Christmas markets just aren't as much of a thing in Rome as they are in cities elsewhere (especially further north) in Europe. For years, when it came to mercatini di Natale, as Italians call them, the main event really was just the Christmas market at Piazza Navona.
Today, the Piazza Navona Christmas market (which runs daily, and until 1am, from November 25 to January 6) remains the largest in Rome's center. Every Roman (and visiting) family stops there at some point during the Christmas season. Stalls sell Christmas decorations, gifts and sweets and street performers juggle and dance, all under the gloriously-lit fountains and Church of Sant'Agnese in Agone. For atmosphere and convenience, the 100-year-old Christmas market is a good bet.
But. Most of the gifts for sale there are mass-produced, made-in-China items — and a far cry from the kind of artisanal gifts you can so easily find elsewhere in Rome.
So here are some other top bets for the 2014-15 season. (And for more information on Rome during the holidays, don't miss my full guide to Christmas in Rome!). Although these other markets are slightly out of the heart of the center, if you're looking for a truly authentic Christmas market experience — one full of Roman families and locally-made goods — they're worth the trip.
Arti & Mestieri Expo
Last year, this market had some 300 different stalls selling artisanal goods and foodstuffs, from ceramics to leather to olive oil to chocolate. And since all of the products are made in Italy, it's a great place to find local, one-of-a-kind gifts to bring back home. The market, which is free to enter, is at the Fiera di Roma, about a 20-minute train ride from the center of Rome; just hop on the same regional train that you can take from the Trastevere or Ostiense train stations all the way to Fiumicono Airport (the Treno FR 1) and get off at the "Fiera Roma" stop.
For 2014, the Arti & Mestieri Expo takes place from December 11 to 14.
Villaggio di Natale in Via Oderisi da Gubbio
Located in Piazza della Radio and hailed as the largest Christmas fair in Rome, this "Christmas village" has games, a living nativity scene, choir concerts and, yes, a Christmas market, selling food and gifts. Piazza della Radio is located just south of the Trastevere train station, an easy tram or bus ride from Largo Argentina in the heart of Rome's center; entry is free.
In 2014, the Villagio di Natale takes place on December 7 and 8.
Natale all'Auditorium Parco della Musica
Every year, Rome's Auditorium puts on a seriously spectacular Christmas event. There's a big ice-skating rink (one of the city's few), a small Christmas market with some 30 stalls selling food and gifts, and plenty of performances and concerts, from gospel choirs to the Rome Orchestra — so make sure to time your visit with one of the events going on. From the center, one of the easiest ways to get to the Auditorium is to take the #910 bus, which leaves from Termini.
In 2014, the Natale all'Auditorium takes place from December 8 to January 8.
Mercatino di Natale di Emergenza Sorrisi
Want to make a difference with your Christmas shopping? Head to this Christmas market — which has stalls selling food, children's clothes and jewelry and accessories — to support the Gruppo Sorriso Roma Onlus, which helps at-risk and disadvantaged children. It's located on Via Salaria 95 in Parioli, a 10-minute bus ride on the #360 from the Termini train station.
In 2014, the market takes place from October 24 to January 6 on weekdays, from 9am to 5pm.