There’s no better time to visit Rome than in winter when the high season tourist crowds have dissipated, the temperature is not so scorching, and the streets are stylishly decorated with Christmas lights. The Eternal City has plenty of unique and festive activities to offer in the cold months, from Christmas markets to thermal baths. Here are 12 incredible things to do in Rome in winter.
But first things first…
For How Long Should You Visit Rome in Winter?
While winter typically means shorter lines at tourist attractions (and therefore more time for sightseeing), it also means shorter daylight hours. Given all that this city has to offer, plan to spend at least three days in Rome so that you can sightsee at a relaxing pace.
Alternatively, if you’re short on time, a quick weekend in Rome is enough to give you an introduction to the most important sights in town. Just be sure to arrive with a planned itinerary, because there are a lot of activities to pack into a short amount of time!
12 Incredible Things to Do in Rome in Winter
1. Visit the Christmas Markets in Piazza Navona
Get a taste of Christmas with a visit to the Christmas markets in Piazza Navona, one of the most beautiful squares in Rome. You’ll see local vendors selling everything from artisanal crafts to sweets here. There’s also a big nativity scene on display, as well as a huge merry-go-round in the middle of the piazza, which children would love.
Piazza Navona is also known for the many street performers that seek to entertain visitors, so the vibes there are incredibly vibrant and festive. This is all made even better by the incredibly picturesque fountains and monuments inside the square.
2. Admire the Christmas Street Lights in the Historic Center
The historic center (or Centro Storico) is where most of the famous attractions are situated, and as a result, one of the best areas to stay in Rome. Starting December, gorgeous Christmas lights decorate the streets and squares of this neighborhood.
Awe-inspiring are the lights on Via Del Corso, the biggest shopping street in the city center. There’s usually a massive “ceiling” of lights hovering above this street, and one year, they were even coordinated to be green, white, and red — the colors of the Italian flag.
Another point of interest is the stunning Piazza Venezia, home to the Vittoriano, a large monument dedicated to Victor Emmanuel II, the first king of Italy. In this square, you’ll see the biggest Christmas tree in the historic center, and it looks especially epic lit up at night.
3. Check out the Christmas Decor and Nativity Scene at the Vatican
There’s no better place to soak up Christmas vibes than at the Vatican. Being the heart of the Roman Catholic Church, this tiny country inside Rome hosts some of the best festive displays during the winter holidays.
Head to St. Peter’s Square, where you can gaze at the gigantic 100-foot Christmas tree in front of St. Peter’s Basilica. In the same square, you can also admire a life-like nativity scene that changes design every year. This impressive nativity scene usually includes 30 figurines made by artists worldwide.
4. Toss a Coin into the Trevi Fountain
No trip to Rome would be complete without a visit to the famous Trevi Fountain, the largest Baroque fountain in Rome. The architecture and sculptures there are spectacular, and one can gaze at them for days. If you’ve been reading about a trip to Rome, it’s always at the top of people’s list of things to do in Rome.
A famous tradition is to throw a coin into the fountain with your right hand over your left shoulder. As legend has it, this will ensure your return to Rome. You’ll see thousands of coins inside the fountain, and all of them get scooped up eventually and donated to local charities.
Trevi Fountain photography tip: This breathtaking fountain is pretty enormous, and a regular camera and lens wouldn’t be able to capture its entirety, given that there isn’t enough space around it for you to step back and frame it all.
The solution? Use a wide-angle lens. I recommend the Sony FE 16-35mm F2.8 GM, one of the best lenses for Sony a7III, an incredible travel camera to take with you to Rome.
5. Get in the Winter Spirit with Ice Skating
Ice skating is one of the best ways to feel the winter spiring, and there are various pop-up ice skating rinks in the historic center of Rome. For example, Campo de’ Fiori and Largo di Torre Argentina have both housed ice skating rinks. Other ice skating rinks in Rome can be found at Ice Park Euroma2, Porta di Roma On Ice, and IcePark Auditorium.
6. Take a Dip in a Thermal Bath Near Rome
Did you know that Rome is surrounded by various hot springs? Winter is the perfect time to take a day trip to relax in some of Italy’s thermal baths. The best ones near Rome are Acque Albule, Terme Ficoncella, and Terme di Papi.
You can either take the train from Rome or rent a car to reach these thermal baths. Travel times range from 40 minutes to 2 hours. Keep in mind that there are no direct train rides from Rome for some of these hot springs, so you’ll have to switch trains.
7. Climb Up the Spanish Steps
The Spanish Steps are an incredibly picturesque and large set of staircases in the historic center. In the warmer months, it is usually swarmed with tourists. Winter is the perfect time to walk up these steps and enjoy the view from above in relative peace and quiet (it’s never too quiet in central Rome, though).
If you want to escape the cold for a bit, going shopping near the Spanish Steps is a great idea. Branching off these steps is a famous street called Via Dei Condotti, which is home to tons of luxury fashion stores such as Valentino, Prada, Tiffany & Co., Armani, and Gucci.
8. Wander the Colosseum & the Roman Forum
If you visit Rome without exploring the Colosseum, have you even visited Rome? Winter is a great time to see this famous Ancient Roman amphitheater, recognized as one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World. The crowds here will be much more bearable in winter, and the lines to get in much shorter.
At the Colosseum, you can learn about the history of the gladiators who fought there. Be sure to book a guided tour if you want to truly immerse yourself in this place. Many tours give you exclusive access to the underground, arena, and dungeons below the Colosseum, where the gladiators once lived and trained.
A ticket to the Colosseum will also get you into the Roman Forum, which used to be Ancient Rome’s social and political center. There, you will find many ruins of what used to be temples and shrines. The area is essentially an open-air museum, and history buffs will be in heaven.
It’s a must-do when making your list of things to do in Rome!
9. Step Inside the Catacombs of Rome
The Catacombs of Rome are former underground cemeteries used for centuries. In fact, this historical site dates all the way back to the 2nd century AD and houses the remains of Jews and early Christians in Rome.
This enormous underground burial place consists of various subterranean passageways. Walking inside will feel like navigating a big labyrinth that’s several kilometers long. It’s definitely one of the coolest things to do in Rome in the winter.
10. Marvel at the Ancient Pantheon
The Pantheon is one of the most important and ancient sites in Rome. This Roman temple dates all the way back to 126 AD and was eventually turned into a Christan church. Once you enter, you’ll see that its ceiling has a central opening in the middle. Coined the ‘oculus,’ this open dome is a marvel, and you can see the sky if you stand right underneath it.
11. Immerse Yourself in a Cooking Class
Visting Rome in winter can get pretty cold, so this is a great time to warm up with one of the many cooking classes in town. These cooking classes usually last 3-4 hours and are led by expert chefs, who are more than happy to share their secret recipes and local traditions with you.
There’s a very large variety of cooking classes to choose from, including pasta-making, pizza workshops, tiramisu courses, and gelato-making. Many of these classes are also paired with wine. But, of course, every class ends with sitting down and indulging in the delicious dish you’ve just learned to make.
12. Museums, Museums, Museums!
Being one of the most ancient cities on earth, Rome is filled with incredible museums. Winter is the perfect time to explore many of them, thanks to the smaller crowds and shorter entrance lines. Plus, what better way to escape the cold than to dive deep into Ancient Roman art?
Galleria Borghese is, without a doubt, the most impressive museum in Rome. Here, you can see the Borghese family’s private art collection, which includes masterpieces by Botticelli, Caravaggio, and Raphael. There are more than 20 rooms inside this museum, each with stunning frescoes and beautiful sculptures. In addition, this museum is located inside Villa Borghese park, an amazing green space to enjoy a picnic or rent a bike.
Other museums worth checking out in Rome in winter are the Vatican Museums, the Capitoline Museums, Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna, and Palazzo Doria Pamphili.
More From Planner at Heart