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.
Aside from the usual packing stuff you should bring for Rome, don't forget to pack:
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, scarves 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. Or to carry a small umbrella in case of rain.
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.
The first week of January is high season in Rome, and very crowded. First of all, it's still part of the New Year's and general holiday season. 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.)
Most major tourist sites are open on January 6 (except for the Vatican Museums.)
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 as you wander around Rome the first few days of January, you will hear lots of tourists speaking Italian.
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 2016, the sales begin on Tuesday 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.
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.)
Expect large crowds, especially in January.
There will be papal masses held on January 1 (Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God), January 6 (Epiphany) and January 10 (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.
It's not (yet) on the Vatican's calendar for 2016, but last year I attended the celebration of Sant'Antonio Abate in St. Peter's Square and it was just 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. Last year, a man brought his turtle and lo and behold, the cardinal blessed it! In 2016, the date is Sunday January 17 (around mid-day.) Check the Vatican calendar to make sure but they do it every year so I am pretty sure they will this year too!
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 woul 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!
The Capitoline Museums are fantastic any time.
Right now, it's even more special! There is a Exhibit Raffaello, Parmigianino and Barocci - Metaphors of Vision. Through January 10 2016. 15€ tickets. No need to book in advance.
Museums are open 7 days a week, 9:30am - 7:30pm.
At the Complesso del Vittoriano (accessible from the via dei Fori Imperiali), check out the collection of Impressionist art from the Musée d'Orsay in Paris. Through February 2016. 12€ ticket. No need to book in advance.
The museum is open Monday - Thursday 9:30am - 7:30pm, Friday and Saturday until 10pm, and Sunday until 8:30pm.
Another fantastic exhibit of works by James Tissot is on display at the Chiostro del Bramante, behind Piazza Navona. Through February 2016. 13€ tickets. No need to book in advance.
The Chiostro del Bramante is open Monday - Friday from 10am - 8pm, and Saturday and Sunday until 9pm.
Now through February 2016, you can see a special exhibit at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni on via Nazionale. Impressionist and Modern Masterworks from The Phillips Collection in Washington DC is one of several exhibits showing at this wonderful recently-renovated museum. 12.50€ tickets. No need to book in advance.
The museum is open Sunday, Tues-Thurs from 10am - 8pm, Friday and Saturday until 10:30pm, and closed Monday.
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