Rome often brings to mind snapshop images from a warmer time of year when the city is bathed in that sunny and delicious glow. While the months of March through November are indeed a beautiful time of year to be in Rome, there’s definitely a higher price tag to go with it and in more ways than just financial. Here are some very compelling reasons to consider coming to Rome in the winter months:
High season in Rome runs at least 8 months – from March through October and is slowly starting to extend into a 9th month with November. It starts off slow, but then Rome gradually starts bursting at the seams and the popular spots in particular can be suffocating. Yet come the winter months, and in particular January and February, and you expect to see tumbleweeds blowing down the street. Not that Rome is ever a ghost town, but there’s just more breathing room in the winter.
The Big 3 – Rome, Florence and Venice – become different cities especially in January and February. In a way you can even say that they seem to be returned to their residents when the insanely large crowds have all but disappeared. One of the main reasons is because of the weather. Most people equate blue skies and dazzling sunshine with Italy and they would be correct. However, while colder temperatures, rain and grey clouds don’t coincide with many people’s preconceived ideas of Italy – it also makes for an experience that is unique and yet just as wonderful if not more so. You can still find clear blue skies and sunny days in winter, but walking in Rome’s center on a crispy cold night with the golden glow of its street lights and the city wrapped in fog, mist or rain will also make some great memories and moody photographs. With the lack of crowds, the sights, the smells are much easier to appreciate and that’s when you can truly experience the magic here.
Many people think that March and April being the start of high season, will be a good combo of nicer weather and less people, but keep in mind that these months are also the time of year European schools have their yearly trips and so many large and small towns around Italy are taken over by school groups.
It’s difficult anymore to predict airline fares, but rates in January and February are on average several hundred US dollars less during these months than at other times of the year and even lower if you are internet savvy or have a great travel agent. Within Europe, low cost airlines such as RyanAir, EasyJet, AirOne, Transavia to name a few are always a bargain, but even more so during low season. Many accommodations (including yours truly) have lower prices during this time of year and during particularly slow periods additional discounts are sometimes available. In the summer it can be hard to even find a place, and if you’re traveling around without firm plans, hoping to book as you go, you’ll waste a lot of time trying to find something decent at the last minute. In the winter, places like our Beehive which are difficult to find a spot in high season – often have space available in low season.
Rome can be sensory overload – traffic, people, and so much to see. Going to the Vatican Museums when you’re already fatigued is a recipe for disaster, but fatigued you will feel after waiting in a queue in the heat of summer for over an hour. Want to visit the Borghese gallery in the summer and didn’t reserve weeks in advance? It’s not likely you’ll get a reservation at the last minute. An experience I had in Florence a couple of years ago is indicative of what it’s like in the bigger cities in winter. I was able to walk right into the Accademia without a ticket, no queue to buy my ticket and had a completely unobstructed view of Michelangelo’s David. The same was true for the hike up to the cupola of the Duomo – no queues at all. All the places you want to see – well, many other people want to see also and in peak season you’ll be competing for space with a much larger pool of people. Visiting when it’s less busy, you’ll not only cruise right into many of these places, often without reservations, but you’ll also have more breathing room to actually enjoy what you’re looking at.
Our favorite time of year for food here is the winter. Artichokes, greens galore, chestnuts, cavolo nero (kale, used for ribollita soup), and don’t even get me started on the citrus – clementines, mandarins and Sicilian blood oranges called tarocchi. There’s nothing like a glass of red wine and a hearty Tuscan soup on a cold, dreary day or a cup of thick hot chocolate with panna (whipped cream) to warm you up or a cozy cocktail near the Colosseum when the rain is coming down. And gelato knows no season!
When you take all of the above together – it causes you to slow down. Your energy isn’t sapped by the heat or the crowds, some rain may make it so that you find yourself with a good book in a cozy cafe or with your partner or friend sharing a drink and good conversation instead of non-stop sightseeing. The shorter daylight hours urge you to get up earlier to take advantage of the daylight and to get a bit more sleep at night. While it’s great to see everything – you have to reconcile with the fact that you really won’t see and do everything – so take this time during Rome’s winter season to enjoy the city in a different and special way.