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How to avoid tourist trap restaurants in Italy

Tuesday, March 4th, 2008

Planning a trip to Italy and can’t wait to try authentic Italian food? Here are some tips for finding the best restaurants and avoiding tourist traps.

Rome restaurant Let’s face it; it is a rare thing when traveling not to find yourself eating next to people who are speaking in your language or many other languages, just not the one native to the country you are visiting. It can often be frustrating and disappointing.

After all, a holiday in Italy isn’t for the hours of waiting in line to see the requisite works of art. It’s about the food. So where is the good stuff? Sometimes it seems that the Italian’s have hidden their best restaurants, keeping them secret from the never ending parade of tourists. And, tourist-Italian just never quite arrives at the splendor of Italian-Italian.

Don’t get me wrong, there are many good restaurants out there filled with tourists that are quite delicious, but being in in Rome, Florence, Naples, Venice or Milan, is also about the Italian lifestyle. So, how can you find a restaurant that really is that ever elusive authentic Italian, complete with real Italians?

What not to do

  • First of all, don’t use your guide book. Even guide books that claim to be behind the scenes will lead you to the same places that they have lead others. The small, out of the way, restaurant with such flair may have once been “off the beaten path”, but all of the thousands of people carrying the same guide book you have will probably have changed that.
  • Secondly, don’t ask your hotel, guide, taxi driver, or anyone who says “tell them I sent you”. In Italy everything is based on connections, especially when it comes to making money. This means that almost every hotel has a specific few restaurants that pay them to send them customers. They can often be quite lousy choices, seeing as how they need to pay for clients.
  • Lastly, stay away from piazzas, major streets, and museum areas. It may be tempting to grab a seat in a beautiful square where you can sit outside and people watch or gaze at flocks of pigeons, but the piazza restaurants run quick and easy menu’s, over charge, and are probably so tired of being harassed that the waiters are rude.

What to do

  • Explore. Do it yourself. Just hunt around, use your imagination, read menus, go down back alleys (not by yourself), and pick something based on your instincts. The best way to do this is earlier in the day. If you know you want to go to dinner leave yourself some time in the afternoon to discover the perfect choice for the evening, that way you won’t be rushed, and you won’t be hungry enough to settle on the first place you find. Then you can dress, relax, and be ready for your evening’s chosen spot.
  • If you are going to explore on your own, look for places that don’t advertise in other languages outside of the establishment. If you discover they have a menu in English don’t panic, this is very common and can be expected in even the remotest of Italian eateries. Do panic if they have a laminated book of a menu offering every language choice from here to Timbuktu. This means they probably have more that a little experience in tourism.
  • If you are going to ask someone for a recommendation try to pick a person who is native to the town, and who is unbiased. Someone who was friendly and helpful in a store, a barista who has time to talk, or maybe a friend you meet along the way. Almost all Italians take there food seriously and will probably point you in the right direction as long as they aren’t looking to make a euro off of it.
  • The last piece of advice I can give is to just get out. Get out of the cities, get out of the tourist areas, move away from the crowd. If you have a car drive into the country until you see a restaurant with cars, motorcycles or scooters outside, no cars means in isn’t popular with Italians either. Have fun, enjoy, discover for yourself the best hidden secrets in Italy. Just don’t tell anyone when you do.

Photo of restaurant terrace in Rome originally posted by scalleja

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About the author

Venere Travel Blog writer fiona lapham

Fiona Lapham is married to an Italian and lives in a small town in Italy just outside of Florence. She has a BA in Anthropology and Writing, and a 2-year degree in culinary arts from The Culinary Institute of Florence. She loves living under the Tuscan sun though she often finds the hilarity, instead of the romance, to be Italy’s most exciting offering.

4 responses to “How to avoid tourist trap restaurants in Italy”

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  1. Buffy says:
    March 4th, 2008 at 18:01

    Great post!
    I can only add that if you’re looking for a good pizza without emptying your pockets, you should look out for the millions of students who wander Rome streets everyday… they always know where you can find “una buona pizza”, even late at night, “for a fistful of Euros”.


  2. Emilie Solotorovsky says:
    March 17th, 2008 at 06:17

    I will try putting my guidebook away and wandering down the small steets next time I go to Italy. Thanks for all the tips! I love to eat local specialties. That is how you experience the place. Yummy adventure.

  3. Kim says:
    June 23rd, 2009 at 15:07

    A handy Italian word to learn would be ‘ciascuno’(pronounced CHAS-KOO-KNOW) It means ‘each person’
    We went to an ocean front sea food restaurant in Alghero. The menu was in Italian. There were sea-food platters, 17 Euro for small, 22 Euro for medium and 25 Euro for grande (large). The waiter advised us that the large platter would be enough for 3 people. What he did not advise us (and what was not clear on the menu) is that we were to pay 25 Euros each person. The 75 Euro bill came as a bit of a surprise! Thank God for credit cards eh?
    Next time you are in an Italian tourist trap, remember to ask whether the price is “ciascuno?”

  4. car hire alghero airport says:
    July 24th, 2009 at 05:08

    Will you help me to get a list of all those places that are worth visit near Alghero?

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