When Rome is lit up for Christmas, it might feel like there’s no better time to visit. There are, however, some things to take into consideration if you’re planning a Christmas trip to Rome – not least being what will be open on Christmas Day.
Christmas Day, December 25th, is a major holiday in Rome – and a national holiday in Italy. This means that most of the attractions in Rome will be closed, as will many banks, shops, and restaurants. You can scope out options for places to eat Christmas dinner ahead of time by checking with the hotel concierge (restaurants located within big hotels tend to stay open on holidays) or picking up a few things at the market the day before. As for filling your itinerary on December 25th, you can enjoy a leisurely stroll through a decorated city, or you can sign up for a Christmas Day walking tour of Rome. It’s a fun way to have something to do on a holiday, and to get out and explore the city with a local expert during a festive time.
Many Italian cities have Christmas markets that take over public squares in the weeks leading up to December 25th, and Rome is no exception. The biggest Christmas market in Rome is in the oblong Piazza Navona – the one that’s usually full of expensive outdoor cafe tables and carts selling cheap touristy souvenirs. In December, the Christmas market turns the piazza into a busy hub of holiday activity, with vendors selling all sorts of holiday treats and arts and crafts. There’s even a carousel in the square for the kids.
Christmas decor in Italy usually consists of two things – lights and nativity scenes. Lighting displays are usually strung between buildings, high over the streets below, in the historic center – particularly in pedestrian-only (or mainly pedestrian) areas. Christmas trees, a more modern addition to holiday decor in Italy, are also lit up in various parts of the city. Along with the lights, nativity scenes of all sizes are set up in public and private spaces. You’ll see living nativities, life-sized nativities, and even tiny versions in shop windows. And you can even visit Rome’s Museo del Presepio – the Nativity Scene Museum – open all year (except August) to see some historic nativities.
Christmas Eve dinner is typically taken with close family, and it’s a multi-course meal that one would think might be filling enough for days. There’s often another multi-course meal the following day, however. If you’re not lucky enough to be adopted into a Roman home over Christmas, you can still get into the holiday spirit with some edible elements of Christmas. You’ll see brightly-wrapped loaves of “panettone,” a popular Italian Christmas bread, on display in bakery windows – get a small one to taste it for yourself. You can also skip your usual shot of espresso in the afternoon for a tiny cup of “cioccolato caldo,” Italy’s answer to hot chocolate – a rich, thick delight that’s easier to eat with a spoon than to drink.