There are guidebooks aplenty on what you should do in Italy's capital city. But what should you not do when visiting Rome? Here are Millennium Hotels and Resorts’ top picks of faux pas to avoid when in the Eternal City.
1. Don’t eat at a fast-food chain
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We understand that you may be on a budget, and we get it – fast food is cheap (and those golden arches are familiar the world over, especially if you’re out of your comfort zone). But you are now in a country with some of the finest cuisine in the world. Don’t sit on the Spanish Steps with your McDonald’s, KFC, Burger King or Subway in the name of saving some euros. If you have to watch your wallet, you can still grab a gooey slice of authentic pizza at the very least.
2. And don’t eat in a tourist trap
In your quest for genuine Italian food, don’t let the overpriced, mediocre-quality tourist traps suck you in either. A few tips: when you get hungry, move away from the well-trodden Roman hotspots, such as the Colosseum, Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon and the Vatican. Beware too of the uber-suave, tuxedoed Italian man gesticulating and fawning over you with flattery to get you into his restaurant. (If the food was as good as he’d have you believe, he wouldn’t have to work nearly as hard.) Finally, if you see menus translated into multiple languages, take the not-so-subtle hint: you’re obviously not going to come across a lot of locals there. And restaurants that tout a menu turistico are literally telling you they cater primarily to tourists.
Instead, try to get a recommendation from a local – that friendly shopkeeper you exchanged pleasantries with or your helpful concierge – for an off-the-beaten-path trattoria or family-run pizzeria.
3. Don’t speed through your meal like a Lamborghini
Italians may have a reputation for speed when it comes to their cars, but mealtime is another story entirely. In Rome, they take things slowly and place great importance on enjoying the meal, appreciating the time with family and friends, and even making sure you properly digest your food. With this in mind, it’s certainly a good idea to come hungry. Expect multiple courses, including antipasti (starters), primi (‘first dishes’ – typically soup or pasta), secondi (‘second dishes’ – a larger main course), contorni (side dishes), sweets and drinks (wine throughout the meal, coffee afterwards and after-dinner liqueur). Be prepared to sit, savour and relax.
With their attitude towards and appreciation for dining, the Italians are unlikely to try to rush you from your table. You are supposed to linger there and finish everything. They want you to. So park your Ferrari frame of mind outside the restaurant and enjoy a longer-than-usual pit stop, doing as the Romans do.
4. Don’t tip
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When you do finally get up to leave wherever you decide to eat, don’t feel obligated to tip. Most Romans don’t (check them out if you don’t believe us). The price of the meal generally includes a service charge (servizio) and tipping is not necessary. However, if your inner tipper won’t let you leave the table without also leaving a little extra, a couple of coins or five to 10 per cent of the bill is more than sufficient. Anything more would be extravagant.
5. Don’t quaff your cappuccino too late in the day
Photo by Salim Virji/CC BY-SA 2.0
Italians have long complained (and much has been written) about tourists’ inclination (a nice way of putting it) to order a cappuccino in the afternoon. Despite the grumbles of the locals – and the fact that they’ll look at you as though you have three heads – holidaymakers continue to order their caffeine fix after midday. So it bears repeating: in Rome, cappuccino is a morning beverage.
This goes back to what we were saying about Italians’ emphasis on digestion (see above). Milk, according to the Italians, hampers your ability to properly digest food, and just think of all the milk in your cup of cap. So to order one after lunch – or after any meal, for that matter – is a big social gaffe.
6. Don’t have an epic footwear fail
Okay, enough about food already. (But really, in Rome, is there ever truly enough about food?) Alas, on to fashion. Sad though this may make aspiring fashionistas or perpetual beach bums, for different reasons, both high heels and thongs are wardrobe no-nos in Rome.
Yes, infamous shoe diva Carrie Bradshaw might be disappointed in you, but if you want to come away from your Roman getaway unscathed from the city’s many uneven, heel-catching cobblestone streets, it’s best to leave the stilettos at home. (That doesn’t mean you can’t pick out your next pair of Ferragamos here. Remember: there’s safety in shopping.)
As for thongs, though there aren’t restrictions on wearing them into the Vatican or any other of Rome’s many religious buildings, they are not a common dress code staple in Italy unless you’re at the beach or by the pool.
So where should you go in Rome? Here are our picks.