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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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
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Best Time to Visit Rome for Weather

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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. 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Plan Your Trip to Rome

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