12 Things You Shouldn't Be Doing In Rome As A Tourist

what not to do in rome
| 6 min read

‘All roads lead to Rome’ - indeed, there is no doubt that Italy’s hot-blooded capital Rome is one of the most iconic and charming cities in the world. A 3,000-year-plus history, haunting ruins, a treasure trove of priceless monuments, buildings, and relics, a rich cultural lifestyle, and some amazing gastronomy and a lip-smacking cuisine make Rome a truly thrilling destination to explore. However, while visiting Rome, it’s equally important to remember what not to do in this medieval-times city, and not stand out as a tourist and/or hurt the cultural sentiments of Rome’s denizens. Here’s a comprehensive list of all the things NOT to do in the 'caput mundi’ - the capital of the world.

1. Eat and walk

Gelato in Rome, Italy - Plenty of Nutella
Source: Photo by user Kevin Ekmark used under CC BY 2.0

For Italians, mealtimes are sacred, so expect to see locals lingering over long meals. So, Italians do not eat food or drink beverages to-go while walking on the streets, and you shouldn’t either. Also, you’ll see stools or small seats even in informal establishments, where you’re expected to perch yourself while you eat - or you need to take your food and find a seat on a park bench. Churches and museums are also off-limits. That being said, the exception to this rule is the delicious Gelato!

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2. Get tons of single-fare public transportation tickets

Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user JoJan used under CC BY 3.0

Avoid one-day single-fare public transport tickets if you’re a tourist in Rome who’s going to be using public transportation a lot. It’s better to rack up the travel passes for trams, metro, and the buses. The three-day tourist BTI pass costs EUR 16.50 with unlimited use of public transportation, The monthly pass costs EUR 30, while the BIG day pass costs EUR 6 if one really wishes to buy one-day tickets. The cards need to be validated for the first use from the small yellow machines in the buses or at the entrance of the metro stations.

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3. Dress inappropriately

tourists in Rome
Source: Pxhere

Aesthetics, decorum, and being well-dressed is very important and a matter of pride for Italians, so being put together is imperative in Rome. Pack spare clothes or a big scarf or a jacket in your daypack when you roam the city so as to quickly wrap yourself up when visiting certain places with dress codes such as churches, religious sites, and the catacombs. Similarly, if you plan to go running in the city, do it early in the morning, along the river, or in a park, rather than on the streets. You must be dressed appropriately as well - men shouldn’t be shirtless and women shouldn’t be in small sports bras or one will most likely be stopped by the police.

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4. Leave trash wherever you stood

Trash at Piazza di Spagna
Source: Photo by user Tobias Abel used under CC BY-ND 2.0

It might seem like this isn’t something that needs to be said expressly, but you’d be surprised at just how nonchalant some tourists are about leaving their trash anywhere they feel like. Rome is an extremely beautiful city, but that doesn’t stop places from being littered with rubbish such as broken umbrellas, wrapping paper, cans, food leftovers, and the likes in the unlikeliest of places such as building steps and bike baskets! The most appropriate thing to do is keep your rubbish in your pockets or a plastic bag until you find a dustbin.

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5. Forget to double-check opening times and days

Neon Open Sign
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Aaron Pruzaniec used under CC BY 2.0

Most restaurants and eateries in Rome are run by families, so they could have one or two rest days in a week, which could be anything from Sunday to Monday and even Wednesday. So, you need to keep in mind the opening days and hours of shops, restaurants, and attractions. Except for the Vatican and Colosseum museums, most Roman museums are closed on Mondays. Since the city does not have a 24*7 mentality, you need to make sure to do a good amount of research before actually travelling to the city.

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6. Stick to tourist menus

Panino con porchetta di Ariccia
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user RodzillaReviews w... used under CC BY-SA 2.0

Authentic Italian cuisine will not be on most tourist menus in tourist restaurants in Rome, which generally features under flavoured, overpriced dishes; so make sure to stay away from them. As a rule, avoid restaurants near touristy sites such as the Vatican and Trevi Fountain as well as places exposing plastic samples of their dishes. Places where priests or lots of locals are usually great places to eat at. Also, if you’re looking for a quick snack, head into an open-air market or a supermarket where you can get fruit or fresh stuff for making a panino, just like locals! Try as much Italian food as you can - you ARE in Rome, after all!

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7. Expect 100% customer service

Luzmilla's Waiter
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Bob Doran used under CC BY 2.0

According to some Western tourists, Italian customer service is considered substandard, and it is so - in Italy, customer service isn’t regarded the same way as it is in other countries. However, keep in mind that there are a number of cultural reasons, including mobility and lower wages. One is the fact that Italians give importance to time and leisure over productivity. Hence, it isn’t particularly taught to new employees with the same diligence as it is in, let’s say, the United States. In fact, Italian consumers and customers are expected to sweat for what they want, rather than simply it being offered to them.

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8. Accept gifts from strangers on the street

Street in Rome
Source: Pixabay

Scamsters are everywhere, and Rome is no exception. There will be hawkers who’ll try to stand in your way and offer goods such as holy pictures, bracelets, small toys, or roses. Their gig is to reach out with their hand, ask how one is and where one is from, and then place these things in one’s hand as if it were a gift for ‘good luck in Italy’, or because 'you look beautiful’, or because 'they need help’. Then, they’ll ask one for money and create trouble for refusing to give or at being given just a few coins. You need to ignore them royally and keep walking. Worse cases are people asking for donations or showcasing signature collections, and where their partner walks away with your valuables while you’re distracted. Learn a few Italian words such as 'No, Grazie’ (Thanks) to reply firmly to showcase your disinterest.

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9. Stay on the beaten path

A city view of Rome

Rome’s charm is in its hidden gems and winding, cobblestone streets, so don’t stick to only the ‘touristy’ spots. Turn into small alleys and streets off the touristy historic centre to find yourself in beautiful, local neighbourhoods such as Garbatella and Pigneto which have absolute Roman flair. One could even indulge in a street-art tour of former working-class neighbourhoods of Pigneto and Ostiense, or do a Scooteroma tour with plugged-in local guides on Vespas.

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10. Throw coins into any and every fountain in Rome

Fontana di Trevi (Trevi Fountain), Rome, Italy (9611404914)
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user l0da_ralta used under CC BY 2.0

Just because its a Roman fountain doesn’t mean you fling coins into it - coins are supposed to be thrown into the Trevi Fountain only. Tradition says that if one wishes to come back to Rome, then they need to throw a coin into the Trevi Fountain - the only fountain said to make your dreams and wishes come true. It might be a legend, but that’s what makes the Trevi Fountain special. So, reserve your coins for the Trevi Fountain and Trevi fountain only.

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11. Don’t go in the Summer

Peak season in Greece

A summer vacation in Rome may seem ideal but in reality, it’s not always such a dream come true. When in Rome, do as the Romans do as the saying goes, but when you’re about to head to Rome, don’t go during the summer if you wish to experience a more authentic version of the famous city.

Visit Rome during the off-season and avoid coming in the summer as the heat can take a toll on your trip. Book cheaper flights to Rome during down season and experience cooler temperatures, lower tour prices, and even nicer servers in the best and most populated Roman restaurants. Make due adjustments if you will and be a smart traveler when planning a trip to Roma.

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12. Don’t buy multiple bottles of Water

plastic water bottles
Source: Photo by user Ricardo Bernardo used under CC BY-ND 2.0

When in Rome, staying environmentally friendly and practicing sustainability is made easier. Buying several water bottles won’t be necessary as drinking from the tap is fine, best to carry your own tumbler or water jug to save money. There are water fountains found in every corner of Rome, making it easier for travelers to get hydrated any time, anywhere in the city. Rome is actually known for its clean water quality for 2,000 years now and has carried on from the ancient times to modern-day city of Love (and clean drinking water).

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Radiant Rome

Colosseum in Rome, Italy
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Diliff used under CC BY-SA 2.5

In the end, the adage ‘When in Rome, do as the Romans do’ applies perfectly to even the things that tourists shouldn’t be doing in the Italian capital. Keep in mind the above list to have a hassle-free, fun-filled Roman holiday.

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Malavika, a freelance writer and coffee enthusiast, is well-versed in Kopfkino. Her interests include engaging discussions on New Zealand, the domino theory, dystopian fiction, and Harry Potter.

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