Don't fill your bottle in the Trevi Fountain. Europe has lots of ‘free’ water

Barcelona soccer fans cheer at the Trevi fountain in Rome. Picture: Reuters

Barcelona soccer fans cheer at the Trevi fountain in Rome. Picture: Reuters

Published Aug 20, 2023


By Sofia Andrade

There are about 2,500 water fountains scattered throughout Rome.

Some of these nasoni, named for their nose-like spouts, stretch back to the late 19th century, when the city of Rome decided to start providing free water to its citizens.

Many of these fountains feature a long, simple spout. The older ones feature a decorative dragon head.

Water flows constantly from all of them, where you can fill up a reusable water bottle.

That didn't stop a tourist from climbing across the city's famed Trevi Fountain to fill her water bottle with water from the 18th century landmark.

Though a yellow-vested guard promptly escorted the trespasser out of the historic site, the video quickly went viral.

Rome has had a law preventing drinking and bathing in the city's fountains since 2018.

The incident is just the latest in a string of incidents featuring badly behaved tourists at Italian monuments, including one traveller who carved love notes into the Colosseum and another in northern Italy who knocked down a 150-year old sculpture worth about 200,000 euros.

The woman who filled her water bottle at the Trevi did so in the middle of July, which was the hottest month ever recorded. (Records go back to 1880.)

Across southern Europe, widespread heat waves made travel difficult at best - and chaotic at worst. Maybe the sound of the clear, turquoise water rushing from the Trevi Fountain seemed all but irresistible amid the broiling temperatures.

The fountain gets its water from the Aqua Virgo, one of Rome's 11 ancient aqueducts and the only one that's still functioning today.

Though the water was originally used as clean drinking water for Romans, some travel sites discourage drinking its water and say it's recycled.

Amid record breaking temperatures, travellers from the United States have complained about what they consider a lack of accessible water in European cities.

One D.C.-based TikToker expressed concern that her "organs are turning into beef jerky" because they were "so dry." "Half my travel budget is water I swear," she added in the video caption.

Indeed, the culture around water in Europe is markedly different than the rest of the world.

It's not common to be greeted with an endless supply of free ice water at a restaurant, nor should it be expected.

Though having to pay for water at a restaurant - and receiving an iceless glass once you do - can be a culture shock, European water culture has some advantages when compared to other practices.

For one, most major cities, and even historic towns, have public water fountains scattered throughout.

In Rome, for example, travellers can use an interactive map on the Waidy app from Italian water provider Acea to find public water sources near them.

Even at restaurants, where wine and beer are often significantly cheaper than bottled water, there are ways to get tap water free.

While asking just for "water" will lead to being charged for a bottle of sparkling or still, asking for a glass of water or tap water will often get you it free.

This is true across Europe. In some countries, such as Spain, restaurants are required by law to provide free tap water when asked.

Unlike restaurants in the rest of the world, European restaurants probably won't refill your tap water unless you ask - and sometimes they won't even then.

But when that's the case, you can splurge on a bottle or hunt for a public water fountain at the end of your meal.

Travellers should be warned: insisting on tap water and asking for ice is a decidedly "American" thing to do, as travel influencers on TikTok have shared.

That doesn't mean, however, that you shouldn't ask anyway.

It's better to commit the relatively small cultural faux pas of asking for free water than to climb into a historic fountain in search of it.