This Christmas I was fortunate enough to visit my brother and sister-in-law in Rome, Italy. My sister-in-law was awarded the Rome Prize this year, which means they had the opportunity to live at the American Academy of Rome for a year. This is a spectacular villa located in the neighborhood of Trastevere, up on a hill overlooking all of Rome. This villa, called The Villa Aurelia, was originally built around 1650 for Cardinal Girolamo Farnese. The rest of the family stayed in an awesome Airbnb, located right outside the city walls. Airbnb’s are really the cheapest, best option when traveling abroad, especially with larger groups.
Front of the villa
The back of the villa
Back of the villa
Courtyard of the villaEntranceView of Rome
Rome at Christmas can be chilly but is a great time to visit because there a fewer crowds at all the main sites. One thing to be prepared for, which is always something to consider in Rome, is their holidays. The shops and museums will generally be open with the exception of Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, the day after Christmas (Santo Stefano), New Years’ Day, and the Epiphany on January 6th. On Christmas Eve many Roman families are at home enjoying their Feast of the Seven Seas rather than going out. The Feast of the Seven Seas is a Roman Catholic tradition and in Rome, typically includes eel, anchovies, mussels, and other seafood. We actually stopped off to pick up our own Christmas Eve fish dinner at the local Prati market.
Prati is a great neighborhood, which borders the Vatican City. This would be a great place to stay in Rome because it’s a little outside of the city center and much less touristy. Christmas Day you should definitely book restaurants reservations for Christmas lunch beforehand because Romans traditionally go out for a big meal in the afternoon.
Some fun things to do in Rome leading up to Christmas include visiting the Vatican Museum, St. Peters Square on Christmas Day at noon where the Pope delivers his Urbi et Orbi speech, going to Piazza Navona (although the Christmas market was canceled this year), and watch the symphony at Rome’s Auditorium, where there is also a Christmas village and ice skating rink set up for the holiday season. On the day after Christmas, called Santo Stefano, make sure to go to visit various churches to see the presepio, which are nativity scenes. While the presepio are up all of December, on this day the baby Jesus is unveiled for the first time.
Saint Peters Square
Now let’s talk food. There’s nothing better than the food in Italy. Traditional Roman pasta dishes include spaghetti cacio e pepe at Osteria del Sostengo, bucatini all’amatriciana at La Torricella, and spaghetti all carbonara at Antico Arco.
Aside from pasta, other notable food includes carciofi (either prepared Roman-style which is steamed or Jewish-style which is fried), puntarelle (bitter greens), and trippa all romana (tripe).