This time next month I’ll be in Rome – at last! I booked this trip way back in March and have spent the last five months googling everything there is to know about the city in an effort to pass the time more quickly.
And, while there’s plenty of information available online about what to do, where to eat and even how to dress, there’s not quite as much about local etiquette. For that reason, I thought it might be quite a nice idea to share some ‘know before you go’ knowledge of my own with you all.
1. Don’t accept gifts in the street
The idea of having a handsome Italian man shower you with gifts in the streets of Rome sure sounds romantic. In reality, however, it can become a real head sore, mostly because they’re expecting money in return. If you find yourself being accosted with unwelcomed gifts, be polite; a simple ‘”no grazie” or a couple of coins should be enough to get you out of the situation.
2. Keep your eyes open
I don’t really believe that any one place is more dangerous than the other but Rome has been labelled the pick-pocket capital of Italy, and so it’d be wrong for me not to warn you. Be vigilant, and don’t leave your valuables in an accessible backpack or pocket, especially when you’re getting on and off buses or winding your way through busy crowds.
3. Look but don’t dive
Under no circumstances should you dip your feet into the fountains in Rome. This might sound obvious, but you’d be surprised at the number of tourists who continue to do this. Just last month, three tourists stripped down to their bikinis and jumped into the 17th century Fontana dell’Acqua Paola to cool down – much to the anger of local residents.
4. You only get one wish
All of the fountains in Rome are littered with coins but true Italians know that only wishes on coins tossed into the Trevi Fountain come true.
5. Free drinking water is everywhere
There are around 200 drinking fountains, or nosani, in Rome which are perfectly safe to drink from. Instead of paying €1.50 for a bottle drink every time the blistering heat gets a little too, take an empty bottle of your own to fill up with free water. This handy map shows you the location of every drinking fountain in the city.
6. Don’t ignore the dress codes
Sundresses, skirts and tank tops might be the comfiest attire to wear in Rome, but it’s not always the most appropriate. You’ve probably heard that a lot of city’s churches, museums and other places of culture enforce a strict dress code that requires visitors to cover their shoulders and knees. To be respectful but not too hot, bring a lightweight pashmina or oversized scarf/poncho with you to wrap around yourself in these places.
7. Take advantage of the freebies
Not all Roman attractions charge admission. In fact, most, including the Pantheon and the Vatican, are free to enter on certain days of the week. Basilicas are also almost always free, as is a walk through the small street quarters. Do your research ahead of time to discover free things to do during your trip to Rome.
8. Cash is king
From their morning coffee to evening dinner, most Italians pay for things with cash. Don’t be surprised if your waiter suddenly bulks when you hand him or her a card.
9. Trains are notoriously late
Mussolini most definitely did not make the trains run on time! The trains in Rome are notorious for being late or cancelled altogether due to strikes, among other things. If you’re planning a trip across the city, make sure that you allow yourself plenty of time to get there and back. Also, always have a second mode of transport of standby, be it a taxi, bus service or something else.
10. Don’t judge a restaurant by how busy it is
If a restaurant is busy, it usually means its good. At least, that’s the rule I live by when I travel abroad. This rule doesn’t really apply in Rome, however. Italians don’t eat until late – usually around 8pm at the earliest – so remember to check your watch before you dismiss a restaurant for being empty. It could have nothing to do with the quality, and everything to do with the time.
Have I missed anything? Is there anything you wish you had known before going to Rome? Let me know in the comments!