Christmas in Rome – Buon Natale!
Experience the wonder of the Eternal City during the holiday period
Rome is famous for being one of the most lively and exciting in places in Europe, and Christmas time is no exception as the city celebrates the holidays in spectacular fashion.
Buildings, houses and attractions are all adorned with lovely Christmas decorations, street markets come alive by day and night and beautiful Christmas trees stand tall all over the city.
Christmas Markets in Piazza Navona, Rome [Credit]
The most famous Christmas market is set up in Piazza Navona from the 8th of December until the 6th of January. The Epiphany is celebrated throughout Italy and especially in Rome, where it has come to represent a day almost as important as Christmas Day itself.
This lovely Christmas market is a popular spot for locals and tourists alike in December, with a range of food stalls (selling such treats as doughnuts and peanut brittle), local handcrafts and toys for sale.
There is also a life-size presepe on display in the square, which is a beautifully presented, traditional Italian nativity scene. There are many presepi on display throughout Rome during Christmas.
To stay close to the fantastic atmosphere of these markets, check out our accommodation around Piazza Navona.
A different experience, but equally suggestive, is that of the Piazza Vittorio market, just beside Termini railway station. This area is the multiethnic hub of the city, and it hosts all year long a bustling and vibrant street market for ethnic food, crafts and fair trade products. Christmas time brings new elements to this well-known market, in which the local traditions merge with multicultural influences, contributing to the creation of a unique atmosphere.
Nativity Scene Exhibitions
Christmas Markets in Piazza Navona, Rome [Credit]
The Nativity scene exhibitions are amongst the most characteristic events of the Christmas season in Rome – they attract a large number of visitors, not only tourists but also the Romans themselves.
The most famous Nativity scenes can be found in all major churches such as Saint Peter ‘s and Santa Maria Maggiore. The Nativity scene set up in Santa Maria Maggiore is believed to be the oldest (XIII century).
Other cribs are set up in nearly every church and in many public places such as Piazza Navona, the Campidoglio City Hall and the Spanish Steps.
These works are handmade by famous artists from all over the country, including Naples, Sicily and the Trentino region in northern Italy, where this tradition is particularly strong.
Less famous but no less important are the nativity scenes set up at Christmas time (from the first week of December until the 6th of January) in Via Giulia. Via Giulia is a long street running parallel to the river Tiber in the historical centre of Rome, designed by Pope Julius II in the XVI century.
The right side of the street is characterised by a number of historical buildings and antique shops, which display a collection of nativity scenes in their windows.
The Nativity scene in St Peters Square, Rome [Credit]
The midnight Mass represents the essence of the religious celebrations of Christmas.
Contrary to what many people believe, the Midnight Mass at Saint Peter ‘s Basilica is not open to the public: in order to attend this celebration an invitation or a special ticket issued by a diocese is required.
An equally suggestive and unique atmosphere, however, can be experienced attending midnight Mass in other churches in the capital, not only in the big Basilicas, but also in local churches, open all night long and prepared to welcome visitors from all over the world. Another equally important event – free and open to the public – is the papal blessing that takes place at midday on Christmas Day in Saint Peter’s Square.
Each year, thousands of tourists, locals and pilgrims gather in the Square from the early hours of the morning, waiting to attend the blessing and the seasonal greetings addressed to the City of Rome and to the entire world.
Rome Gospel Festival
Every year it brings an international selection of well-known artists to Rome. This event includes a series of concerts that combine the experience of this fascinating musical genre with the unique context of Rome at Christmas time.
What to do on Christmas Day
As a tourist, Christmas Day in Rome can be very different to a normal day spent exploring the city. There are significantly fewer people on the street on Christmas Day in certain parts of the city.
You will find the biggest crowd on Christmas Day in St. Peter’s Square, gathered to hear the Pope deliver his annual Christmas address from his balcony at midday.
A good place to catch a glimpse of some of the sights of Rome without the usual wave of tourists is around the Colosseum and the Roman Forum. While these attractions are not open on December 25th, you can stroll around the Colosseum, view the Arch of Constantine and walk along Via dei Fori Imperiali, which offers views over a large portion of the Roman Forum for free.
There are also a number of restaurants open in Rome on Christmas Day, so a traditional Italian Christmas meal will still be available. Traditional Italian fare on Christmas Day involves a lot of red meat, with fish being the main meal on Christmas Eve.
Important Christmas Dates in Rome
- December 8th – The Feast of the Immaculate Conception is a national holiday across Italy. Be sure to get to the Spanish Steps, where the Pope visits the statue of the Virgin Mary and lays down wreaths and flowers.
- December 25th – Start off Christmas Day the night before by visiting a church in Rome for midnight mass. A truly unforgettable experience.
- December 26th – Join the locals on St. Stephen’s Day as they visit presepi, found in most churches throughout Rome.
- December 31st – There is no better place to bring in the New Year in Rome than at Piazza del Popolo. Crowds of people flock to the square for celebrations and fireworks that light up the night sky.
- January 6th – The Epiphany is the day which marks the end of the Christmas season and is another public holiday on the Italian calendar.