Dan and I made our triumphant return to Rome Italy between Christmas and New Year’s to celebrate my 35th birthday!! We originally visited Rome in 2008 as a law school summer study abroad and LOVED it but, unfortunately, had not been back – despite having been to Italy many times over the last decade… Since my birthday is in late December – the 26th to be precise – we visited Rome between Christmas and New Years. I was a bit concerned about the timing, the weather, what to do, etc., but we ended up having the perfect trip and now I really want to go back!
Visiting Rome In The Winter
In my opinion, Rome is a perfect winter European getaway!! Why? It’s far enough south that it usually does not get too, too cold. Meaning that while its freezing in parts of the world (i.e. NYC), its sunny and lovely in Rome, at least comparatively! The temperature was constantly in the 50s and sunny when we visited, and it only rained once (of course, that could vary). Rome is also equipped to use its outdoor space in cooler weather – most all outdoor seating areas in Rome are outfitted with heat lamps and blankets and stay open almost year round!
In addition, aside from the holidays (which are certainly high season), Rome is much emptier in winter than in summer. Much, much less crowded. This allows visitors to enjoy Rome’s numerous sites without the tourist hoards, and its way easier to get good restaurant reservations at the last minute.
There are few cons with traveling to Rome in winter, but definitely not enough to put off your trip. Almost everything is open during winter in Rome, but many sites close an hour or so earlier than in summer and it gets dark quite a bit earlier. Also, if you are in to wine or farms, many wineries and farms offer no or very limited tours in the winter when their plants are not in bloom. If you look hard, as I did in Tuscany in 2016, you can definitely find tours but it takes a bit more work. I would also note that you will not be able to “beach” in winter and northern Italy (above Florence) can get very cold and receives snow. Save northern Italy and beach vacations for warmer weather.
Rome Over The New Year
Now, you know I was super excited to return to Rome for my birthday! But, I was really concerned about what we would do for the New Year and whether we would be stuck in the hotel on New Year’s Day! I searched and searched online and had a very difficult time finding reliable current information. Well, if you are planning a trip, don’t worry. Its fairly easy to find something to do in Rome on New Year’s Eve and Day and almost everything is open on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.
On New Year’s Eve in Rome, one of my favorite holidays(!), everything is open at least until the early evening. Everything. And, its busy! We walked around the city on New Year’s Eve and did a fair bit of shopping during the day, and had a walk-in lunch in Trastevere at a pizza shop reminiscent of those we used to frequent when we were in law school! Nothing out of the ordinary and no reservations were needed. We noticed shops beginning to close around 19h.
For the actual celebration of the New Year, we had trouble finding something to book in advance online, or reliable information regarding events, so we booked two places at Le Méridien Visconti’s New Year’s Eve party at a cost of 150 euro/person, which included all food, drink, and entertainment. It ended up being a good deal and I’m glad that we did it. That being said, I probably would not do it again, now that I am familiar with the Rome New Year’s scene.
For New Year’s Even planning purposes, first know that Rome puts on a lot of free events for the public. This includes concerts, fireworks over the Vatican and the Colosseum, and lots of things around town. If you are planning to do one of these Rome events, arrive to the area venue and bring snacks and drinks (I think alcohol is prohibited at these things now). These events were not heavily publicized online in advance, but everyone in Rome seemed to know what was going on… I recommend calling your hotel to confirm the events taking place. From my understanding, tickets are not required – you just show up! Aside from these events, Rome is busy all night and you can just wander around the streets. Even though its NYE, street carts and some bars and restaurants will be open.
If you are more of a sit-down NYE dinner type person (hello, me!), many, many restaurants do a prix fixe New Year’s Eve dinner. Of restaurants that we visited, Riscioli and Masto Wine Bar both offered a New Year’s Eve dinner (and Roscioli had online booking ability), as did numerous other restaurants that we passed. I recommend booking at least a few weeks in advance and, if there is somewhere that you want to eat, email the restaurant in advance and ask if they have a NYE sitting. Many, many places do have such a seating, but do not list them online. You can also wait until you arrive in Rome to book (Masto still had spots open), but you run a risk and put extra pressure on yourself. If you do not have a reservations on NYE, some tourist restaurants are open and take walk-ins, especially in the more touristy areas.
Aside from restaurants, many Rome nightclubs hold NYE parties. We saw lots of signs. Ask any hotel, upscale bar, pub, or even a hostel for recommendations. These parties seemed to have a cover charge paid on the spot, some of which included alcohol and others did not. You can wait until in Rome to decide on and book these types of parties.
Finally, some hotels host NYE parties. Ours did, and its patrons were oddly mostly locals. Who knew Romans celebrated at le Méridien? If you are looking at a hotel party, I highly recommend booking in advance. We booked almost a month in advance and when we arrived to Rome, there was not a single spot left for the NYE party, despite our status with the hotel. I will do a separate post on this, but the party was quite good and worth the money at 150 euro/person. Plenty of pretty good food and lots of alcohol. Plus, we got to view the Vatican fireworks without leaving our hotel! Not all hotels post party info online, so I would call or email to ask.
On New Year’s Day, the morning is quiet in Rome, until at least 11h. We went out around noon on New Year’s Day and many, restaurants, tourist shops, and bars were beginning to open their doors. Most shops and restaurants stay open all day and keep normal hours at night. I would note however, that most of Rome’s museums are closed on New Year’s Day, which makes this a good day for walking around and viewing Rome’s free outdoor attractions. Non-touristy shops are also closed. Note that the day will likely be busy, as many people are off work.
Our Itinerary for Visiting Rome Between Christmas and New Year’s Day!
For those looking to do something similar and visit Rome around Christmas and New Year, Dan and I left on a Thursday evening and arrived around noon on Friday. It bears repeating, I was THRILLED to be back in one of my favorite cities!! The trees, the buildings, the colors, Rome is just fabulous, and I was SO excited to be back!
Since we had flown through the night, we took a quick nap and then walked from the Vatican all the way to Trastevere for dinner at one of Bourdain’s (and now my) favorite restaurants, Roma Sparita (reservations made in advance from the US). We walked all the way there and back, and went to bed shortly after dinner.
On Friday, our first full day in Rome, we started our day with a food tour of Testaccio, the neighborhood abutting Trastevere, with Eating Italy. After the food tour, we strolled around Rome a bit, a very easy way to spend a day in Rome, and ended with dinner at a wine bar recommended by one of our friends in the wine industry. The food and wine were delicious! We also stopped for a night cap at a craft beer shop, which was home to the cutest and goodest beer puppy!
Our next day was largely spent on a tour of Rome in a classic red Fiat 500 with Rome 500 Experience. This was an amazing tour and a great way to see Rome! We went all over the city, from the Colosseum area to Aventine Hill, ending in one of my favorite places in Rome, Janiculum Hill. While expensive, this tour is totally awesome and I would recommend it to other travelers. I am going to write a separate post about this tour if you are interested!
We ended our second fully day with one of the best meals I have ever had at Roscioli. While popular and certainly on the tourist trail, Roscioli is amazing and our dinner was FANTASTIC. Since it was the end of white truffle season, I had pasta and burrata topped with white truffles. AMAZING. Happy Birthday to me! I have since joined Roscioli’s wine club… It was that good.
The following day was NYE. We spent much of this day walking around Rome and checking out its highlights, including the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, shopping (duh), and where we studied in Trastevere, including our old school John Cabot University! This was a fun and laid back day and, to my relief, everything was open. We headed home around 18h to prepare for our hotel NYE party and rang in 2019 with fireworks over the Vatican!
On New Year’s Day, we honestly slept in quite late. I had caught a bit of a cold and we were tired from the previous evening. By the time we made it our of our hotel around 11h30, most of the store were starting to open up and the crowds were out and about. On New Year’s Dan, again to my surprise, many things were open and the city was quite crowded. We walked around a lot, eventually making our way to the Colosseum (outside only) and back to Trastevere to eat some fried Nutella balls that I had been dreaming about for the last decade – seriously.
We ended our day with a visit to St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican (open, but the related museums are closed). The line was very long but we eventually got inside. St. Peter’s was still decorated for Christmas and it had a really interesting nativity scene with animatronics…
Our trip ended with a meal at a restaurant near Piazza de Navona and an early morning wake up call for our plane back to New York. SAD.
How We Got To Rome & Around
As many of you know, the week between Christmas and the New Year is one of the busiest weeks of the entire year to travel. We booked our flights with Norwegian Air back in March 2019 and got them for about $600 RT (but in Chase points), from Newark to Rome Fumincino. We did have a tiny hiccup when Norwegian delayed our flight home by one day but since we booked with Chase, they ultimately ended up putting us on another United flight that left on our original departure date (at a an obscene cost, but hey, they paid!). If you are planning a trip during this time, I recommend booking as early as possible to get the best deal.
Since we stayed in Rome the entire trip, we walked almost everywhere and occasionally took an Uber.
Where We Stayed
We stayed in Le Méridien Visconti in the Prati neighborhood of Rome, very close to the Vatican and right around the corner from Italy’s Supreme Court (can you tell I did a law school study abroad here?). We stayed here because it was free on points and we have status at the hotel, but the hotel was quite nice. Due to our status, we received complimentary breakfast each morning, which was amazing the first morning but seemed completely overwhelmed the remaining days. And I’m talking tons of missing food, a lack of clean plates and cutlery and even coffee cups, and almost no seats. I would definitely think twice (or check the status) before paying to eat breakfast here.
Tips & Tricks for Visiting Rome between Christmas and New Year’s Day
1. Make advance reservations for any “must do” activity or visit. This is true for Rome year-round, but especially during the holidays.
2.On that note, check restaurant hours during this week. While most are open, some will keep shorter hours or close for a day or two.
3. Rome is usually less busy in the winter, but the week between Christmas and the New Year is most certainly high season.
4. Christmas decorations will still be up.
5. Settle your New Year’s Eve plans before New Year’s Eve, even if you are not making a reservation. Don’t go out on the most crowded night without a plan.
6. A lot of museums and paid sites are closed on New Year’s Day. Use this day to see Rome’s many, many free outdoor sights. You will not have trouble finding a place to eat.
7. And, sleep in on New Year’s Day (or get up early to beat the tourists to Rome’s free sights). Nothing really opens until about 11h. After 11h, however, is often business as normal, with most bars and restaurants open normal evening hours (always confirm before setting your heart on something).
8. Wear layers. The sun is really warm during the day, but cooler at night.
9. Be careful with drinking in public. Rome is cracking down on it and its now illegal in some areas. A big difference from my time there in 2008!
STEAL OUR TRIP
Le Méridien Visconti: Via Federico Cesi, 37, 00193 Roma RM, Italy. Close to the Vatican and the Italian Supreme Court. If visiting over NYE, book their NYE party in early to mid December.
Roscioli: Via dei Giubbonari, 21/22, 00186 Roma RM, Italy. Closed Sunday. Open Monday – Sunday, 12h30 – 16h, 19h – 00h. Reservations almost mandatory and can be made here. There are several options of “where to sit” in Roscioli. All areas serve the same menu prepared by the same kitchen. Casual but more upscale than the other restaurants we visited.
Roma Sparita: Piazza di Santa Cecilia, 24, 00153 Roma RM, Italy. 12h30 – 14h30, 19h30 – 12h. Closed for 2 weeks every August. Recommended to reserve in advance here. or by calling +39 06 580 0757. Casual attire.
Eating Italy: We took the Taste of Testaccio Tour at a cost of 79 euros per person. Eating Italy offers a lot of tour options in Rome and Florence. Book in advance, as the tours are all small and they fill up.
Rome 500 Experience: We did the tour with a wine tasting and a driver.
Sermoneta Gloves: Piazza di Spagna, 61, 00187 Roma RM, Italy. Open daily 10 – 19h30. Much, much less expensive in Italy than New York.
L’Angolo Davino Enoteca: Via dei Balestrari, 12, 00186 Roma RM, Italy. Open Tuesday – Saturday 11 – 15h, 17h – 00h30, until 1h00 on Friday and Saturday. Sunday, 17h – 00h30. Monday, 5h – 00h. Reservations probably not required. Casual attire.
Miraggio Restaurant Pizzeria: Via della Lungara, 16A, 00165 Roma RM, Italy. Open daily 11h30 – 15h, 19h – 23h, not open until 12h45 on Sunday. This is the place for the fried Nutella balls! Casual.
Maccheroni: Piazza delle Coppelle, 44, 00186 Roma RM, Italy. Our last meal; not bad in a touristy part at home. Open 12h30 – 15h, 19h – 23h30. Reservations probably not required. Casual.
Caramella: Vicolo Del Cinque, 31 – 00153 – Rome. Open daily 10 – 2h. Casual pizzeria in Trastevere. Lots of young people and students.