Venice, Italy Rialto Bridge

The Paradox of Venice, Italy

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I was terrified when I got off the train in Venice. The city wasn’t just full of tourists; it was infested with them. I saw only foreign faces along the canals, the occasional on-break gondolier notwithstanding.

Worse, directions to my hostel simply read “cross three bridges, then turn left.” This would’ve been fine, except that (a) There were four bridges and (b) They were all totally blocked by said tourists.

I won’t mince words: I kind of hated Venice for the first few hours I was there. And as charmed as I’ve been by the canals, gondolas and other associated kitsch, I’m not sad to be departing for Slovenia tomorrow.

That’s the paradox of Venice: Venice, you might say, is like an extremely attractive (but extremely annoying) man or woman.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

If you look at photos such as this one, you might think Venice is like Amsterdam, i.e. a city with canals carved into it. In fact, Venice is precisely the opposite: An expanse of buildings rising out of open water.

Indeed Venice isn’t coastal — it is entirely surrounded by the Mediterranean! It’s isolated and relatively difficult to reach, which is why it’s not surprising to me how small a ratio of locals to tourists there seems to be.

There are locals living here, but tourists certain enjoy themselves more. I initially thought this woman was coming out on her patio to enjoy the violin music being played on Ponte degli Scazi bridge below — turns out she was trying to get the fellow to shut the F up!

Once I found my hostel, I set immediately to the streets and began snapping away. Venice is without a doubt one of the most photogenic cities I’ve ever visited — and I’m quite obviously not the only one who feels that way.

I won’t lie: It is extremely difficult not to be charmed by Venetian kitsch like canals, gondolas and masks. Don’t want to shell out the 30 or so euros it costs to hire a gondola for a short ride? Grab a seat along the side of a canal and chill.

Venice’s most characteristic design feature (you know, aside from its aforementioned canals and bridges) is its serpentine maze of streets and alleys. They’re enchanting, trust, but do take care not to make a wrong turn — it is very easy to get lost in Venice!

The vending machine is also something of an iconic Venice feature. Some Venice vending machines sell typical goodies, like snacks and soft drinks, while others carry items of a more personal nature, like the ones you see above.

Actually, come to think of it, I spotted a lot of people chilling in Venice. Let’s end this photo essay with an image of relaxation, shall we?

Where to Stay in Venice

I obviously stayed somewhere horrible in Venice, but the good news for you is that you don’t have to. No matter your budget, there’s an amazing place for you to sleep in Venice. On the cheaper end of the spectrum, Antico Mercato balances a central location with a fair price, while travelers with money to spare can splurge on a suite at The Gritti Palace.

All images ©Robert Schrader – for more information on visiting Venice check out AirTransat
 
Leave Your Daily Hell   Filed under: Italy

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is the author of 746 posts on Leave Your Daily Hell. Robert founded Leave Your Daily Hell in 2010 so that other travelers would have an entertaining, reliable source of information, advice and inspiration at their fingertips. Want to travel more often? Subscribe to email updates today!

 

informs, inspires, entertains and empowers travelers like you. My name is Robert and I'm happy you're here!

 
 
 

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{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

monica cesarato January 4, 2013 at 2:38 am

I am very sorry you did not get the beauty of Venice and its 1000 years history (that is why the canals and buildings are all in gothic, medieval and renaissance style – funny you define them kitsch! You probably did not even take the time to go and visit those areas of Venice completely empty of tourists, like Castello, Giudecca and many more. Maybe it’s about time people stopped coming over only for 1 day and then moan about the masses of tourists and take some time to visit the true city, where locals do live – there are 60000 people living in Venice and believe me they would not swap their city for anything else. Also I imagine from the photos, that you came during the summer, the time when all hoards of tourists come: try and visit in winter and you will discover a completely different atmosphere.
if you come over, give me a shout, i will be happy to show you the true Venice, the one which people fall in love with!
PS: a gondola ride costs 80-100 euros, not 30 euros!

Robert Schrader January 4, 2013 at 1:24 pm

Monica: I will definitely take you up on your offer!

Alana July 12, 2013 at 2:37 pm

It’s a shame you did not to get to spend a bit more time there. I am an architecture student from Canada, and I got to spend three weeks in Venice for a field course. The average person only visits Venice for two days, which by far is not enough time to discover its hidden beauties! If you should go back, try removing yourself from the heavily touristed areas such as the Academia Bridge, and San Marco’s Square. We lived in the quiet residental area in the Southwestern part of the city called Dorsoduro. Although most of Venice’s campos (city squares) are hustling and bustling with energy, some such as Campo San Francesco in the North are quiet the contrary. Although as you pointed out the real Venetians are scarce, talking to one of them is quite an enriching experience. My friend and I met one kind man, who although he could barely speak English, brought us into his church and played the organ for us.

In addition, Venice is surrounded by less touristed neighbouring islands known as Burano and Torcello. Torcello was the first established island, and Burano is a small fishing community dotted with colourful homes.

Smartypants July 17, 2013 at 6:24 pm

I’ve just come back from a few days in Dorsoduro in Venice. The area around the Grand Canal and St Marks Square is tourist trap hell, think densities at the Magic Kingdom on 4th July levels. Venice’s heyday was 500 years ago and has tried to come up with a new reason to exist ever since, trouble is it hasn’t evolved, the buildings are the same as they were 500 years ago and are quickly rotting. The whole place is rotting in aspic, with the rising salt water obviously destroying the buildings. A large part of the city was utterly infested with hordes of day-tripping tourists – I heard 80% are day trippers, you can forget any romantic notion of a gondolier serenely serenading you under the Rialto Bridge, instead it is a congested diesel fume filled waterway choked with traffic, with the thuggish looking gondoliers texting on their phones instead of paying much attention to the cash cows sitting in their boats. But then bizarrely the place largely shuts down once the day-trippers have left, uniquely in Italy it is not usual to eat after 10pm, the shops and restaurants close. The place is easily exceeding capacity on summer days by tens of thousands during the daytime, it is crazy, then it quickly becomes a ghost town!. And don’t get me started on the Vaporettos, riding with 200 people in a fume filled public bus in Kolkata would be a more pleasant experience.

Venice is now no more genuine than the Italian Pavilion at Epcot – both places are full of hordes of stressed, sweaty foreign tourists visiting for the day gawking at things these don’t understand, overpriced shops and restaurants run by non-Venetians and people looking to extract as much money from you in as little time as possible. And the place closes at night like a theme park when the day trippers go home! I find people belittling others for concentrating on the San Marco district and the Grand Canal laughable – that’s where all the most interesting historical places are! Who wants to see Venetians putting out their washing on the Giudecca? This is such a silly line of thought and is repeated all the time. When you visit London should you be criticised for going to Westminster, instead of say Hammersmith – where real people live but nothing much of any interest is happening? Next time I’m in New York City I must avoid Manhattan and spend all my time in Hoboken instead! The issue is reducing the number of day-tripping visitors in San Marco and the Grand Canal areas and bringing back some sense of calm.

Venice needs to be managed better to eliminate this hell and to get Venice back on its feet and get the locals back in – I would hate to have to live there with the throngs of day-trippers ruining the place; for a start limit the number of mega-large cruise ships that visit, the authorities would have control over this. This would then reduce day-visitors by thousands, many of whom are spending very little as they eat on their ships, I think the city is greedy for the docking fees though. Increase the number of hotels in the city to encourage people to stay in the city. Blow up the road bridge to limit day-trippers on buses! People can still arrive by boat or train but numbers of poorly spending tourists will be reduced. Budget tourists can still visit but they should be encouraged to stay in the hotels in the city. Encourage shops and restaurants to stay open after 10pm, making people want to linger well into the evening and to stay in the city. Build one or two more bridges over the Grand Canal, one for sure near San Toma stop, allowing people to travel across the canal more easily in the central zone. Replace the dreadful Vaporettos with new boats and increase the number that run and fit them with air conditioning or fans, at seven Euros per trip I would be surprised if they are not making a lot of money, they need to upgrade these hot and sweaty relics. Stamp down on restauranteurs deliberately over-charging tourists, this happened to me a few times and does not encourage you to spend money in the city. Maintain the buildings better using technology to reduce the water levels – why can’t the Italian government surround the lagoon with a sea wall and manage the water levels? You could have a system of locks to let smaller cruise ships and ferries in or out and have large number of pumps to refresh the water in the lagoon, this happens in the Netherlands already. Without limiting the number of day-trippers Venice will one day become Disneyland, where the park shuts at night and no-one lives there. It is already half way there.

Stefania@The ItalianBackpacker January 19, 2014 at 5:17 am

“trouble is it hasn’t evolved, the buildings are the same as they were 500 years ago and are quickly rotting”.- Yes, let’s demolish all the 500-year-old buildings and let’s build skyscrapers in Venice instead!!! Do you have any idea how complicated it is to restore a building in Venice?

“I find people belittling others for concentrating on the San Marco district and the Grand Canal laughable – that’s where all the most interesting historical places are!” – There are tons of other interesting things to visit scattered all over the town, if tourists paid more attention.

“Blow up the road bridge to limit day-trippers on buses!” – Most people already come by Venice by train or by boat, because there is no much free parking space in Venice.

“Build one or two more bridges over the Grand Canal, one for sure near San Toma stop, allowing people to travel across the canal more easily in the central zone.” – You really don’t understand what history is. The new Calatrava bridge is ugly enough!

“why can’t the Italian government surround the lagoon with a sea wall and manage the water levels?” – Google Moses Venice.

Stefania@The ItalianBackpacker January 19, 2014 at 5:20 am

Sorry “MOSE”, not MOSES.

Robert Schrader January 20, 2014 at 6:31 pm

Thanks for your comment!

Marcela February 20, 2014 at 5:51 pm

Thank you! I’ll go to those places you mentioned. Any other options?
WOW! 80 Euros for a ride? Ouch!
Is there any “public gondola”?
🙂

Alewriter June 10, 2014 at 1:19 pm

I agree wholeheartedly. Rather than a tourist trap, I think Venice has itself become trapped by the narrow-mindedness of its tourists. It is a spectacular city with so much history and unique beauty to offer. All you have to do is wander even slightly off the beaten path and you would know exactly what I mean.

Robert Schrader June 11, 2014 at 8:37 am

Interesting perspective!

paripari September 16, 2014 at 5:36 pm

what kind of camera and lenses do you use for your photography? your photos are enchanting!!

Robert Schrader September 17, 2014 at 6:21 am

Thanks very much! I used Nikon bodies (d5100/d7100) and lenses (18-200;10-24;35mm)

Chilet October 10, 2014 at 12:38 am

I’m going to Venice in 2 weeks (solo traveler) and I’m super happy I stumbled into this blog. I’ll note the good and bad experiences and hopefully get the best of it!! Cheers!!!

Robert Schrader October 10, 2014 at 10:28 am

Good luck!

Ankit Nagar December 30, 2014 at 1:19 pm

Hey Chilet, I am also planning to visit Venice can you share your experience as a solo traveller and some tips?
thankx.

Aki February 14, 2015 at 7:56 pm

Hey, we are planning to visit Venice next month. Could you plz suggest few good places we must visit??

SilentS August 25, 2015 at 5:02 pm

You can take a traghetto which is a gondola that ferry’s people for a quick ride across a canal for a couple euro.

Tony August 28, 2015 at 12:04 pm

I’ve lived in Venice for 5 years. Some updates and corrections to your article: 55,000 people live here now. It’s not surrounded by the med but by the Venetian Lagoon, which joins onto the Adriatic. Its main cluster of islands is roughly 4km from the Italian mainland.

I echo everyone here who says that there are many more beautiful sights to explore and see other than the tourist hotspots. The analogy of going to New York and seeing only Hoboken doesn’t hold water, as the whole of Venice is a protected, historically significant site. It’s a gorgeous city and everyone who has the opportunity to see it should come here, it is unique.

Robert Schrader August 31, 2015 at 7:12 am

Thanks 🙂

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