Think common sense is enough to keep you on the right side of the law in Europe? Think again. Avoiding activities that are illegal at home is a good starting point, but it’s not quite enough. Skip the fines and unpleasant encounters with locals by doing your research and getting familiar with these surprising destination-specific laws:
Making noise on Sundays. Raising a ruckus after hours, on Sundays, and on holidays is a big no-no. Noise levels are kept to a minimum by law on Sundays and holidays in Germany and Switzerland. That means no lawn-mowing, no drilling, hammering, sawing, or even heavy trucks on the roads. And forget about playing loud music or recycling glass bottles—making noise during Sonntagsruhe (German for Sunday rest) is a fineable offense. In most regions of Germany and Switzerland, it’s also advisable to keep the noise down (and we mean way down) between 8 p.m. and 7 a.m. to avoid complaints/fines. Beware—this is such a big deal in these cultures that there are attorneys specializing in noise law. In Switzerland, the law even states no flushing of toilets after 10 p.m.
Spanish Steps or sipping a to-go coffee on your tour of the Colosseum. Eating and drinking around public buildings and historic monuments is prohibited in Italian cities such as Rome, Florence, and Venice. Specific places to avoid getting shooed away by local police include Piazza San Marcos in Venice and the stairs of the main entrance to the cathedral in Florence.
Snapping shots of officials and official buildings. In countries such as Romania, Russia, Spain, Ukraine, and Hungary, photographing airports or important military and government buildings could get you fined or even taken in for questioning. When in France, make sure your shot is free of police officers (even in the background), before you click the shutter.
Not carrying I.D. In European countries such as Germany, Hungary, Russia, Cyprus, Ukraine, Belgium, The Netherlands, Austria, and Spain, you are required by law to carry official identification on your person at all times. If you’re a non-European resident, that means your original passport, not a photocopy. This is especially important in places where you’re obviously a tourist, either because of the language you’re speaking or your appearance—you don’t want police doing random checks to have an excuse to fine you or come with you to your accommodations to verify your identity.
Vienna, feeding these birds is a fineable offense and with good reason: Apart from being a general nuisance, pigeons and their acidic excrement are damaging to historic buildings and monuments. Fines for this offense are in the hundreds of euros.
Walking around in your bathing suit. Local police in Palma de Mallorca and Barcelona don’t care if you’ve just come from the beach. Once you’re a little away from the sand and the promenade, put a shirt and shorts on; strolling the streets in your bikini or trunks is not only frowned upon, it’s also illegal and you could be fined between €100 and €500.
Wearing high heels. If you show up to tour the ancient ruins in Athens in your favorite stilettos, you may be asked to take your tour barefoot. Because the spiky shoes can potentially “wound” the surface of ancient ruins, they’ve been banned from historic sites like the Parthenon and the sanctuary at Delphi as well as Greece’s many outdoor amphitheaters used for open-air concerts during the spring and summer.
Running out of gas. While running out of gas itself is hardly a crime, stopping on Germany’s famous Autobahn for any reason that’s not an emergency is illegal. Forgetting to fill up and sputtering to a stop on the high-speed motorway is completely avoidable and will get you fined.