Are you thinking of coming to Rome in January? Yes, it's cold but it's also quiet and almost tourist-free! What a great time to sight-see in Rome. Here's what you can expect.
Here's what you need to know about coming to visit Rome this time of year:
January is definitely the heart of winter. So expect winter weather, but mild winter weather. Rome doesn't really get much sleet and snow (although it can happen.) Sometimes there is a quick hail shower, but again, it's not that common. Does it rain a lot in Rome in January? It can rain sometimes, sure. But February and March tend to be rainier.
The weather in Rome Italy in January is fairly mild, with lows (at night) of about freezing, and highs during the day of about 10-14 Celsius / high forties - low fifties Fahrenheit.
The days are still pretty short, being winter, but they are already getting longer since the winter solstice on December 22.
This is what I wear when I walk around Rome, and I walk around Rome a lot, in all seasons and in all kinds of weather. These are my personal recommendations for your visit to Rome in January.
Aside from the usual packing stuff you should bring for Rome, don't forget to pack:
This is the time of year in Rome to wear 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 warmer weather, it's just fashionable. But 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.
Obviously at least one winter jacket. (I've said it before, but it bears repeating: an excellent option for layering is a waterproof sporty jacket, with removable lining.)
Make sure to bring winter items (above.) The key is to be comfortable. And the other key is layering. You'd be surprised at how warm you can feel during the day in the sunshine walking around the Coliseum.
In the morning and at night, wear a sweater, jacket, hat, scarf and gloves. During the day, wear what is comfortable, but plan on layering. You might want to bring/use a large bag or backpack you can pop your scarf/gloves/hat into if it's sunny out. And, you might want to carry a small umbrella in case of rain.
I cannot stress highly enough how important it is to wear comfortable shoes. So make sure you bring good, comfortable socks, too. I suggest sturdy hiking shoes or similar.
Weather-wise, you can expect wintery but often mild weather in January in Rome. The days are short but it can be surprisingly warm and sunny between 11am and 4pm.
As far as crowds go...
You might expect January, being a winter month, to be pretty quiet in Rome. That depends on which part of January you are here.
January 6 is a major holiday in Italy and other Catholic countries: It's the Day of the Kings (the day the Magi brought gifts.) In Italy, this holiday is mostly about kids, and is called Befana, which is the name of a not-very-pretty witch, who is actually nice, and who flies around bringing gifts to the kids. The Christmas holiday season officially ends on the 6th of January (although you will still see lights up around Rome even through late January.)
However, schools and a lot of offices are closed through that date. And often, this will stretch through whatever the following weekend is. Then everything gets back to "normal" the following Monday. So until then, Italian families are travelling and visiting Rome. And that makes it pretty crowded here!
I've visited the Vatican in the first week of January and it's as crowded then as it is in May.
And, finally, winter sales usually begin sometime the first week in January, and Italians will flock to their favorite stores that day, so it's yet one more reason you will see Rome's streets very busy in the first week of January. (In 2017, the sales begin on Saturday January 5.)
After that, Rome tourism drops to almost nothing. And THEN, you can pretty much count on having a lot of sites, including the Sistine Chapel, to yourself.
January is a great time to enjoy all the seasonal winter foods like artichokes, chicory, broccoli, cabbage, apples, pears, citrus fruits, and persimmons.
If you are here for the first week of January, you are probably enjoying the holiday festivities like New Year's Eve in Rome, and still checking out all the lit up streets and nativity scenes everywhere.
January is the beginning of winter sales in Italy, so if you are here for the beginning of them, you can get the best stuff. By the end of January, you will start to see all the new spring fashions arrive, and can get a head start on all the latest spring fashion trends.
On the first Sunday of every month, state sites and museums are free for everyone. This includes archeological sites like the Colosseum, Forum, Palatine Hill, Baths of Caracalla and Ostia Antica; and museums like the Galleria Borghese and Palazzo Barberini.
On the first Sunday in January, Rome is packed to the gills, so get there very early, and for sites like the Domus Aurea and Galleria Borghese, you need to book long in advance.
IMPORTANT NOTE FOR JANUARY 1 2017 - normally the 1st is a national holiday and most sites and museums are closed. But in 2017, since it's also the "free Sunday", most sites are actually open! To see details about what's open, what's free and what's closed on January 1 2017, visit my page about New Years in Rome.
On the last Sunday of every month, it is free to visit the Vatican Museums.
The hours are reduced (entry only from 9:00 - 12:30. The museums close at 2pm.)
On Sunday, January 29, 2017, the museums will be free. Expect large crowds on this day, even in January.
On January 1, you can head to St. Peter's Square for the Angelus.
At noon, Pope Francis will appear in one of the windows, and address the crowds.
It's free, and lasts about 15 minutes. Expect large crowds.
There will be papal masses held on January 1 (Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God), January 6 (Epiphany), January 8 (Baptism of the Lord.)
If you want to try to get tickets to attend any of these masses, visit my page about Seeing the Pope in Rome.
On the Befana, January 6, which is the Epiphany (Day of the Kings), you can watch a mini-procession along the street leading up to St. Peter's Square, Via della Conciliazione.
Starting at about 10am (but you should get there earlier for a decent viewing position), there will be a little procession, with people dressed in period costume, that will sort of re-enact the visit of the 3 Wise Men. Great thing to do with kids!
January 17, 2017 is the celebration of Sant'Antonio Abate in St. Peter's Square. I have been and it's absolutely wonderful!
It's the day of the "Blessing of the Animals", and many farmers bring their farm animals, but also locals bring their pets. There is a cardinal who comes out and gives a prayer and blesses the animals. It's quite festive. When I went in 2015, a man brought his turtle and lo and behold, the cardinal blessed it!
On January 25, 2017, Pope Francis will celebrate the Solemnity of the Conversion of Saint Paul the Apostle - Celebration of Second Vespers.
This event begins at 5:30pm, and will be at the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls, not St. Peter's basilica.
It's free but you need to book tickets.
Take in an opera or ballet.
The Rome Opera House will show Wagner's Tristan und Isolde through December 11; Verdi's Rigoletto through December 10; and then Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker will show from December 18 - 24, 2016. Click here for tickets.
At the Complesso del Vittoriano (accessible from the via dei Fori Imperiali), check out the Edward Hopper exhibit. Through February 2017. 15.50€ tickets.
The museum is open daily: Mon-Thu 9:30am - 7:30pm; Fri-Sat 9:30am - 10pm; Sun 9:30am - 8:30pm.
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 Chiostro del Bramante is open Mon - Fri from 10am - 8pm, and Sat-Sun until 9pm.
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.
Van Gogh Alive - The Experience. This "multi-sensory" Van Gogh exhibit is in Rome. Now through March 2017, and showing at a venue in Trastevere, Palazzo degli Esami, Via Gerolamo Induno, 4.
Open Mon - Thu 10am - 8pm; Fri - Sat 10am - 11pm and Sun 10am - 9pm. €15 full price; €12 for people aged 6-12, students, over 65 and handicapped. Free for children under 6.
One of my favorite museums in Rome is the Capitoline Museums. These museums comprise some of the most extensive and comprehensive displays of painting, sculpture, artefacts and architecture in the world.
The museums are vast and they can easily take up an entire day. So if it's cold and rainy out, this is a great place to be. There is also a cafe on the roof, with spectacular views towards St. Peter's basilica, the synagogue and the Pantheon. And from the tabularium, you have amazing views of the Roman Forum...which, when it's icky out, can be beautiful if you are seeing it from the inside!
Open daily from 9:30am - 7:30pm. 15€. No need to book in advance.
This is the time of year I'd visit St. Peter's tomb under the Vatican. Why? Because I went in August one year thinking it would be "cool", and instead I was roasting. They seal you into every room you go into, so it's quite hot.
So in cold January, this is not only a great thing to see, but a great way to be warm in an awesome place!
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