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Traveling at Christmas

The holidays are approaching quickly (too quickly, if you ask me), and while most people I know are obligated to travel home to spend time with family, some travelers use the time off they get at the holidays as the perfect excuse to take advantage of the often low off-season fares to otherwise extremely expensive destinations. In addition to getting a great deal on airfare and accommodation, traveling in the winter can also give you a glimpse into the way other cultures celebrate the same holidays.

I’m the Italy girl, so although I’m neither Catholic or religious, I would someday love to spend Christmas in Rome. (I might have to convince my entire family to join me in order to avoid the guilt-trips over missing the holiday, but I sort of think at least some of them would be interested.) It’s not that it would be so terribly different from the way I’m familiar with Christmas celebrations in the U.S., it’s that Rome is home to Vatican City – which is, as I call it, the Catholic Mothership. And if anyone’s going to do Christmas celebrations up right, I figure it’s the Vatican.

But unfortunately the thing that makes me interested in visiting Rome at Christmastime is the same thing that will make it something I might actually put off for awhile – Rome at Christmas can be crowded and is more expensive than you think it’ll be.

Smart travelers know that off-season prices sometimes drop significantly, especially when you’re talking about hot vacation destinations like Europe, and winter prices in particular are some of the best you’ll find when you’re looking at fares to Italy. Winter trips to Italy are much cheaper overall, from hotel rates to plane tickets, and the potential downsides of winter travel (colder weather, some attractions with shorter hours, some shops closed) are usually mitigated by the amount of money you’re saving on your trip. Besides, you’re more likely to have the place to yourself, considering the tourist crowds are waiting for summer.

Christmas in Italy, though, is a totally different thing. Because Vatican City is such an obvious magnet for visitors at Christmas, the prices on Rome hotels and airfare to Rome go up accordingly. The summer high season still tends to be more expensive, but the holidays are absolutely considered to be a mini-peak season by Italian hotels and airlines serving Italy.

If you’re still interested in trying Rome at Christmas, this is a good year to do it. Airfare to Rome for winter travel is particularly good right now, and if you can get flights outside any “blackout” dates (which may mean taking a longer vacation – not such a bad thing, really) you’ll be able to save on your flight and still see the festivities in full swing. Even if you’re not religious, there are plenty of other things to do in Rome – and, as I said, without the tourist crowds you’ll have better access to all the sights. Read through a Rome travel guide and make notes on any attraction that says you’ll have to wait for hours to get in, or offers tips about avoiding lines – and those are the ones you should make a beeline for in the off-season. Now, if any of those things are outdoors, you might not be as interested in doing it in the winter – but since so many of Rome’s biggest sights are indoors (museums and churches, mostly), they’re ideal for a winter visit.

So, where in the world would you like to spend Christmas? And, assuming you have to spend the holidays with family, where will you be dreaming you are this holiday season?