As one of the world’s most beautiful and intriguing cities, Rome consistently attracts millions of tourists every year.
But with such a large number of visitors to the city each month, there are always some business owners, hawkers and petty criminals keen to exploit foreigners’ naivety for financial gain.
While most people and businesses are honest and welcoming to tourists, there are a few scams to look out for during your stay in the Eternal City.
Tourist-only restaurantsEasily identifiable by their red-and-white checked tablecloths and plates of plastic food lingering next to the English-only menus, these restaurants purely target tourists and should be avoided.
Most of these restaurants, with some exceptions of course, are located tantalisingly close to Rome’s major sites – the Colosseum, the Spanish Steps, the Vatican, the Trevi Fountain and other famous areas of interest.
While walking down the street, you will hear the restaurant before you see it, as the waiting staff will be lining the streets, trying to usher you inside.
Any restaurant worth their salt in Rome will be far too busy to waste time convincing you to eat there. In fact, you will probably either have to book a table in advance or wait patiently outside until a coveted spot becomes free.
Due to their splendid locations in the shadows of Rome’s hotspots, the owners of these restaurants pay sky-high rent. This is, of course, reflected in the quality of the food. After all, who can afford sky-high rent and top quality ingredients at the same time? This often results in poor quality fare disguised as authentic Roman classic dishes like carbonara and amatriciana. No Italian would be caught dead eating at one of these tacky establishments. Do a little research and explore the backstreets to uncover some hidden culinary gems.
KiosksLike the tourist-only restaurants, these kiosks are usually found near major tourist sites.
On very hot days exploring the city, they can seem like an oasis in the desert, offering bottled water, fruit, snacks and iced drinks to thirsty travellers.
But these kiosks can charge extortionate prices – even asking as much as five euros for a small bottle of water in some cases, which should cost between 50 cents to one euro.
Again, all the menus will be in English only – the absence of Italian being a sure sign of a scam.
‘Gifts’ on the streetIf a hawker spots you and identifies you as a tourist, soon enough he or she will be winging their way towards you to shake your hand, make small talk, then offer you a gift of a bracelet, necklace or small ornament.
Do not accept these ‘gifts’ – once you have taken them you will be pestered to make a donation or buy more goods, or the seller might even become increasingly hostile towards you. This is a standard trick on the streets to guilt you into parting with your cash for a piece of junk you don’t want.
The same applies to the hordes of flower-sellers pushing bunches of roses in your face on the street or sometimes even inside bars and restaurants.
Just ignore their persistence, give a firm ‘no’ and walk away.
PickpocketsLike any major city, Rome has its fair share of pickpockets on the streets and riding public transport, particularly at Termini station.
A common trick is for small groups, often teenage girls, to barge into you while getting on or off a bus, train or metro, before another grabs your belongings and scarpers.
Just keep your eyes peeled, your valuables locked in a safe if possible, your bags closed and close and your wallet carefully concealed.
GelatoItaly is famous for its delicious gelato. But sadly, not all ice-cream is created equal.
In fact, some outlets do not produce traditional gelato at all – it is made with a synthetic powder mix.
The best way to tell real gelato from fake is to look at the colours, quantities and flavours on display.
If you see neon green pistachio instead of a more brownish hue of green, avoid.
And if the gelateria boasts flavours like bubblegum and raspberry ripple, in huge whipped heaps in aluminium trays, these are best dodged in favour of a smaller outlet serving quality artisanal produce.
by Catherine Evans