What to wear in Rome in winter? What will the weather be like, how do the locals do? After spending over 30 winters in Rome, here are my tips for visiting Rome in winter
It’s time to pack! The tickets are bought, the renewed passports have arrived, the itinerary to discover the Eternal City is finally done: now all you need is a well-packed suitcase and you’re ready to go. But what should you be packing for visiting Rome in the fall and winter, the most unpredictable of seasons when it comes to weather?
Autumn and winter travel often pose a bit of a headache when it comes to packing: unless you are going to a destination with the exact same weather patterns as home, it is very easy to misread the weather forecast and find yourself dressed in the most inappropriate of ways, either facing freezing temperatures while wearing flip flops or carrying around heavy jackets on your arm while you sweat under the Italian sun.
I have made this kind of mistakes way too many times and I have learnt that proper research and some clever items can make all the difference: here is my best advice about packing for Rome in autumn and winter.
In this post you will find:
- What to expect: what is the weather like in October/ November in Rome
- Why you should go to Rome in the fall
- What to wear in Rome in the fall
- 10 must have things when packing for Rome in the fall
- What to wear in Rome in winter: top tips
- Visiting Rome in winter: what to expect
- Packing list for Rome in the fall and winter: 10 must haves
- 1. A good waterproof jacket
- 2. Comfortable shoes for walking.
- 3. A crossbody bag or a safe internal pocket for wallets etc.
- 4. Cash
- 5. A good selection of long and short sleeved tops and cardigans, for layering
- 6. One casual but nice outfit if you plan to go out in the evening.
- 7. A map of the city and a guidebook
- 8. A small dictionary or Italian phrase book
- 9. A small umbrella
- 10. Sunglasses
What to wear in Rome in winter: top tips
Rome has a Mediterranean weather and usually experiences four seasons: a mild to cold winter (January is usually the coldest month with an average temperature of about 8 degrees), mild springs and fall and hot, humid summers. With the exception of the very hot month of August, when Rome should be avoided, almost every other time of the year is good to visit the eternal city but there is no doubt that late September to early November is the best time to visit.
At this time of the year, the temperature is still mild, the days tend to be dry (with some exceptions, see below) and you are likely to experience the incredibly blue skies Rome is known for and that make such an amazing backdrop to Roman holiday snapshots.
More in detail, this is what you should expect weather-wise:
Early October is usually an extension of the summer months: temperatures are high, especially during the day, restaurant terraces are open and you can expect to have meals outside without the need of a jacket or even a cardigan if out at lunchtime.
Late October and November have a more wintery feel: rain is more common in November but temperatures are still mild and usually, wardrobe-wise, a cardigan and a light jacket will go a long way.
While in early October you can expect to wear short sleeves, in November you are more likely to have to cover up: sandals are not recommended at this time of the year and the city starts to wear, in all senses, a more wintery attire.
The autumn is the best time to visit Rome and this is reflected in the many, many tourists who come to the city this time of the year. More than the hot and generally unpleasant summer months, October and November are the months when Rome experiences its high tourist season and you should expect long queues at museums and major attractions
Despite this, I do believe you should visit Rome in the fall. This is the time of the year when Rome truly functions as a city: restaurants are in full swing, making the most of the still mild evening, galleries and museums tend to have longer opening hours to accommodate the higher number of visitors and the temperature is perfect to visit outdoor sites such as the forum or the colosseum (something to avoid in the summer, when a sun stroke is pretty much guaranteed! You can read my tips on how to visit the forum here).
On top of this, the fall is a great time for food in Italy: pumpkins, chestnuts and mushrooms are all in season and Rome specialties such as pizza and baccala (fried cod) abound.
Rome, as well as the rest of Italy, is known for its style but a lot less dressy than many people expect. Unless you are planning on going to a very nice restaurant, the best clothes in Rome are the ones that make sightseeing comfortable: closed shoes with good, rubber sole, trousers and, for women, not too short skirts (for visiting churches), a selection of short and long sleeve tops, a cardigan and a light jacket are likely to have you ready for all occasions your vacation may throw at you.
If travelling with kids, make sure you pack an extra pair of shoes in case of rain: Rome puddles are irresistible!
Visiting Rome in winter: what to expect
Rome in winter is often graced by blue skies, but don’t let it fool you: Rome winters can get cold and even when the thermometer seems to promise mild temperature, it often feels cold, due to the humidity in the air. However, visiting Rome in winter can be a real pleasure and it becomes magical if you time your visit to be in town during the long Christmas break (Christmas festivities in Rome last from the 8th of December to the 6th of January included).
There are many advantages to Rome in winter: the months of January and February are low season and this means many important landmarks and attractions can be visited without crowds or having to queue.
Also, the city is in full winter mode and this means that classes, shows are restaurants are filled with locals rather than tourists. if you are ready to wrap up and accept rather short hours of daylight, Rome in winter can be delightful and these packing tips will make you prepared for all eventualities!
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1. A good waterproof jacket
While generally dry in the fall, Rome does have rainy days and some good gear is essential. The fact is that in Rome when it rains, it really rains! Roman rain is nothing like the drizzle you get in northern Europe: when the rain comes down there, it does so in buckets and it’s important to be prepared. A good, Waterproof Raincoat is your best friend: a light one that you can fold and pack away when not in use is usually enough and, if you are carrying a bag with you, a lightweight umbrella can also make a difference. Rome is not windy and umbrellas, even cheap ones, will protect you.
Do not let the rain stop you from going sightseeing. Even if bucketing down, it usually doesn’t last the whole day, so with the right gear on it shouldn’t stop you on your tracks for very long.
In winter, make sure you have a warm winter coat, scarf, gloves and a hat. Comfortable, warm boots are a must if you want to go sightseeing in Rome in winter.
2. Comfortable shoes for walking.
Good shoes are essential on any trip, but it is important to have the right ones especially in Rome, where you are sure to be doing a lot of walking. Rome is a wonderful city for walking around and getting lost among the vicoli (small, historical streets) in the city centre is surely the most fascinating way to get to know it. Just a word of warning: Rome streets are often paved with sanpietrini (cobblestone or literally ‘little San Peters’).
Alas, the cobblestone that makes Rome so romantic and iconic can be a challenge for feet and ankles: hills are to be avoided and so are hard leather sole shoes. Your best bet in Rome is runners (sneakers) and shoes with a bit of bounce. For inspiration on travel shoes, I found a comprehensive list here
A note for families travelling with children: cobblestone is hard on buggy and strollers wheel too, so if you are visiting with a toddler or, anyway, on wheels, you should be prepared for bumpy rides. If you can, bring a stroller with good bounce and proper tires – our favourite is Quinny which proved excellent on the bumpiest of roads!
3. A crossbody bag or a safe internal pocket for wallets etc.
Rome is not a dangerous city, but pickpocketing does happen and tourists are among the favourite victims (but don’t feel singled out: I am a Roman and got pickpocketed myself once!). Try to avoid carrying rucksacks on your back and do not keep your wallet in your back pocket, especially if you mean to take public transport.
When travelling, I am a fan of cross-body bags as I find them practical and often stylish. Make sure you get one that doesn’t get too ruined in case of rain.
Never leave your bag unattended or out of reach and, in outdoor restaurants, do not hang it on the back of the chair – keep it on your lap or between your feet instead and always wear it crossbody when walking
I know this might sound strange after the mention of pickpockets, but in Rome, cards are not as widely accepted as in other European cities and never are for small amounts (you can’t pay for ice cream with a credit card for instance). While it is important to avoid carrying large sums of cash, I do find it handy to have some small notes always on you, for light meals, taxi hops etc. If you can, avoid ‘big’ notes such as 50 Euro and prefer smaller ones such as 20 or 10.
5. A good selection of long and short sleeved tops and cardigans, for layering
Rome is not cold, as we were already saying, but depending on how humid it is you might find you want to wear an extra layer so a cardigan or light jumper can come in handy, especially if you are planning on staying out morning to evening without stopping back to your hotel.
Cardigans and layers, in general, are also very good to cover your shoulders when visiting churches. Rome churches and basiliche, in particular, such as San Pietro, San Giovanni etc, have pretty strict dress codes (no shorts allowed, no revealing tops for women etc) so it can be handy to have something to cover yourself up without having to plan your all outfit on the church stop. I usually pack 2 long sleeve tops and 3 short-sleeve ones to mix and match.
If you are traveling with young children, chances are you do not need a sleeping bag for the buggy in the fall but do bring one cover, especially for the late afternoon. In the winter, warm clothes, a proper winter coat and a warm sleeping bag are a must.
6. One casual but nice outfit if you plan to go out in the evening.
Rome is not a particularly dressy city so the good news is that, unless you want to, you don’t have to pack your designer dress or your tailored suit to enjoy a night out there. Anyway, I find that in Italy the best dress code to follow is ‘not too scruffy’: you don’t need special clothes to go out, but a good pair of trousers and shoes other than runners are a good choice for the evening. I usually pack two pairs of trousers (one jeans, one not) and a not to dressy black dress that I can dress up or down with accessories and, if weather requires, leggings.
For women, I find the best way to dress up without packing too many things is to add necklaces and scarves. Italian women love them, they dress up even plain clothes and are an easy way to feel ‘together’ with little effort, feeling very ‘Italian’ in the process.
7. A map of the city and a guidebook
Probably an obvious one, but still worth mentioning especially if you are used to relying a lot on your mobile phone to get around. Wi-fi is not always easy to get (and the ‘free city wifi hardly ever works, in my experience) so don’t rely exclusively on technology to find your way. A paper map of the city and a good guidebook is always a must have for me.
8. A small dictionary or Italian phrase book
In Rome, especially in the city centre, you will find people with at least a basic understanding of English but this is not the case in all establishments and some familiarity with Italian can be handy, even if it’s just a book you can show them with the sentence you’d like to say. A good Italian phrasebook can go a long way.
The lovely thing about Italy is that we usually speak terrible English so we do appreciate when we see a foreigner making an effort as we know how hard it is to make yourself understood
9. A small umbrella
Maybe a bit of an old-fashioned piece of advice this one, but I find small umbrellas are really a lifesaver in Rome. The city is not very windy and even lightweight ones do the job for the occasional shower of rain. If you don’t have one or are stuck for space, don’t worry: as soon as it starts raining the streets of Rome get full of street vendors offering umbrellas in all shapes and sizes. They only cost a few euro and while they might not last forever, they are usually good enough to stay with you until the end of your stay
When the weather is good, Rome has some amazing light so, after seeing its beautiful skies without filters, it is handy to have something to protect your eyes. Also, Italians love their sunglasses so why not make the most of it and make your own fashion statement?
I hope I answered your questions about what to wear in Rome in winter! if you have any doubts or questions about visiting my beautiful city, please get in touch and I will try my best to help”
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