Tourist Traps in Rome

By Stuart Bak

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that the closer you are to any major tourist attraction – be it in London, Paris, New York, or wherever – the more likely you are to fall into a classic tourist trap. Sure, you’ll want to hit up bucket-list biggies like the Colosseum and Trevi Fountain while in Rome, but it pays to be aware that this will position you squarely in the danger zone – we’re talking tacky overpriced souvenirs, street scammers, tediously long queues, and takeaway pizza that no right-minded Italian would touch with a bargepole. Fear not though: we’ve got your back. Read on for our guide to the worst tourist traps in Rome, how best to avoid them, and what you should do instead.

Tourist Traps at Major Rome Attractions

The Colosseum in Rome at night

Number one on the list for most Rome sightseers is the Colosseum, that great oval arena in the heart of the city. It just happens to be the biggest and best-preserved Ancient Roman amphitheater on the planet, and one of Rome’s most photo-friendly attractions, so it stands to reason that it’s busy pretty much all the time. First tip: dodge the faux-gladiators touting for photos outside and, if you absolutely must have a selfie with one of them, avoid a fleecing by agreeing a price first. Better still, get yourself onto the arena floor and strike your own Russell Crowe poses for the camera. Yes, it’s busy down there, but there are ways to avoid the worst of the crowds: quieter evening tours kick off around 9PM and the atmosphere under the floodlights is electric – you can almost hear the crowd baying for gladiator blood. Recommended.

Throwing a coin into the Trevi Fountain

Another Rome must-do, the Trevi Fountain is also best visited at dawn or dusk if you hope to avoid the worst of the crowds (and touts, and street scammers). This is also when the light is at its softest and most romantic, all but guaranteeing the perfect #humblebrag shots to fill up your Insta. Trevi is the only fountain in Rome to hold a long-established coin-tossing tradition. So sure, flip in a coin and make your wish, but don’t go doing this at every other fountain in town (as many do) – that pocketful of change is far better spent on authentic gelato or produce from local markets like these ones.

Murals inside the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican City

Skip-the-line tickets are your friend at most other major attractions, especially the Vatican Museums, though be aware you’ll still have to wait for a little whatever ticket type you have. And, although decidedly touristy, the ubiquitous hop-on hop-off bus tour is actually a pretty good way of getting around the city and ticking off many of the top Rome attractions without tiring yourself out. You can save a bit of extra cash for gelato with the OMNIA Vatican & Rome Pass, which includes the hop-on hop-off bus tour, plus access to many more major city attractions, tours and activities. Find out more about the pass here.

Traps for Hungry Rome Tourists

Friends eating pizza on a piazza in Rome

You’d think it would be impossible to have a bad meal in the world’s culinary capital, but alas, it is not. As ever, a good rule of thumb is that, if it’s within spitting distance of a major Rome attraction, it’s a tourist trap. We’re talking soggy pizza, microwaved supermarket spaghetti, mass-produced factory sauces, and worse (did somebody say ‘pineapple on pizza’?). Besides proximity to tourist hotspots, there are a few telltale signs which can help you sidestep the dodgiest dining disasters.

  1. Restaurant signs and menus that are a) in English, b) laminated or c) laying claim to e.g. ‘the best pizza in town’ are major red flags. Run away as fast as you can!
  2. The same goes for menus with no prices on them. If you can’t be shown prices up front, it’s a hard no.
  3. Aggressive waiters or touts vying for your custom out front of the eaterie. Do. Not. Engage.
  4. Italian stereotypes on restaurant signage: mustachioed dudes scoffing pizza, Italian flags, anything still trading on The Godfather movies… avoid, avoid, avoid. Unless, that is, you actually enjoy eating overpriced and unsatisfying food.
  5. Gelato from street carts. Far better to find a traditional store in a non-touristy area than to pay top dollar for a single scoop of synthetic disappointment.
  6. The people-watching potential of popular piazzas like Navona and del Popolo is second-to-none; the food resolutely… not. Seek out trattoria in smaller neighborhood piazzas for the best Roman cooking instead.
Colorful gelato on Piazza Navona

The best tip we can give is to eat where the locals eat. Non-touristy neighborhoods like Trastevere, Coppedé and Testaccio are among the most picturesque in town, and are also where can tuck into traditional amatriciana, carbonara and cacio e pepe, safe in the knowledge they’ve been freshly prepared from scratch in the trattoria’s own kitchen. And, if in doubt, Tripadvisor is your friend.

Rome Tourist Traps: Common Scams

Sightseer consulting their map at the Pantheon in Rome

Rome can have an intoxicating effect on newbie visitors, wowed by seeing all those instantly recognizable attractions – the Colosseum, the Pantheon, St Peter’s Basilica – up close. Such distractions make you a prime target for scammers, pickpockets and other dodgy dealers. Here are a few of the scams you may encounter around Rome’s tourist traps, plus tips on how to avoid them.

The freebie scam. Picture the scene: you’re minding your own business sitting on the Spanish Steps, or gazing wistfully into the glittering shop windows of the Via del Corso, when a woman or small child approaches and offers you a rose, charm or other trinket. The problem is that, the minute you take it, those sweet, innocent faces will harden and the loudly aggressive demands for cash payment will commence. Avoid by simply declining the item offered, saying a firm ‘no’ and walking away.

Bag thief stealing from a lady distracted by her phone

The map scam. Sidewalk café tables are prime real estate for incurable people-watchers and a great way to watch the world go buy over cappuccino and cannoli. But don’t let yourself get too distracted and, if anyone slaps a map down on your table on the pretext of asking for directions, be on high alert. When they lift the map to leave, chances are they’ll also grab any valuables you’ve left lying underneath. Arrivederci, phone and wallet!

The coin scam. Tourist trap hotspots abound around the major Rome attractions and you’ll find plenty of restaurants, stores and street vendors ready to give you dud coins in your change. So, if you absolutely must have that tacky Colosseum keyring, at least check for rogue lira coins in your change before walking away.

Read our guide to staying safe in Rome here.

Hand holding a Colosseum ornament in front of the real Colosseum

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Save on admission to Rome attractions with the OMNIA Vatican & Rome Pass. Check out @omniavaticanrome on Instagram for the latest top tips and attraction info.

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What's on at St Peter's Basilica

St Peter’s Basilica is the power house of the Catholic Church set in Rome’s Vatican City, on the northern side of the River Tiber. The impressive basilica overlooks a huge colonnade-lined square and was designed and decorated by Italy’s most esteemed and prestigious designers such as Bernini, Michelangelo and Bramante. Capture the picture perfect moment for yourself and visit one of Rome’s most iconic silhouettes, St Peter’s Basilica. Boasting the world’s highest dome, the structure as a whole is truly breath-taking and one of the most impressive examples of religious architecture in the world. As it’s a place of pilgrimage and prayer, it’s no surprise that there are various events held there every month. Thousands gather to hear the weekly sermons – some even travel across the globe just to participate. If you fancy a bit of the action and are in Rome this month, pay a visit to this stunning landmark and epicentre of the Catholic Church to take part in some of the public Papal proceedings in June. 6th June, Friday Saint Peter's Square, at 12:15 - Meeting with the Carabinieri Corps on the 200th anniversary of its foundation 7th June, Saturday Saint Peter's Square, at 16:30 - Meeting with the Sports Associations 8th June, Pentecost Sunday Vatican Basilica, at 10:00 - PAPAL MASS, Holy Mass Saint Peter's Square, at 12:00 – Angelus 11th June, Wednesday Saint Peter's Square, at 10:30 - General Audience 12th June, Thursday Consistory Hall, at 10:00 - Consistory for several Causes of Canonization 15th June, Sunday Saint Peter's Square, at 12:00 - Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, Angelus 18th June, Wednesday Saint Peter's Square, at 10:30 - General Audience 22nd June, Sunday Saint Peter's Square, at 12:00 – Angelus 25th June, Wednesday Saint Peter's Square, at 10:30 - General Audience 29th June, Sunday Vatican Basilica, at 9:30 - Solemnity of Sts Peter and Paul, PAPAL MASS - Holy Mass and imposition of the Pallium on new Metropolitan Archbishops Discover more with the OMNIA Vatican & Rome Card. Enjoy a free audio guide at St Peter’s Basilica for FREE and skip the queues saving you time in the busy months. Why not visit the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel after, and walk right up to the front with no queuing and no extra payment. Want to learn more? Click here to find out how it works...
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Woman photographing St Peter's Basilica in Rome

Best Time to Visit Rome for Weather

When planning a visit to Rome, there are a few things you should consider *besides* all those bucket-list Roman relics you want to tick off. That’s right: we’re talking about the weather. Rome’s location in west-central Italy means a generally warm climate with all the usual peaks and troughs of temperature you’d expect from a Mediterranean country in southern Europe. So what’s the best time to visit Rome for weather? Read on for our guide to all the seasonal pros and cons. Planning to spend a few days in town? The Omnia Vatican & Rome Pass can save you money when on attractions, activities and tours, including the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel, the Colosseum, and the Circo Maximo Experience. Best Time to Visit Rome: Spring No point beating about the bush: Rome’s spring season is hands-down the most pleasant time of year to visit. In terms of weather, average highs in March start in the low 60s, rising to the balmy mid-70s by late May, and rainfall is relatively low, so you won’t have to carry an umbrella everywhere you go. Perfect conditions, in other words, for city sightseeing: cool enough for pounding the pavements for several hours and being exposed to the midday sun at open-air bucket-listers like the Colosseum and Roman Forum, but warm enough (most definitely warm enough) to justify that daily gelato. As the city shakes off the relative chill of winter, so the streets begin to fill with a thousand colorful blooms, presenting yet another fine reason to visit in spring. Stroll the streets for Insta-tastic snaps of pink cherry blossoms, purple wisteria and clouds of yellow mimosa, and don’t miss the pink azaleas that line the Spanish Steps in April and May. This is also when the sprawling Vatican Gardens are at their blooming best. And those clear spring skies don’t half make a great backdrop for souvenir snaps of the dome of St Peter’s either. Best Time to Visit Rome: Summer Sightseeing masochists may well relish the searing temperatures, madding crowds and infuriating attraction queues during the height of Rome’s summer season, but it can feel a little unpleasant to most normal people. June through August is peak season in the Eternal City, when average temperatures sit in the upper 70s/lower 80s, but have been known to top out as high as 108°F, not exactly the most comfortable conditions for stomping up Capitoline Hill or the Spanish Steps (all 135 of them, each more sweaty than the last). Having said all that, summer can be a great time to enjoy Rome’s great expanses of green space without the risk of a surprise downpour to ruin your picnic. We’re talking the wooded glades, leafy lanes and tranquil pools of historic Villa Borghese and the beautiful botanical gardens in Trastevere, among others. Then of course there are all those excellent rooftop bars, perfect for summer sunsets and Campari cocktails. Not to mention the people-watching opportunities afforded by the crowds that pour through Piazza Navona and Piazza di Spagna, with a dripping gelato in hand, natch. Don’t miss the chance to catch the historic Teatro dell’Opera in its temporary summer home: the ancient Roman Baths of Caracalla. It’s quite the atmospheric location for performances of La Traviata, Aida and the rest. Best Time to Visit Rome: Fall The temperature in Rome drops fairly rapidly in the fall, but not unpleasantly so. You can still reasonably expect September and October averages in the mid-to-high 60s, dropping down to the mid-to-high 50s by November. But what we’re really talking about is warm, comfortable days with slightly cooler evenings and an increased chance of rain: three out of four of Rome’s wettest months are in fall (the wettest, by some margin, follows in December). With peak season done and dusted and kids back in school, there are also plenty of hotel and flight bargains to be had at this time of year, and you won’t have to worry quite as much about booking all your tours months in advance nor queuing outside attractions like the Pantheon, Colosseum and St Peter’s Basilica for hours at a time. The fall’s pleasant climate makes it a great time for exploring the Appian Way. Pack a picnic of market cheeses, cured meats and fresh bread (and a light raincoat, just in case) and strike out along this ancient road, which remains largely unchanged since Julius Caesar marched his armies up it a couple millennia ago. A rented bicycle will give you the freedom to cover way more of this fine cobbled avenue than you could manage on foot in one day, allowing plenty of time to explore the numerous ancient monuments that lie beyond the lofty pines. Best Time to Visit Rome: Winter It will come as little surprise to European weather watchers that Rome’s winter season, from December to February, is its coldest and wettest. So yeah, you can forget balmy afternoons in Villa Borghese and sun-soaked selfies on the Spanish Steps for now; this is not the best time to visit Rome if fine weather is top of your wish list. If, on the other hand, you thrill to the promise of long afternoons gorging on hot chocolate and panettone in atmospheric cafes like the landmark Antico Caffè Greco on Via dei Condotti, or Caffè Sant’Eustachio between Piazza Navona and the Pantheon, your luck’s in. December is also, of course, Christmas market season, and boy does Rome go to town on its yuletide festivities. A Christmas tree festooned with hundreds of fairy lights towers over Piazza Navona throughout the season, as the city’s biggest and best Christmas market gets underway. Wander from this artisan craft stall to that roasted chestnut hawker, drinking in the joyful atmosphere, riding the old-fashioned carousel, joining the carol singers in full festive song, and sipping warming mugs of mulled wine, a drink that was in fact invented by the ancient Romans. Magical. Save on attractions in Rome Save on admission to Rome attractions with the Vatican and Rome Omnia Pass. Check out @omniavaticanrome on Instagram for the latest top tips and attraction info.
Stuart Bak

Plan Your Trip to Rome

Planning a trip to Rome is no mean feat; it’s a city of great cultural and historic importance and the thought of trying to fit everything into just a few short days can seem impossible. Whether you’re a veteran tourist, or a first-timer, it’s hard to prioritise your favourite monuments and landmarks when you really want to see them all! How to do it? With the OMNIA Vatican & Rome card it’s easy. For three consecutive days, the card acts as your complete sightseeing package while on holiday. Giving you free entry to the Vatican Museums and tours, including Michelangelo’s famous Sistine Chapel, you can skip the queues and save up to four hours in the busy months. If anyone is planning on traveling to the city in the summer, not having to wait in line is a definite added bonus. When in Rome... The Coliseum, Roman Forum and Capitoline Museums are also high on people’s itineraries, as is the Villa Borghese Gallery and the National Museum of Castel Sant’angelo; so it’s just as well the card gives you free entry to two out of those five must-not-miss landmarks, as well as discounted entry to a further 30 top attractions. If you fancy something a little different and want to put your feet up and see the city through a different perspective, why not try the hop-on, hop-off bus tour. The perfect way to see the sights – and give yourself a much needed break! Included in the OMNIA Vatican & Rome Card is a free bus tour ticket, valid for three consecutive days, giving you a bit of extra flexibility to plan your itinerary just how you want it. Many tourists who visit Rome like the independence and to explore things the local way. If this sounds like you, there’s a travelcard valid for the entire duration of your three days, allowing you access to Rome’s extensive transport system; including the Metro, buses and rail service. Explore Rome the Roman way and don’t worry about having to carry any spare change to flag down taxis. Hassle-free holiday The run up to any holiday is both exciting and stressful. What the OMNIA Vatican & Rome card does is minimises the stress, but allows you time to plan and think about what you want to see and where you want to go. Free with the Card is a detailed guidebook about the city and its monuments – providing you will all the information you need to start to work out what you want to see. It’s hassle free and saves you lots of time and money and you can order online and pick it up whenever you’re in Rome from one of three central collection points. If you haven’t got a date in the diary yet, the card is valid for 12 months from purchase, so you can start planning and thinking ahead with the free guidebook. There’s really no easier option; this package is the perfect travel companion and will make your trip to Rome that bit easier, cheaper and definitely more fulfilling!
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