As flights get cheaper and the world gets smaller, tourist hotspots like Rome are increasingly suffering under the number of visitors they receive each year. In some ways, Rome is particularly badly hit: unlike Paris and London, Rome is a surprisingly compact city, and its narrow streets quickly fill up with tourists. Many of the city's treasures are also out in the open (as opposed to safe in museums), making them vulnerable.
Fortunately, the increase in tourism has also brought with it an awareness of these problems, and the importance of ethical, sustainable travel. Travellers and organisations are starting to look at the way they travel, and how they can cause as little damage to their destinations as possible.
It's not all selfless, either. The ideas behind the sustainable travel movement are also the ideas behind great journeys: getting off the beaten track, and discovering real local traditions and people.
Ideas for sustainable travel in Rome
As an approach rather than a fixed set of actions, sustainable tourism can be hard to define, so we've put together a list of some specific ways to begin to travel sustainably in Rome (or anywhere).
1. Visit sustainable sites
Rome has countless sites, churches, monuments and galleries to visit, but tourists usually stick to the same three or four places: there's a constant troop from Colosseum to the Sistine Chapel to the Forums to St Peter's Basilica. Research some of the lesser-known places and you'll be helping to relieve the city's congestion, while having equally interesting sites to yourself.
2. Eat sustainably
It's no secret that Rome has exceptional food. Every year, though, it gets harder to find a good meal in the city centre. It's simply easier for restaurants to make money by selling rubbish to tourists than to keep up a good menu. Why come all the way to Italy to eat the kind of rubbish you'd find in the supermarket freezer at home?
If you make sure you know the best places to eat, and give them your business, you'll be helping to keep the real Roman dining traditions going, rather than supporting the junk vendors. In return, you'll have a truly memorably dining experience. Take note of what's in season when you visit and you'll also eat better, and be supporting local producers.
Remember also that you shouldn't tip in Italian restaurants. Here's why.
3. Behave sustainably
This sounds obvious, but as you discover Rome you'll also come across heart-breaking damage caused by tourists and school groups. In Ostia Antica, for example, 2,000-year-old plaster walls have been carved up and grafitti'd by twelve-year-old children.
4. Use sustainable transport
Rome is a small city, and for the most part it's easy to get around on foot. You'll also see a lot of things when riding Shanks's pony that you'd otherwise miss. But for longer trips, consider using public transport before you run for the nearest taxi. The city's metro, buses, and trams don't just cause less environmental damage than cars: they're also cheaper and more reliable. If you watch out for pickpockets, they're safe too.
5. Shop sustainably
Whether you're looking for souvenirs to take home or need clothing or other supplies during your trip, where you shop will have an impact on the city. Spend your money in the local, independently owned shops, and you'll be helping to preserve Rome's local, independent economy. You'll also be more likely to bring home a true souvenir, rather than something plastic made in China.