The bizarre rules that could see you fined on your summer holiday

Tourists in Venice
Tourists in Venice - Getty
bizarre rules
bizarre rules

There are some rules, like jaywalking in the US, that we follow on holiday despite them seeming absurd. They’re treated almost like urban myths, passed around as a sort of joke, but it turns out that there are plenty more unusual laws in force across the world for holidaymakers to stumble over.

Italy, for example, has no shortage of draconian regulations, many aimed at tourists. Sporting types might fall foul in Lake Garda, where visitors were warned this week of fines of up to €600 for a whole host of offences, including playing football “in such a way that bathers are disturbed”. “Inappropriate” clothing and “games that involve running, throwing objects, pushing or pulling things or people” are also prohibited in certain lakefront areas, according to reports.

Visitors who attempt to sit on Rome’s Spanish Steps, meanwhile, can be fined €250. This increases to €400 if the staircase is “damaged or dirtied”. The rule came in after the area was renovated by jewellers Bulgari in 2016 (and is a decision perhaps influenced by the collection of designer shops that sit at the foot of the monument). Hoteliers in the area decried it as “a bit much”, with Giuseppe Roscioli, the president of the Federalberghi association saying that “tourists should be allowed to rest a bit after walking around the city.” Evidently, they are not.

spanish steps rome
Visitors who attempt to sit on Rome’s Spanish Steps, for example, can be fined €250 - Getty Images

Other Italian spots are attempting to impose higher standards of civility among tourists. Venice, the poster child for overtourism, has introduced fines for people picnicking in its busy streets. In 2018, a teenage tourist threw herself from a vaporetto to avoid a ticket inspector – and was promptly fined for entering the water, which is similarly banned. The following year, a pair of backpackers were expelled from the city for brewing up a canalside coffee.

It’s snacking that can get tourists in trouble in Capri, too, where a €500 (£425) fine applies if caught using disposable plates, cups or cutlery on the holiday isle. Head back to the mainland, and walking around Sorrento in a bikini (or topless) can result in a similar fine, in an attempt to curb what a local mayor described as behaviour “contrary to decorum”. And regardless of what you’re wearing, taking a selfie in Portofino, just down the coast, could land tourists with a £242 fine. It’s to stop “lingering” in the fishing village, which is now more popular with influencers than seafood aficionados.

Photography is something of an issue in Sri Lanka, too – in 2012, a trio of French tourists were given suspended jail terms for taking photographs with a statue of the Buddha, including one where they pretended to kiss the religious icon. Tourists are now advised to be particularly sensitive around such monuments, exercising caution about actions that might be perceived as offensive, such as turning their back to the image. There’s something similar in force in Spain, where trying to take a selfie during the running of the bulls – surely a fool’s errand – can lead to a fine reaching into the thousands.

Keeping up with so many rules is exhausting. Perhaps you’d like to take the edge off a bit with a vape. But be warned: vaping in the Vatican City (or any number of larger countries, including Australia, Mexico or Brazil) could get you in trouble. In Singapore, the fine for the possession or use of “imitation tobacco products” can reach $2,000 (or around £1,200). The law is even stricter in Thailand, where holidaymakers can be fined 30,000 baht (£700) for vaping in public, or face up to 10 years in prison. Despite some health concerns, the devices are still very much an option in the UK, meaning that these overseas rules have the potential to catch out tourists.

What about Spain, the UK’s favourite overseas holiday destination? At the most popular Balearic beaches, like Playa de Talamanca in Ibiza, any kind of smoking can incur a €30 fine. And don’t even think about relieving yourself in the sea in Galicia, as it could set you back £645 (quite how you will get caught in the act remains to be seen). Such rules exist against a backdrop of Spain attempting to encourage a more genteel kind of tourist.

And you might feel virtuous for choosing to cycle around the Costas instead of hiring a car: you’re enjoying the sunshine, and getting fit while you do it. Alas, things are not that simple. Pop in your earphones to listen to flamenco while you dash along the coastline and a fine of €200 could be coming your way. The practice carries the hefty penalty over fears cyclists enjoying their tunes might be less aware of their surroundings, though no similar law exists to prevent drivers listening to their music at top volume. It’s the same in France, which enforces a €135 penalty for the practice. In Portugal and Italy, cyclists can ride with one earphone in, but two is also a no-no.

spain running of the bulls
Trying to take a selfie during the running of the bulls – surely a fool’s errand – can lead to a fine reaching into the thousands - Getty Images /Getty Images

If you favour city breaks over beach holidays, it’s driving that can cause the most stress – and the diversity of rules can be rather hard to follow overseas. Eating behind the wheel in Cyprus, for example, can set drivers back £85. In Germany, stopping on the Autobahn for any reason, even if you run out of fuel, is a fineable offence. But it’s France that requires the most preparation: drivers need to carry a whole host of breakdown-specific equipment, including spare bulbs, a warning triangle, high-visibility vests for every passenger, headlamp beam converters and a breathalyser kit. Hire car firms should have you covered, but take your own car across the Channel and it’s another matter.

Of course, Britain isn’t exempt from absurd laws. The New Forest introduced rules this summer that ban visitors stroking wild ponies, as it is thought both detrimental to the animals and dangerous for humans. Those in breach of the Public Space Protection Order can be fined up to £1,000, although officials have promised to be “proportional”. Similar rules in Tenerife have banned the feeding of stray animals, with “serious incidents” leading to fines of €3,000 (£2,600).

Whatever happens, don’t vocalise your frustration at such rules – at least not too strongly. Using “foul language” in New South Wales and Western Australia is punishable by fines of £350 and £260 respectively. It’s even worse in South Australia, where you could find yourself behind bars for three months. Travellers, beware.

What bizarre travel rules have you come across before? Tell us in the comments section below.