The holiday spirit in Rome is a cheerful one – all streets, from the palace-lined to the nooks and crannies are usually donned with twinkling garlands, boughs and bows of all sorts, and signs sporting Buon Natale and Buone Feste (Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays). There’s a kind of retro flare to the Eternal City during Christmastime, and it’s one that shouldn’t be missed.
On the other side of the river in the quaint Trastevere neighborhood of Rome, the spirit of Christmas is just as abundant. The narrow streets and ivy-covered buildings (leafless in the winter) make for a charming backdrop to the twinkling lights, Christmas trees, nativity scenes (called Presepe in Italian), and street vendors roasting chestnuts and pouring mulled wine.
During the height of the Roman empire, Trastevere (which translates to “across the Tiber River”) was considered countryside and housed both humble dwellings for those who worked along the banks of the river as well as countryside villas for wealthy Roman noblemen. This was also due to the lack of connection since up until the Middle Ages there was only one bridge that crossed the river. Over the centuries as more bridges were constructed during the Renaissance and Baroque periods, the area developed as a working class village where the people maintained their separate identity not just as Romans but as Trasteverini. Today it represents a different face to the city, one that is more provincial and humble with a charm all of its own.
If you’ll celebrate Christmas in Rome, check out Trastevere as a place to stay and things to do, such as the Presepe at Santa Maria in Trastevere, the Museo di Roma a Trastevere, as well as the colorful market scene and vibrant nightlife.
Visit the Presepe at Santa Maria in Trastevere Church
Before the northern European tradition of the Christmas Tree took over (first in the US and now in Italy), Italians decorated their homes with ornate nativity scenes, or Presepe. Every church proudly displays their own collection of miniature or life-size version of the story, with Joseph, Mary and Jesus, three wise men and an assortment of animals and, often, village people. A self-guided tour of the presepi di Roma is an annual tradition for most Roman families, many of whom left living in the center of the city decades ago but use the opportunity to return to their childhood homestead and visit the churches in their neighborhood.
In Trastevere the most important church is the beautiful Santa Maria in Trastevere and one of the oldest in Rome. The original floorplan dates back to the 340s AD, and most of the structure from the 1140s. It’s a Minor Basilica, which places it among the most important churches in the city. Architecturally, the interior features stunning mosaics and pavements, a gilded coffer ceiling overhead and ornate alter and apse. The exterior facade, recently cleaned and restored to its former glory, features a mosaic from the 1200s of the Madonna nursing Jesus, flanked by 10 women holding lamps.
The History of Rome in Trastevere
Tucked away in Piazza Sant’Egidio in Trastevere, there’s a small museum of the history of Rome, Museo di Roma a Trastevere. A member of the city of Rome’s circuit of city-run museums, the museum contains a rotating collection of paintings that represent Rome – and especially bucolic scenes of Trastevere when it was still a countryside – in the 18th and 19th centuries.
On a chilly winter day in Rome, step in the museum to warm your toes and admire the works. If you’ve purchase a RomaPass, this museum participates as part of the municipal museums included.
Visit the Market in Piazza San Cosimato
No visit to Rome is complete without a trip to one of its famous open air markets, and the market at Piazza San Cosimato is one of the best. The market takes place every day from 6:30am to 2:30pm, except on Sundays. You’ll find local vegetable vendors at the stalls in the center of the piazza and local fish, meat and cheese vendors along the perimeter.
Hike to the lookout on the Janiculum Hill
If it’s not too chilly, or as a way to warm up, go for a walk up the Janiculum Hill (also known as Gianicolo). At the top you’ll find a large open space with a statue of Garibaldi in the center. From here you’re treated to a vast view of Rome and all of her most celebrated monuments. Look for the dome of St. Peter’s, the Pantheon, the Altare della Patria in Piazza Venezia, the Quirinal Palace, and the Chiesa di Trinità dei Monti perched atop the Spanish Steps. It’s the perfect place to steal a kiss from your significant other or take the epic Christmas selfie you were hoping for. (If you’re one of our guests and you take a photo from up here, tag us on Instagram for a chance to be featured!)
A Mexican Christmas
While Trastevere is full of great places for beer and cocktails, it’s also overrun with plenty of lower quality, tourist-trap-type restaurants and bars. Many students visiting the city for a few months find themselves staying out late in Trastevere, which has also given this part of the city a bit of a reputation. Nevertheless, there are still great places for eating and drinking. One new entry on the scene is La Punta Expendio de Agave (Facebook | Via di Santa Cecilia 8). High quality tequila- and mezcal-based drinks fill the creative cocktail menu as well as a (pricey) food menu of tacos and other Mexican favorites. The Romans behind the concept are the same behind the famed Jerry Thomas Project Speakeasy and Freni e Frizioni, another Trastevere staple for late-night food and drink.
Stay in Trastevere
Rome Accommodation manages several vacation rentals in the heart of Trastevere. Experience Rome like a local and stay in a comfortable vacation rental with all the charm of a typical Roman home but with all the modern conveniences. The AP25 Gianicolo Apartment by Rome Accommodation can host up to 8 guests in 3 bedrooms and 2 baths. Enjoy breakfast on a small private terrace off one of the bedrooms or gather together as a family in the living room for dinner and a movie night at home.
For a weekend getaway to Rome, stay at AP50 Trastevere Vacation Apartment that features 1 bedroom and a pull-out sofa in the living room, perfect for a couple or two couples. Located on the first floor above the ground level in a historic palazzo overlooking a charming piazza in Trastevere, the typical Roman home offers the real experience of living in this vibrant part of the city.
Have you visited and stayed in Trastevere? Share your experience in the comments below!