Christmas in Rome is a very special season.
We've list a few fantastic ideas of what to do for those who will be in Rome for Christmas.
15 best things to do for Christmas in Rome
1. Christmas Markets
‘Tis the season to be jolly so to get yourself in the mood, venture out into one of Rome’s fantastic Christmas Markets.
Although Rome doesn’t have the same concept as other countries (such as Germany) when it comes to Christmas markets, Rome nevertheless puts on a great show.
There are many Christmas markets in Rome with notable ones being at Campo de’ Fiori and near the most famous tourist attractions, but perhaps the most famous of the Christmas markets is the one at the world famous Piazza Navona.
Built in the 1st century AD by Emperor Domitian as a hippodrome and flooded to re-enact naval battles (from where it gets its name), the Baroque movement left it’s mark most conspicuously here with stunning fountains, architecture and statues from Bernini and Borromini.
Bustling with activity with street vendors, artists, street performers and even a carousel and a little fair for the children, Piazza Navona evokes a nostaligic feel for the Advent season.
Piazza Navona at Christmas
Mired by controversy in recent years due to the battle between the city authorities and control of the market place, we’re hoping this year, the peace of Christmas will resolve any issues and provide a great Christmas Market.
Check it out and take a ride on the carousel – adults that means you too!
2. Splendid Christmas Trees
Rome really does go all out with it’s Chistmas Trees which are always enormous, extremely well lit and ‘Christmasyfied’.
The 4 best trees can be found at the Coliseum, in Piazza Venezia, at the top of the Spanish Steps, and of course, in St Peter’s Square.
Colosseum Christmas Tree
The Christmas Tree at the Colosseum is probably the most understated of the four and given the back-drop of the Colosseum one can understand why!
Piazza Venezia at Christmas
One has to venture only a short 10-minute walk down the main boulevard from the Coliseum past the Roman Forum to arrive at Piazza Venezia. The Christmas Tree here is always splendid with a particular theme and in recent times has also included a lit nativity scene.
If you then continue on down Via del Corso from Piazza Venezia, you will eventually reach the area around the Spanish Steps where there is a great atmosphere for Christmas with people milling around doing their Christmas Shopping, and the gorgeous Christmas Tree always tops off the experience.
St Peters at Christmas
Of course the most famous Christmas Tree in Rome is the one at the Vatican in St Peter’s Square. In 2016 the huge 25m spruce is from the Trentino region of northern Italy and was decorated with handmade ornaments made by children undergoing cancer treatment at several Italian hospitals. The tree was lit on 9th December and remained there until the feast of Jesus’ Baptism on 8 January 2017.
At the foot of the tree is the life size nativity scene that is unveiled on Christmas Eve each year so you actually get a double whammy of festive cheer.
3. Christmas Culture in Rome
Another way to get yourselves in the mood for Christmas is to get yourselves to the theatre or to the many fantastic concerts here in Rome.
Types of performances that you can see:
Vivaldi’s Four Seasons & other arias – frequently throughout Advent at 7pm Chiesa di Ponte Sant’Angelo
Various Opera Performances throughout Advent & Christmas at Chiesa di Sant Paolo Entro le Mura
Music – Handel, Beethoven & Bruckner at Parco della Musica / Sala Santa Cecilia
For the Kids – “Disney on Ice: Frozen” at Parco della Musica / Sala Santa Cecilia
Christmas Concert – 5:15pm Sala Baldini
Christmas Concert – 7pm Chiesa Mettodista Italia
Baroque Christmas Concert – 23 Dec 5:45pm Chiesa di S.Maria Immacolata e Museo dei Cappuchini
4. Taste Holiday Treats
From the taste of culture to the taste of delicious food!
Italian food is delicious at any time, but this is especially true around Christmas in Rome with certain seasonal delicacies also available.
First, Christmas is a great time to visit the new Eataly store near Piramide / Stazione Ostiense in the Testaccio area of Rome. This large indoor market is host to many Italian foods and produce offering gourmet treats and traditional food & drinks.
If you’re doing your Christmas food shopping and want fancy gifts or treats, then this is the place to go.
Panettone at Christmas
During this time of year, you will also see stacks of boxed cakes called Panettone. Available only at this time of year this ‘sweet bread’ simply melts in your mouth and is one of the lightest tasting things you can eat. I’d say it’s a cross between bread and candy floss and Italians love it!
Finally, why not warm up with a hot chocolate or creamy capuccino whilst in Rome. Perhaps the most famous Italian coffee shop is Cafe d’Oro just next to the Pantheon that sells coffee beans for you to take away as gifts, or simply for you to sit down & enjoy yourself to stave off the chill.
Being next to the Pantheon is obviously stunning as well! Speaking of which…
5. Trevi Fountain & Pantheon
The Trevi Fountain and the Pantheon are especially beautiful at this time of year.
Perhaps it is the crisp cold, or perhaps the longer nights, as these iconic monuments are especially beautiful in the hush of the evening.
Trevi Fountain at night
This is especially true of the Trevi Fountain fresh from it’s multi-million renovation and clean up that ended earlier in 2016.
Stunningly beautiful when lit at night, and extremely romantic, the Trevi Fountain is always a crowd pleaser but at night most of the crowds have died down, and in fact, this is the best time to see the Trevi Fountain.
The Pantheon however is equally impressive. Both attractions are within easy walking distance from each other, and the Pantheon is also just a short walk from the Christmas Market in Piazza Navona.
6. Ice Skating
If walking isn’t really your style, how about gliding along with grace on an outdoor ice rink!?
Outdoor Ice Rink at Castel Sant Angelo
SPLAT! ok, maybe not everyone can glide around like Torville & Dean, and perhaps most of us look like we’re dancing the Charleston…
Nevertheless, visitors and Romans alike can go ice skating at Castel Sant’Angelo, Re di Roma, Tor di Quinto, and Villa Giordani. Great fun for all the family!
7. Christmas Shopping
Now that your body and probably ego is a little bruised from the ice skating, how about indulging in a little retail therapy to perk yourself up whilst spending Christmas in Rome…?
Don’t leave your Christmas Shopping to the last minute, get in quick to take advantage of Rome’s fantastic shopping culture and learn why Italian fashion and design is world famous.
Via Condotti Designer Shopping
Of course the most iconic of Italian shops are the designer shops in the area around Via Condotti (just near the Spanish Steps). Luxurious brands such as Versacci, Dolce & Gabbana, Valentino, Giorgio Armani & Pradaare all in this area for those who want to splash out on their gifts.
For those who are less affluent and are more into bargain hunting, the nearby Via del Corso also has a myriad of more mainstream boutiques.
8. Manger of Bethlehem
As we get closer to Christmas and our Advent preparations begin to bear fruit, we should be focusing more and more on the true meaning of Christmas – the coming of God to each of us as a helpless little baby in the humble beginnings at Bethlehem.
No other Christian feast so captures the humanity of Jesus who comes to each of us, not as an all powerful deity, but as a loving baby calling us to love Him back.
Born in the House of Bread (or in Hebrew – Bethlehem), Jesus was laid in a manger (where animals eat from) for us to chew over the signifcance of what is before us.
Be there with the shepherds and magi as they come to adore this baby boy in the manger, by visiting the pieces of wood in the Basilica of S. Maria Maggiore which tradition holds are the pieces of the wood of the manger.
Relics of Christ's Crib
Collected and placed inside a silver reliquary in a small underground chapel in the middle of the church, the relics have been placed in a spot which had been hollowed out as a place of pilgrimage for those visiting Rome as early as 432AD.
Pope Sixtus III ordered a ‘cave of the nativity’ to be dug in the Basilica and although less cave-like today, it is extremely moving to be in the heart of the church and be before the Christ-Child’s crib.
Surely Christmas in Rome wouldnt be complete without this visit!?
9. Nativity Scenes
Tradition holds that the first nativity scene (or nativity crib, or in Italian presepe) was made by St Francis of Assisi, but as mentioned above, as early as 432 and Pope Sixtus III, people have been creating re-enactments of this first scene of Christ’s birth.
Italians pride themselves on their crib scenes and often compete with each other in producing the largest or most beautiful.
Some of the most notable nativity scenes in Rome include the one at the second level of the Spanish Steps, the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, San Marcello on the Via del Corso, San Cosmo and Damiano, Santa Maria in Trastevere and the American church of Santa Susanna.
But the most famous and indeed most impressive is the Nativity Scene at St Peter’s Square.
Life-size Nativity Scene at St Peters
Positioned at the obelisk in the centre of the square in front of the stunning Basilica of St Peter, the nativity scene is life-size and under construction for all of December.
The Crib Scene is finally unveiled on Christmas Eve in time for Midnight Mass at the Vatican.
This is truly impressive and of course you can visit it any time after Christmas Eve until 8 January.
10. Midnight Mass
Christmas in Rome truly begins with Midnight Mass celebrated by the Pope at the Basilica of St Peter.
Despite its name, in recent years the authorities have chosen to have the Mass earlier in the evening of the 24th December for practical reasons.
This year, Midnight Mass with the Pope at St Peters will begin at 21:15 inside the Basilica.
Papal Midnight Mass
To attend the Mass, you will need tickets which can be requested from the Prefecture of the Papal Household. However, if you’ve not been able to secure tickets, then you can still follow the Mass on the giant screens that will be errected in St Peter’s Square.
Find more information about the Papal Mass here.
11. Urbi et Orbe
“Urbi et Orbe” is latin for “to the city [of Rome] and to the world”. It is the name given to the address by the Pope given for the world to hear and made annually on Christmas Day.
The Pope generally sends Christmas greetings and prayers to all peoples in various languages but may also use the occasion to reflect on an important message for our times.
The finale of the Pope’s Christmas Speech is to give his Apostolic Blessing to all those present in St Peter’s Square and who are following his speech via modern communications, and grants the listeners a plenary indulgence.
Urbi et Orbi
Many Roman families will come to the square for this blessing and there is a very special and wonderful atmosphere that conveys the message of peace and wonder of Christmas.
12. Baby Jesus at Aracoeli
With the baby Jesus now having arrived, nativity scenes throughout Rome will now include the baby Jesus statue within their crib.
However this takes on special significane at the Basilica of the Holy Baby of Aracoeli at the Capitoline Hill.
Baby Jesus of Aracoeli
This magnificent church located at the top of a massive flight of steps, is so named as it is home to a 15th century devotional wooden statue of the baby Jesus swaddled in golden fabric, wearing a crown, and adorned with various gemstones and jewels donated by devotees.
The historical records show that this statue was carved from a single block of olive wood taken from the Garden of Gethsemani from the Holy Land. Numerous miracles of healing have been reported in association with the statue.
Normally located in a glass casket, for the period of Christmas, the statue is placed in the crib of the Basilica’s nativity scene.
In the past, this has enabled thieves to get close enough to steal precious jewels from the baby (like candy from a baby), but we hope you will simply go to him and adore the beauty of the scene.
13. Expat Christmas Parties
The expat communities in Rome are very strong and vibrant.
They are a great chance to socialise, form new friendships and strengthen older ones.
The two main focal places of the expat communities inevitably centre on that great British & Irish invention – the two best pubs in Rome – Scholars Lounge (near Piazza Venezia), and Finnegans (in Monti near the Colosseo Metro Station).
Both of these pubs have a great Christmas party, with the Finnegan party often also including a bar crawl through Trastevere.
Great fun and a great way to meet new friends, these are two highlights of the expat social calendar.
14. Christmas in Rome all year round
Don’t want the Christmas in Rome fun to end?
Fear not, there is a shop in Rome called Sempre Natale which means Always Christmas which is a Christmas shop that is open all the year around from 11am until 9pm!
If you need some last minute christmas decorations or christmassy gifts, then this is the place to go!
Sempre Natale, Via della Scrofa, 93, 00186 – Rome (Italy)
15. Christmas in Rome Tour
To truly get the most out of your Christmas in Rome, why not join in with one of the city's Christmas walking tours?
There is no better way to experience Rome this Christmas time.
Tip: book your accommodation in Rome in advance as hotels can full up quickly, particularly during high season! Read our Rome Accommodation Guide if you're looking for somewhere to stay while in Rome! We've also covered the top things to do in our Rome Activity Guide.