Rome Rules: Things to Avoid in The Eternal City

Piazza del Colosseo
Piazza del Colosseo

Rome, a city that effortlessly blends history and modernity, is a magnet for tourists worldwide. However, to make the most of your visit to the Italian capital, there are certain faux pas to avoid.

From how you dress to dining etiquette, here’s a list of things not to do while in Rome.

Clothing and Accessories: Overdoing the Tourist Look

When it comes to clothing and accessories, remember that Romans have a refined sense of style. It’s common to see locals dressed smartly, even for casual outings.

While comfort should be your priority, especially with Rome’s challenging cobblestone streets and hot summer sun, avoid going overboard with the typical tourist look.

Avoid flashy clothing and accessories that scream “tourist.” While functional, items like cargo shorts, flip flops, and fanny packs can make you stand out as a target for pickpockets. Also, extraordinarily casual or revealing clothing is frowned upon, especially when visiting religious sites. Always carry a scarf or shawl to cover your shoulders and knees in places like the Vatican.

When it comes to sunglasses, a single pair of versatile, good-quality sunglasses such as Goodr sunglasses can provide you with adequate eye protection while also adding a touch of Italian flair to your outfit.

Neglecting the Siesta Culture

While not as universally observed as in other Mediterranean countries, many smaller shops, businesses, and family-owned restaurants in Rome still practice the traditional ‘riposo‘, or afternoon break. This break typically takes place between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m.

During these hours, many establishments close their doors as Italians retreat from the midday heat, take a leisurely lunch, and perhaps even enjoy a short nap.

This practice, while charming and representative of the slower pace of Italian life, can catch some tourists off guard. Planning a shopping spree or a late lunch during ‘riposo’ might result in disappointment, as your options could be severely limited.

Instead, adjust your schedule to match the local rhythm. Use these quiet hours to rest or explore less commercial sites like public parks or landmarks. When in Rome, living as the Romans do also means appreciating the value of a good afternoon break.

Ignoring Table Manners and Local Dining Customs

When it comes to food, Italians have a rich culture and specific customs that are deeply respected. Ignoring these can lead to raised eyebrows or even mild reproof from locals. Italians cherish their meal times, using them not just as a chance to satiate hunger, but also as a social event, a time to relax and connect with family and friends.

Rushing through your meal or trying to eat on the go, particularly dinner can be seen as bad manners. Instead, take your time, savor your food, and enjoy the atmosphere of the local eatery.

Also, Italians have certain unspoken rules about what to drink and when. For instance, milky coffees such as cappuccinos are traditionally considered a breakfast drink. Ordering one after a meal, particularly after dinner, might earn you some amused glances from locals and waitstaff. If you want coffee after a meal, an espresso is the typical choice.

Likewise, Romans have a specific order in which meals are served and eaten, usually starting with an ‘antipasto’ (appetizer), followed by ‘primo’ (first course, usually pasta), ‘secondo’ (second course, typically meat or fish) with ‘contorno’ (side dish), and finally ‘dolce’ (dessert). While you’re not obligated to order all these courses, knowing the traditional meal structure can enhance your dining experience.

Overcrowding Tourist Hotspots

Rome is renowned for its rich history, artistic treasures, and architectural marvels. Tourists naturally flock to famous sites like the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, and Vatican City. While these landmarks are certainly worth visiting, cramming too many of these tourist hotspots into one day can lead to a rushed, less-than-satisfying experience.

Tourist sites can become heavily crowded, particularly during the peak season. Overcrowding not only makes it hard to truly appreciate these landmarks, but it also contributes to over-tourism, which can strain the city’s resources and negatively affect the locals’ quality of life.

Instead, consider spreading out your sightseeing itinerary over several days. Prioritize the sites you most want to see, and leave ample time to explore each one. Also, try to visit early in the morning or later in the afternoon when there are fewer crowds.

Additionally, Rome is full of lesser-known but equally captivating sites. Exploring quieter neighborhoods, local markets, or less famous museums can lead to unexpected discoveries and provide a more authentic feel of the city.

Balancing the popular tourist attractions with these less crowded locales allows you to appreciate Rome’s unique charm without feeling overwhelmed by the crowds.

Overlooking Pickpocket Warnings

Like any bustling tourist destination, Rome has its share of petty crime, most commonly in the form of pickpocketing. Tourist-heavy areas, crowded public transport, and busy markets can be prime spots for pickpockets to operate.

While Rome is generally a safe city, overlooking these warnings can lead to unfortunate incidents that dampen your holiday spirits. Therefore, it’s important to stay alert and mindful of your belongings at all times.

Carry only what you need for the day, and leave your important documents and excess cash secured in your hotel safe. If you’re in a crowded place, keep your bag in front of you and ensure it’s closed. Also, be wary of distractions or people getting too close to your personal space, as pickpockets often work in teams and use diversion techniques.

Using a money belt or a theft-resistant bag can provide additional security for your valuables. Remember, most pickpocket incidents are opportunistic – the harder you make it for someone to access your belongings, the less likely you are to be targeted.

Navigating Rome with Savvy and Style

Embarking on a journey to Rome is a thrilling adventure filled with awe-inspiring sights, rich culture, and delectable cuisine. While the city welcomes you with open arms, it’s essential to be aware of the practices and customs that will help you blend in and fully appreciate all that Rome has to offer.

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