Rome in December: to travel or not?

Should you visit Rome in December

I went to Rome in December 2019. I opted for the second week of December, and I had some reasons to do so. First of all, I hoped it wouldn’t be crowded, as it is not the season yet, and there is still some time till Christmas. Secondly, hotels and flights were a lot cheaper. And, most importantly, I wanted to see how Christmas is celebrated in Europe: I had seen many times those magnificent pictures with Christmassy atmosphere and lights, and I hoped I would see them in Rome. Spoiler alert: I didn’t and it was a huge disappointment. Still, I don’t regret going to Rome in December and I can wholeheartedly recommend this month.

So, what is it like visiting Rome in December?

Weather in Rome in December

I spent one week in Rome and the weather was perfect every day: the temperature was about 15°C and it was sunny and warm. Well, almost every day, as it rained heavily on Friday 🙂 And it would be fair to mention that it showered for an hour probably another day. Other than that, the weather was better than I could wish for.

Still, I have to mention that that Friday storm influenced the opening times of some places in Rome. For example, the non-Catholic cemetery was closed the next day, just like the famous Orange Garden with the view over Rome. I am not sure why the garden was closed, as another one next to it was open. When it comes to the cemetery, it was clearly stated at the entrance that the storm was the culprit.

Are you happy with 15°C? Then December, at least, its first half, are perfect for travelling to Rome.

Queues in Rome in December

Yeah, I hoped so much that the lines would be short… Well, I was only partially right 🙂

Line at St Peter's Cathedral in the Vatican
Do you see the line of people with umbrellas close to the Christmas tree? This is where the queue to enter St Peter’s Cathedral on a rainy day starts

Despite the fact that I travelled to Rome off season and there were not so many people, I had to wait a lot in the queues. I even put down the time:

– St Peter’s Cathedral: 35 minutes.
– Vatican Museums: 25 minutes.
– Colosseum: 30 minutes.

Trust me, that’s not long. I visited Rome before this trip in September 2012 and October 2013, and then we had to wait much-much longer, around an hour and even more.

Another thing to consider is that back in those years the security wasn’t so tight. This time there were scanners at every major tourist attraction and it slowed down the line. When I was waiting to get inside the cathedral, there were dozens of scanners in the square, but only a couple worked, so everyone had to queue there. Still, it was very tolerable. Anyway, you can avoid queues if you buy tickets online or join an organised tour.

Christmas in Rome in December

Yep, this part was a big disappointment. I saw so many pictures of Christmas in Europe, though I have to admit they weren’t from Italy, but I expected at least a similar charm in Rome. You can’t even imagine how wrong I was!

Don’t get me wrong, there were Christmas trees around the city, the biggest ones were in front of St Peter’s Cathedral (including a nativity scene) and the Altar of the Fatherland in Piazza Venezia, but that wasn’t enough for me. There were Christmas lights here and there, but they weren’t that impressive.

St Peters Cathedral in Rome, Italy

I hoped that maybe the Christmas fair in Piazza Navona would rectify the things, but it was another disappointment. There were a couple of stalls with toys and food, and that’s all.

I have to say here that I googled about Christmas in Rome after I had bought the plane tickets, and many people warned not to expect very much, so I was somewhat ready for this disappointment. I don’t know, maybe it gets better closer to Christmas, but I doubt it.

Opening times in Rome in December

The thing here is that in Europe many tourist attractions have the so-called summer and winter schedules. What it means is that working hours are shorter in winter, and many places close around 5 or 6 PM. Consequently, you will have to look to something else to entertain yourself in the evening 🙂 And keep this in mind when you plan your itinerary as some places, like the Capitoline Museums, are huge and require a couple of hours for a proper visit.

Prices in Rome in December

Some things are cheaper in Rome in December. I don’t mean entrance fees or food, but accommodation. As December is off season, you can end up paying 20-30 EUR less per night than in summer.

I booked a room with a private bathroom at Ottaviano Guest House for 43 EUR per night. The hotel is really close to the Vatican, and a metro station is around the corner. I have an extensive review of the hotel here. Anyway, out of curiosity, I checked the prices per night for May for the guesthouse and a room was 68 EUR.

The huge bed at Ottaviano Guest House

And while we are talking about prices: I have a long post about saving money in Rome. For example, I saved 20 EUR only on getting to/from the airport!

Packing for Rome in December

I am not going to mention anything extraordinary here, as I am sure you realize you have to pack a coat, some warm clothes and comfortable boots. But I want to say specifically that you will most likely need an umbrella, as the probability of rain in one of the days is quite high. It is winter, after all!

I know that there are always people around major tourist attractions selling umbrellas, but they are far from being sturdy. Anyway, that’s up to you whether to pack one or find one in Rome.

That’s all so far about travelling to Rome in December. If you have any questions, please comment 🙂

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