If you are planning a trip to Rome in January, you'll be visiting the city as it goes into a bit of a post-Christmas lull. Still, there are several important festivals and events to attend in the Eternal City in January, and you'll find fewer crowds, cheaper hotel rooms and a relaxed atmosphere – other than on New Year's Eve, of course!
Temperatures can be quite cold in Rome in January, though snow is a rare event. Be prepared by packing and dressing in layers, and be sure to bring a warm coat, a scarf, a hat, and gloves.
Experience these events, and also take part in some other activities that are ideal this time of year. To get your wintry weather fix in the Eternal City, head to the temporary, outdoor ice rink at Auditorium Parco della Musica, just north of the city center in the Flaminio neighborhood. There is sometimes a rink open at Castel Sant'Angelo, but it is difficult to confirm this from year to year. If you're lucky enough to find the rink open when you wander past on your back or forth from the Vatican, strap on some skates and show off your skills!
And use this time of year to check out some museums. In the post-Christmas calm that falls over Rome in January, you may find that you've got some of the city's top museums practically all to yourself – or, at least, with far fewer visitors than during other parts of the year. When the weather outside is cold or dreary, it's a perfect opportunity to take your time (and stay warm) indoors, admiring some of the masterpieces of Rome's art museums.
New Year's Day (Capodanno)
New Year's Day (January 1) is a national holiday in Italy. Most shops, museums, restaurants and other services will be closed so that Romans can recover from their wild New Year's Eve Festivities and relax with loved ones. Even with most monuments closed, you can still enjoy walking around the city and doing some sightseeing without the crowds. In the evening, ask your hotel concierge to help you find an open restaurant.
The Epiphany (La Festa dell'Epifania)
A national holiday, the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord, celebrating the baptism of Jesus Christ, falls on January 6 and is officially the Twelfth Night of Christmas. In Vatican City, a procession containing hundreds of people dressed in medieval costumes walks along the wide avenue leading up to the Vatican. The procession participants carry symbolic gifts for the Pope who then conducts a morning mass in Saint Peter's Basilica after the procession. Many churches perform living nativities for Epiphany, and since it is less than two weeks after Christmas, many presepi (nativity scenes) are still on display as well.
La Befana also falls on January 6 and is a particularly special day for Italian children as they celebrate the arrival of La Befana, a good witch. If you want to buy a Befana doll, head to Piazza Navona Christmas market where you'll see many of them on display.
Saint Anthony's Day (Festa di San Antonio Abate)
The Feast Day of Saint Anthony Abbott celebrates the patron saint of butchers, domestic animals, basketmakers, and gravediggers. In Rome, this feast day is celebrated on January 17 at the church of Sant'Antonio Abate on the Esquiline Hill.
There is also the very popular annual "Blessing of the Beasts" ceremony that accompanies this day takes place in the nearby Piazza Pio XII. An open-air stable is assembled by the Italian Association of Livestock Farmers (AIA) in the piazza, directly in front of St Peter’s Square in Vatican City.
Each year, there is an exhibition of livestock animals, including cows, sheep, goats, and chickens that is open to the public. Following the arrival of the animals, an official Catholic mass is conducted for the farmers, their families, and all animal lovers by the Archpriest of St Peter’s. After the mass, the Archpriest conducts a blessing of all the animals. About midday, you will see a string of horses prancing down the street. This unique holiday is a great way for tourists to see an inside look at how the locals celebrate less frequented events.
Stores in Rome and the rest of Italy hold huge sales, or saldi, twice a year, beginning in January and late July. This is a chance to scoop up huge bargains, particularly on fashions and accessories (and ohhh the shoes!). Bargain hunters will find more affordable stores lining all of Via del Corso, mid- to higher-end shopping on Via Cola di Rienzo near the Vatican, and super-high-end designer shopping around Via Veneto and the Spanish Steps. Yet regardless of how chic the store, everyone hangs out the "saldi" sign in January, and you can find great prices as merchants make room for spring releases.
Read more about designer and bargain shopping in Rome.