Things to do in Rome at Christmas time for adults, kids and the ‘child’ in you!
If you feel fraught and anxious at the very thought of having to hassle your way through the high street just to buy your groceries or you despair of ever getting through your to-do list, then why not plan an escape to the Eternal City and recapture a bit of Christmas spirit.
As a Roman, I can tell you that my favourite time of the year is around Christmas when the tourist crowds have died down, the weather is still reasonably mild apart from the occasional downpour and you can experience the best of local age-old traditions: bringing together family, friends, food and faith to create a truly magical atmosphere.
Please note that the Christmas period in Rome really begins on 8th December, the festival of the Immaculate Conception and the last big religious date is 6th January, the Epiphany.
Piazza Navona’s Christmas Market
This beautiful square in Rome holds some very special memories for me both as a kid and later on as an adult with my own daughter and especially at Christmas time it’s a delightful experience not to be missed. Piazza Navona‘s baroque churches and fountains create a stunning setting and it’s indeed the perfect place to make everyone feel festive.
During the Christmas holidays, Piazza Navona comes alive with a wonderful market that sells decorations, handmade gifts, nativity cribs and figurines, children’s toys and seasonal treats like torrone (nougat with almonds and honey) and panettone (a sweet bread traditionally eaten all over Italy during the festivities).
Don’t miss visiting the ‘100 Nativity Scenes Exhibition’
Every Christmas the Basilica di Santa Maria del Popolo in Piazza del Popolo, a massive square from which you can also access the Villa Borghese Gardens, hosts a very popular exhibition displaying nativity scenes created by Italy’s best craftsmen and runs from the end of November until 6th of January.
You will also find beautiful nativity scenes displayed in all the churches across the city.
Enjoy lights, ice skating and roasting chestnuts
To add to the festive atmosphere, Rome’s main streets are decorated with a great display of lights and you can go ice skating on an outdoor rink set up near Castel Sant’Angelo. During this period you’ll come across many vendors that sell roasted chestnuts and their wonderful and comforting aroma pervade the streets and to me they are a sign that the holidays are not too far away!
St Peter’s Square Christmas Tree and Nativity
Every year a huge twinkling Christmas tree and life-size nativity scene welcome visitors in the centre of St Peter’s Square. The Basilica is perfumed with the scent of incense as thousands of people gather in the Square on Christmas Eve to hear the Pope say Midnight Mass.
If you want to avoid the crowds here and experience a more intimate atmosphere, then don’t miss the Midnight Christmas Mass at The Pantheon.
The Biggest Toy Shop in Italy
If you are visiting with kids and you are in Piazza Venezia, then I’m pretty sure that you won’t be able to resist exploring Little Big Town. This is the biggest toy shop in Italy right in the heart of Rome, covering 4 floors of toys and games for children of all ages. Be prepared to queue though to enjoy this amazing shop.
New Year’s Eve fireworks at Piazza del Popolo
Capodanno or New Year’s Eve is also a special highlight of the festive period in Rome. The historic centre comes alive with a number of free events and concerts, but the majority of crowds make their way to Piazza del Popolo where locals release firecrackers and the midnight sky lights up with an unforgettable fireworks display.
Christmas shopping in Rome:
Rome is a good place to buy presents, as the city is full of independent stores where you can find unique goods that don’t cost a fortune. If you are after gourmet food gifts, head to Castroni in via Frattina 79. There are 11 branches of this fabulous Italian food emporium around Rome, but this is the biggest. Here you will find a treasure trove of Italian foodstuffs, all pre-packed and perfect for planes and presents.
If it’s pastries, biscuits and cakes you are after, Giolitti in via Uffici del Vicario 40 sells a selection of sweet treats by weight, all elegantly wrapped to paper trays to make artisan gifts. You need to order by weight and un etto is 100g, due etti 200g, etc.
For any chocolate addicts out there, one of my favourite shops is La Bottega del Cioccolato in via del Vantaggio 22a not far from Piazza del Popolo and you will even find the most wonderful chocolate sculptures that look almost too good to eat!
If like me you love anything to do with stationery, Vertecchi in Via della Croce 70 sells original stationery products made in Italy and in December they will have a staggering display of quality Christmas merchandise.
Other good Roman gifts include gloves and leather goods and accessories and for these try the shops around the Spanish Steps.
I really believe that Rome becomes even more vibrant and alive during the colder months of the year and the Christmas holidays are the time to experience Italian warmth at its best!