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A Roman run-up to Christmas

When we think of Christmas evening activities carol singing, mulled wine and German Markets spring to mind. However, you wouldn’t usually associate any of those with Italian culture. So what do the Romans do for a winter’s evening in the run-up to Christmas? Rome is a magical place during the festive period; the strong Catholic beliefs as well as a westernised celebration of the season means the city is engulfed in the lights of church candles, smells of roasting chestnuts and the chatter of bustling shoppers. The Eternal City offers some unique experiences come the colder months, and especially at Christmas time, that are nothing short of bucket-list-worthy. So if you’ve already done your shopping and fancy something a little different, follow our evening itinerary for an insider’s alternative to celebrating in the capital. 1. Admire the views from Pincio Stand at the Pincio in Villa Borghese, the viewpoint at the top of the main steps into the city’s central park, and take in the views of the city at nightfall. As the sun goes down, you can watch the terracotta rooftops of the capital fade away under a warm glow of Christmas lights. To your left you can look all the way up the main shopping street Via del Corso, to the grand Piazza Venezia where the impressive Vittorio Emmanuele II monument stands, and to the west you can see Piazza del Popolo and the Egyptian obelisk of Ramesses. You can even see the great dome of Saint Peter’s Basilica away in the distance. 2. Ice Skating at Castel Sant’angelo Take a walk across the ancient engraved bridges over the river Tiber and hire some skates under Castel Sant’angelo for a spot of atmospheric ice skating. The large round castle was built by the Emperor Hadrian initially as a mausoleum for him and his family but in later years it was used as a fortress and even a prison and today it stands as a museum. Lit up at night, the castle is a spectacular sight – and if you’re lucky, you can catch a show or a figure skating performance on the ice as well. 3. Christmas in Saint Peter’s Stroll along the Lungotevere, the northern bank of the river, under the arch of trees and up to Piazza San Pietro (Saint Peter’s Square) to see the tall, illuminated Christmas tree outside the church. Pope John Paul II brought over the northern European tradition from his native homeland when he was pontificated in 1982. If you’re in Rome on Christmas Eve, you can even catch the unveiling of the nativity scene in the square, too. As well as being a picture-perfect opportunity, it gives you another reason to visit the iconic monument in all its glory. 4. Be a local in Trastevere Explore your way through the cobbled streets of Trastevere (which literally translated means across the Tiber) for a warming glass of wine and a slice of oven baked pizza. The area has numerous star-rated options so you won’t be left disappointed – and you’re guaranteed to be served with a smile! If you need to walk off your dinner, brave the winding Via Garibaldi to get to Gianicolo (Janiculum Hill) for breathtaking views across the city. On your way up, look through the gate on the right of the church for a Renaissance masterpiece, The Tempietto, designed by Bramante. 5. Celestial chanting at Sant’Anselmo all’Aventino For something a little different, walk up the Aventine hill to hear some celestial Gregorian chants at the 7.15pm Sunday service at Sant’Anselmo church. This church serves as a monastery and college and is seat to the Abbot Primate of the Order of Saint Benedict (Black Monks). It’s not your usual yuletide carol singing, but a must-do to finish off your trip in spiritual style.

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