Family Activities in Rome during the Holiday Season

by Shannon Kenny of ItaliaKids and Elaia Travel

The Christmas holidays are a wonderful time to visit the city of Rome as a family, when the city is adorned festively on what seems like every corner and in every piazza, and the weather is typically still mild. The season in Italy runs from around December 22 to January 6 on the Feast of the Epiphany.

Lucky Italian kids will exchange gifts of sweets and handicrafts with family members and receive a visit from Father Christmas on Christmas Day, when they celebrate by feasting and playing games such as tombola with generations of relatives for good fortune in the New Year, and also on the eve of the Ephiphany, when La Befana, a legendary old lady who rides in on a broom, places treats and gifts in the stockings of good children, and leaves only coal for those who have misbehaved. The La Befana tradition is especially rooted in the history of Lazio, and during the holidays Piazza Navona is transformed into the La Befana Christmas market with lights and decorations, a carousel, and rows of stalls filled with traditional Christmas crafts, ornaments, candied nuts, and typical holiday sweets. Rumor has it La Befana herself occasionally makes an appearance, peering out from a window in the piazza at midnight on January 6…

Another holiday family favorite in Rome is the charming temporary ice rink set up adjacent to the play park next to Castel Sant’Angelo, arguably the best “rink with a view” around. There is also a seasonal outdoor rink at the Parco della Musica, which is transformed into a Christmas Village with music, entertainment, an antique carousel, market stalls, and…of course Santa is there as well. The Christmas markets throughout the city, at Parco della Musica, and in other locales such as the Villa Borghese and Villa Celimontana, play stage to puppet shows and traditional musical performances during the season. Check family event listings on, Wanted in Rome, and In Rome Now for up-to-date information.

In addition to the live Nativity scenes throughout the city, most famously in St. Peter’s Square, which is revealed at midnight on Christmas Eve, Piazza del Popolo hosts an annual show of hundreds of antique Nativity scenes (presepi) at the Sale del Bramante in the Church of Santa Maria del Popolo. Or the kids can make their own Nativity scenes and learn how Rome has celebrated the season since antiquity at the Arte al Sole arts and cultural holiday workshops in English near Piazza Navona while you enjoy some grown-up time shopping or lingering over lunch.

As is the case with almost every season, many of your family’s memories will likely touch on food during your visit. Romans celebrate on Christmas Eve with a simple menu of fried fish and vegetables, and enjoy a long lingering lunch of roast meats the next day. Bakeries are filled with seasonal sweets and golden-hued cakes like panettone, pandoro, and the Roman pangiallo—so make sure to stop by the forno in Campo dei Fiori, not the least for the smell. Every dessert table will also likely be set with a welcoming bowl of juicy mandarins.

On New Year’s Eve the city is itself a spectacle of music, street performance, and fireworks lighting up iconic views in sites that have hosted such revelries for several millennia, a chance for your family to make new memories while experiencing living history through Roman traditions of celebration.

About the Author
Shannon Kenny is Editor-in-Chief of, an online resource for families traveling in Italy, Director of the children’s cultural program Arte al Sole, with 6 locations in Italy, and Founding Partner of Elaia Travel, a specialty travel concierge with expertise in family travel to Europe.

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