Shopping in Rome

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Rome Shopping

In Rome shopping is an art form. Perhaps it’s the fashionably bespeckled Italian wearing Giorgio Armani as he deftly zips through traffic on his Vespa or all those Anita Ekberg, Audrey Hepburn, and Julia Roberts films that make us want to be Roman for a day. But with limited time and no Hollywood studio backing you, the trick is to find what you’re looking for and still not miss out on the city’s museums and monuments—and have enough euros left to enjoy the rest of your trip.

These days, many shop-till-you-droppers heading over to the Trevi Fountain may be forgiven for humming that immortal song, “Three Coins in a Cash Register.” Yes, the Eternal City is awash in fountains and iconographic Roman rituals: gazing at Saint Peter’s Basilica through a secret keyhole on the Aventine; putting your hand inside the Bocca della Verità, the city’s ancient lie detector; and tossing that fateful coin over your shoulder into the Fontana di Trevi. All are customs that will buy you a classic photo opportunity, but none will bring you as much pleasure or stay with you longer than the purchases you make in Rome’s appealing and overflowing emporia.

There may be no city that takes shopping quite as seriously as Rome, and no district more worthy of your time than Piazza di Spagna, with its abundance of shops and designer powerhouses like Fendi and Armani. The best of them are clumped tightly together along the city's three primary fashion arteries: Via dei Condotti, Via Borgognona, and Via Frattina. From Piazza di Spagna to Piazza Navona and on to Campo de' Fiori, shoppers will find an explosive array of shops within walking distance of one another. A shop for fine handmade Amalfi paper looks out upon the Pantheon, while slick boutiques anchor the corners of 18th-century Piazza di Spagna. Across town in the colorful hive that is Monti, a second-generation mosaic-maker creates Italian masterpieces on a street named for a pope who died before America was even discovered. Even in Trastevere, one can find one of Rome's rising shoe designers creating next-century nuovo chic shoes nestled on a side street beside one of the city’s oldest churches.

This chapter will help shopaholics choose the perfect souvenir for someone back home, find a vintage poster, choose a boutique for those molto chic Versace sandals, or rustle up truffles. When we’re done filling your bags with memories of Mamma Roma, you can be sure of two things: that you’ll be nostalgic for Caput Mundi long after you arrive back home, and that we will have saved you a few coins—to throw into that fabulous famous fountain.

Planning

Opening hours

Store hours in Rome can be frustratingly fickle, so it's best to remain flexible. Small, family-run businesses may close a few hours for lunch and close one day per week so folks can have a day off. Major Rome retailers in the heart of the shopping district open their doors between 9 and 9:30 am and stay open until 7:30 or 8 pm. Most clothing stores adhere to the general operating hours listed above but close Sunday and Monday mornings. Banks are generally open weekdays from 8:30 to 1:30 and from 2:30 to 3:30. Summer travelers should be aware that most small shops close for two to three weeks just before or after August's Ferragosto holiday.

Counterfeits

Piracy, in any form, is now considered a serious offense in Italy. This not only applies to citizens, but also to tourists visiting the country. According to Italian law, anyone caught buying counterfeit goods—DVDs, CDs, sunglasses, or those impossibly discounted “Fendi” and “Gucci” bags—sold by sidewalk vendors is subject to a fine of no less than €1,000. While the police in Rome enforce this law to varying degrees, travelers are advised to purchase products only from stores and licensed retailers to avoid unknowingly buying counterfeit goods.

Duty-Free Shopping

Value-added tax (IVA) is 23% on clothing and luxury goods, but is already included in the amount on the price tag for consumer goods. All non-EU citizens visiting Italy are entitled to a reimbursement of this tax when purchasing nonperishable goods that total more than €180 in a single transaction. If you buy goods in a store that does not participate in the "Tax-Free Italy" program, ask the cashier to issue you a special invoice known as a fattura, which must be made out to you and includes the phrase Esente IVA ai sensi della legge 38 quater. The bill should indicate the amount of IVA included in the purchase price. Present this invoice and the goods purchased to the Customs Office on your departure from Italy to obtain your tax reimbursement.

Italian sizes

Italian sizes are not uniform, so always try on or measure items. If you wear a size small, you may be surprised to learn that the shirt you like needs to be a medium. Children's sizes are all over the place and though they usually go by age, sizes are calibrated to Italian children. (Average size-per-age standards vary from country to country.) Check washing instruction labels on all garments as many are dry-clean-only or not meant for the dryer. When in doubt about the proper size, ask the shop attendant; most will have an international size chart handy.

Sales

Saldi (end-of-season sales) can mean real bargains in clothing and accessories and occur twice a year in Italy. Rome’s main sale periods run January 7 through February and late July to mid-September. Unlike in many other countries, most stores adopt a no-exchange, all-sales-final policy on sale goods. At other times of year, a liquidazione sign indicates a close-out sale, but take a hard look at the goods; they may be bottom-of-the-barrel or may carry stipulations that preclude the shopper from trying them on first.

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