Buon Natale a Roma?
October 8, 2009 6:08 PM   Subscribe

Rome and Italy for X-Mas: bad idea or not?

My wife and I are considering taking a long overdue vacation and honeymoon to Rome, Florence (and other Italian sites as time permits) this Christmas. I don't expect the weather to be the nostalgic Mediterranean April of my memories from my last visit to the boot, but what will it be like, exactly? While I am perfectly happy strolling through the open-air piazzas in a jacket, 10 days of rain would be a little less romantic.

I've read some of the previous questions about Rome and Italy at Christmas time, but they don't seem to address the crowdedness factor. Is it really crowded in Rome or the other popular sites in Italy over the Christmas and New Years holidays? I would be naive to think a place like these would ever be without tourists, but the summertime throngs have to die down at some point, right?

Finally, what's the exchange rate (a whopping $1.47 to 1€ !!!) like for US travelers these days?
posted by i less than three nsima to Travel & Transportation around Rome, Italy (8 answers total)
My family did this in the winter of 2004, arriving in Rome on Christmas Eve, staying a few days and spending New Years in Florence as well. I've never been to Rome any other time of year, but Florence was considerably more manageable than the one time I was there in the summer. Yes, there were still crowds in both places. It was hard to find an open place to eat on Christmas Eve -- our first Italian food was a run-down Chinese joint that we had to ourselves a few blocks from the Termini station.

We saw the (last) Pope give the traditional Christmas greeting at the Vatican. Given my estranged relationship with Catholicism, I was unprepared to find it as fascinating as I did -- the people-watching was great, and I'd recommend it even if you're not into the religious aspects (I wasn't, my family was).

It rained a little bit most days, but not nearly so much that we didn't enjoy walking around the city and the countryside. We soon learned to carry umbrellas, not so much to avoid being caught in a shower as to avoid being accosted by the umbrella salesman who inevitably appeared on every corner at the first sign of raindrops.
posted by dr. boludo at 6:24 PM on October 8, 2009

Having traveled in Italy with my wife during the Christmas/New Year holiday, I could write a book on the subject. I won't write that much here, but I'm happy to provide you with detail and advice via MeFiMail if you want. Here in the thread, I offer the following:

It's great and you should do it. Stick to coastal areas for good weather. When we went, we started in Milano and went to Portofino, Firenze, and Roma. Predictably, Milano was freezing, Firenze was freezing and rainy, and the weather in Portofino and Rome was perfect and not really cold at all. Next time we go in winter, we'll probably do Rome and the Amalfi Coast, or maybe Portofino and Cinque Terre. Firenze in the cold and rain is still Firenze, but being cold and wet isn't fun.

Rome was no more crowded than the many other times I've been there. St. Peter's was more crowded because of Christmas stuff, but that was about the only thing that was. Everything else was less crowded than usual. Even the Vatican Museums weren't any more crowded than usual (but I always go super early in the morning to beat the crowd, so that may have something to do with it). And we were the only non-natives in places like Portofino and Santa Margarita Ligure.
posted by The World Famous at 6:33 PM on October 8, 2009

If you do it, don't miss the Christmas market in Rome's Piazza Navona. And read up on La Befana.
posted by CunningLinguist at 6:56 PM on October 8, 2009

From experience, it's no more crowded in the centre of Rome over Christmas than at any other winter-time period. The Vatican area, however, does become as full of people as you can imagine for the religious services. New Year's in Rome is probably as choked as other major city European city centres, only probably more so, because of the compact nature of the centro storico.
posted by hydatius at 12:07 AM on October 9, 2009

I've traveled in Italy a couple times over the holidays and as stated above, it wasn't any more crowded than I would have expected during other times of the year.

One particularly important thing, though, be sure you have a place to have dinner on Xmas Eve worked out ahead of time. I was in Naples on Xmas Eve and we were only able to find 2 places that were open, both of which were super crowded due to being the only places open.

Otherwise, have a great time. It is a nice time to travel in Italy---lots of great nativities displays mixed in among Roman ruins.
posted by chiefthe at 7:01 AM on October 9, 2009

I was in Rome for NYE once. Very crowded but still awesome. Long lines to the major attractions, so get tickets and/or reservations beforehand. And plan well what to do and where to eat on the 24th and 25th. Most places will be closed and you'll likely have to do a outdoor exploring day.
posted by Neekee at 7:46 AM on October 9, 2009

Florence is beautiful in the winter and much less crowded, but the hubub around Xmas and New Years is gonna be ...much. Rome is gonna be packed no matter what.
posted by The Whelk at 8:46 AM on October 9, 2009

Yes - do it! I spent last Christmas in Rome and will be getting married there in December this year (my fiance is Italian). It's a really nice time to visit - everything is dressed up with lights and presepe (the little nativity scenes that every church and town set up). There are much fewer tourists than in the summertime and it's not too cold - you'll want a good jacket and light gloves. (Also bring warm pajamas and slippers.) It rained the entire first week of December last year, and then was mild and dry after that. You must go to the Christmas market in Piazza Navona and also take a day trip to Naples to visit Via San Gregorio Armeno, where you can buy your own handmade presepe.
posted by jrichards at 1:45 PM on October 9, 2009

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