I want to like Venice. I really do. Of course, I want to like every place I visit, but that feeling is amplified when you take into consideration a millennia-old city that’s sinking and steeped in history. And yet, I couldn’t get out of Venice fast enough on our stopover there this past summer.
I remember liking it OK as a senior in high school when I was touring Italy with my AP English class; then again, it was only my second trip across international waters and everything was shiny and new and exciting back then. We went to a glass-blower. It was Easter week, and festivities abounded. There were crowds, sure, but not in the suffocatingly large herds we discovered to be Venice in July. I even bought the best Italian souvenir ever in Venice: an honest-to-god Versace jacket (I mean, it was denim, but still).
When I arrived at the tail-end of an 11-day European cruise last summer, I was overwhelmed by what a different scene summertime Venice was, 13 years after my initial visit.
We had sticker shock right out of the gate as we hailed a water taxi from the cruise port to the town. It was upward of $100—for less than a 20-minute ride. I balked at that price and refused to paying it, being a seasoned enough traveler to know that everything is always negotiable. Well. Except for in Venice.
Prices are pretty much regulated when it comes to water taxis (and there’s no other way to cross the channels), so we were stuck. Therefore, we found ourselves forking over a Franklin just to get to the train station, where we paid another large sum to store our bags until our train ride to Rome that night.
From there, we walked. And we walked. Then we walked some more, all the way dodging the throngs of sweaty bodies that seemed to be coming at us from every which way. We were salmon swimming upstream, no matter which tight alley we turned down.
Eventually, we found lunch in a quiet spot away from the madness before continuing our stroll and finding ourselves in the heart of Piazza San Marco, aka chaos central. If we thought the narrow, cobblestone streets were crowded, they couldn’t hold a candle to the masses of wide-eyed wanderers in St. Mark’s Square.
Mom, ever the historian, wanted to go in the museum, even though we’d done it before. The line was out the door and snaked its way around the square; I was not waiting in that monstrosity. Dad, SVV and I nabbed a table outdoors and sipped on $11 Peronis instead.
Don’t get me wrong: Anytime this family is all together, we’re having fun. I just prefer it be fun in a marginally cheaper, less congested, stress-free type of place. Like, you know, Montenegro. Or Ponza. Or even the Amalfi Coast, equally beloved by tourists yet somehow not suffocatingly stuffed to the brim with visitors. Not in a city where sticky travelers are butting against you around your every turn and your holding your back tight against your chest out of fear you’re going to be the corner pickpocket’s next victim.
After Mom was done doing her museum thing, we tried to do a little shopping—SVV and I did each find pretty rad leather jackets, so at least there’s that—but the majority of shops seemed to peddle the same ol’ touristy things. Eventually, we all trudged back to the train station, grabbed a table and read our Kindles for the remaining hours until our night train. Suddenly, I was regretting not booking us on the first one that morning, but I had thought we’d want the day to explore Venice, as only Mom and I had ever been before.
I’m not going to sugarcoat things for you here. Sure, you can get a pretty photo or two from Venice, but in reality? It’s dirty. It’s crowded. It stinks (literally). It’s touristy. All of those things have been the downfall of many a city’s authenticity, but Venice in particular has suffered (probably because whereas most other metropolitan areas have room to expand, it has nowhere to go—but in the sea).
I’ve been to Venice twice, once for a day trip and once I stayed two nights in May and I think staying over is really key. It’s a completely different experience at night and in the early morning. All the day trippers are gone by 4-ish and you can actually enjoy some of the sites without the enormous crowds and the majority of the back streets are deserted. Still overpriced but it’s much easier to see it’s charms and imagine what it was like in the Renaissance
The only problem is then the day trippers return the following morning. 😉
I had this exact same experience at just about the exact same time. My girlfriend and I decided to spend a day exploring Venice as a pitstop between Rome and Ljubljana, and after a few hours of trying not to get knocked into a canal by the suffocating crowds we called it quits and headed to the airport. We did take a waterbus instead of a watertaxi, so the trip only cost us about $20 USD, instead of $100, something I only knew to do because my parents had been there a few months before.
I don’t know. I want to like Venice. I’d love to give it another try, maybe in, like, November. But in July? God, no.
I think the worst was when we sat down to catch our breath in Piazza San Marco and looked up, only to see a gaggle of tourists wearing t-shirts from our home base in the United States. Turns out they lived right down the street from us.
I’m sorry, but I did not travel to Italy to meet my neighbors. I think there were more Americans in Venice than Italians. Eesh. I could not get out fast enough. We spent about five hours just relaxing at the airport, waiting for our bus to Slovenia and trying to catch our breath.
But wasn’t Slovenia gorgeous? Not a ton of Americans there…yet.
And I agree about not wanting to be surrounded by Americans when I’m trying to get a taste for another culture. The very thing happened to me when I was in Jerusalem in 2009. Church groups by the dozens (many of them Southern) around every bend.
Oh, Slovenia was amazing. Completely refreshing after Italy. There were barely any Americans (though we did run into quite a few Aussies!), the countryside was beautiful, and we didn’t feel as though every street corner was trying to swindle us with over-priced, touristy trinkets. The people were awesome, too!
Honestly, Slovenia may be one of my favorite places on the planet. It’s such a lovely place!
I’m so sorry you had such a poor experience in Venice. I’ve been there twice…once in May and once in October. The crowds were nothing like what you saw in July. Like the previous poster said, take the waterbus with the locals and you get to see another side of the city, especially in the early morning. Visit the fish market (over the Rialto bridge and beyond the flea market) to see the beautifully arranged fresh seafood on display (again, in the early morning before the day-trippers land). I found Venice to be magical and can’t wait to return…but never in the height of the summer.
I’m glad to hear it’s not as bad off-season! We actually tried to take the waterbus, but I believe because we had big bags (our luggage for three weeks) they wouldn’t let us on? I could be mistaken there…
Sorry you had such a bad time. I think you could say that about a lot of popular destinations during the height of their tourist season. I’ve been to Venice three times — once, like you, on a high school trip in July, and twice while studying abroad in Italy (once in March/April and once in early June). I really liked Venice in the off-season. If you’re into museums, I thought the doge’s palace and the basilica were stunning and interesting. I didn’t do much shopping for things like clothing, but I did get a bit of lace, and of course blown glass. Food is more expensive there, but I think that’s because it’s an island (and a bit because they know the tourists are trapped). I agree with the commenter above that said the evenings and early mornings are the best time for walking around. And the smell was hardly noticeable in the off-season, even though I went fully expecting it. It might not be my very first choice if someone offered me a trip to anywhere in Italy, but I would happily include it in a longer itinerary.
You’re so right. There are plenty of places I most definitely would not want to go during the height of summer. Had we not been there on a cruise (the routes of which were only offered in summer months), we wouldn’t have gone to Venice anyway. I will have to take your advice if I find myself in that part of Italy again! Though like you said, it’s not my first choice of a return trip—there are so many amazing (and quieter) spots in Italy, that I think I’d only go back for a third time if it were again a port on a cruise.
I’m with you. Venice is one of my least favorite places I’ve ever been. I went in late March and we had terrible luck with weather. It rained the whole week and highs were barely in the 50s. Then we went to the Amalfi coast which is just stunning and it was sunny and near 70, so the contrast may be part of it, but I really think I just don’t like Venice. The rain mixed with all the garbage meant there was dirty water everywhere and I didn’t have proper footwear (flip-flops) so I felt like I was constantly wading through sewage. I know a lot of well-traveled people who swear it’s a super romantic place, but I just don’t get what is romantic about garbage and terrible smells and those crowds. I did like Murano, the glass-blowing island.
I guess some place doesn’t turn out to be as magical because of the high expectations. Now, I guess I’ll have to lower mine. I guess it already is.
We just spent 3 days in Venice and loved it. We did think that our opinion would change completely if we were there in season, with sweaty crowds and stinky water. Venice is awesome off season.
That’s good to know! Unfortunately for many people—including my dad, sister and husband—summer is when they (we) have to take any long-haul trips due to work (they’re all accountants so spring and fall trips are out).
This is exactly why I avoid popular tourist destinations. As much as I want to see certain things, the thought of the massive crowds definitely puts me off. I much prefer to travel in the “off season.” I’m heading to Italy in March and though we’ll be near Venice, we’re skipping it.
I’ve only done a day trip to Venice from Verona but it was overwhelming and not as perfect as I’d imagined it. Also, I hated the masses of pigeons that I think my current hatred of them stemmed from those few hours there.
I’ve been to Venice four times since 2008. It is my fav place ever. We have always visited in mid-September and I remember the first visit being overwhelmed by the people at the rialto bridge and surrounding areas. We always stay in the city, and I discovered on my trip in 2010 that there is nothing that beats going out at 7am wayyyy before the crowds hit, and wandering after dark. You only have to walk about five minutes away from rialto or San Marco for a totally different Venice…a quiet Venice. If all you ever see is the few places packed with people, of course you will hate it. I was able to share Venice with my mom this year, and she was my early morning companion while my husband slept in. It is expensive, but I still love it. I am hoping to get my husband to go for Carnival in a few years. I have taken so many great photos…morning is the best.
I visited Italy for the first time in September/October. We spent about a day in Venice. I enjoyed it enough but my disappointment was largely because I was kind of at the end of my rope with one of my travel companions. I would have loved to take a gondola ride, even if it is touristy. We stayed at Lido and used the water buses to travel round, but for the one time which was complementary with our stay (if I’d had to pay $100 for a taxi… well, maybe I’d have given myself a crash course swim lesson!) There is a two or three day pass that I think is around 20 euro and gives you unlimited rides on the bus, so luckily I didn’t have to start swimming.
I was glad that I went, to be sure. I got to see the Doge’s palace, and Empress Sissi’s apartments, and just walk and ponder the people who lived and died there and the events that took place. When I was wandering the Piazza San Marco I thought about how the failed fourth crusade struck out from there, and those are the reasons I’m glad I can say I’ve been there. I don’t do a lot of shopping when I’m traveling, generally (Istanbul is an exception) so my experiences were enough for me. I would go again, especially if I was with my mom, to show her the city, too.
I think your timing was key. Seems like the fall months are the times to go (according to previous commenters). Whatever you do, don’t take her there in June or July!
You’re right–that’s a good point. I couldn’t imagine being there at that time of the year; I don’t know if I ever want to travel to Europe during the summer!
There are parts of it that aren’t bad in June/July. Sicily wasn’t too crowded, neither were Corfu or Slovenia or Montenegro. Mainly just Dubrovnik, Venice and Rome were too crazy for my liking! You just have to be picky about where you go in the summer months =)
Last month, my family and I wrapped up a 2 week, 8 city tour of Italy and Venice was the least impressive to me. Having lived in Italy for two years and considering myself to be openminded, I found Venice crowded and too touristy as well. We cut our day trip short to return to Florence, our favorite city. I am greatful for the experience however, it just wasn’t as charming as I expected. Bravo to those who are able to experience a magical excursian to Venice!
My husband also lived in Italy (from 1997-2000) and never made it to Venice. He was equally unimpressed by our visit this summer and ready to get back to the west coast! We found Campania relatively unspoiled and not too touristy given it was the height of vacation season.
Oops, I meant Calabria, though we did go to Campania on the front end of our three-week trip. There were plenty of tourists out in Campania, but it wasn’t an overwhelming amount. Calabria, on the other hand, was blissful.
I didn’t think I would end up liking Venice as much as I did. Even though it poured rain a lot of the time I was there in June of 2010 I still remember liking it. I don’t remember it being any more expensive (or noticeably more expensive) than the other places I was visiting on my trip. I liked other places in Italy better but I did enjoy Venice. Here’s my boring video about my time there. Haha Feel free not to watch it. http://youtu.be/Hh9wvl3l11A?list=UUEZGubFVezGMrjJNtmZbCIw
I have a feeling I will not like Venice.
Like you, I first experienced Venice on a high school trip, glassblowing demonstration and everything. I returned in college for a summer semester abroad, and absolutely loved it. Granted, it’s been over ten years, but I would hope it hasn’t changed too much in that time – I have heard that cruise ship traffic makes it pretty awful in the summer and that the government is adding regulations on the size of ships allowed, but also understand that’s the way many people manage to see Venice.
Other people have already mentioned a few of the keys to enjoying Venice – staying overnight, getting to any attraction in Piazza San Marco first thing in the morning, walking away from the main sights, going in the off-season. Paying $100 for a water taxi would make me dislike a place right away as well! I’m not sure which port you were docked at, but the main one is connected to Santa Croce by bridges and you can get to and from it by bus or taxi – not as ~romantic~ but so much cheaper!
Venice is definitely touristy, but walking from Piazza San Marco down to the Riva degli Schiavoni at midnight, once all the day trippers are gone, is something I wish everyone could experience.
I think I may have done the right thing by visiting Venice in March. There were hardly any people, it was chilly and it didn’t smell. So, I ended up loving it 🙂
I’ve been twice, both times for a day, and both times while I was studying abroad in Rome my sophomore year in college. I’m totally fine if I never go back to see it again. It was nice but, eh, I’d rather go to Bologna or south to the Amalfi coast. I feel the same way about Paris (smelly, dirty, and if I never go there again I’m just fine with that.)
I was just having a purely speculative conversation about all this recently, about how I think I really like the idea of Venice, but I’d probably hate it in reality because smelly and dirty and crowded and expensive are not my favorite things.
This is a great blog, great intertwining of photos and story writing. Incredible how much you’ve traveled in what looks like less that a decade. I agree on Venice being overrated, particularly during the day as people above mention. The Lido, Burano, the Cipriani and to a lesser degree Murano are not nearly as crowded. Burano has beautifully painted houses. I liked those places during the day then returning to Venice in the late afternoon.
Thanks so much for the note, Chris! I regret we didn’t have more time to go to Burano as I’ve seen photos and it looks magical, but I will definitely take your tips to heart next time I’m back in that area =)
Aw, what a sad experience! We loved Venice, but I think the trick to it is shoulder season! We travel during shoulder season every chance we get. It is trickier with the kids in school, but as a former teacher, I can work with the curriculum and school to let them not get behind (write about it, too, if anyone needs help!) but the BEST time to go.
The weather is cooler and sometimes there is drizzle, but the crowds are just not there. You can SEE, BREATH….and there are no sweaty masses of bodies everywhere. You also have at the benefit of most things being cheaper! Cheaper food, cheaper hotels, cheaper transportation. It is ALL good.
I love that you travel with the family. You build memories that way that will last a lifetime!
Yeah, definitely! My friends just went a couple weeks ago for their honeymoon, and it looked amazingly empty. Then again, isn’t everywhere more ideal in the shoulder season, weather permitting?
My husband and I stayed in the Dorsduro area four years ago which was very peaceful. We have come back to Venice for the 2017 Biennale and we noticed an increase of tourists. Venice needs to consider the fact that the city will be deteriorate with so many people and the demand on services. Maybe there should be a daily limit to the amount of people allowed into the city each day. That will never happen of course, we are not in rush to go back to Venice.
That’s a good idea, Jude. I’ve noticed that with other heavily populated environmental areas, like a number of popular dive sites, they limit the number of daily visitors. For a city like Venice, that may be imperative for its survival. I definitely think it was *far* crazier in terms of bodies on the streets in 2015 than it was my first visit in 2001.
I agree with the fact that Venice is too overrated. It’s dirty, stinky and touristy. There is nothing charming in this place. The locals are taking the tourists for granted and there is nothing much given to tourists in return who spend so much on hotels, restaurants and tickets. It’s a place best to be avoided for much better places in the mountains like the Italian Dolomiti, just a couple of hours bus ride away.
Italy in general is ghetto and resembles a third-world country. Good alternative for those who cannot afford France/French Riviera.
You all have reassured me that l have not been a moan.
I went to Lake Garda this August as a quick alternative to Portugal which was cancelled due to the fires.
Being an artist l was excited to see north Italy.But l was very disheartened l just did not sync to say with the place.Very excited going to Venice for a trip,which l experienced all the above posts have.l was feeling guilty l didn’t enjoy the place,the heat,the crowds.etc.Thanks guys !!
I’m so sorry you didn’t have a great trip, but you’re definitely not alone!
Nice and realistic evaluation. We visited in 2016 in February and it was much better than what you described in the high season. However, there are so many gypsies and illegal immigrants everywhere in Italy now, and they were the worst in Venice. Some of them grabbed my arm and wouldn’t let go! I thought they were going to rob me, besides being dirty and very intimidating. If we had stayed longer, I would have made a complaint to the police, it was that overwhelming. We had wonderful conversations with hotel staff, but otherwise I don’t have fond memories of Venice; it felt like Las Vegas or worse, so touristy and false. And governments everywhere must do something about this mass of people moving around the world and living in the streets, it’s unpleasant and unfair for everyone. I always say “I was born (too) late”, and it’s true, as far as traveling is concerned.
This post reassured me on how I’m feeling right now. The people here have been very rude. It’s an area that’s only accessible by these water taxi/buses and yet they’re annoyed that you have luggage. I’m annoyed that I have to carry luggage too but this is the only way around. They push you out of the way or try to and literally.. if someone is in your way but there is a huge open space to walk around them, wouldn’t it make more sense to do that? No! Not here! Here, instead, they complain as they walk behind my mother who has trouble with her knees and they try to push past her. I can honestly say, I can’t stand it here and I think significantly less of the Italians here.