Where to Find Rome Christmas Markets (Updated for 2018)

In Rome Christmas markets just aren’t as much of a thing as they are in cities elsewhere in Europe, especially further north. For years, when it came to mercatini di Natale, as Italians call them, the main event really was just the Christmas market at Piazza Navona.

Today, Piazza Navona remains the biggest Rome Christmas market, at least in the center. Every Roman (and visiting) family stops there at some point during the Christmas season. Stalls sell Christmas decorations, gifts and sweets and street performers juggle and dance, all under the gloriously-lit fountains and Church of Sant’Agnese in Agone. For atmosphere and convenience, the 100-year-old Christmas market is a good bet. And after being called off for some previous years, the market is back — it should open on 2 December 2018 and close 6 January 2019. (Of course, this being Italy, things can always change!).

But. Most of the gifts for sale there are mass-produced, made-in-China items — and a far cry from the kind of artisanal gifts you can so easily find elsewhere in Rome.

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9 Things to Do in Rome at Christmas (Updated for 2018)

If you’re in Rome at Christmas, you’re in luck! As always, there are absolutely tons of ways to get into the holiday spirit.

Here’s the best of what to do in Rome at Christmas. (And don’t miss my ultimate guide to visiting Rome at Christmas!).

1. See the Pope. Over the Christmas season, you’ve got lots of opportunities, from midnight mass (although getting tickets can be tricky) to “Urbi et Orbi” on Christmas Day (no tickets needed). Here’s more on how exactly to see the Pope throughout December and January.

In Rome at Christmas? Why not see the Pope?
Even if you aren’t in Rome at Christmas Day, you may get another chance to see the Pope!

2. Head to a Christmas market. They pop up all over Rome at Christmas. The most famous is, of course, that in Piazza Navona (both at top and below). Here’s a list of other Rome Christmas markets.

In Rome at Christmas, don't miss a Christmas market!
The famous Piazza Navona market, one of the most famous things to do in Rome at Christmas

3. Worship — in English. For years, the American Catholic church of Santa Susanna was the go-to for English Mass. But after being “evicted” by the cloistered nuns (well, okay then!), the community moved in August 2017 to St. Patrick’s Church, near the US Embassy. Once again this Christmas, they’re hosting a variety of Masses and other ceremonies in English. For non-Catholics, the Anglican Church of All Saints’ Church holds holiday services, including the Service of Nine Lessons with Carols, and the St. Andrews Presbyterian Church of Scotland has services throughout the Christmas season. Other churches with non-Catholic services in English during Christmas include the American Episcopal Church of St. Paul’s Within the Walls, the Methodist Church at Ponte Sant’Angelo, and the non-denominational Cavalry Chapel.

4. Go ice-skating. Skate underneath the iconic silhouette of Rome’s Castel Sant’Angelo (to be confirmed for 2018 — check here). Other skating rinks in Rome include those at the Auditorium, Re di Roma, Tor di Quinto, and Villa Gordiani.

5. Delve into the tradition of Italian nativity scenes. As well as Christmas cribs popping up in churches all over town, Rome boasts both a museum of more than 3,000 of them and, over Christmas, an exhibition of 200 presepi from artists across the globe (now in its 41st year). Here’s my New York Times piece on where to find presepi in Rome. (The article’s old, but the information’s still good).

Christmas lights in Rome

6. Check out the Christmas lights. Decorations are getting more ambitious every year, with gorgeous twinklings (and light projections, and jumbo screens) lighting up not only the heart of Rome’s centro storico, but even Termini, EUR, and the Fiumicino airport. Don’t believe me? Check out my photo post of the prettiest lights and decorations in Rome at Christmas!

7. Hear some holiday music. The internationally-renowned academy of Santa Cecilia hosts several Christmas choral concerts in December.

Pandoro at Christmas in Rome

9. Enjoy delicious Christmas sweets. Bakeries are brimming over with yummy holiday offerings like panettone, torrone and pandoro (above). If you’re in Rome at Christmas, make sure to taste the goods. It’s the one time of year that even Italians  over-indulge in the sweet stuff!

Also: the 5 most overrated things to do in Rome, how to start planning your trip to Rome, and 11 etiquette mistakes not to make eating in Italy.

If you liked this post, you’ll love The Revealed Rome Handbook: Tips and Tricks for Exploring the Eternal City, available for purchase on Amazon or through my site here! I’m also free for one-on-one consulting sessions to help plan your Italy trip.

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What Is Open on Christmas in Rome? (Updated for 2018)

What is open on Christmas in Rome?

If you’ve booked your trip to Rome over Christmas, a couple of things normally happen. First, there’s elation. And then there’s an, “Oh no. What’s open on Christmas in Rome? Is anything open on Christmas in Rome?”

There’s reason to wonder. Many Romans do leave the city for their family homes over the holidays. Even so, there are still plenty of people left in this city of 3 million. Here’s what is open on Christmas in Rome… and what won’t be. (New Year’s, too). (For more tips and tricks, don’t miss my ultimate guide to Christmas in Rome!).

Will sites and museums be open during Christmas in Rome?

While some museums and sites will remain open even on Christmas Day and New Year’s, most of the biggies will be shut. The forum, Colosseum and Palatine will be closed Dec. 25 and Jan. 1, for example, but open every other day as usual, including Dec. 24.

The Vatican’s a tougher one: The Vatican museums and Sistine Chapel are closed on Dec. 8, Dec. 25, Dec. 26, and Jan. 1. They’re also closed every Sunday in December and January, as usual, except for the last Sunday of each month, when they are open and free.

What is open on Christmas in Rome?

Check with other sites individually. Here’s where you can find (in English) the hours for all of Rome’s major museums and archaeological sights. Outdoor sites like Piazza Navona and the Trevi Fountain, along with churches, also will be open.

Will the bus and metro be running over Christmas in Rome?

Yes. Often, the city even has an expanded service on Christmas Eve until the early afternoon. Service tends to end at about 9pm that night, though, and cabs are in very short supply, so if you need to be somewhere, give yourself lots of time to get there. On Christmas Eve, walking will probably be your best bet, so dress warmly!

Will restaurants be open on Christmas and New Year’s?

Most restaurants will be open every day except for Dec. 24, Dec. 25, and Jan. 1. Some others might close on Dec. 8, Dec. 31 and Jan. 6.

But many places will also be open on even those holidays themselves, including both classic Italian favorites and the kosher restaurants in the Ghetto. Just remember to book in advance.

What is open on Christmas in Rome?

Katie Parla has a nice little list of good Rome restaurants that are open over the holidays, including Metamorfosi, Romeo and Roscioli.

I want to go shopping over the holidays. Can I?

Throughout December and January, yes. However, most shops will close early on Christmas Eve and will not be open on Christmas Day. Other days some might be closed or have shorter hours include Dec. 8, Dec. 26, and Jan. 1.

If you want the saldi, you’ll have to wait — usually, these after-Christmas sales kick off throughout Lazio on the third Saturday of January.

And what about churches?

Ah, churches! They will, of course, be open on Christmas; many will offer mass at the same time they’d usually have their Sunday service. If you’re interested in attending mass, check with the church in advance. Otherwise, you’re fine to visit most churches as usual, being, of course, particularly respectful and refraining from taking flash photographs if a service is going on. And don’t forget to check out the church’s presepio (Nativity scene) — a particularly Italian handicraft (see below) that is only on display this time of year.

What is open over Christmas in Rome?

Also: Rome’s best Christmas markets, and 11 etiquette mistakes not to make eating in Italy.

Want more great tips and tricks for Rome? Check out The Revealed Rome Handbook: Tips and Tricks for Exploring the Eternal City, available for purchase on Amazon, below, or through my site here!

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How to See the Pope During Christmas in Rome (Updated for 2018)

Pope Benedict XVI at the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Spanish Steps, Rome

Over the Christmas holidays, many visitors to Rome have one goal in mind: how to see the Pope. (Note: This post has been updated to reflect 2018 dates and information!).

The brass ring of the experience is, of course, midnight Mass at St. Peter’s. While that’s a very, very special (if crowded) experience, it’s also tougher to book than a scavi tour. If you want to take a shot, then fax or write the Prefecture of the Papal Household at +39 06 6988 5863 with your information; here’s where you can find out how to book midnight Mass at St. Peter’s.

Keep in mind that this is best done at least a couple of months in advaance. By December, it’s pretty safe to say there won’t be any spots left—unless, that is, you’re in with a parish that can try to work their magic for you.

Luckily, though, there are other ways to get a glimpse of the Pope over the Christmas holidays. These include:

On December 8, see the Pope at the Spanish Steps. Each Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception, the Pope goes to Piazza di Spagna in an act of homage to Mary (see photo at top… previous pope, same idea!). (Get there early to get closest to the column erected in honor of the Immaculate Conception, which is where the Pope will be for his blessing). It’s at 4pm, and no tickets are required.

Even if you don’t have tickets to midnight Mass, you can still attend. You’ll just have to stand out in the piazza and watch the ceremony on Jumbotrons; not quite the same, okay, but still pretty neat with thousands of people packed into the square. Just remember that it’s actually at 9:30pm, not midnight. (Pope Benedict changed it a few years ago, apparently wanting to get to bed a bit earlier, and Pope Francis has followed in his stead).

Go to “Urbi et Orbi” on Christmas Day. This is the special blessing the Pope gives the crowd — and gives all Catholics watching or listening through T.V. or radio worldwide — that happens only twice a year, at Christmas and Easter. The Pope appears at the loggia of St. Peter’s Basilica at St. Peter’s Square for the blessing at noon. Tickets aren’t required.

Pray the “Angelus” with the Pope throughout December. For 2018, in December the Pope leads the faithful in prayer from his window at noon on Dec. 2, 9, 16, 23 and 31. For January dates, check here as we get closer. Tickets aren’t required.

Attend a Wednesday papal audience. The general audience will occur every Wednesday in December and January, as usual. Tickets are required (but free); send your information to the same fax number as listed above for the midnight Mass.

Get tickets to another Pope-led mass. In December 2018 and January 2019*, these include:

  • Dec. 12: Mass for the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, St. Peter’s Basilica, 6pm
  • Dec. 24: Mass for the Solemnity for the Birth of Our Lord, St. Peter’s Basilica, 9:15pm
  • Dec. 31: The First Vespers and “Te Deum,” St. Peter’s Basilica, 5pm
  • Jan. 1: Holy Mass, St. Peter’s Basilica, 10am*
  • Jan. 6: Holy Mass for the Epiphany, St. Peter’s Basilica, 10am*
  • Jan. 12: Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, Sistine Chapel, 9:45am*

*January 2019 details have not yet been released; when they are, they’ll be here. However, they’ll be the same dates and likely the same times and locations as what’s shown above.

Remember that, again, you need tickets for these Masses in advance. (For less popular ceremonies, you can turn up two or three days in advance and get them directly from the Swiss Guards, without having to fax in advance. Truly. But for special ceremonies like these, I’d recommend doing the advance booking).

If you liked this post, you’ll love The Revealed Rome Handbook: Tips and Tricks for Exploring the Eternal City, available for purchase on Amazon or through my site here! I’m also free for one-on-one consulting sessions to help plan your Italy trip.

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