11 Things to Avoid in Rome for a Hassle-Free Trip

Colosseum in Rome
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Italy’s bustling capital is steeped in heritage with incredible food, gardens, and art. Rome is best known for its ancient history and millions of tourists flock to its narrow streets and sprawling piazzas every year with hopes of visiting the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, the Spanish steps, and the Trevi Fountain among a host of other classical architecture.  

It can be easy to get caught up in Rome’s grandeur if you’re a first-time traveler. Rome is considered a safe city and embracing the dolce vita when you’re there is a prerequisite. The Roman way is an eclectic mix of high culture, arts, fashion, and street life. Nevertheless, there are some things beyond personal security that you need to be careful of whenever you’re visiting a new place. 

From dining etiquette to transport hacks, cultural faux pas, and money-saving tips, these are the top 11 things to avoid in Rome for a hassle-free trip. Let’s get into it.  

Taking a taxi 

old car in Rome
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Taxis aren’t unsafe in Rome and if you need to get home safely at night or transport small kids around the city they could be a great resource for you. That said, they are expensive and inefficient. What’s more, Rome has an efficient metro and public transportation network that can take you right into the heart of the city and within walking distance of several unmissable sites. 

If you can avoid taking a cab in Rome, then do so, and in turn, you’ll avoid heaving traffic, white-knuckled driving, and money scams. If you need to get a taxi, track where you’re going on GPS and always check that the meter is running to avoid being ripped off. 

Rushing your meals

woman enjoying pasta in Rome
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Food is often at the center of Italian holidays and it’s hugely important in Roman culture. Most of the faux pas you can make in Italy are centered around dining etiquette and eating times. It’s important to understand some of them if you don’t want to stand out like a sore thumb or miss your chance to eat. 

First of all, mealtimes are sacred and it’s uncommon for you to ever find an Italian enjoying food on the go. Street food is a popular concept in Rome, but it’s common courtesy to pull up a stool, perch at the bar, or find a park bench to devour your hot slice of pizza rather than eat and walk. 

Italians never rush and neither should you. They don’t usually consume beverages while walking in the streets let alone food, so neither should you. Luckily, gelato is excluded from this rule.  

Ordering a cappuccino after noon

couple having coffee
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It might be the norm to have a cappuccino following your lunch or dinner back home, but this is one of Italy’s steadfast rules. Cappuccinos are breakfast coffees and are usually consumed first thing with a small pastry, but the high proportion of milk is thought to hinder digestion, which Italians care a lot about, so enjoying one after a bigger meal is a big no-no. 

Coffee after lunch is fine, but it should be black – an espresso is the most popular choice for Italians, and digestivi – digestive liquor – should follow dinner instead. Cappuccinos and lattes are too heavy after a meal, although, a macchiato is just about acceptable at any time of day, it’s still unlikely that a local will join you on this. 

Eating in the piazzas

fountain in Rome
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This isn’t a rule everywhere you go in Italy, but Rome’s mayor, Virginia Raggi, recently issued a ban against eating and drinking near famous fountains in the Eternal City. Several of the fifteen or so fountains affected are located in main squares including Piazza di Spagna – the home of the Spanish steps – and Piazza Barberini on Quirinal Hill. 

The fountains in Rome were once places to wash clothes for locals but have also become cherished meeting spots over the decades. However, the ban comes in an effort to crack down on littering, mainly thanks to badly behaved tourists who visit and leave their rubbish, and a hefty fine of between €40 to €240 can be issued to anyone caught violating the new rules. 

So, you can say arrivederci to tucking into your gelato next to the Trevi Fountain, but it shouldn’t make your experience any less exciting. There are plenty of pleasant park benches and quiet steps in the city to enjoy an ice cream or pizza slice anyway, without the Trevi crowds around. 

Accidentally missing a meal

friends eating pizza
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Meals are big in Italy, symbolically and physically. There’s nothing to say you can’t skip one here and there, but be careful not to do it accidentally by heading out to eat at the wrong time. 

Breakfast in Italy is nothing like it is in the UK and US. Big cooked plates of greasy food or delectable deserts served as late brunches are incredibly hard to find and are only available at touristy restaurants or hotels. Breakfast in Italy usually consists of a sweet pastry and a milky coffee and portions are tight. Still, what they regulate even more are the times you can eat. 

Depending on specific opening times of cafés, breakfast is usually eaten between 7 and 10 am, and you’ll struggle to get served a brioche (croissant) after 11 am, even if they have plenty left, because nearing noon is not an appropriate time for breakfast. Lunch, or il pranzo, is served between 12 and 2 pm, with most Italians eating prompt at 1 pm every day. 

Italians give themselves plenty of time to sit down and enjoy multiple courses at lunch for at least an hour, either at home or in a restaurant or bar. You’ll want to join them on this because come 2/3 pm, most restaurants are shut until dinner. 

Rome is a busy and touristy city so you could still find places open for a slice of pizza or bowl of pasta in the afternoon, but they definitely won’t be the restaurants most worthy of dining at. If you’re visiting in the low season, meal times will be even stricter too. Dinner is also a late affair and you’ll struggle to find anywhere open to serve you before 7.30 pm. Romans typically eat supper between 8 and 11.30 pm, and sometimes as late as midnight.   

Shopping at lunchtime

woman in piazza
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The reason the Italian schedule works so well is because everyone adheres to it. This means when Romans head out for their lunch at 1 pm, a lot of the small shops and tobacconists are closed for business until their workers return back at around 2 to 3.30 pm, after eating. 

The shops on the main high streets in Rome will probably stay open throughout the whole day, especially big European chains and department stores. However, independent stores and souvenir shops will shut their doors so that the employees can enjoy lunch like everyone else, and you should do the same.  

Confusing the four-course meal 

bowl of pasta
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Apart from breakfast, meals are never as simple as one course in Rome. It’s even the norm to have a starter and first course before your main at lunch, but the more courses, the more confusing things can get especially with the different names for each one. 

Dinner is where you’ll usually be struck with a four-course menu and this is how to distinguish all of its layers:

  • Antipasti – This is the starter and it consists of a light dish like bruschetta, Caprese salad or a charcuterie spread. A cold antipasti is most common but they can be warm too.
  • Primi – This is the first hot plate and it is often meatless but can involve seafood. Pasta, risotto, and soup are all typical first-course dishes in Italy.  
  • Secondi – This is the meat or seafood dish at the heart of the meal. Protein will be the focus, but it will be served with a contorni (side), like vegetables, potatoes, or polenta. 
  • Dolce – This is the dessert course, and it is usually cold. Tiramisù, pana cotta, tartufo al cioccolato (chcolate tart), and affogato (espresso served over ice cream) are popular desserts in Italy. 

It might sound like a lot and you’re probably wondering how Italians stay so slim. Portion control is always tight and Italians don’t tend to snack outside of their set meal times either. Fresh, homegrown Italian food is usually very healthy too, and free from additives, despite all the carbs. 

You’re not obligated to eat every course for every meal when visiting Rome, but it is polite to do the same as any fellow diners you might be eating with.  

Overtipping 

waitress with pizza
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Tipping is not typically a custom in Italy, and if you want to leave gratuity for your server, it doesn’t need to be as much as the 10 to 20 percent that is expected in some parts of the world. Waiters and bartenders make normal salaries and there will likely be a coperto (cover charge) covering the table and bread. You can round up your bill but there are no set rules so don’t overtip by accident. 

For this reason, you also shouldn’t expect customer service to be quite the same as it is back home. Servers aren’t grafting for tips and while there’s no reason for your waiter to not be polite, some of their mannerisms might not translate or not be what you’re used to from customer service.

With less workplace mobility in the hospitality industry and leisure also taking precedence over productivity in Italy, customer service isn’t held in the same regard as it is in more commercially-minded countries like the UK. Employees don’t undergo rigorous service training, and remember, in Italy, the customer is not always right, the waiter is. Try not to be offended by brash service and just take it for what it is. 

Not checking opening times

tourist taking photo in Rome
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As we’ve said, restaurants and shops operate on limited schedules, and family-run businesses move to the beat of their own drum even more. On top of lunch breaks and late opens, many businesses close one or two days a week. This is usually a Sunday or Monday, but sometimes it can be a Wednesday, so always double-check the restaurant or store you want to visit in advance.

It’s also important to note that most of Rome’s museums are also closed on Mondays, with the exception of the Vatican museums and the Colosseum. The Post Office also has infamously adhoc hours and usually won’t open again after closing for lunch. 

Rome is a late-night city, but it’s not 24/7 and you should always research opening times if there are things you’re set on doing within a limited time frame. 

Forgetting the dress code

Vatican city
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There isn’t a dress code in Rome, although if you want to do as the Romans do then having an eye for fashion and keeping things slightly formal will definitely make a better impression on the streets. Nevertheless, religious sites like the Vatican do enforce dress codes and you have to wear modest clothing if you want to get in.

T-shirts, jeans, tennis shoes, sundresses, and sandals are all appropriate for wandering the city streets, whoever you are, but you can’t enter the basilicas, cathedrals, churches, and some museums with exposed shoulders, knees, midriffs, or, for women, cleavage. This means no shorts, mini skirts, or sleeveless tops. These rules are also applied to all the Vatican buildings like the Sistine Chapel and museums, as well as the Vatican gardens. 

Some churches provide wraps but many don’t, so it’s best to plan ahead. While Roman fashion is laidback in most other senses, one thing to also watch is your training gear. To run through the city center you should be dressed appropriately. Police will stop you if you’re shirtless or wearing a revealing sports bra. If you want to go for a run, it’s best to do so in a park or along the river, and very early in the morning.  

Eating at the first restaurant you see

things to avoid in Rome
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When looking for somewhere good to eat in Rome, there are a few things to keep in mind. You might have just spent four hours exploring the Vatican, but you shouldn’t just wander into the first restaurant in front of you, even if the staff is beckoning you in with open arms. 

First of all, restaurants directly next to tourist sites are going to be significantly more expensive. That’s not to say the meal won’t be good, but if the waiter also has to ask for you to come and sit down, chances are it’s not going to be the best food you’ve ever had. Italian cuisine speaks for itself and a packed restaurant with a line at the door is a good sign of high quality. 

If it opens before 7.30 pm, this is also an indication that it’s a tourist haunt, rather than a real hidden gem. Look for holes in the wall that open late and close late, and avoid touristy areas for a true taste of Rome. 

Is Rome safe?

Rome is a big and bustling city that attracts millions of tourists every year. Visitors should exercise general precautions as they would in any capital and keep belongings close at all times. However, Rome is a safe place to visit and demonstrates lower crime rates than many Italian cities, including Milan, Bologna, Florence, and Naples. A well-trained police force keep the streets safe and tourism is a huge contributor to the economy so visitors are always looked after. 

How many days do you need in Rome?

Rome is an enchanting city and one of the most iconic vacation destinations in the world. You could spend months exploring its narrow alleyways and incredible historic sites but still not uncover all of its mysteries. Nevertheless, you’ll need at least four days to see all the top attractions but we recommend allocating at least five or seven if it’s your first visit to Italy, or splitting your time between Rome and Tuscany, to get a real taste of Italian culture. 

When is the best time to visit Rome?

Italy has a temperate Mediterranean climate and Rome experiences its best weather between June and August, with highs in the late 80s and plenty of blue skies. However, summer holiday crowds descend on the city at this time of year and it can be hard to navigate. Consider visiting between April and May, or September and October for pleasant weather and fewer tourists. However, note that visiting too early or too late in the year can denote which attractions will be open with normal operating hours. 

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Esmé is an English literature graduate and freelance writer. Originally from London, Esmé is lucky enough to call Bali home. Her travels have taken her from the far corners of the East to the islands of the Caribbean. When she's not writing, you'll find her lying on a beach somewhere, lost in a crime novel.