If you are coming to Rome in December, you are in for a treat: Rome is very un-crowded in December, the weather is ok, and, the city begins to light up for the holidays. Did I mention how un-crowded it is?
Here's what you need to know about coming to visit Rome this time of year:
The first day of winter is December 21. So actually, most of December is an autumn month.
It seems to rain a little less in December than in November, and the days can be clear, sunny and crisp...and they are short of course.
The winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, is on December 21/22 so December does have some pretty short days.
In December, the sun is already low in the sky by 4pm and sunset is around 4:45pm.
We don't really get snow in Rome, but once every decade or so, there might be a bit, although typically not in December.
During the day it's in the low 50's °F/low teens °C, and in the evenings it can still be quite chilly, in the mid 30's °F/single digits °C. Click here for more about Weather in Rome.
I walk around Rome a lot, in all seasons and in all kinds of weather. Below are some of the things I wear. These are my personal recommendations for your visit to Rome in December:
This is the time of year you will want to wear a hat. A warm cozy winter hat.
These are easy to pack, and keep in your bag as you walk around. Trust me, when temps drop when the sun goes down, you will want a hat!
A scarf is a must at any time of year in Rome. In winter, I love having a large pashmina which I find more versatile than just an oblong scarf. And I like a blend of cashmere and silk because it's not overly hot, and it doesn't make me itch.
Bonus - these are great for the plane ride too!
In Italy, men wear scarves year-round. It's partly for the fashion and mostly because Italians have a firm belief in always keeping your neck warm.
The best jacket you can wear when sight-seeing in Rome in cold weather is a water-proof hiking jacket, with removable lining. I have several for when I hike, and I wear them around Rome in winter. It's really 3 jackets in one!
For Rome in December, you should consider including the following items in your packing list:
See also my page about What to Pack for Rome, with downloadable packing list.
My number one rule for sight-seeing in Rome, any time of year: be comfortable!
This especially pertains to shoes. Sneakers, trainers, hiking shoes, good walking shoes: all these are fine and you will fit right in!
Check out these Italians at Vatican Square in December, all wearing comfortable shoes and jeans.
Rome in December can be chilly. But at the beginning of December, there can even be balmy days. Layering is always a good idea.
Be prepared for changes in temperature between when the sun is out, and when it gets dark.
And always wear or carry a scarf with you.
December is a beautiful time of year to be in Rome, because the city starts lighting up with decorations and there is a festive feeling in the air.
December is the beginning of low season. Hotel and airline rates drop dramatically from around the beginning of November and, other than during the Christmas and New Years holidays, stay quite low throughout winter. This is a great time to come to Rome if you are looking for hotel bargains.
By December, you can definitely find Roman artichokes just about everywhere. Not just fried (alla giudia) which seem to be more and more available during the year, but stewed artichokes. These are on the menu as Carciofi alla Romana and you can only get them in winter and very early spring when this particular type of artichoke is in season in Rome.
Chicory is now also in season, which means you can find it not just cooked but also raw.
There is a special raw chicory salad that is sort of particular to Rome: puntarelle. This is raw chicory, cut into thin strips until it curls, then soaked in ice-water until it becomes crispy and crunchy, and then dressed simply with olive oil, garlic, lemon, salt and crushed or chopped anchovies. If you love puntarelle, or want to try them, now is the time!
December is also the real beginning of citrus season. Oranges, mandarins and clementines fill the markets now.
What better way to keep cold and flu germs at bay than to have a nice fresh-squeezed spremuta (juice) of Sicilian blood oranges?
Want to know more about Rome cuisine? Click here.
Normally, on the last Sunday of every month, the Vatican Museums are open from 9am - 2pm (normally closed Sundays.)
On this day it is free to visit the Vatican Museums. You can expect large crowds even in low season.
In 2017, the Vatican Museums will be free and open on Sunday December 24, and closed on Sunday December 31.
St. Peter's Square and Basilica are free and open daily.
As you walk around Rome in December, you will see more and more lights and decorations going up outside people's apartments, storefronts, bars, restaurants, hotels and just neighborhood streets in general.
Visit my Rome at Christmas page for more details. Meanwhile, here are some specific holiday things to do in Rome in December:
Sometime during the first week of December (exact date TBD), the Rome Christmas fair and market will go up in Piazza Navona. This includes a carousel, nativity scene and...supposedly lots of fun stalls and stands selling food and gifts. In 2014 there was a scandal and diminishing of the number of stands. In 2015 and 2016, there was barely a fair in the piazza, but there was a carousel, a tree and a nativity scene. Let's see what happens in 2017.
Regardless, the Piazza becomes a center for enjoying the Christmas spirit in Rome.
Chabad Roma organizes the lighting of the menorah during Chanukah in Piazza Barberini.
You can attend the first night's lighting ceremony with Rome's rabbis at sundown on Tuesday, December 12 2017, but you can also go for the following 7 nights to see each "candle" being lit.
Several Christmas trees go up around Rome in December, but it seems the one people ask me about the most is the one at the Vatican.
The Christmas tree in Vatican Square is a relatively new phenomenon (started in 1982 during the pontificate of Pope John Paul II), but it's typically been lit just before Christmas Eve.
Stay tuned for the date and time of the Christmas tree and Nativity lighting in Vatican Square for 2017. Both the tree and the nativity scene will stay up until just after January 6 2018.
December 8, the Immaculate Conception, or Immacolata, is a pretty major holiday in Italy. Shops will be closed but sites are open (except for the Vatican Museums.)
At noon, you can head to St. Peter's Square to hear Pope Francis give the Angelus (free, lasting about 15 minutes.)
Also on December 8, you can also try to check out the Pope visiting Piazza Mignanelli (next to the Spanish Steps), at 4:30pm, for the changing of Madonna's wreath at the top of the column there.
The pope does not do it himself - the firemen do, but he is there for the event. Be prepared for large, crushing crowds.
The cooler fall and winter months are a great time to take in the arts and some art indoors. Some museums stay open later on the weekends.
Here are some special things you can do in Rome in December:
Take in an opera or ballet.
The Rome Opera House will show the Damnation of Faust through December 23; other symphony concerts will play as well. Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker will show from December 31 2017 - January 7 2018. Click here for tickets.
From October 19 2017 through February 2018, don't miss this special exhibit of Monet paintings at the Complesso del Vittoriano. There will be over 60 works from the Parisian Musée Marmottan Monet, by the father of Impressionism, many from home at Giverny.
Mon - Thu 9:30am - 7:30pm
Tickets are 15€. Advance booking highly recommended for this popular exhibit.
Do you love Disney's Frozen? I know I do!
You can enjoy this movie at Rome's stunning Auditorium, accompanied by live orchestra. Only Dec 29 and 30.
Check out the new Love exhibit, "Contemporary Art meets Love", at the Chiostro del Bramante, behind Piazza Navona. Through February 2017. 13€ tickets. No need to book in advance.
The Capitoline Museums are fabulous any time.
Now through January 8, 2017, there is a fantastic Exhibit Mercy represented through works of art, from paintings to sculptures and from miniatures to engravings.15€ tickets. No need to book in advance.
Museums are open 7 days a week, 9:30am - 7:30pm. December 24 and 31: 9:30 - 2pm; Closed on Christmas Day and New Years Day.
At the Scuderie al Quirinale, from December 16, 2016 through March 2017, you can see a spectacular collection of art that was "appropriated" from Italy by Napoleon between 1796 to 1814...and later returned to Italy in 1816 when Napoleon fell. Much of the art that had been removed wound up in the Louvre, and some of it is still there.
At this amazing exhibit you can see all in one place, many of the masterpieces that were returned to their rightful places in Italy. Works by Tintoretto, Canova, Perugino, Reni, Titian and many more. A must-see!
Sun - Thu 10am – 8pm, Fri - Sat 10am – 10:30pm; last admission one hour before closing time. 12€ adults. See their website for reduced rates, and pre-booking options. This exhibit will be open on all holiday dates, including Christmas and New Years!
Van Gogh Alive - The Experience. This "multi-sensory" Van Gogh exhibit is coming to Rome. From October 25 - December 31 2016, and showing at a venue in Trastevere, Palazzo degli Esami, Via Gerolamo Induno, 4.
For more information about events in Rome in December, visit the official website of the Rome Tourist Board.
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