15 strange ways to get into trouble on holiday in Italy

In Italy, there really is a time and a place for everything.

15 strange ways to get into trouble on holiday in Italy
Police patrol the base of the Spanish Steps in Rome. Photo: Marie-Laure Messana/AFP

By now, most regular visitors to Italy know that things like swimming in fountains and street drinking are not just frowned upon, but likely to land you with a fine or a Daspo (temporary ban from the area).

And you’d think it would be obvious that stealing pieces of the Colosseum or peeing on Florence’s famous monuments is a no-no.

But as Italian tourist hotspots struggle to manage overcrowding in peak season, it seems that visitors are falling foul of local laws every other day.

Simply being polite and considerate should usually be enough to keep you out of trouble in Italy. But even the most well-meaning visitor could fall foul of some rules, which were either enforced recently in response to issues with overtourism or brought in many years ago and never abolished.

So here’s a quick look at what NOT to do if you want to avoid any trouble on your next trip.

Bring a wheelie suitcase

Ever heard the sound of a dozen wheeled suitcases rolling down a cobbled street in Rome? If so, you might understand why the capital, and Venice, have decided to ban luggage on wheels from their city centres (and don’t even think of hauling one up or down the Spanish Steps).

Wear flip-flops

Local authorities in the popular seaside destination of Cinque Terre have begged visitors to stop wearing flip-flops on its hiking trails, which many visitors don’t realise are pretty rugged. Tired of having to call out the emergency services to rescue stranded tourists, authorities are now handing out fines ranging from €50 to €2,500 to anyone caught endangering themselves with a poor choice of footwear.

READ ALSO:‘They’re not swimming pools’: Tourists told to keep out of Rome’s fountains

Eat on the go

You’ll rarely see image-conscious Italians eating snacks while walking, or ordering a (heaven forbid) takeout coffee. Taking the time to sit down and eat or drink “properly” is of huge importance. But in Florence, snacking on the streets is actually banned.

Florentines’ intense dislike of seeing tourists munching slices of pizza as they walk means you could be fined for eating on the go on certain streets in the historic centre at mealtimes, when the city says everyone should be sitting down to enjoy their food. You can be fined up to €500 for flouting the law.

Eat in the wrong place

And don’t think that you can sit down to enjoy your panino just anywhere. “Slovenly eating” on or near Rome’s historic fountains at any time of day can land you in serious trouble under recently-passed laws, and anyone caught picnicking on the streets of Venice can also expect a hefty fine.

Make your own coffee

Two backpackers were fined a whopping €900 recently in Venice for brewing a morning coffee at the foot of the Rialto bridge. Locals weren’t impressed by the visitors setting up a camping stove next to the world-famous monument, and called the police – though some of our readers commented that the real “crime” here was bringing their own coffee to Italy.

Photo: AFP

Steal sand

Sardinia has cracked down on “sand theft” in an effort to protect its fragile environment. You might never have thought of it, but there are people who take sand home from beaches as souvenirs – while plenty more accidentally take it home on their clothes or beach towels. Anyone found smuggling sand in their suitcases can now be fined up to €3,000 – and one couple who tried to take a whopping 40kg of sand home with them now face jail time.

Swim in a canal

Several people have found themselves in trouble with police in the past few years after going for a swim in Venice’s canals on a hot summer’s day. Think dipping a toe in won’t cause any harm? Putting your feet in is banned, too.

Cool off in a fountain

It might look tempting in Rome’s summer heat, but there have been around a dozen reports of tourists being fined up to €450 this year alone after taking a refreshing dip in one of Rome’s historic fountains. And we definitely don’t recommend skinny-dipping in central Milan.

Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP

Use a drinking fountain incorrectly

Rome has another type of fountain: those spouting fresh drinking water. But using them improperly – putting your mouth to the tap, or even washing your feet in them – can incur the wrath of locals and also land you with a fine.

Sit on the steps

Sitting on Rome’s famous Spanish Steps was, until very recently, a very typical thing to do on a summer evening in the city. But a new law makes this a thing of the past. It’s now prohibited to sit on the historic steps, which were built in the 1700s and recently restored at a cost of 1.5 million euros.

Ride a bike

In Venice’s usually crowded city centre, riding a bike, or even walking with a bike, is now banned.

Wear a swimsuit

Italians regularly complain about visitors to cities dressing as if they’re at the beach. But under new rules, Venice has completely banned swimwear and sunbathing in the centre – and walking around shirtless (or topless) in Venice or Rome will get you in trouble, too.

READ ALSO: Tourists fined for taking bikes through Venice shirtless

Feed the pigeons

Another one from rule-heavy Venice: this favourite pastime of tourists everywhere could get you into big trouble in the canal city.

Use a “love lock”

The idea of writing your initials on a padlock and affixing it to a bridge was made popular by instagrammers everywhere from Prague to Paris. Many European cities have cracked down on it now after damage to historic bridges – and Rome and Venice are among them.

Wear clogs

Just in case you were going to pack a pair of wooden clogs for your trip to Capri (and who wasn’t?) here’s a heads up: they’ve been banned on the island since 1960, for reasons we can only guess at.


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OPINION: Why more of Italy’s top destinations must limit tourist numbers

A growing number of Italian destinations are bringing in rules aimed at controlling the summer crowds. Such measures often prove controversial - but they should go further, says Silvia Marchetti.

OPINION: Why more of Italy’s top destinations must limit tourist numbers

Each summer, as tourists flock to Italy, the question of limiting crowds and ensuring sustainable travel comes up. Especially so with Covid.

Placing a threshold on the number of visitors to some of Italy’s top spots has a two-fold goal: that of preserving the artistic and cultural value of the site, and of preventing out-of-control mass tourism from leading to accidents.

READ ALSO: MAP: Which parts of Italy will get the most tourism this summer?

Proposed crowd-control measures usually raise eyebrows, but they shouldn’t. They’re a good way to balance sustainability, and existing rules should be extended to more hotspots.

The Cinque Terre park, known for its stunning hiking trails connecting the area’s cliffhanging fishing villages, has introduced summer tourist limits to preserve its delicate ecosystem. A few parts of the trails, like the Lovers Path connecting Manarola to Riomaggiore, are closed due to soil erosion and landslides.

Groups of no more than 15 hikers are allowed inside the Cinque Terre park in rotation, and there’s a cap of 200 available boat tickets for those preferring to admire the views comfortably from sea while bathing.

Liguria remains a popular destination for visitors coming to Italy this summer.

The Cinque Terre remain a popular destination for visitors coming to Italy, attracting huge crowds. MARCO BERTORELLO / AFP

Many locations across Italy are reverting to, or are considering, some kind of restricted access to offset high demand with ‘green’, safe travel. 

The Amalfi coast has a summertime limit on driving along the route connecting Positano to Vietri sul Mare to ease congestion, while a few years ago the mayor even banned tourist selfies to stop massive crowds of people invading the whitewashed alleys and sitting on brick walls.

There are currently strict limits on the number of people allowed to visit the Tuscan archipelago national park each summer, mainly the protected islands of Montecristo (uninhabited other than a caretaker), and the two prison islands of Gorgona and Pianosa (boasting a hotel run by inmates on probation). A maximum of 150-200 tourists are admitted annually to each of these isles.

You also need to move fast if you want to spend a weekend in Sardinia, touring its tropical-like baby powder beaches and paradise isles. The number of restrictions in place is on the rise.

On Budelli island, the pearl of the La Maddalena archipelago, other than the pink coral beach, the Cavalieri beach is also now totally off limits, meaning landing on the entire island is forbidden.

READ ALSO: MAP: Which regions of Italy have the most Blue Flag beaches?

The beaches of Lu Impostu and Brandinchi along San Teodoro’s coast will allow just 1500 and 3300 sunbathers each, while Stintino’s popular La Pelosa beach allows 1500, making tourists pay €3.50 per day and wear a yellow bracelet for identification.

The paradise archipelago of La Maddalena is seeing more tourist restrictions imposed. Photo by Leon Rohrwild on Unsplash

The abandoned former prison island of Santo Stefano, off Rome’s coast, which is part of a protected marine park brimming with barracudas and groupers, is currently undergoing a transformation into an open-air museum with a tiny hostel. Project managers have already pledged daily tourism will be “contained”’ to preserve the unique habitat.

In the mountains too, authorities are eyeing tougher limits. At Lago di Braies in the Dolomites, 14 tourists recently fell into the freezing water trying to take awesome, but silly, selfies of their acrobatic skills despite warning signs.

READ ALSO: TRAVEL: Why now’s the best time to discover Italy’s secret lakes and mountains

In my view, all of Italy’s tourist hotspots should have some kind of regulation and police patrols, including top city highlights like the Trevi Fountain, Florence’s Duomo, and Venice, which in fact is expected to become Italy’s first city with a tourist limit from January 2023. People will have to book and buy a special pass to see the canals, bridges and piazzas.

If Venice succeeds in doing this, then it will show other cities that they too can control access to at least their biggest hotspots.

In Rome, the Pantheon has done a great job in introducing mandatory (but free) reservations on weekends, putting a stop to visitors just stepping inside to take a peek.

READ ALSO: Ten ways to save money on your trip to Italy this summer

The Fontana di Trevi, Piazza Navona and especially Piazza di Spagna should be more heavily patrolled, and Rome authorities should really consider a set tourist limit.

But just the idea is controversial, seen as a no-no depriving tourists of the thrill of throwing coins inside Rome’s iconic fountain to make a wish.

The Trevi fountain in Rome attracts a constant stream of tourists. (Photo by Vincenzo PINTO / AFP)

There is a constant, sterile discussion within the city council and the national arts department on tougher regulations and limited entrances to Rome’s main sites.

Culture minister Dario Franceschini is pushing for a more sustainable ‘fountain experience’ that limits crowds and prevents heat-struck visitors from diving inside. He recently argued that allowing “1,000 or 100,000 visitors in front of the Trevi fountain” puts both them and the masterpiece at risk.

Ugly red tape, orange nets and rusty fences are occasionally placed around the Trevi Fountain without much of an outcome.

There are architectural barriers to stop people from sitting on the edges and dangling their feet inside the water at Fontana delle Tartarughe and Bernini’s Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi in Piazza Navona, but it’s not enough. 

Setting a daily cap on visitors is the best solution; even better than introducing a ticketing system, because any tourist, once in the Eternal City, would pay to get in, and it would not be fair to discriminate based on money.

After all, if Italian universities can restrict enrollment for medical students, when new doctors are vital during Covid, I see no reason why tourist attractions can’t set limits when their own survival is at stake.