Europe Travel, Featured, Italy, Travel Hacks

10 Rome Tourist Mistakes to Avoid At All Costs

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Heading to Rome for the very first time? Be sure to avoid these common tourist mistakes so you don’t feel like a total rookie, get taken advantage of, or are stuck in a bad situation because you weren’t prepared.

The Eternal City is one of the most popular and iconic destinations in the world, and frequented by about 10 million tourists each year. It’s easy to see why, with stunning architecture and legendary sights like the Colosseum and Trevi Fountain – not to mention the food! But as with any other tourist destination or big city, it’s common for visitors to make certain mistakes.

Avoid as many hiccups as possible with these 10 common mistakes you should avoid in Rome so you can enjoy and soak up all this beautiful city has to offer during your trip!

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1. Not Pre-Booking Tickets For the Major Sights

One of the most important things you’ll do when planning your trip is booking tickets ahead of time. In Rome, there are so many tourists at all times of the year, leaving it up to chance isn’t the best course of action. Between the long lines and most attractions selling out, especially in the peak travel months, your time is better spent exploring the city than waiting for hours and crossing your fingers you’ll be able to get inside.

Even in November, we waited until two weeks before our trip to try to get tickets to see the Vatican and Sistine Chapel, and could not get tickets, they were sold out. I figured that time of year, we wouldn’t need to plan so far in advance (especially with my husband’s work schedule, we were afraid we wouldn’t be able to make our trip altogether and didn’t want to book tickets too early). What a mistake! We couldn’t get any tickets at all, and when we walked around in Vatican City (which you can do for free, without tickets), we saw line probably 500 people deep waiting to get into the Vatican!

2. Not Packing a Cell Phone Power Bank

When my husband and I were in Rome, we forgot our cell phone power bank and it was almost a complete disaster! Using our phone maps to navigate and explore the city, in addition to taking photos and videos, rapidly drained our phone batteries.

We hurried back to our Airbnb rental across town to charge our phones, with my phone dying and his being at 1% when we found our way back to the Airbnb (once again, having to use phone maps). We were almost in a serious pickle. Don’t be like us, plan ahead and bring a cell phone power bank just in case! You can see the one we recommend here.

3. Not Bringing a Secure Purse

Having a bag is so helpful on those long days out exploring Rome (and any other destination for that matter). We carried our collapsible selfie-stick, a small water bottle, my wallet, hand sanitizer and phone all in this bag.

But it’s not just a regular cross-body purse, it’s a travel purse. Featuring slash-proof material and zippers that clasp together and to hooks on the bag, this bag while looking like any other purse, is actually much harder to pickpocket and steal. When it comes to protecting your belongings, the name of the game is time. Pickpockets and thieves will move on to other less-difficult targets if your bag is more difficult to slash or open.

In Rome, in a crowd down by the Roman Forum, I felt someone grab at my bag and as quickly as I turned around they were gone. It was the slightest touch, but I felt whoever it was reaching at the zippers on my bag and quickly moving along when they couldn’t open it in the few seconds required to snatch belongings undetected. I was very happy to have this bag and not a regular purse in that moment!

Another option is a money belt that you can wear under your clothes or a zip-tied fanny pack – though the latter isn’t going to be protected if the thief plans to slash the strap and grab your bag. On our trip, we brought all three options (the travel bag, fanny pack, and money belt) and only ended up using the travel bag – it was perfect and fit everything!

4. Trying to Do It All In One Day

It can be tempting to squeeze everything into one day, especially if you’re just stopping in Rome on your way to another destination. But Rome had so much to see and experience, it’s best to give yourself at least two days to explore!

We spent 2 full days in Rome and even after seeing the major tourist attractions, still found so much to see off the beaten path. Beautiful building facades, stunning fountains that don’t seem like they could have been man-made, monuments, and fabulous little restaurants abound in this city, give yourself the time to explore it all!

5. Not Wearing Comfortable Shoes

Of all the places we visited on our trip, Rome was the destination I was most happy to have comfortable walking athletic shoes in! Walking on Cobblestones is no joke, and even after a day of walking in my athletic shoes my feet were crying. Skip the cute sandals, flip flops, and heels and opt for a comfy pair of sneakers to explore the city in – even if you plan on taking the bus and metro!

6. Not Being Aware of Scams 

With about 10 million people visiting Rome each year, the city is a prime location for pickpockets and scammers to prey on distracted, unsuspecting victims. While we touched on securing your valuables with a secured bag or under-clothing belts, you need to be on the lookout for scammers as well.

There are quite a few common scams in Rome to watch out for, especially in the more crowded areas like the Trevi Fountain and the Colosseum. Watch out for these scams:

Free Rose/Flower

Men and women will walk around, trying to hand out a free rose or other flower to women at the busy tourist sights. Initially, they act as if it’s a free, kind gesture. But will very quickly demand payment, some even making a huge scene and screaming until they’re paid, even if you try to hand the flower back.

Sign a Petition

While I didn’t see this one in Rome (I saw it in Paris), I have heard of it happening here. Someone, usually a woman, will try to encourage you to sign their petition, offering a clip board and pen. While you’re signing someone may try to pickpocket you as you’re distracted, or they will ask for/demand money for their “cause.”

The Bracelet Scam

Similarly to the free rose or flower scam, someone will try to put a bracelet on you as you are walking by. They will then demand money or make a scene in an attempt to embarrass you into complying. 

Fake Police Officers

While the most intimidating of the scams, and the hardest to recognize, fraudsters will sometimes pose as police officers. They will come up to you for an impromptu “security check,” demanding your passport, wallet, or money. Never hand over your belongings in public, ask to be checked at the nearest police station.

Taxi Scam

Some drivers, especially at airports and train station, may try to get more money out of passengers when they can. Tricks can range from giving back the wrong amount of change if you pay in cash, to meters “not working” or even meters switched to pricier weekend or holiday rates for weekday rides. Avoid scams by taking the official white Roma Capitale taxis, or even booking a taxi with the Uber app (this is what we did, and we always knew ahead of time what each trip would cost us). Most taxis will also have their rates and fare information on the windows or sides of the vehicle so you can see what your trip should cost.

7. Having Exposed Knees and Shoulders in Church

While this isn’t a mistake you will probably have to worry about in the colder months, it’s something to be mindful of in spring and summer if you plan on exploring the Vatican or any churches you may see along your walking paths. There are many churches that are open and free to enter throughout the city (we found two when we were just wandering around and they were probably one of the highlights of our Rome trip!)

Whether you’re looking to check out the incredible painted ceilings and sculptures, or want to feel the peace (or even just the air conditioning), you should be aware that you may be turned away at the door if your knees or shoulders are exposed, or you don’t remove your hats. Whether there’s someone checking at the door or not, aim to be respectful either way. 

8. Not Looking Both Ways Before Crossing the Street

I have never seen such crazy driving until I visited Italy! Between the gobs of tourists wandering around and the drivers making Rome their race track, be sure to look both ways before crossing the street and maneuvering around town. While many drivers will stop to let you cross the street, many will not even slow down a little so be mindful as you traverse the city and use cross walks when you can.

9. Forgetting to Validate Train & Bus Tickets

For buses and overground trains, you must validate your ticket at the machine before boarding. This validating takes just a moment, but ticket inspectors will look for the punch in your ticket and you should keep the ticket on you for your entire journey as it can be asked for at any point (and a hefty fine can be given out if you don’t have your ticket when asked for it, or if you don’t have it validated).

The only exception is if you buy your tickets online ahead of time. We purchased train tickets from Venice to Rome and they were already validated, as it expressly said on our mobile tickets. 

10. Expecting Air Conditioning

While Americans love their air conditioning (myself included!), Italians apparently do not. Don’t expect to walk inside to cool off. Many restaurants are even warmer on the inside than the outside, and is likely why many Italian opt to eat outside.

This can be true of lodging as well. Many hotels and rental properties do not have air conditioning. And if they do, don’t expect them to create a crisp, cool tundra like our units do back home in the states! Before your trip, adjust your thermostat a bit higher to try and acclimate before you arrive.

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