11 things to do in Rome in January

January is a very special month: festivals, fireworks and Christmas villages turn it into a fairytale metropolis. Take note of these plans for the new year

Nuria Rozas

Nuria Rozas

10 min read

11 things to do in Rome in January

Snow in the Roman Colosseum | © Stefano Costantini

New year, new life. Or so they say, right? We have 365 days ahead of us to fulfil our dreams. For example, January is a good time to set a goal to travel and see all there is to see in Rome, soaking up ancient history through Rome's majestic monuments. Don't let the winter cold stop you in Rome!

During this magical month you can finish enjoying the Christmas season and Rome's Christmas markets, celebrate the New Year in style with fireworks, take advantage of the best sales in one of Europe's fashion capitals and much more. Here's a list of our goals for the New Year in the form of the best plans for you to have the most fun in the city. Here we go!

1. Feel the Pope up close at the Angelus mass

Pope Benedict from the Window prays the Angelus| ©Lawrence OP
Pope Benedict from the Window prays the Angelus| ©Lawrence OP

Whether you're a believer or not, attending a live mass with the Pope will be a legendary experience, one you can tell your grandchildren about. If your trip to the Italian capital coincides with the New Year and you haven't been too seduced by the Roman New Year's Eve, I recommend you get up early to get a seat (it gets very crowded with citizens and visitors) and attend the famous Angelus in St. Peter's Square in the Vatican which takes place at around 12 noon.

One of the things to see and do in the Vatican is to be able to hear the Pope's blessing, if you don't make it to the Angelus because you're up late, don't worry because in this article I'll tell you how, when and where you can see it or even attend the Papal Blessing.

Book tickets for the Papal Audience

2. Let yourself be enveloped by the chilling legends of Rome

Sant'Angelo Bridge| ©Fred Romero
Sant'Angelo Bridge| ©Fred Romero

What better than in the cold of winter to immerse yourself in a ghost tour of Rome. The history of the eternal city has given rise to gruesome legends, and on this one-and-a-half hour tour, an expert guide will fill you in on all of them as you wander through mysterious streets and creepy corners.

An itinerary that will take you past Ponte Sant'Angelo, Ponte Sisto, Piazza del Popolo and Piazza Navona, among other points of interest. Don't hesitate! You will see a vision of Rome you would never have imagined.

Book a Rome Ghosts and Legends Tour

3. Discover the city in comfort with the tourist bus

Rome Sightseeing Bus| ©Ant (ac_1076
Rome Sightseeing Bus| ©Ant (ac_1076

And if you want to get to know the city while escaping from the cold temperatures that characterise this time of the year, don't miss a tour on a sightseeing bus with free stops.

The audio guide of the City Sightseeing bus will let you know what's around you and, from the top floor, you will be able to enjoy a 360º view that will make sure you don't miss any detail. And to make the most of the experience, you'll have a real-time map of the buses, as well as an interactive map with the main monuments.

You also have the option of purchasing a 24, 48 or 72-hour pass, depending on your preferences.

Book your sightseeing bus tour

4. Stroll around the city at your leisure without a car

A Sunday in Rome| ©Richard Clifford
A Sunday in Rome| ©Richard Clifford

Another advantage of travelling to the Eternal City during the winter is that you will have the opportunity to walk around Rome's great monuments in the metropolis without cars on some Sundays (only taxis and those using clean energy can pass through). It is a unique opportunity to get to know the capital on foot in places you would otherwise never have access to.

Rome's aim with this measure is to take care of the environment, to free the city from the gases that big cities suffer from and to allow pedestrians and tourists to enjoy the city to the fullest. You will get a totally different perspective of the Eternal City and even more if you book a guided tour through the streets of Rome!

Book a private tour of Rome

5. Sneak into Rome's museums for free!

Vatican Museum| ©malouette
Vatican Museum| ©malouette

To take shelter from the cold in January, I propose a very economical plan for Sundays, which consists of visiting the museums and the great masterpieces of Raphael, Rubens and Caravaggio for free on the first Sunday of the winter months. What do you think of the idea?

Get up early to get a seat

However, be aware that the most popular museums have huge queues at the gates, where you can be waiting for hours. Especially to visit the Colosseum and to enter Castel Sant'Angelo. I suggest that if you really want to get in, don't gamble and buy them in advance, or be one of the first to arrive.

Take note! Access to the Vatican Museums is also possible on the last Sunday of the month. But being one of the most famous, you'll have to get up even earlier. As the saying goes, the early bird catches the worm.

Here is my list of the best museums in the Eternal City:

Book a guided tour of the Borghese Gallery

6. Find the best bargains in the sales

Make the most of the sales| ©Sam Lion
Make the most of the sales| ©Sam Lion

Rome is undoubtedly a city of film and fashion. Thanks to its elegance and wonderful scenery, reflected in the splendid film 'Roman Holiday', the Italian capital has become one of Europe's favourite cities for shopping lovers.

From the 2nd of January, the long-awaited sales start and it is possible to find some bargains in the fashion streets: via del Corso, via dei Condotti and via del Babuino. I advise you to take a stroll around, contemplating the bohemian air of the buildings and to take advantage of the discounts, some of which are as much as 70 percent off. Leave some room in your suitcase because I assure you that you'll want to hit the shops!

Take note of the best areas to go shopping:

  • Via Condotti, Via Borgognona and Via Frattina: popularly known as the "fashion trident". Here you will find the most luxurious and prestigious shops in the world such as Armani, Versace and Tiffany, among other brands. Even if you don't buy anything, you can admire the wonderful shop windows.
  • Via del Corso: ideal for young people. Take a break at the Alberto Sordi Gallery to have a delicious coffee while you admire the beauty of this wonderful place.
  • Via Ottaviano and Via Cola di Rienzo: with shops for all budgets and pockets. You can recharge your batteries in two temples of taste, Castroni and Franchi, which sell gastronomic specialities from all over the world.

Book an audio-guided tour of Rome on app

7. Tune your ears... and listen to gospel music

Gospel choir| ©Chrissy Cuttita
Gospel choir| ©Chrissy Cuttita

At Christmas time, the city is transformed into a fairytale city with its lights, decorations and traditional sweets. The best part? The special Christmas programme. Until mid-January you can visit the Auditorium Parco della Musica, which hosts a Christmas market, an ice rink and organises more than 50 concerts, shows, a gospel festival and exhibitions. Don't miss it!

One of my favourite things to do was to attend a concert at the Rome Gospel Festival, the most important European gospel event, which features some of the best groups from the US. The show, directed by Mario Ciampà, was born in 1985 and has a long tradition in the country. The voices will make your hair stand on end!

8. Visit a multicultural Christmas village

Piazza Navona Christmas Market| ©Sean Foneill
Piazza Navona Christmas Market| ©Sean Foneill

If you've already fallen in love with Rome's Christmas markets, this is the plan for you. Can you imagine celebrating Christmas in Sydney in 30 degrees Celsius and dressed as a surfer Father Christmas? Or celebrating for 3 months in the Philippines? Travelling to any city at this time of year is like doing it all over again for the first time. If you want to visit almost every metropolis in the world in one day, I suggest you visit the exhibition that reconstructs a Christmas village in the Auditorium Parco della Musica.

Throughout its more than 25,000 square metres, you will discover how this festivity is celebrated in every corner of the world. The Christmas World exhibition immerses you in the Christmas atmospheres, traditions and peculiarities of different countries through its artistic installations, a wonderful journey through different cultures!

Interesting facts about the exhibition 'Christmas World'

  • Where: Parco della Musica Auditorium, Viale Pietro De Coubertin, 30.
  • When: 4 December to 9 January.
  • Price: Tickets from 6 ¤.
  • Opening hours: from 10am to 10pm.

9. Welcome the new year... in style!

Dish of Lentils| ©Alesia Kozik
Dish of Lentils| ©Alesia Kozik

If you spend New Year's Eve in Rome, you will notice that there are no typical grapes. Romans end December 31st in Rome with a hearty dish of lentils with cotechino (ground pork) and their delicious panettone. To celebrate the arrival of the new year, at 12 o'clock sharp, forget the champagne, in Italy they toast exclusively with spumante, which, by the way, is much sweeter. Chinchin!

  • Dance at the 1 January festival: Every year, to welcome the new year, the Eternal City organises a huge festival in the historic centre for 24 hours free of charge, with the participation of a thousand artists, live concerts and more than 100 theatre, cinema, dance and circus performances, among other disciplines.
  • End Christmas with Befana, the Italian Witch Queen: 6 January is a bank holiday in Italy for the Epiphany of the Lord, which celebrates the baptism of Jesus Christ. The night before, a good little witch sneaks into people's homes and leaves presents. She is the Befana, the Italian witch-queen, who has made Father Christmas and the Three Wise Men of the East redundant.
  • Vatican Procession: Also on 6 January, don't miss the Vatican procession with hundreds of people dressed in medieval costumes, riding horses, donkeys and playing drums. Participants in the procession carry symbolic gifts for the Pope, who then performs a mass which you can attend if you opt for a visit to St Peter's Basilica.
  • Let yourself be dazzled by the nativity scenes: Also, if you visit the different churches in Rome, you will find a surprise: the living nativity scenes inside them.

10. Enjoy a good hot chocolate

Enjoying Hot Chocolate| ©Theo Crazzolara
Enjoying Hot Chocolate| ©Theo Crazzolara

It is well known that Rome's ice cream is one of the symbols of Italy. I'm sure some brave person will dare to try it in January, but what about the rest of us? A good way to warm up in winter is to have a delicious hot chocolate.

While wandering the streets of Rome I discovered one of my favourite places to have a cup of cocoa in the Italian capital: an old chocolate factory hidden away in the San Lorenzo neighbourhood, which maintains its old essence but has managed to adapt to the new times. A culinary gem!

And for those with a sweet tooth... Pasta with chocolate!

This is the Said chocolate shop, where you can try some homemade chocolate, have a snack in the afternoon or treat yourself to a tray of pastries. Inside, there is also a restaurant, where they serve curious chocolate-related dishes, such as pasta with pears and chocolate. It sounds strange, but I promise it was delicious.

11. See an open-air farm in Rome

Blessing the animals at the St Anthony Abbot's Day Festival| ©Angel Cantero
Blessing the animals at the St Anthony Abbot's Day Festival| ©Angel Cantero

One of my favourite festivals is on 17 January, St Anthony Abbot's Day, the patron saint of animals, when a special Eucharist is held for them. On that day, in true 'Farmer looking for a wife' style, the Italian Cattle Breeders' Association gathers them all together with their animals in front of St. Peter's Square in Vatican City. An ideal time for a visit to St. Peter's Basilica.

Every year, there is also an exhibition of livestock animals open to the public, where cows, sheep, goats and chickens roam freely, happy to have swapped their landscapes for Rome's historic buildings. At midday, there is a horse show, which delights onlookers and tourists alike with its feats of skill in the streets. This festival is a great way for visitors to experience the country's most authentic traditions.

Temperatures in Rome in January

Enjoying the cold| ©Olya Kobruseva
Enjoying the cold| ©Olya Kobruseva

January is the coldest month of the winter in Rome, yet it is still very bearable. Temperatures range between 3ºC and 12ºC. As well as warm clothes, buy warm socks, hats and T-shirts because you'll need them. However, you can always warm up with a good hot chocolate at any of the Christmas markets.

I would advise you to get up early enough to make the most of all the hours of sunshine. At this time of year the sun rises at around 7.30am and the sun disappears over the horizon at around 5pm, which leaves about 9 hours for sightseeing and activities and to see Rome's majestic monuments.

Nuria's Traveller Tip

If you are travelling to Rome in January, don't forget a small umbrella in your suitcase - it rains on average 7 days a month! Therefore, the probability of getting caught is high.

Prices in Rome in January

Calculating Payment| ©Karolina Grabowska
Calculating Payment| ©Karolina Grabowska

Although it is not the month of choice for the coldest of the cold, the thriftiest of the thrifty are in luck. January is one of the months with the lowest tourist numbers and therefore the lowest prices of the season, both for flights and hotels, so it's easy to find some great bargains! It's also a great time to see everything there is to see in Rome.

Now that you no longer have the excuse that Rome is an expensive city, I recommend that you plan your getaway in advance so that you can get an even better deal. If you've made up your mind to visit the Eternal City as your New Year's resolution, read this guide with the keys to organise your trip to Rome.

Book your Roma Pass and Omnia Card