Although less popular, Rome in winter is no less worthwhile. In fact, some would say that the smaller crowds and lower prices make it the best time to visit. Here are just five of the many reasons why it’s worth spending winter in Rome.
Winter in Rome sees an unbelievable dip in tourist numbers – not great news for airlines, hoteliers or tour agencies (boo!) but fantastic news for you. Queues are shorter around this time, museums less busy and restaurant reservations are easier to come by if necessary at all.
Winter is by far the best time to visit the Vatican Museums, where you’ll cover a lot more ground than you can during more crowded times. That said, with around six million visitors in 2013, queues into the Vatican Museums can still appear with the arrival of a cruise ship or just at random. Regardless of what time of year you visit we always recommend opting for No Wait Access – our small group Semi-Private Vatican Tour enters the Museum 45 minutes before the general public, giving you a fantastic chance of finding many of the rooms virtually empty, things to do in Rome in winter.
Winter is also a fantastic time to opt for activities that wouldn’t typically have availability. From our own experience, our Vatican VIP Tour books up months in advance during the summer but is often available in the weeks before our winter tours. The same goes for our special access Colosseum Underground Tour. With a limited number of spaces, this tour offering access to the Colosseum underground, arena floor, and third tier is much easier to book during winter in Rome.
You’ll also find more elbow space at The Papal Audience which, since the election of Pope Francis I, was regularly attracting crowds upwards of 80,000 during the warmer summer months. Colder conditions and fewer visitors mean we’ll be able to secure you an even better spot from where you can see the Pope. But don’t worry, we won’t leave you out in the cold – during bad weather the audience is held inside in the Papal Auditorium (it has better acoustics than St. Peter’s Basilica too!).
This is the obvious one because as everyone knows, travel during the summer months and especially around school vacation times and Easter can be teeth-achingly expensive due to high demand. Off-season travel, on the other hand, can be quite reasonably priced. If you’re coming from the US one of your most significant costs is sure to be flights, the price of which can be as little as half during unpopular months like November or January compared to their high season counterparts.
Accommodation is another area you’ll make significant savings in during the winter in Rome, with many hotels offering deals as occupancy levels slump. The same goes for self-service apartments. Those looking for the latter should check out Air BnB which has a vast array of central flats.
No, not cool in a moped-riding, cigarette-smoking bad boy kind of way – cooler in a temperate sense. While I'm aware that usually colder weather isn’t something you look for in a holiday destination when it’s hot in Rome it’s as hot as the gates of hell. It’s sweaty, dehydrating and physically exhausting (and that’s before you get onto public transport) so for some travelers, it makes more sense to travel Rome in winter. January is traditionally the coldest month of the year, but with average lows of 4°c and highs of 13°c, it’s nowhere near as severe as other European cities like Budapest or any of the Scandinavian countries at the same time. The weather in October is often as high as 22°c dipping to a light-jumper temperature of 17°c in November. Plus Rome gets comparatively little rain and snow so outdoor activities such as visiting the Colosseum and the Roman Forum (as on our Colosseum Group Tour are comfortable year-round.)
Romans aren’t ones for the cold; they’re much more sun and sand types, so during winter most of the city’s inhabitants will be spending their time inside rather than out. Families and friends will stake out the trattorias and Osteria’s of their neighborhoods for long hours of eating, drinking and lively chatter. That makes it pretty easy to pick the best local restaurants and bars when you’re passing by. Coming out of the cold(ish) and into one of these cozy spots for a glass of red wine or a cup of hot chocolate and a big bowl of pasta is one of life’s great pleasures. And with fewer customers the service is always more relaxed too so take your time over your food. Give in to temptation and stay for another glass of wine, the Eternal City will be there in an hour or two.
There are few places in the world that celebrate Christmas (or any religious occasion for that matter) with such gusto as Italy. The festivities in Florence kick off as early as the end of November when Florence Noel gets everyone in the mood. Back in Rome, there will be Christmas markets across the city, and local parishes will be hosting any number of nativity plays (usually acted out by the kids in the congregation) and beautiful choir performances of religious and seasonal music.
Recommended tours for winter in Rome
You’d be surprised by how well the Roman Catacombs hold their temperature. Cool during the summer and warm at winter, these underground tunnels are the perfect way to spend a cold afternoon. Our Crypts & Catacombs Tour visits the Catacombs as well as Basilica San Clemente and the eerie Capuchin ‘Bone Chapel’. And we include transfers by bus, so it’s weather-proof.
The Borghese Gallery & Gardens is another of those spots that can be difficult to access during busier periods since tickets have to be reserved in advance. Spend a few cozy hours exploring the artworks of Caravaggio, Bernini, and Canova before a brisk walk around the stunning gardens.
As mentioned, just about anything in the Vatican is a good bet for bad weather days. Check out our full listing of Vatican tours.