foodie gifts, head to Volpetti in Testaccio or the slightly overwhelming Eataly, which is essentially a department store dedicated entirely to food.