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Cuisine is one of the main reasons that we are drawn to Italy. It doesn’t get much better than fresh pasta, wood oven pizza, creamy gelato, and locally produced wine. Although, so many visitors succumb to the clever gimmicks that many restaurants use to lure in tourists. I constantly am hearing from travelers that they were disappointed by the food in major cities like Rome, Florence, and Venice. This pains me because the issue isn’t that cities like this are touristy, or do not have authentic and local dining institutions. It’s that many tourists find it difficult to differentiate between the real deal and tourist traps in Italy.

Eating out in Italy is just as much about the food and wine, as it is the people you are dining with. Mealtime in Italy is sacred. It’s about sitting down, uninterrupted by phones and work, to spend quality time with loved ones. Nothing about eating at local restaurants in Italy should feel transactional. I can assure you that local establishments couldn’t be less bothered to try and convince you to dine at their restaurant. This is a major differentiation between authentic restaurants and tourist traps.

The essence of the dining experience in Italy is very nonchalant. Service is not always timely, or super friendly for that matter, but it is about being present. It’s about showing up and savoring handmade pasta with a perfectly paired glass of wine, all while in good company.

how to avoid tourist traps in Italy

How to Spot & Avoid Tourist Traps in Italy

Displays of Food – Any restaurant displaying food or dishes near the entrance is an automatic no go. Italian food shouldn’t need a display to convince you that it’s appetizing and authentic. Take this cue as a ploy for tourists, and avoid at all costs.

Menus on Display in English – Another dead giveaway that most tourist traps will have is a large English menu on display.

Ignore Hawkers – Restaurants hiring staff to lure in their customers is a sure sign that it’s not local.

Avoid Main Squares & Major Sites – Most restaurants in the main piazzas (squares) and near major tourist attractions cater specifically to tourists. Not only this, but you will be paying top dollar for subpar cuisine. Avoid dining in any of the major piazzas while in Italy. Though, since the piazza is the epicenter of urban life in Italy, I would suggest opting for a glass of wine or a coffee to enjoy the view. Just know, it will be a bit overpriced.

*Travel Pro Tip –

Still unsure of how to spot the real deal, local eateries? When you head out to get your morning espresso, ask your barista for their neighborhood favorites. Unlike tour guides or hotel concierges, their insight will be totally unbiased.

local restaurants in Rome

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4 Comments

  1. Brooke Witt on June 21, 2019 at 8:18 am

    Love these tips! Thank you, Lexi!

    • Lexi Doerfler on June 28, 2019 at 11:37 pm

      Glad to be of assistance! Let me know if there are any other tips/guides you would love to see on the blog?

  2. Steven Adler on June 30, 2019 at 3:39 am

    I have had only one bad tourist trap experience at any restaurant in Italy. Predictably, it was on the Grand Canal in Venice. The tip off was that the oil in the cruet on the table was not olive oil!
    Other than that, all our experiences have been memorable. I especially remember a restaurant above Positano where we ordered a mixed grilled meat dinner. There was beef, pork, chicken, lamb; but no rabbit. I mentioned to the waiter (in kindergarten Italian) that I loved rabbit, and sure enough, a platter of grilled rabbit soon appeared.
    We once stopped at 2:30 pm to ask directions at a closed restaurant in Sperlonga, on the Mediterranean north of Naples. The proprietor insisted on seating us and cooking us lunch! My son and I ran into him several days later at lunch on the Amalfi Coast. He exclaimed “Mi amici de Stasi Uniti!” and bought us a bottle of wine.
    The key is to not be afraid to communicate, even if your Italian is rudimentary. Italians I have met are very open to this (unlike Parisians).
    Pro tip – bring young children – Italians love children, even, or especially, at dinner at 9 pm in nice restaurants.

    • Lexi Doerfler on July 3, 2019 at 1:01 am

      I completely agree and all great tips! The willingness to speak a little Italian definitely goes a long way.

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