Rome in winter is absolutely magical. So magical in fact, that despite the fact that I’m no fan of the cold, my favourite time to visit is in the quieter, chillier months of the year. The atmosphere is captivating, the temperature rather on the icy side, and the city feels like a living working place, instead of just a spectacle for the tourists. Here are my top tips for visiting Rome in winter.
Rome in Winter can still be cold
Don’t let the fact that this is in Italy fool you.
Winter in Rome is far milder than up in the North of Europe, but that doesn’t mean you won’t need to wrap up warm. January and February are generally the coldest months of the year, although it’s rare for temperatures to drop below freezing. (If it starts to snow while you’re in Rome, get outside and make the most of that opportunity because it’s a rare occurrence!)
Although I’ve experienced some sunny winter days here (especially in February as spring begins to creep in), it’d still be crazy not to bring all the layers with you when packing for a winter trip in the ancient city. I’ve been extremely lucky with some super sunny days during winter in Rome, but word on the grapevine is that winter is also the soggiest time of year. Don’t forget your waterproofs, pals.
Even when it’s chilly, the best way to see Rome is on foot, and at your own pace
Once you’ve donned your layers, get ready to wander for hours. Because there is so much to see.
Rome really is like one massive archaeological dig. Although buildings like the Colosseum have been visible for centuries, there are other parts of the city which are only just being discovered. Whenever you round a corner there’s a strong chance you’ll be met with a view of the foundations of an ancient building. You don’t want to miss out on too much of that by being underground on a Metro, or restricted to the route of a tour bus. It just isn’t right.
Beautiful buildings aside, Rome is the perfect city for people-watching. Watch nuns bustling back and forth around the Vatican, couples taking photographs in front of the Trevi Fountain, and old people on their way in and out of bakeries, papers tucked skilfully under one arm. Don’t get me wrong, there are some incredible sights to see in Rome, but if you just dart from one attraction to the next as quickly as possible, you run the risk of missing the best bits.
How to use public transport in Rome
However. If it’s a really rainy day, or you’ve had enough of wandering in the freezing cold- Rome’s public transport network is extensive, cheap, and easy to use.
A single ticket covering all metro, bus and tram rides within 100 minutes costs €1.50, or a 24 hour ticket costs €7.50. There are no different zone tariffs to take into consideration, and ticket machines are at pretty much every station and stop. All metro lines meet in the middle of the city at Rome Termini, which is also where the Leonardo Express runs to Rome Fiumicini airport, and other trains run to the rest of Italy. In order to reach Rome’s second airport- Ciampino- you’ll need to take an airport bus, which also runs from Termini.
Tip: If you’re getting a train at Rome Termini, this station is massive and some of the platforms seem quite tucked away from the others. Allow plenty of time to find your platform and don’t forget to validate your ticket by stamping it in one of the machines.
Did you know that Rome has a port? Exploring Civitavecchia, the ‘Gateway to Rome’
Rome is much quieter in winter
But it’ still wise to plan your timings right if you want to see the popular attractions. Towards the middle of the day the queues for places like the Colosseum and St Peter’s Basilica can still be lengthy. If you’re dead set on seeing one of these I’d suggest getting there for early morning or late afternoon, when queues are almost non-existent.
Entry to St Peter’s Basilica is free. Entry for the Colosseum and the Palatine Hill is €18 for a 24 hour ticket. (Don’t be tricked into paying extortionate rates by the ticket touts outside.)
Here’s what happened when I visited the Vatican at Christmas: That Time I Got Kicked Out of a Country
How to order a coffee in Rome
On a chilly winter’s day in Rome, there’s nothing better than stepping into the warm glow of a coffee shop with steamy windows to warm your hands on a cup of super-strong coffee.
But before you go ahead and order a coffee, consider that coffee in Italy is different to coffee anywhere else. Often, the price for standing at the bar to down your espresso is cheaper than choosing to sit. Locals tend to stand, but it’s also completely fine to sit down and take your time. And don’t even think about ordering a latte, unless you literally just want a cup of milk. Because that’s literally what a latte is.
Coffee culture elsewhere in Europe: 7 Places to Grab a Coffee in Hamburg (Which Aren’t Starbucks)
If you’re from the US, a word of warning. Coffee in Europe is generally served in much smaller cups than stateside. (It also tastes much better, especially in Italy, let’s face it )
Tazza d’oro is a coffee shop (and absolute institution) right opposite the Pantheon which serves great coffee with an equally great view. Sit outside for the ultimate people-watching experience, but be prepared for it to get busy. Giufà is a small and deliciously cozy independent bookshop with an adjoining cafe. And if you’re after a coffee shop to work in (which isn’t really the done thing in Rome, I’ll be honest), head to Anticafé. This amazing startup is more of an unofficial coworking space with great coffee and almost as great wifi. You’ll be charged €6 per hour and get a beautiful workspace and endless coffee and snacks in return.
What to do on a rainy day in Rome
Rome is fit to burst with amazing museums to peruse on a rainy day. The beautiful Capitoline Museum houses the original bronze statue of Romulus and Remus- Rome’s raised-by-wolves founders. There’s also a rooftop cafe onsite with an incredible view of the city’s rooftops. The Palazzo Doria Pamphilj is like a miniature Versailles. Not only is it home to a ginormous collection of art, but the palace’s stunning halls and rooms are absolutely exquisite.
For something completely different (and downright weird), head to the Museo Cappuccini Via Veneto. Unfortunately it has absolutely nothing to do with cappuccinos; this is a crypt decorated with actual bones. There’s even a chandelier made entirely of pelvises.
And strangely, one of the best ways to spend a rainy day in Rome- in my humble opinion- is to visit the Pantheon. Which actually has a massive hole in the roof. There’s something about seeing rain pour directly into a building which is both beautiful and baffling. The Pantheon is an ancient Roman temple which later became a Catholic church, and whatever the weather it’s worth a visit.
Accomodation is significantly cheaper during winter
Obviously if you’re visiting Rome in winter, you’ll need a warm place to lay your weary head. At the budget end of the scale, YellowSquare Rome is a great hostel with dorms from €16.98 and private rooms available from around €60 per night. The hostel is near Termini station and also has a bar, coworking space and food served until 11pm every evening; this is a place for the sociable travellers, for sure.
Hotel Mancino 12 is in an incredible location right next to the Trevi Fountain, and has plenty of spacious modern rooms to choose from. Prices start from around €81 per night. In a similarly great location- near the Spanish Steps- but slightly pricier is the Charme Spagna Boutique Hotel. This boutique hotel is less modern but more elegant, and is a great option if you want more of a classic Roman holiday experience. And if you’re after a hotel with an amazing rooftop bar, try the Monti Palace Hotel near the Colosseum.
For those more open to doing their own thing and living as much like a local as possible, there are plenty of Airbnbs in Rome to choose from. I loved my stay in this apartment near the Colosseum. Tucked away in an old building on a side street, it’s airy and spacious, equipped with everything you need for a few days stay and in a brilliant location.
Don’t forget about Trastevere
I love Trastevere. Even though more and more visitors to Rome are cottoning on to Trastevere’s romantic appeal, it remains a living, breathing neighbourhood as opposed to a tourist trap. On the other side of the River Tiber to the city centre, Trastevere is filled with winding lanes, buildings draped in ivy cloaks, and tiny squares which appear as if by magic. For the slow traveller, Trastevere is the perfect neighbourhood to explore and observe. Even in winter.
The Piazza de Santa Maria is at the epicentre of Trastevere, overlooked by the Basilica de Santa Maria; pretty on the outside, and resplendent within, this church is well worth a snoop around. If you’re looking for a bohemian alternative to staying in the city centre, Trastevere is only about 20 minutes away on foot.
Winter sun in Rome is beautiful
I can’t pinpoint exactly why, but the winter light in Rome is absolutely beautiful. Even on days when the sky is pitch black with rainclouds, the sun can find a way to poke through underneath it all and bathe the city in a dramatic golden glow against the gloom. The buildings almost sparkle.
Maybe it’s something to do with the autumnal colours of the buildings- burnt oranges and browns with reddish rooftops- on a crisp winters day the view of the city from up high is breathtaking. Il Vittoriano, the ginormous neo-classical monument on Piazza Venezia, is a brilliant spot to easily get a great view. (And the sheer size of the monument’s white walls and pillars also make it quite a spectacle in the winter sunshine.)
So. If you enjoy rambling down city streets taking photos of everything you see, winter in Rome is ideal for the light alone.
Another incredible Italian gem: A Winter’s Day in Florence
What to eat during winter in Rome
Somehow it’s a lot easier to devour platefuls of carbs in the winter, don’t you think? Roman pizza is thin and crispy (not like in Naples, where it was invented), and considered the number one street food in the city. For a truly Roman pasta dish, order pasta cacio e pepe or pasta carbonara.
(Also let this be known- a true Roman carbonara should involve ZERO cream.)
At the top of the list of Roman cuisine in winter is artichokes. Or carciofi, if you want to get Italian about it. Fried, stewed or raw, artichokes are a winter staple- and carciofi all Romana (whole artichokes simmered in oil and herbs) is delicious. Although you might find it on the menu year-round, winter and early spring is when artichokes are actually in season, and taste so much better. Chicory is another vegetable which comes into season in winter and works its way onto menus across the city. Delicious.
Supplì are the perfect snack to tuck into in winter (and easier to eat on the go than the by-the-slice pizza). The ultimate Roman street food, these are fried balls of rice in a tomatoey-meaty sauce; right in the centre is a gooey ball of mozzarella. Sticking with street food to warm your hands and stomach, porchetta- roast pork- is a staple filling for sandwiches on the streets of Rome. And it’s blooming amazing I tell you.
I’m not averse to visiting Rome at any time of year. But there’s something uniquely beautiful about Rome in winter, without a shadow of a doubt. Have you been to Rome in the winter months? Is there anything I’ve left off this list, or do you have a different favourite season for taking. trip to the Italian capital?
Don’t miss out on all the latest tips and tales- sign up on the double, my friends!