The Strange City of Rome Without Tourists: Travel restrictions have turned over-touristed destinations into quiet, almost unrecognizable places, even for those who live there. It’s a bittersweet experience for the people we talked to.
For the past two months, many of the world’s most popular destinations have been shuttered to visitors, leaving monuments, museums, shops, restaurants, bars and streets almost empty.
As the world reopens and residents step out, they are faced with the reality that life today is different than it was before Covid-19, and will likely remain this way for some time. One of the most significant differences — a bittersweet realization for most — is that there are currently no tourists to attend to or crowds to shuffle through.
We asked people of the most over-touristed places around the world what it’s like. In the Galápagos it feels like time has rewound to a previous era. In Prague it’s been a relief to admire a bridge that in recent years has become a popular spot for selfie-stick-wielding Instagrammers.
In Venice, a city that has long been overwhelmed by tourists, Venetians, for once, aren’t outnumbered by visitors. In Ha Long Bay, Vietnam, as in Bali, fear of the loss of tourism has given way to a focus on family.
Although tourism is the lifeblood of the economies of these destinations, and the need for travel to resume may be dire, this moment of pause has allowed locals to experience something that only recently seemed impossible: having their homes to themselves.
After two months of quarantine, my friend and I ventured back to the center of the city from our home in the Montersacro neighborhood. We walked to the Circus Maximus and the Colosseum and it was a strange sight: No one else was there.
You have to understand that I work in an office in the Monti neighborhood by the Colosseum and every day, I used to wade through the crowds entering and exiting the Coloseo Metro station to get to the ancient amphitheater and the Roman Forum. At first it was bizarre to be there without all those people, but as it sank in, it became a beautiful, new experience.
I am from Chioggia, a town just south of Venice, and I always dreamed of living in Rome. Being here during this time has been difficult, but for the past week, the city has been romantic, like a dream. We walked to the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps and there were so few people there, we were practically alone.
Exploring our city these days is like discovering a new city. Even the mundane things that we once took for granted like getting gelato or having a coffee outside now feel special. Yesterday, we got some pizza and suppli in Trastevere. Imagine walking through Trastevere, across Ponte Sisto, along the Lungotevere without it being lined with people.
This experience is making it possible to see the city that we live in with new eyes. Normally we walk to get where we need to be, but walking now gives us a chance to see details that we don’t always notice when you’re elbowing your way through a group of tourists who walk on you. We went to St. Peter’s Square, the Pantheon, Villa Borghese.
Right now, Rome is visited only by Romans and it’s a strange feeling. It’s sad that we don’t have tourism because we rely on it and it will soon be an emergency if we don’t get tourists back, but we have been enjoying this brief respite.
Rome is a living museum and it is a privilege to have it all to ourselves.