Rome Travel Guide

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Tuesday, December 18, 2018

See, Eat, Listen, Shop, Pray, Watch - Rome at Christmas and New Year's

RST is pleased to welcome back (her last post was in 2014, using her Etruscan specialty) guest blogger Theresa Potenza.  Based in Rome, Potenza is an art historian and freelance writer.  To learn more about her private tours of Rome and read her travel and feature stories about Italy, check out:

There is no better place to be than Rome during the holidays.  A city that is eternally enchanting becomes even more so during the magic of Christmastime. Whether you want to shop, eat, pray, or witness the great spectacles of holiday cheer, here is a list of what to do and where as 2018 comes to a close.


Picasso's sculpture in the Galleria Borghese.
A special treat just this year at the Borghese Gallery, one of Rome’s most important attractions, is an exhibition of the work of Pablo Picasso. The exhibition is a rare opportunity to see Picasso’s sculptural work. It is worth a trip to Rome just to experience over 50 of his three-dimensional works, displayed in the setting of a Baroque villa and surrounded by antiquities. The exhibit runs through February 3 and must be booked in advance.

For other main attractions, most museums and archaeological sites stay open through the holiday season, closing only on Christmas Day. The Vatican, however, is closed both the 25th and 26th.  All sites are free the last Sunday of every month; so you can enjoy entrance to the Coliseum, the Vatican, and other major sites free of charge on Sunday December 29th (although you might be fighting crowds then).


Roasted lamb with potatoes.
Many restaurants offer a fixed menu on the holidays, which is a great opportunity to taste the local holiday traditions of Rome. Try Hosteria Grappolo D’Oro or Ditirambo in the historic and lively Campo de' Fiori neighborhood.  Their fixed menus on Christmas day feature an abundant lunch including baccalà mouse, tortellini, and roasted lamb, while the Christmas Eve dinner menu includes pasta with shrimp ragu, pumpkin crepes, and fish fillet. All are served with local wines and traditional desserts.

Campagna Amica market, on via di San Teodoro,
behind the Campidoglio (Capitoline Hill) and near
Circus Maximus.
If you are cooking for yourselves, for food shopping try the Campagna Amica market on Via di San Teodoro near the Circus Maximus. It is open only on weekends and will be bustling with activity the weekend before Christmas. The market is part of the 0-km initiative (in the U.S., we’d say “locavore”), which supports local producers. Everything at the market is produced in Central Italy and is seasonal. It's a great place to stock up on fresh fish and meats if you’d like to cook a holiday meal at home, or to collect local cheeses, honey, wine, craft beer, and other homemade items to bring home as gifts.


With its Christmas fair and live concerts, the Auditorium Parco della Musica is the place to be. Their Gospel Festival running from December 21st to December 31st is the most important gospel festival in Europe, presenting some of the best gospel artists from the United States. For a program of events, see their website,

Ice-skating at Parco della Musica.
The Auditorium also becomes a winter wonderland from the feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8th to the Epiphany on January 6th, with an ice-skating rink and Santa Claus!

At 5 p.m. Thursday, December 20th, the Chorus from the University of Tor Vergata will give a Chrismtas concert of traditional songs at the Biblioteca Nazionale (Metro B).

If you’re interested in a day trip, Orvieto is a perfect idea, just 2 hours by train from Rome. From December 28th through January 1st the hilltop medieval town will be host to one of the world’s most famous music festivals, Umbria Jazz - Winter, celebrating its 45th year. Past performers include Miles Davis, Sting, Chet Baker and BB King. This year there will be street parades, and a mixing of food with music with many places featuring live concerts over lunch or dinner, highlighting the local cuisine and a variety of jazz sounds including soul, funk, classical, and swing. For a program of events see their website,
Orvieto Winter Jazz


One of the world’s most creative urban markets expands to 2 levels at Christmastime. Mercato Monti, open on weekends from 10am-8pm, is laden with products, all made in Italy. The market features local, young and creative artisans, designers and innovators showcasing their handmade jewelry, leather goods, shoes, clothes and beauty supplies. Located in Rome’s “hipster” neighborhood, which also happens to be the city’s oldest, makes it the best platform for "Made in Italy." The motto of Mercato Monti is “emancipate yourself from ordinary shopping,” which is perfect advice at Christmastime. 


It always surprises me how solemn and peaceful Rome can be amid the city’s hustle and bustle. It should be no surprise, however, that the Vatican is impressive at Christmastime. Its life-size nativity scene in St. Peter’s Square this year is uniquely made out of sand, from a beach in Venice. And its decorated tree from Northern Italy is an impressive 23m (75 feet) tall. In addition to information on their Christmas Eve and Christmas Day masses and New Year’s Eve Te Deum prayer and vespers, you can find out about Vatican celebrations and Papal audiences during the holiday period online at the Vatican website, www.vatican.vaunder the category of the prefecture of the Papal household.

One of the presepe or Nativity scenes on via della Conciliazione.
While at the Vatican, you will want to check out the 100 Nativity Sets exhibition on Via della Conciliazione, where Sala San Pio X will host nearly 200 (ironically) nativity sets from around the world, such as traditional Neapolitan and Sicilian wooden-crafted creches, to modern techniques using sand, terracotta, and even pasta! These creches are artisan wonders, and some are even life-size.

Several churches in Rome offer masses and music in English, which you can celebrate in a variety of ways, such as traditional midnight mass, carol service, and children’s pageants. Among the primary English language churches are All Saints' Anglican Church, St. Paul’s Within the Walls Episcopal Church and St. Patrick’s American Roman Catholic Church.
Concert at St. Paul's Within the Walls Episcopal Church.

Because Rome is a world capital, it's a great place to celebrate New Year's Eve.  This year on New Year's Eve Rome is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the first lunar landing with 24 hours of events.  In the Circus Maximus starting at 9 p.m. there will be a free outdoor event, a mix of "moon inspired" performers such as dancers, acrobats and an orchestra, culminating in a fireworks display at midnight.  Another option is to ring in the New Year at the Baroque masterpiece fountain called "Il Fontanone" on the Janiculum Hill overlooking the city--a magical experience (and inexpensive).

And while most tourist sites may be closed on New Year's Day, hundreds of performers will continue the celebration throughout New Years's Day around the Aventine Hill and Tiber Island.  Also on New Year's day, check out the parade of American marching bands that will perform throughout the city's historic center.  The parade starts at 3:30 p.m. in Piazza del Popolo and lasts 2 and a half hours.  Street performers, American high school marching bands and Italian folk singers will turn the Spanish Steps and surrounding area into their stage!

Theresa Potenza

P.S. For thumbnail descriptions of Christmas markets in Northern Italy, see Dianne Hales's post:

Monday, December 10, 2018

"Smucinate," and other Signs of Shopping in Rome

Tourist citations of inept menu descriptions or botched foreign language translations are standard fare.  And we are not immune to enjoying the signs of petty capitalism (though we do avoid posting on menu infelicities).  Below, some of our favorite ones from this year.

You won't find this word in an Italian-English dictionary, but you will find at least some definitions of "smucinare"
 in a good Italian dictionary.  Here - at this mixed items stall in a street market - it means "Rummage at will." 
Apparently "smucinare" has some other meanings that aren't appropriate for a family blog.

The sign that accompanies these Zippo reading glasses (a good buy in Rome - about Euro 5 each, and they have 3.0s) mashes English and Italian, of course, and uses the classic Italian phrase "Buon..." whatever (as in "buon apetito," "buon giorno," "buon natale") translated - as it sometimes can be - to "happy," and "vista" = sight.  So, Happy Sight!
I also like the colors of the glasses and their cases, of which I now own a few.

This sign is appealing for its play on the Italian verb, to walk or to take
a walk, "camminare."  It's done here with an Indian style writing
and also an Indian-like spelling that ends up sounding the same
as "camminare."  And, of course, it's the name of a - in English-
tour operator.

Can't resist this one - "Torno subito" - or "Back soon."
To which our usual response is, "yeah, sure."

What I like about this photo is the services offered by a more-or-less permanent
street stand.  The hand-printed sign at left (and see below) basically says "we deliver."
  I had a nice chat with the owner - from whom I bought only a bottle of water. 
He was fascinated to know where we were from (we were in the Africano quarter,
which doesn't host a lot of tourists; it's name comes from the street names, which were
created when Italy was in the process of conquering - or failing to conquer - north Africa;
streets such as Somalia and Libia); the shop owner was an immigrant, obviously hard-working.

And then marijuana comes to Rome: