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Visiting Rome during the Christmas Season

Rome at Chritmas

Photograph by (c) Giancarlo Gasponi

Visiting Rome during the Christmas season is whimsical and enchanting; however, Christmas in Italy is considered a “family holiday” and people often leave the city and go the countryside to gather at relatives for festivities. Also, from Christmas Eve until the day after New Years, a lot of the city shuts down and shops and restaurants may be closed. Most museums are closed on all public and reglious holidays. Also, one must take into consideration that publication transportation (buses and Metro) runs on a very limited timetable and, on Christmas Eve, the last ones leave their terminals at around 6:30 p.m., which would mean that shortly after that time, it would be useless to wait by a bus stop (Metro stations close their gates). Up until around lunchtime on Christmas Eve, however, some routes have increased service, expecting more last-minute shoppers to crowd the bus and Metro lines than usual. Service is reduced significantly on Christmas Day. You may find yourself stuck with just your walking shoes should you have tickets to St. Peter’s Midnight Mass and find that the only way to get to St. Peter’s is by foot and the only way to get back to your hotel is also on foot. Taxis are very difficult, if not impossible, to get at all. If you are lucky enough to be able to even obtain tickets to Midnight Mass, it is not over until 2 a.m. More or less the same schedule is followed over New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. Christmas officially ends on January 6, Epiphany.

With that in mind, I would not hesitate to go to Rome over the holidays and expect to have a wonderful time milling about with everything decorated. There are other wonderful things going on in Rome during the Christmas holiday season. Piazza Navona and Campo de’Fiori are filled with Christmas stalls selling toys and sweets. And, of course, there are all the other churches and basilicas that one can go to during the holiday season as well, and the displaying of the Christmas presepi (creches). Some of them have mechanized shooting stars or have elaborate lighting. This usually starts in mid-December and many families with their children visit the various churches to view them. Be prepared to crowds during all religious holidays such as Christmas and Easter, even though the majority of things will be closed during those special days and public transportation will be ‘iffy’ at best.

I would really contemplate before making your reservations if you are wanting to visit museums and other attractions that one usually sees in Rome at other times of the year because they may, in fact, not be open. Check before you reserve! For information on the way to request tickets for Midnight Mass at the Vatican, there is some very useful information on the Church of Santa Susanna’s web site that you should check out; however, as I understand it, they cannot obtain tickets for Easter Mass. You have to get these in the same manner as you would for the Wednesday General Audience. Since this is one of the Church’s most significant religious holidays, the earlier you contact the Prefettura della Casa Pontificia for tickets, the better chance you might have to be able to get tickets. Follow the instructions listed on my Vatican page. Even with that said, personally, I think the epitomy of a wonderful Christmas would be to spend it in Rome. Buon Natale!

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