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?
Before we go any further, you should be aware that in spring of this year, Pope Francis announced that there would be an extraordinary Holy Year, beginning December 8 (Immacolata) 2015, and lasting through November 20 2016.
What does this mean? See more below.
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.
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 Piazza Navona in December, all wearing comfortable shoes and jeans.
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.
In December, you can expect it to be fairly cold in Rome, with some rain. You can also expect it to be very uncrowded, except during the Christmas and New Year holidays.
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.
Normally there is a Jubilee (celebration of the Catholic Church) every 25 years. The last one was in 2000, so the next one would have been in 2015. But Pope Francis announced this year to be an extraordinary year.
What this means for you as a tourist in Rome: On December 8, there will be a major opening ceremony at Santa Peter's Basilica with the opening of the Holy Door. There will likely be a lot of pilgrims on hand for this. There will be other ceremonies in the following months as well.
Then, throughout the rest of the year, millions of pilgrims are expected to visit Rome. Does this mean Rome will be more crowded than ever before? That hotels will be hard to come by and expensive? Not really.
First of all, the pilgrims will be coming all year long, not all at once. Second of all, many pilgrims come in big groups and stay in religious housing, or larger hotels that are not in the city center. Many pilgrims come specifically for the jubilee and there will be more visitors to pilgrimage churches (see the link to the Vatican's Jubilee website below.)
I was here in 2000 when we had the last Jubilee, and although I was not living here at the time, but only visiting, I can tell you that I would not have even known there was a jubilee if I hadn't read about it. And, my husband and other people who were in the hotel business even then have said they did not notice much change in their occupancy rates during that Jubilee year. Bottom line: don't worry about a shortage of hotel rooms, or higher hotel prices.
As for visiting the Vatican during the Jubilee, I doubt you will find it any more crowded than it already is. Again, the pilgrims visit many churches during their visit to Rome, over the course of a year. Go here to find out my tips for visiting the Vatican.
If you want to know more about the Jubilee in Rome in 2015/2016, such as what it's about, the calendar of events, the route (churches) that pilgrims will follow, head to the Vatican's official Jubilee website.
December is the beginning of low season (even with the Jubilee.) 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.
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.
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. Let's see what happens in 2015.
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 Sunday December 6 2015, but you can also go for the following 7 nights to see each "candle" being lit.
Several Christmas trees go up around Rome, 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.
At the start of the Jubilee, on Dcember 8, 2015, the Christmas tree in Saint Peter's square will be unveiled. And on December 18, 2015, they will light up the tree!
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 Puccini's Tosca from December 4-13, and then Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker will show from December 20 - January 8, 2016.
At the Scuderie al Quirinale, next to the Quirinale Palace, you can attend the Balthus exhibit (through January 2016.) 12€ tickets. No need to book in advance.
The gallery is open Sunday - Thursday from 10am - 8pm, and Friday and Saturday until 10:30pm.
You may also be interested in:
For more information about events in Rome, visit the official website of the Rome Tourist Board.
Return to the top of Rome in December.Rome Guide › Weather in Rome Italy › Rome in December