One of the world’s most iconic cities, Rome is a must-visit destination at any time of year, but there’s no denying that it’s extra special during the holiday season. A religious holiday for many, Christmas in Rome offers plenty of chances to experience Christian and Jewish traditions—even for those who aren’t religious, this spiritual city takes on a magical atmosphere as late December approaches.

Christmas trees spring up across the city from December 8th and its many elegant streets twinkle with Christmas lights once the sun sets. The holiday season in Rome lasts until early January and comes to an end with the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6th, when the city’s Christians celebrate the arrival of the Three Kings or Magi into Bethlehem.

Christmas markets in the Piazza Navona

Possibly the most festive spot in the city, Piazza Navona comes to life throughout the month of December with a huge Christmas market or “Mercatino di Natale”. With this stunning square as your backdrop, shop for unique Christmas gifts, ornaments, sweets, and games. Stallholders come from all over Italy and vary from year to year.

Visiting the Vatican

The Vatican is the center of the Roman Catholic Church, home to the Pope, and site of the vast St Peter’s Basilica, with its dome designed by Michelangelo. The faithful flock from all over the world to hear Pope Francis celebrate Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. The event is free but reservations need to be made by fax at least two months in advance. Despite the need to plan ahead, it is well worth it. If you miss out on a ticket, make sure to still visit St Peter’s at some point during the festive season, when you can admire its huge Christmas tree and the life-like nativity scene, or presepe, set up in the square in front of the church.

Ice skating

As in many big European cities, temporary ice rinks have become a common sight during the festive season and the Eternal City is no exception. The most scenic ice-skating rink is next to the imposing fortress of Castel Sant’Angelo near the Vatican. Wrap up warm and make sure the views don’t distract too much from your skating technique!

Food glorious food

No visit to Italy would be complete without some memorable meals and Christmas provides the perfect excuse to indulge yourself. In line with Catholic beliefs, most Italians forego meat on Christmas Eve in favor of fish or seafood. This doesn’t mean they go easy, however, and Italian Christmas Eve meals usually have multiple courses. The capital’s proximity to the Mediterranean means there is no shortage of delicious seafood across the city. Italian cuisine also excels with its Christmas desserts, such as panettone (with candied fruit and raisins) and pandoro (plain), freshly made at a number of bakeries across Rome, such as Antico Forno Roscioli near Campo de’ Fiori.

If all this food is making you thirsty and there’s a chill in the air, keep it at bay with a glass of vin brulé, the Italian version of mulled wine available at stalls in most Christmas markets across the city. Although very sweet, this spicy treat is lower in alcohol than many other mulled wines.

What is the weather like in Rome at Christmas?

The climate in Rome is relatively mild, even in December, with daytime highs reaching the mid-50s F. It’s not unheard of for warm sunshine to break out in the afternoons, but you should probably expect at least one shower during your stay. Temperatures will drop at night, but a warm coat and scarf should keep you nice and toasty. Ice and snow in the city are rare.

Practical tips

Booking ahead for restaurants is highly recommended, particularly for important meals like Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. Most things will be closed on December 25th, when locals will be at home with their families, although a late afternoon/evening stroll to walk off all that food is a popular choice. Public transport will be affected, so check timetables in advance.