A visitor's guide to Christmas in Rome
While many prefer to gather the family at home, I say why not start a new tradition of coming to Rome for the holidays?
Rome often gets overlooked at Christmas time when it comes to events in Italy, with cities like Verona, Bolzano, and Florence getting more attention for their famous Christmas markets and festivities. I am here to tell you that Rome is putting up a solid fight in the competition this year. Whether you are an Italian family who lives in Rome, visiting family from abroad or looking for a stunning vacation somewhere far from home, Rome has a little something for everyone on offer in 2022. In this guide to Christmas events in Rome, I will tell you the top 5 holiday events to attend so you are sure not to miss a single twinkling light in the Eternal City.
Incanto di Luci
Truly a “not-to-be-missed” event, this stunning light show is illuminating the Orto Botanico in Trastevere this year. In a full immersion experience, you will walk through Rome’s botanical garden in the most magical way possible. The gardens, already stunning in spring and summer, have been transformed with light and sound to make this one of the best holiday events in Rome. From the Cathedral of Light to the Field of Stars, the Kaleidoscope to the Dancing Mushroom Lights, each section becomes its own jaw-dropping light show as you encounter one after another on the illuminated path through the gardens.
You will also get plenty of photo ops for the kids or you and your partner with light installations such as the hot air balloon, butterfly wings, and the hands in the shape of a heart. There are refreshment stands along the way so you can warm up with a hot chocolate, and at the end of the path you will be in the food village. Here, you can get a vin brule’ (hot mulled wine), spiral potatoes or a delicious porchetta panino, as well as a wide variety of Italian street food.
Tickets to this event must be purchased online only at www.incantodiluci.it/en/. Tickets cannot be purchased at the door, and time slots do sell out, so be sure to book in advance. The event runs from 19 November – 8 January and should be on everyone’s list for Rome for the holidays.
This is one for the whole family! Aimed at children, Christmas World in Villa Borghese is similar to a mini Epcot Center at Disney World. With sections aimed at representing countries and cities from around the world, this event brings you to faraway lands with entertainment, food, gifts, and live entertainment for kids of all ages. Visit Paris for crepes and a live Disney Princess show, Then walk into Tokyo for delicious Ramen and Japanese desserts and take a short food break at the seating area. Then venture across the street to London for the changing of the guard live demonstration and a little shopping for unique gifts for the kids. From London you can take a few steps to the North Pole to write a letter to Santa and put it in the mail at the North Pole Post Office. After a photo op with one of Santa’s helpers, it’s off to New York to strap on some skates and go around the ice rink for a few laps under the Brooklyn Bridge. Next to New York are games and rides in Roma and then some beer and hot dogs in Berlin as the whole family gets a much needed recharge after a fun-filled day.
To visit Christmas World, you can either purchase your tickets online at www.christmasworld.net or at the entrance to the event. Opening hours are from 10 am – 8 pm daily between 3 December and 8 January. I recommend visiting before 5 pm as the crowds get thicker in the evening. Visiting from 3-6 pm was lovely to avoid the larger crowds, see things in the daytime and when the lights were turned on as the sun went down.
The Christmas market in Piazza Navona is back after two years off due to covid restrictions. This famous market in Rome is in the heart of the historic center and is set in one of the most beautiful and famous squares in the city. One of the best ways to visit is to take one of our city center walking tours and ask your guide to adjust the route to finish in Piazza Navona. This will allow you to see the lights throughout the city and then stay in this market for some games, food and a carousel ride.
You can eat cotton candy, panini, ciambelle (large round donuts), and even roasted chestnuts to fill your belly, and then play games to win a large array of stuffed toy prizes. Cap it all off by taking in the beauty of the handmade nativity scene and then the kiddos can go for a ride on the merry-go-round. All of this fun with the backdrop of the famous Bernini Fountain of the Four Rivers and the stunning Doria-Pamphilj Palace makes for a perfect stop on your Rome holiday itinerary.
There is no admission to this event and you do not need to reserve tickets. This is an open-air market and each food, gift and game stall sells its own items. Most take credit cards, but it is a good idea to bring cash for ease and convenience for the vendors (especially food and games). The market begins around 10 am as the vendors and games open and closes later in the evening, so you can visit whenever you like through the day/night.
St. Peter’s Square and the 100 Presepi in Vaticano
St. Peter’s Square is one of the hottest spots for visitors in Rome for the holidays. Each year there is a new official nativity scene in the center of the square at the base of the obelisk. This larger than life nativity is a beautiful and artistic display ranging in past years from traditional to modern art styles. This year’s design is from artists in the northern Italian village of Sutrio, in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region, and is made entirely of cedar wood. The scene is an incredible work of artistry by the woodworkers, sculptors and artisans who created it and in my opinion it is another “not-to-be-missed” site. Next to the nativity is the official Vatican Christmas tree, a 30 meter high white fir from the village of Rosello in the Abruzzo region.
From the center of St Peter’s Square you can look to your left (south side of the square) you will see the banners marking the entrance to the “100 Presepi in Vaticano” in the Colonnade. In English this means “100 Cribs at the Vatican” and it is a display of nativity scenes submitted by artisans from Italy and all over the world. Artists create nativity scenes in a variety of styles using all types of media such as terracotta, paper mȃché and found items like seashells, coins, pasta, and many others. Most of the designs are 3D, some are fully stylized and others are fully realistic. The Colonnade is lit up with multicolored lights with stars twinkling on the ceiling which creates an ethereal feeling as you walk through taking in all of the creative and traditional designs of the scenes representing the birth of Christ. The website www.100presepi.it for the event gives a detailed background of the origins of the nativity scene and its deep meaning to the Catholic Church and the pilgrims who visit the Vatican.
There is no admission fee or ticket reservation required for either the 100 Presepi or the St. Peter’s Square Christmas Tree and Nativity scene. Both of these are free for all visitors and stunning to observe. The tree and nativity in the square remain on display throughout the day and night, with the lights on when the sun is down. The 100 Presepi is open daily 10 am-7:30 pm from 9 December through 8 January. You may feel like you are still in Rome for the holiday, but you will technically be in the official country of Vatican City, with no passport required.
Piazza Venezia and Via del Corso
Piazza Venezia is home to Rome’s official Christmas Tree. In recent years this tree has been at the center of controversy from the Spelacchio (mangy tree) in 2017, to the Netflix sponsorship in 2018 and 2019 to ensure the tree would not suffer further embarrassment in being compared to the tree in A Charlie Brown Christmas. Now, a few years later in 2022, we have a beautiful tree again finding itself at the center of mocking and controversy for its “ugly” solar panels in an effort to light the tree while supporting the green energy movement throughout the world.
Regardless of the controversy, the 23 meter high tree is a magnificent sight to behold. Brilliantly lit and in the center of Piazza Venezia, this tree is framed perfectly by the Vittoriano monument on one side and the entrance to Via del Corso on the other. It is a perfect starting point as you make your way through the city center to see all of the sparkling decorations.
Via del Corso stretches from Piazza Venezia to Piazza del Popolo and was the main road in Ancient Rome from the Via Flaminia into the city. In the 15th century, Pope Paul II brought the Venetian Carnival celebrations to Rome and gave the street its modern name. This is the street of the wild carnival races that were a part of the tradition brought to Rome with this Venetian Pope. Today, in Rome for the holidays Via del Corso is lit up from end to end with spectacular lights strung between the buildings. I recommend taking a walk to see each section as they change and sparkle while you take in the atmosphere of Rome decorated with Christmas lights. You can even do a bit of shopping as this street has become famous for its retail storefronts decorated for Christmas and full of local Italians and tourists alike out buying their Christmas gifts.
There is no admission or tickets for this area, the tree is accessible from the sidewalks surrounding the piazza and in front of the Vittoriano monument. Via del Corso is a major traffic street until you get closer to Piazza di Spagna where it becomes pedestrian only and is the perfect location for an evening stroll through Rome for the holidays.
Take a Tour of Rome for the holidays
Roman Vacations offers excellent walking tours that allow you to see the city lights in Piazza Venezia, Via del Corso and Piazza Navona with a tour guide to tell you about the sites in the city center as well as the holiday traditions in Rome.