Christmas markets in Rome just aren’t as much of a thing as they are in cities elsewhere in Europe, especially further north. For years, when it came to mercatini di Natale, as Italians call them, the main event really was just the Christmas market at Piazza Navona.
Today, the Piazza Navona Christmas market (which runs daily, and until 1am, from November 25 to January 6) remains the largest in Rome’s center. Every Roman (and visiting) family stops there at some point during the Christmas season. Stalls sell Christmas decorations, gifts and sweets and street performers juggle and dance, all under the gloriously-lit fountains and Church of Sant’Agnese in Agone. For atmosphere and convenience, the 100-year-old Christmas market is a good bet. (Update, 1 December 2016: After being called off last year, the Piazza Navona Christmas market is back!) Update, 18 December 2016: Psych… despite earlier news to the contrary, the Piazza Navona Christmas market is not running this year. There is, however, the market’s traditional carousel running at the piazza!).
But. Most of the gifts for sale there are mass-produced, made-in-China items — and a far cry from the kind of artisanal gifts you can so easily find elsewhere in Rome.
So here are some other top bets for the season. (And for more information on Rome during the holidays, don’t miss my full guide to Christmas in Rome!). Although some of these other markets are slightly out of the heart of the center, if you’re looking for a truly authentic Christmas market experience — one full of Roman families and locally-made goods — they’re worth the trip.
New for 2016: Mercatino di Natale a Piazza di Spagna
For the first time this year, there’s a Christmas market at the Spanish Steps. Featuring the usual craft, gift and food stalls, it runs on December 18 only, from 10am to 5pm; entrance costs €2 and the proceeds will go to Italy’s earthquake victims.
Arti & Mestieri Expo
Although it’s definitely not central, this market features several hundred stalls selling artisanal goods and foodstuffs, from ceramics to leather to olive oil to chocolate. And since all of the products are made in Italy, it’s a great place to find local, one-of-a-kind gifts to bring back home.
The market, which is free to enter, is at the Fiera di Roma, about a 20-minute train ride from the center of Rome; just hop on the same regional train that you can take from the Trastevere or Ostiense train stations all the way to Fiumicono Airport (the Treno FR 1) and get off at the “Fiera Roma” stop.
For 2016, the Arti & Mestieri Expo takes place from December 15 to 18.
Villaggio di Natale al Parco Egeria
Located in Piazza della Radio and hailed as the largest Christmas fair in Rome, this “Christmas village” opens with a sagra (if you’re not familiar with this fabulous event, check out my explainer on sagre) of chickpea soup, chestnuts and porcini mushrooms on Friday, followed by another sagra of handmade gnocchi on Saturday and Sunday. If that weren’t enough, there are also artisans (including those who do Christmas cribs), games, elves and Santa Claus himself. (You may just have to warn your wee one that this Santa speaks Italian).
In 2016, the Villagio di Natale takes place at Parco Egeria (look for Via dell’Almone 105), best accessed via bus from the center, from December 8 to 11 and the weekend of December 17 to 18.
Natale all’Auditorium Parco della Musica
Every year, Rome’s Auditorium puts on a seriously spectacular Christmas event. There’s a big ice-skating rink (one of the city’s few), a small Christmas market with some 30 stalls selling food and gifts, and plenty of performances and concerts, from gospel choirs to the Rome Orchestra — so make sure to time your visit with one of the events going on. From the center, one of the easiest ways to get to the Auditorium is to take the #910 bus, which leaves from Termini.
In 2016, the Natale all’Auditorium takes place from December 8 to January 8.
Mercatino di Natale di Emergenza Sorrisi
Want to make a difference with your Christmas shopping? Head to this Christmas market — which has stalls selling food, children’s clothes and jewelry and accessories — to support the Gruppo Sorriso Roma Onlus, which helps at-risk and disadvantaged children. It’s located on Via Salaria 95 in Parioli, a 10-minute bus ride on the #360 from the Termini train station.
In 2016, the market takes place until January 6 on weekdays, from 9am to 5pm.
Also: five overrated things to do in Rome (and what to do instead), and a visual visit to see Rome’s spectacular Christmas lights.
If you liked this post, you’ll love The Revealed Rome Handbook: Tips and Tricks for Exploring the Eternal City, available for purchase on Amazon or through my site here! I’m also free for one-on-one consulting sessions to help plan your Italy trip.