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TOURISM

Travel: The top ten festive spots to visit in Rome

In the capital over Christmas? Lucky you! When it comes to the festive season, there really is no place like Rome, and here's our pick of the top ten festive spots to visit in order to soak up the holiday spirit.

Travel: The top ten festive spots to visit in Rome
The Colosseum at Christmas. Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

1. Via del Corso

 

A photo posted by Veronica (@veroang_) on Dec 14, 2016 at 8:05am PST

Rome's main shopping street gets decked out in lights for the festive season. Walk down the 1.5km street, making sure to check out the elaborate displays by some of the designer shops on the way, and you'll end up at Piazza Venezia – where you can see the tree which was named “the world's ugliest – but has now had a sparkly makeover.

The glammed-up tree. Photo: Comune di Roma

2. Monti

Wander down the streets of this district, tucked away behind the Colosseum, for some of the best lights in the city. It's a great place for Christmas shopping and there are plenty of bars and restaurants for you to warm up in. Vintage lovers should check out Mercato Monti, which doubles in size throughout December.

 

A photo posted by Fabio Romeo (@fabioromeo15) on Dec 11, 2016 at 9:13am PST

3. Spanish Steps

The recently-restored steps are adorned with a nativity scene and huge tree, adding a nice festive feel to this spot in the heart of the shopping district. You should be able to find chestnut sellers in Piazza di Spagna too, so it's a treat for all the senses – and the perfect place for people-watching.

 

A photo posted by Marco Lauciani (@marcolauciani) on Dec 14, 2016 at 1:23pm PST

4. Piazza Navona

Rome's biggest Christmas market is back, with stalls selling food, gifts and decorations, plus a carousel and games. Babbo Natale himself is even set to make an appearance!

 

A photo posted by Lino Marra (@linomarra) on Dec 14, 2016 at 6:46am PST

5. 100 Nativities exhibition

A guaranteed way to get in the Christmas spirit is checking out this annual display of nativity scenes from around the world. Expect creations of all sizes, materials and themes, with everything from complex designs depicting an entire village to contributions by schoolchildren. For kids, there's a special workshop on making nativity figures – out of pasta.

 

A photo posted by VoupraRoma (@voupraroma) on Dec 3, 2016 at 4:00am PST

6. Colosseum

Whether it's the first or 1001st time you've seen it, the imposing Colosseum never fails to impress. This is the first Christmas since its restoration earlier this year, so it will look even better than usual, especially with the enormous tree.


Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

7. Piazza San Pietro

It almost goes without saying that the Vatican is the place to be for the biggest holiday in the Catholic Church. Visit in the evening to see the tree lit up and the life-size nativity: baby Jesus isn't there yet, but the Pope will add him on Christmas Eve. If you're in Rome on the big day itself, you can even go to the Christmas Eve mass led by Pope Francis. And this year, the cross and some debris from the Basilica di San Benedetto in Norcia, destroyed by the earthquakes earlier this year, are also on display.

 

A photo posted by Ilaria Scavelli (@ilariascavelli) on Dec 15, 2016 at 5:20am PST

8. Castel Sant'Angelo

It's unlikely we'll get a white Christmas here in Rome, but you can still go skating! There are several indoor rinks dotted across the city, but we recommend the outdoor one at Castel Sant'Angelo for the best holiday feel. The former prison is an impressive backdrop, and the bridge leading to it looks spectacular when lit up at night. The rink is open every day until midnight.

9. Trastevere

Tourist trap it might be, but at winter this district feels less crowded and much more cosy. Get a hot chocolate or whipped cream-topped liquor shot from Cioccolata e vino, try the pastries at Checco, or visit any one of the many pubs, bars and restaurants that line the streets. The Santa Maria di Trastevere church has special services and carol concerts throughout the advent season, and the winding streets are adorned with lights.

 

A photo posted by francesco galeone (@dikmcwik) on Dec 14, 2016 at 3:09pm PST

10. Gianicolo Hill

Walking up the Gianicolo Hill gives you one of the best views of the city whatever the season, but it's surely at its most awe-inspiring at dusk in winter, when you can look out over Rome in all its sparkly Christmas glory – the city looks like a beautiful nativity scene.

 

A photo posted by Alessia Ferrara (@ale.ferra.ale) on Dec 10, 2016 at 7:42am PST

 

 

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MONEY

How to avoid huge ‘roaming’ phone bills while visiting Italy

If you're visiting Italy from outside the EU you risk running up a huge phone bill in roaming charges - but there are ways to keep your internet access while avoiding being hit by extra charges.

How to avoid huge ‘roaming’ phone bills while visiting Italy

Travelling without access to the internet is almost impossible these days. We use our phones for mapping applications, contacting the Airbnb, even scanning the QR code for the restaurant menu.

If you’re lucky enough to have a phone registered in an EU country then you don’t need to worry, thanks to the EU’s cap on charges for people travelling, but people visiting from non-EU countries – which of course now includes the UK – need to be careful with their phone use abroad.

First things first, if you are looking to avoid roaming charges, be sure to go into your settings and turn off “data roaming.” Do it right before your plane lands or your train arrives – you don’t want to risk the phone company in your home country starting the clock on ‘one day of roaming fees’ without knowing it.

READ ALSO: Ten ways to save money on your trip to Italy this summer

But these days travelling without internet access can be difficult and annoying, especially as a growing number of tourist attractions require booking in advance online, while restaurants often display their menus on a QR code.

So here are some techniques to keep the bills low.

Check your phone company’s roaming plan

Before leaving home, check to see what your phone plan offers for pre-paid roaming deals.

For Brits, if you have a phone plan with Three for example, you can ask about their “Go Roam” plan for add-on allowance. You can choose to pay monthly or as you go. Vodafone offers eight day and 15 day passes that are available for £1 a day.

For Americans, T-Mobile offers you to add an “international pass” which will charge you $5 per day. Verizon and AT&T’s roaming plans will charge you $10 per day. For AT&T, you are automatically opted into this as soon as your phone tries to access data abroad.

READ ALSO: Seven things to do in Italy in summer 2022

These all allow you to retain your normal phone number and plan.

Beware that these prices are only available if you sign up in advance, otherwise you will likely be facing a much bigger bill for using mobile data in Italy. 

Buy a pre-paid SIM card

However, if you are travelling for a longer period of time it might work out cheaper to turn off your phone data and buy a pre-paid SIM card in Italy.

In order to get a pre-paid SIM card, you will need your passport or proof of identity (drivers’ licences do not count).

READ ALSO: TRAVEL: Why now’s the best time to discover Italy’s secret lakes and mountains

Keep in mind that you will not be able to use your normal phone number with the new SIM card in, but will be able to access your internet enabled messaging services, like WhatsApp, Facebook and iMessage. Your phone will need to be ‘unlocked’ (ask your carrier about whether yours is) in order to put a new SIM card in.

Here are some of the plans you can choose from:

WindTre

WindTre, the result of a 2020 merger between the Italian company Wind and the UK network provider Three, currently offers a “Tourist Pass” SIM card for foreign nationals. For €24.99 (it’s sneakily marketed as €14.99, but read the small print and you’ll see you need to fork out an additional €10), you’ll have access to 20GB of data for up to 30 days.

The offer includes 100 minutes of calls within Italy plus an additional 100 minutes to 55 foreign countries listed on the WindTre website. Up to 13.7GB can be used for roaming within the EU. The card is automatically deactivated after 30 days, so there’s no need to worry about surprise charges after you return from your holiday. To get this SIM card, you can go into any WindTre store and request it.

A tourist protects herself from the sun with a paper umbrella as she walks at Piazza di Spagna near the Spanish Steps in Rome.
A tourist protects herself from the sun with a paper umbrella as she walks at Piazza di Spagna near the Spanish Steps in Rome.

Vodafone

Vodafone has had better deals in the past, but lately appears to have downgraded its plan for tourists, now called “Vodafone Holiday” (formerly “Dolce Vita”), to a paltry 2GB for €30. You get a total of 300 minutes of calls and 300 texts to Italian numbers or to your home country; EU roaming costs €3 per day.

Existing Vodafone customers can access the offer by paying €19 – the charge will be made to your Vodafone SIM within 72 hours of activating the deal. 

READ ALSO: MAP: The best Italian villages to visit this year

The Vodafone Holiday offer automatically renews every four weeks for €29 – in order to cancel you’ll need to call a toll-free number. The Vodafone website says that the €30 includes the first renewal, suggesting the payment will cover the first four weeks plus an additional four after that, but you’ll want to double check before buying. You’ll need to go to a store in person to get the card.

TIM

TIM is one of Italy’s longest-standing and most well-established network providers, having been founded in 1994 following a merger between several state-owned companies.

The “Tim Tourist” SIM card costs €20 for 15GB of data and 200 minutes of calls within Italy and to 58 foreign countries, and promises “no surprises” when it comes to charges.

You can use the full 15GB when roaming within the EU at no extra charge, and in the EU can use your minutes to call Italian numbers. The deal is non-renewable, so at the end of the 30 days you won’t be charged any additional fees.

READ ALSO: MAP: Which regions of Italy have the most Blue Flag beaches?

To access the offer, you can either buy it directly from a TIM store in Italy, or pre-order using an online form and pay with your bank card. Once you’ve done this, you’ll receive a PIN which you should be able to present at any TIM store on arrival in Italy (along with your ID) to collect your pre-paid card. The card won’t be activated until you pick it up.

Iliad

Iliad is the newest and one of the most competitive of the four major phone companies operating in Italy, and currently has an offer of 120GBP of €9.99 a month. For this reason, some travel blogs recommend Iliad as the best choice for foreigners – but unfortunately all of their plans appear to require an Italian tax ID, which rules it out as an option for tourists.

Contract

Though buying a pre-paid SIM card is a very useful option for visitors spending a decent amount of time in Italy, as mentioned above, there’s a significant different difference between buying a one-time pre-paid SIM versus a monthly plan that auto-renews.

Make sure you know which one you’re signing up for, and that if you choose a plan that will continue charging you after your vacation has ended, you remember to cancel it.

UK contracts

If you have a UK-registered mobile phone, check your plan carefully before travelling. Before Brexit, Brits benefited from the EU cap on roaming charges, but this no longer applies.

Some phone companies have announced the return of roaming charges, while others have not, or only apply roaming charges only on certain contracts.

In short, check before you set off and don’t assume that because you have never been charged extra before, you won’t be this time.

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