Christmas lights on Via del Corso, Rome Christmas lights on Via del Corso, Rome © Rome Wise

What's on in Rome this Christmas

Rome is quiet, festive and relatively tourist free in winter, we pick the best events, sights and exhibitions this season

Winter in Rome is when the city is at its most Roman, tourists stay away from the cold, humid weather and the students and expats head home for Christmas. This makes the city a playground for those who do visit. Take in the sights in peace or shelter from the cold and snow in a local trattoria or neighbourhood cafe and see the Romans huddle together to discuss the coffee, weather and local gossip.

Rome in the lead up to Christmas also offers some respite from the usual shopping experience, in a city with very few department or chain stores, shoppers are offered a distinctly charming, old fashioned approach to festive preparations.


Winter is the perfect time to really delve into the depths of Roman culture (not that this is hard at any time). Hans Werner Henze’s 'The Bassarids' kicks of the Teatro dell ‘Opera’s winter season on 27 November, with Tosca and the Nutcracker continuing it into mid-Febraury.

Teatro dell'Opera RomeTeatro dell'Opera

Amid Rome’s frenetic art-schedule is an exhibition dedicated to the impressionist masters. Tête à tête at the Musée d’Orsay is not only an exposition but a historical tutelage of the movement. As you enter a documentary plays out, with a timeline detailing each artists’ career, as you move through the rooms the works of the artists come together to show the connections and methods of the group as a whole. Including paintings, sketches and sculptures by Degas, Bonnat, Cézanne, Monet and Rodin, the exhibition revives the spirit of the age, the it ends with some modernists pieces marking the end of the era.

MAXXI, the daring piece of contemporary architecture that sits happily ugly amongst the antiquity in the newly cool Flaminio district, this winter plays host to Transformers. Cross a hanging forest to discover that it consists of 3,000 plastic colanders and listen to the melody produced by an orchestra made of weapons, imagine oneself all alone in the middle of the sea, clinging to a gigantic boa. These are a few of the projects by Choi Jeong-hwa, Didier Fiuza Faustino, Martino Gamper and Pedro Reyes, four Transformers that are at once artists, designers and social activists. The exhibition is curated to encourage us to consider our place and impact in the world. If nothing else, it’s a great break from all the Renaissance paintings.


Don’t miss

Naturally the centre of the Catholic Church has some pretty jazzy events to celebrate Christmas, beginning on the 13th December with 'La cacciata dei lanzichenecchi', literally ‘The expulsion of the mercenaries’, which celebrates the 15th century liberation of the town of Bagnaia. With an official re-enactment, procession and locals producers and artisans this is a marked festival just outside of the city’s walls.

Christmas-in-Vatican-City-People-line-up-to-take-part-at-Christmas-mass-led-by-Pope-Benedict-XVI-in-Saint-Peters-Basilica-at-the-Vatican.--ReutersChristmas in Vatican City People line up to take part at Christmas mass Saint Peter's Basilica at the Vatican © Reuters

Rome’s traditional Christmas events are pretty well executed but derive from a distinctly less-commercial route than in other places. Begin with the Christmas market in Piazza Navona: perfect for children, with a rash of rides and stalls selling sweets and present-perfect treasures. Then head on to Saint Peter’s Square to look at the best of the best of Rome’s nativity scenes, there are others located at every church, so make sure you step inside and take a look.

NAVONO-ITALCULT-elenco-mercatini-di-natalePiazza Navona Christmas Markets © Italcult

If you’re in Rome for Christmas Day, then nothing can be beaten by witnessing Midnight Mass at the Vatican, beginning at 9.30 with a procession before the service at 10pm. If you don’t manage to get tickets, available here, then head over to Saint Peter’s Square with masses and catch the service on huge screens and relish in the warm, welcoming atmosphere.

St-Peters-Square-visit-italy presepe-san-pietro-1Nativity scene in St. Peter's Square © Delightfully Italy

On New Year’s Eve, festivities begin early, with most Romans having lengthy meals with friends and family before strolling over to Piazza del Popolo in the heart of the Trastevere district for fireworks, drinks and lots of Italian-style partying until dawn.

Wrap up and go for a stroll

As the old saying goes, ‘the best museum in Rome is the city itself ‘, and though the appeal of strolling through the cobbled streets when the sun isn’t shining and the leaves have fallen is less appealing, there are plenty of invigorating walks to take on a clear day in winter. The best of these is to leave from the Colosseum, walking to the Vittoriano Monument, then take the stairs to the top for a breathtaking view over the city.

Warm up in a cosy nook

At the Keats-Shelley House. The cosy book-lined apartment and library is far more inviting than the airy museums and offers a wonderful view over the (chilly) crowds gathering on Piazza di Spagna.

Keats-Shelley-House-FBKeats-Shelley House © Facebook

Have a coffee

Barnum Café, with its brightly coloured, eccentric décor is the perfect place to escape a cold grey day. Located near the Campo dei Fiori, Barnum has few Wi-Fi, excellent coffee and snacks and turns into a ‘real bar’ come nightfall.

barnum-cafeBarnum Café

Use technology to get historical

At Domus Romane, a recently renovated swish home of a well-heeled Roman family, you can explore polished up artefacts, ancient masonry and computer graphics that offer a different kind of insight into the lives of the late Romans. It also makes a nice change from the often uncommunicative ruins found around the city. A unique and magnificent example of how the artistic heritage of antiquity, regenerated by careful and painstaking restoration, can be enhanced with the use of new technologies.

Domus-Romana-di-Palazzo-ValentiniDomus Romane

1 Piazza Navona Christmas Market
2 Vatican City
3 Saint Peter's Square
4 Piazza del Popolo
5 Vittoriano Monument
6 Keats-Shelley House
7 Barnum Cafe
8 Le Domus Romane
9 Teatro dell'Opera
10 Tête à tête at the Musée d’Orsay
12 La Cacciata dei Lanzichenecchi