Battling the Crowds at the Trevi Fountain

by Gray Cargill on May 29, 2012

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I had read the advice online ahead of time: Go late at night or in the early morning hours to enjoy the Fountain without all the tourists, other travelers said. Otherwise, it’s a mob scene. I didn’t heed their advice. What a mistake.

Of course, it’s not like I had a lot of choice. I had very limited time in Rome and several priorities on my list: The Colosseum, the Forum, Palatine Hill, Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, Castel Sant-Angelo. I couldn’t see them all first thing in the morning before other tourists arrived. And I’m nightblind, so wandering around a strange city at night—especially one with such confusing streets and crazy drivers as Rome has—is probably not the best idea for me.

So I found myself at the site of this most famous of Baroque fountains in Rome in the middle of the day, at the beginning of summer tourist season (who knew early May would be so crowded?), with hundreds of other tourists. You may find that you, too, are forced by circumstance to just deal with the hordes crowded around the Trevi Fountain during your one and only visit. How, then, can you maximize your time—especially if you want to capture photos to last a lifetime?

Trevi Fountain

I wasn't quite tall enough to get a frontal view of the Trevi without tourist heads in the picture

Be Tall

Sorry, I’m just telling it like it is. If you’re over 6 feet tall and can see over the heads of all those other tourists, you’re in a better position to take photos than shorties like me. You might consider trying a camera extender with your camera’s self-timer stretched over your head, but don’t be too obvious about it, and make it quick. The Roman polizia don’t like people using tripods, so they might hassle you about your camera extender, too. (Spoilsports.) But hey–nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? I’ll let you decide if you think it’s worth the risk.

Patience, Grasshopper

Working your way to the front of the horde may require some time. Observe the crowd, try to see where the gaps are, and create your strategy for weaving through the crowd. There may be jostling. There will definitely be PSVs (personal space violations). Perhaps even an elbow throw or two. If you’ve got to throw something, I’d advise. . . .

Trevi Fountain

See? There is actually a fountain there, not just statues

Throw a Coin, Not an Elbow

Legend has it that if a visitor throws a coin into the Trevi Fountain, they are fated to return to Rome. (See Three Coins in the Fountain, one of my favorite classic films.) Of course, in order to do that, you have to make sure you actually have a coin on you!

Be a Quick Draw

Have your camera at the ready. Once you get there, you’ll have to work fast to get your photos. Stand your ground. If you want a photo of yourself in front of the Fountain, it might be good to enlist an ally. Find another tourist and ask them to take your photo, while offering to take theirs in return. They now have motivation to make sure no one pushes you out of your prime spot, because it’s about to be their prime spot. (Note: Be sure you approach them, not the other way around. Thieves have been known to offer to take tourist photos, only to run off with the camera. I recommend finding a couple who are obviously tourists; they’ll be grateful to have their photo taken together, instead of separately.)

Zoom in on the Trevi Fountain

Zoom in on the Trevi Fountain

Zoom Zoom Zoom

Don’t forget about the benefits of a zoom lens for getting in close when you physically can’t. See if you can’t focus on some of the details for some artsy shots.

Don’t Be Blinded By the Light

This has nothing to do with crowds, but I’ll offer it as advice anyway: Maybe you can’t arrive first thing in the morning or late at night, but for the love of God, don’t do what I did and arrive in the middle of a very sunny day, when the sun is at its most blinding white. An overcast day might actually create better photos–and without the sun bouncing off the white statues, blinding you in the process.

Trevi

Blindingly white horse statues; thank God for photo editing software

Watch Out For Pickpockets

No need to wonder if there will be pickpockets working the crowd. There will be. Count on it. Make sure your valuables are secured in a location where no one can get to them.

Plan B

If you can’t get in close to the Fountain for the photos you want, at least console yourself with a gelato from one of the nearby shops and a little people-watching from the periphery. I mean, really, why get stressed about not being able to get in close to see a fountain, anyway? Enjoy the circus of humanity, the cold gelato, the fact that you’re in Rome. . .and then move on to some place a bit less crowded where you can breathe and snap photos to your heart’s content.

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Ross January 25, 2014 at 7:38 am

I was there years ago and I do remember that it was like an ant colony with so many people crowding the fountain. Like you say its not always possible to go to everywhere in the morning. Good tips though especially the pickpockets.

Gray Cargill January 28, 2014 at 2:28 pm

Yeah, Ross, it’s pretty crowded, but still one of those attractions you must see once if you’re in Rome. I’m starting to wonder if we can’t consider the crowds part of the “experience,” too, you know?

Christine | Grrrl Traveler June 6, 2012 at 8:05 am

Oh my. My.

I’d say a decade ago, it didn’t feel that crowded and I went with a tour group (albeit at night). We had tons of room, plenty of photo space and time and I could make my solemn wish in peace.

But your photo looks exactly like my sunrise and sunset photos at Angkor Wat (Cambodia). So many famous sites around the world, it seems, are over-run with tourists these days that it hardly makes them feel very memorable or personal.

Gray Cargill May 31, 2012 at 7:19 pm

@JoAnn – 🙂

JoAnn May 31, 2012 at 7:07 pm

I love the Trevi Fountain. I threw a coin in the fountain on my first trip and I did go back 3 years later. I’m waiting for that second coin to work its magic.

Gray May 30, 2012 at 9:21 pm

Aww, thanks, Jan! I did have a great trip, thanks.

Jan May 30, 2012 at 9:05 pm

Oops! Nevermind then!!! (Hope you had a great time.) Looking forward to your upcoming posts. I love traveling virtually with you.

Gray May 30, 2012 at 8:35 pm

Oh, I’m not live blogging, Jan. I was there a couple of weeks ago. Am back home now. I hope someone else can use the advice, though!

Jan May 30, 2012 at 8:28 pm

I think there is another Frigidarium o Via Governo Vecchio not far from Piazza Navona – just across from Da Baffetos (great pizza)! Less of a crowd. Enjoy – you are in my favorite city. Don’t let the crowds spoil it for you. Try to get to Trastevere during the day.

Gray May 30, 2012 at 10:45 am

If I recall correctly, there IS a big crowd at Buckingham Palace, too. All these famous tourist places in Europe having big crowds. Oh well, just gotta put up with it, I guess.

Annette | Bucket List Journey May 30, 2012 at 8:51 am

Holy smokes! And I thought there was a huge crowd at the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace.
Thank goodness I have tips for when I go back to see Trevi Fountain 🙂

Gray May 30, 2012 at 5:17 am

You’re definitely more patient than I am, Tracy, if you stood for an hour in cold drizzle…but yes, those are the times when we’re rewarded with those great shots. I agree, too, that sometimes people help set the tone for your photos of sites. It’s great if you can get shots with and without, to see the difference.

Tracy Antonioli May 29, 2012 at 9:40 pm

Oh also–I’d add one more bit of advice to this list: embrace the crowd. I have a bunch of photos of Yosemite with people in them, and they really help provide scale. One of my favorite Alaska photos has a bit of the ship’s deck in the foreground, which makes much more of an impression of the hugeness of the glaciers. It took me years to become ok with it, but sometimes people in shots are ok. Sometimes…just not at Peggy’s Cove!

Tracy Antonioli May 29, 2012 at 9:38 pm

I love this! (and not just because it is the first of your Europe posts I’m so looking forward to…) Your ‘be tall’ made me actually laugh out loud–and your ‘patience’ advice reminded me of the hour or so I spent standing in the cold drizzle in Peggy’s Cove, waiting for the single second when I could press the shutter button and there wouldn’t be a tourist with an umbrella in my shot. The result is framed and hanging in my office–it is an amazing photo (probably because it was taken in the amazing light of a cold, drizzly day!)

But the best advice of all is ‘stand back and appreciate the scene’. This is important in so many places (Disney World, I’m looking at you. Crowded bus in San Francisco’s Chinatown–you too.)

Gray May 29, 2012 at 9:16 pm

That’s what I kept thinking, Jeff–“Good grief, if it’s this bad now, what’s it like in July and August???”

Jeff B May 29, 2012 at 8:47 pm

That’s a lot of people. Just imagine how much more crowded it gets at the peak of tourist season.

I like your Plan B.

Kent @ No Vacation Required May 29, 2012 at 8:18 pm

Yes! Frigidarium is a great gelato place near the Trevi Fountain. Next time!

Gray May 29, 2012 at 7:39 pm

Ooh, good one, Dave. 🙂 Yes, it’s a gorgeous fountain.

Dave May 29, 2012 at 7:18 pm

When you captioned “thank God for photo editing software”, shouldn’t you be thanking Oceanus, since he’s the one in the photo? 🙂

Seriously, I totally agree with everything you wrote about here. I’ve been to Rome twice, and both times, time constraints meant that my group visited the Trevi Fountain during peak times. Blef. But still, it’s quite impressive, even if you do have to fight the crowds in order to be there!

Gray Cargill May 29, 2012 at 7:17 pm

I actually did forget a coin, Marsha. Boo. But honestly, I’m that superstitious anyway. If I want to go back to Rome, I’ll go back. Coin or no coin. I did struggle with the crowd for awhile and then I pretty much came to the zen conclusion you see at the end of this post: Why stress about it? It’s a fountain. I saw it. Move on.

Marsha May 29, 2012 at 6:44 pm

Note to self: when in Rome, see the Trevi fountain early in the morning or in the evening. I’m pretty sure there’s no way I could have enjoyed myself among that many people. I’m sorry you didn’t have a better experience…hope you had a coin to toss in so you can go back to Rome and experience it at a more leisurely pace…

Gray Cargill May 29, 2012 at 5:24 pm

No, I did not, Kent. Is that a good one?

Kent @ No Vacation Required May 29, 2012 at 5:06 pm

Perfect = “Enjoy the circus of humanity, the cold gelato, the fact that you’re in Rome. . .and then move on to some place a bit less crowded where you can breathe and snap photos to your heart’s content.”

Did you go to Frigidarium for gelato 🙂

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