Visiting Rome In December, The Full Scoop & What To Do

What’s it like to visit Rome in December? Sublime, if you can handle a few crowds.

In December, Rome is particularly magical. It’s like a month long festival.

The city sparkles under a canopy of festive lights, with streets and squares like Via del Corso and Piazza Navona illuminated in holiday splendor.

There are grand trees and lighting ceremonies in the main squares. Cafes and restaurants are dressed up in lights and decorations.

In this article, I’ll tell you everything you need to know for a December visit and give you tips on what to see and do. I’ll cover everything from weather to crowds to Christmas trees.

admiring the Christmas tree on the Spanish Steps
admiring the Christmas tree on the Spanish Steps

Rome In December: What To Do

Christmas Decorations & Events

December 8th marks the official start of Italy’s festive holiday season. The day is called L’Immacolata, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.

Rome transforms into Christmas wonderland, with decorations and lighting blanketing the city. There are towering Christmas trees and tiny alleyways strung with lights and stars.

Christmas is a national holiday in Italy, so many businesses and schools are closed, so people can participate in religious services.

I was in Rome recently from December 5 to 14. The number of tourists exploded after December 8.

A good way to see the lights and decorations is to take a Christmas walking tour or, even more fun, a Christmas vespa tour.

Christmas Trees

Though Christmas trees originated in Germany, Rome embraced the tradition in the 20th century.

The presence of a Christmas tree in St. Peter’s Square, for instance, is a relatively recent tradition. It began in 1982 under Pope John Paul II.

You’ll find Christmas trees in all the main squares — St. Peter’s Square, Piazza Venezia, Piazza del Popolo, and Piazza di Spagna. When these trees are lit up in the evening, crowds gather to witness the event.

You’ll also find Christmas trees in some of Rome’s churches, shopping malls, hotels, and restaurants. Most of the trees are fairly traditional. But you’ll also find some modern ones.

Column of the Immaculate Conception
Column of the Immaculate Conception

Column of the Immaculate Conception

For a really unique Roman experience, you can watch a large Christmas wreath being hung on the Column of the Immaculate Conception. This column is located near the Spanish Steps, in Piazza Mignanelli.

The column was erected in 1857. It features a statue of the Virgin Mary atop an ancient Roman column.

The annual ceremony of adorning the statue with a floral wreath is a significant event in Rome, taking place on December 8th.

The Pope traditionally honors this day with a visit to to lay a wreath and pray before the statue of the Virgin Mary. Then, the Fire Brigade of Rome uses a ladder to reach the statue and place the wreath, as a large crowd watches the ceremony.

Piazza Navona market and carousel
Piazza Navona

Christmas Markets

Rome is not particulary known for its Christmas markets.

Still, starting around the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Christmas markets pop up in various piazzas across Rome.

These markets sell a variety of goods, from holiday decorations and artisan crafts to seasonal treats and gifts.

Christmas goodies in Piazza Navona
Christmas goodies in Piazza Navona
stall in Piazza Navona
stall in Piazza Navona

The main Christmas market is in Piazza Navona. With its Baroque architecture and Bernini fountains, it’s one of the world’s most beautiful squares.

The market lasts from late November or early December until January 6th. Hundreds of stalls pop up selling Christmas goodies, knickknacks, and treats.

There are carnival games to play. And a carousel for children.

Nativity Scenes

During December, Rome goes big on nativity scenes, called presepi. They’re a significant feature of Rome’s Christmas celebrations.

I felt like every church I visited in Rome had an elaborate Christmas nativity scene. They keep them closely under guard until they are unveiled on December 8.

It’s quite a process. In each church I visited before the big day, parts of the churches were closed down and I saw many workers toiling away to construct the nativity scenes.

The largest one, in St. Peter’s Basilica, is life size.

nativity scene in St. John Lateran
nativity scene in St. John Lateran
nativity scene in Santa Maria in Cosmedin
nativity scene in Santa Maria in Cosmedin

Christmas Mass

If you would like to attend a Roman Christmas mass, I recommend trying to attend the service at Santa Maria Maggiore, a beautiful basilica in the Monti neighborhood.

You could also try Santa Maria in Aracoeli on Capitoline Hill. This beautiful church is famous for the wooden statue of Santo Bambino (Holy Child). On Christmas Eve candles are illuminated on the 124 steps leading up the church.

And St. John Latern is a good option. It’s slightly off center and not as visited as the more famous churches.

It’s worth a visit to the complex during the day as well. You can admire Baroque statues in the nave, visit the evocative cloister, and climb the Holy Stairs.

street musicians playing on Via dei Fori Imperiali
street musicians playing on Via dei Fori Imperiali

Attend A Classical Museum Concert

In Rome, the sounds of Christmas are just as integral to the festive season as the decorations themselves. To see what concerts are on, you can check the official church websites or ask at the tourist offices.

Many of Rome’s churches, even the lesser known hidden gems, host live classical concerts. You can hear music by Vivaldi, Handel, Bach, Puccini, Beethoven, and Mozart.

In particular, you should also check out what’s playing at the Pantheon. This perfect building boasts outstanding acoustics.

You could also attend a Baroque a cappella concert at the Capuchin Crypt. Along with music, you can tour the skeletal remains of 3,000 Capuchin friars.

Don’t feel like paying for a concert? There’s usually live music in the evenings on Via dei Fori Imperiali.

Pope Francis at the  the balcony
Pope Francis at the the balcony

See The Pope

During the Christmas season, the Pope makes several traditional appearances in St. Peter’s Square.

First, he often participates in the lighting of the Christmas tree and unveiling of the Nativity scene on December 8.

On Christmas Eve, the Pope leads the Midnight Mass inside St. Peter’s Basilica. It’s the ultimate ritual for religious Romans. Unfortunately, it’s by invitation only or you can book a ticket (at great expense).

On December 25, the pope delivers the Urbi et Orbi (“to the city and to the world”) blessing from the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica. This event is one of the most significant during the Christmas season, attracting thousands of pilgrims and visitors to St. Peter’s Square.

Pope Francis in the popemobile blessing the faithful
Pope Francis in the popemobile blessing the faithful

You could also attend a papal audience in the Aula Paolo VI audience hall. They are held every Wednesday in December at 10:30 am when the Pope is in Rome.

These general audiences are a chance for pilgrims and visitors from around the world to see the pope. You can hear the papal address, receive his blessing, and sometimes have the opportunity for a personal greeting.

The tricky part is getting tickets. You can order tickets by mail or fax from the Vatican website. You download the form and mail it in.

It’s advisable to request tickets as early as possible due to high demand. Even with a ticket, seating is generally on a first-come, first-served basis, so early arrival is recommended.

shop in Trastevere

Weather & What To Wear

Figuring out what to wear in Rome win December can be a bit tricky. The temperatures can range from 30-60 degrees in a single day, coldest at night.

In my experience, Rome is often clear and sunny in December, and not terribly cold.

This is in stark contrast to Paris in winter, where you be wrapped in grayness most of the time. Nonetheless, you will still get some gray days and a splattering of rain here and there.

So, I would be prepare by bringing layers. Avoid a heavy coat, which could make you too hot during the day.

Bring a hat, scarf, and gloves that you can take on and off. And throw an umbrella into a small backpack.


Seasonal Food Specialties

Rome in December has a special focus on sweets.

The Italian Christmas cake is panettone. It’s a tall, soft, dome-shaped cake filled with candied fruits, chocolate, and/or raisins.

You can also try panettone gastronomico. This is a savory version of the sweet panettone, filled with various ingredients such as mayonnaise, smoked salmon, and other savory fillings. It’s often served as an appetizer during the holiday feasts.

One of my favorites treats — artichokes — is also in season in Rome in December. They are served in dishes like such as carciofi alla romana (Roman-style artichokes), carciofi alla giudia (Jewish-style artichokes), and fettuccine con agnello e carciofi (lamb and artichokes).

fettuccini with lamb and artichokes
fettuccini with lamb and artichokes

Cotechino con lenticchie is a traditional Italian dish that’s especially popular inn late December and New Years. It consists of cotechino, a type of slow-cooked, spiced Italian sausage made from pork, and lenticchie, which are lentils.

Lentils are a symbol of good luck in Italy. This belief stems from the lentils’ round shape, which is reminiscent of coins, suggesting prosperity and wealth for the coming year.

And you can’t help but soak in the smell of roasted chestnuts everywhere on the streets. Chestnuts are also incorporated into cakes and pasta.

You could even take a cooking class indoors. You can bone up on your cooking skills and learn how to make some hearty pasta dishes or one of Rome’s classic quartet — carbonara, cacio e pepe, gricia, and amatriciana.

Cozy Cafes

As in Paris, cafes in Rome are an integral part of daily life.

Often laid-back and casual, Roman cafes can range from traditional bars serving espresso at the counter to quaint spots with outdoor seating in picturesque piazzas.

In December, they are almost all decorated to the hilt with lights and wreaths.

And even in the cold, the Roman are sitting outside. Often, overhead heat lamps keep you warm.

Via dei Condotti
Via dei Condotti


Via dei Condott is Rome’s premier shopping street. It’s home to high-end fashion houses and luxury boutiques.

Brands like Prada, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, and Bulgari have their flagship stores here. The streets surrounding the Spanish Steps, such as Via Borgognona and Via Frattina, also offer a plethora of luxury shopping options.

Via del Corso is a long and bustling street that runs through the heart of Rome from Piazza del Popolo to Piazza Venezia. It’s known for its variety of shops, ranging from affordable fashion brands like Zara to specialty stores.

Plus, the areas around Campo de’ Fiori, Piazza Navona, and the Monti neighborhood have interesting boutiques and specialty shops.

Take A Food Tour

I went on three different food tours when I was in Rome in December: Trastevere, Campo de Fiori and the Jewish Quarter, and Monti.

I loved the first two especially. Your guides will take you to authentic Roman wine bars, cafes, and eateries, not the typical tourist spots.

You’ll have a chance to sample local wine, street food like arancini, many Roman dishes and some holiday specialties.

Visit the City’s Museums

December is a splendid time to visit the city’s museums. Usually, they are less crowded than during high season and you can enjoy the art up close and personal.

The only place this isn’t true is the Vatican Museums and the Borghese Gallery. These two museums are still exceedingly popular.

The Borghese Gallery handles crowd control by only letting a set number of people in every two hours. So, if you book a skip the line ticket well in advance, you can admire some of the best art in Rome.

The Vatican Museums, in contrast, will be swamped with visitors. You will inch down the main corridor, cheek by jowl with other tourists. I don’t recommend it.

But there are excellent museums in Rome that fly under the radar and will be largely empty — Palazzo Massimo, Palazzo Altemps, Doria Pamphilj, Trajan’s Markets, and the Capitoline Museums.

Tip: Museums (and everything else) will be closed on December 24 and 25.

Indoor Attractions

Aside from the museums, there are plenty other attractions where you can escape any chilly weather.

If you’re interested in Roman ruins, you could visit Diocletian’s Baths, the Baths of Caracalla, Domus Aurea, or the House of Augustus on Palatine Hill.

If you’re interested in art and architecture, you can visit some of Rome’s beautiful churches.

Beyond St. Peter’s Basilica, consider visiting the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, the Basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano, the Basilica of San Clemente, and the Church of San Luigi dei Francesi, which houses three Caravaggio paintings.

The Capuchin Crypt beneath the church of Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini is another option, albeit a bit eerie. The crypt is decorated with the bones of over 4,000 Capuchin monks, arranged in macabre displays of art.

Spanish Steps and Via Condotti
Spanish Steps and Via Condotti


From December 1-8, the crowds in Rome in December are perfectly manageable. When the trees are lit up on December 8 and Christmas festivities begin in earnest, the crowds will be comparable to summer.

Aside from the Colosseum, the indoor attractions won’t have crushing crowds.

But I found it hard to even walk around the Trevi Fountain and down the main shopping street, Via Condotti.

Because December in Rome is so popular, be sure to book your accommodations well in advance. And pre-book skip the line tickets for the Colosseum, Vatican Museums, and the Borghese Gallery.

Christian Dior decorations
Christian Dior decorations

I hope you’ve enjoyed my guide to Rome in December. You may find these other Rome travel guides and resources useful:

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Pinterest pin for what to do in Rome in December
Pinterest pin for Rome in December

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