Since I started my blog on Venice 2 years ago, I received a lot of questions. Some are from experienced Venice travelers, but many come from people who don’t know the city yet. One of the most striking questions I often get is whether it still makes sense to visit Venice.
A couple of years ago, people mainly worried about getting their feet wet during acqua alta. Now, they are concerned about the crowds or the behavior of the locals against tourists. In this post, I will give you my perspective on these matters. You can then decide for yourself if your trip will be worth it and how you can make the most of it. Hence, it will exceptionally be more an opinion paper than what you are used to read on this site.
The first question you have to ask yourself is why you want to visit Venice. Your answer will be the key to whether or not you will enjoy it. If you want to discover the rich cultural heritage, visit some exhibitions or the Biennale or just spend a romantic time, then Venice will positively surprise you. It does however require that you spend 3 days or more to absorb the atmosphere across the entire city, and maybe even some lagoon islands. If you just want to tick it off your list, impress your friends or spend less than two days, I suggest you change your destination. Limiting your trip to the area around San Marco and the Rialto bridge will be stressful, as these are often very crowded during the day. Hence, you will assume this is the real Venice and won’t appreciate its beauty. It is simply impossible to see Venice in one or two days. I have been visiting the city several times per year for many years now and I still haven’t seen everything.
Once you decide that you really want to explore Venice, you should plan your trip in such a way that you will be least impacted by the crowds. The easiest solution is to go in the winter months. However, I realize that you might not have the choice to select your holiday period or maybe you prefer to travel in the summer. In that case, you can still find a way around it and have a great and relaxed time as you can see from all the pictures from this post which were taken in July. The secret is to realize that some of the most interesting sites and numerous beautiful locations in Venice are away from the main areas. Try to visit these during the day and go to Rialto and San Marco in the early morning or the evening. Palazzo Ducale for instance is open until late at night during the summer weekends. You will then be surprised that, even during peak hours, you will often have the city to yourself. (For your information, the picture of the empty Canal Grande seen from the Accademia bridge was taken on a Friday evening in July around 9 pm.)
Venice is a tiny city with small streets, so it’s very easy to get bottlenecks. These are however also due to the fact that everyone uses the same streets and follows the crowds. Try to take a detour from time to time. Not only will you have a more enjoyable time yourself, but you will also be part of the solution to limit the pedestrian traffic jams. And yes, this implies that you will run into a dead-end street or a canal now and then. That’s however part of the fun in Venice. On top of that, these abrupt stops often make great picture locations.
Sometimes you also just have to accept the fact that it will be crowded. If you want to attend Carnevale or the opening week of the Biennale for example, this is what it is, just like at any other major event in any city worldwide. Abide by it and just relax. It doesn’t help (you or your travel companions) if you keep complaining about it.
When you keep all this in mind, you will not only make your visit more pleasant for yourself, but also for the Venetians. Remember that they have to deal with these crowds every day. The citizens of Venice cannot make a detour if they live in the area and need to get home or do grocery shopping. They all love their city and put a lot of effort in maintaining its historical and cultural heritage and its future. This is also where the ‘protests’ against the tourists originate from. It is not because they hate us as such. No, it’s about the fact that Venice is a living city and not a museum or a theme park.
If you show the city and its inhabitants some respect and you are truly interested in it (whether it’s in its history, traditions, artisans, shops or restaurants), they will be more than happy to share their city with you. When you get a deeper understanding of their culture and values, you will discover the real life of the city besides its landmarks. This will make your visit even more enjoyable. The city of Venice even created an awareness project around this theme: #EnjoyRespectVenezia.
In the end, the answer to the question in the title ‘Is a visit to Venice a waste of time?’ is ‘no’. Venice is a very rewarding city, but you are an important element in the process. Take a step back and make time to discover what is not in the top 10 of your guidebook. If you do so, I’m sure you will want to return to Venice very soon.
If you agree with my ‘no’ answer and you want to discover a quiet Venice, I suggest you start by reading my post ‘9 insider tips to escape the crowds in Venice’.
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