We have wanted to visit Venice for many years, and last week we finally were able to do that. Our reaction: highly mixed. It’s an amazingly beautiful city and we loved walking along the canals, but we also saw what tourism is doing to this ancient city, and it ain’t pretty.

Much of Venice looks as it has for years: beautiful houses on quiet canals. But the main areas of interest are a nightmare of crowds; a friend describes Venice’s Piazza St Marco as “heaving with people.” I did some digging around and learned that during the five days we were in Venice, it’s likely that some 50,000 tourists were with us in the city each day. This is a small city and those 50,000 people were in a small part of this small city. The number of daily tourists nearly out-numbers the residents (about 58,000, and declining every year). During June and July, the tourist flood daily exceeds 60,000 people (one weekend this summer, tourist ships alone added 35,000 to the inundation).

Where the Tourists Are: It’s a Mess.


We ran into streets so crowded the traffic just stopped – no one could move.


Ah, romantic Venice…


I estimated 15,000 – 20,000 people in Piazza San Marco alone.

How about a romantic gondola ride? In a gondola traffic jam, 80€ ($90) for 40 minutes, singing costs extra. Really.

How about a romantic gondola ride? 80€ ($90) for 40 minutes, singing costs extra. Really. And unless you’re willing to seek out a gondolier away from the tourist areas, you’re likely to be in gondola traffic jam, like this picture.

Souvenirs are available...

Souvenirs are available…

Honestly, I’m not sure why all these people are here. Venice has a spectacular collection of Renaissance art, but when we visited one of the best – the amazing paintings of Tintoretto at Scola San Rocco – we were almost alone; there were no more than a dozen people in the building besides us . So most of these folks aren’t here to see the art. The most beautiful places were away from Piazza San Marcos, and they were deserted (see below). I don’t get it, actually.

The Grand Canal

The Grand Canal is the “Main Street” of Venice, making a large ‘S’ through the city.


A Palladio Church on the Giudecca, across the southern end of the Grand Canal.


A beauty of Venice: spectacular buildings.

This is the only place on the Grand Canal with a "sidewalk;" a place to stand and look at the canal. As you can see, it's jammed with people taking advantage of the view.

This is the only place on the Grand Canal with a “sidewalk;” a place to stand and look at the canal. As you can see, it’s jammed with people taking advantage of the view.


Laurie enjoying the sights on the Grand Canal.

Venice Away from the Tourists: It’s Beautiful

Okay, I’ve ranted about the ugliness of tourism in Venice. It’s also true that Venice is beautiful and contains many wonderful surprises. You just have to get off the tourist path.

The restaurant in the picture below is known for its chichettas (Italian tapas, essentially); it has room for about a dozen people and standing room outside for six or eight more. The street you see in the background is a main tourist route and was always jammed. Yet fifty feet away, here sits this restaurant with nothing but local people (and us).


Laurie and I walked and walked and walked and learned that around any corner can be a breathtakingly beautiful scene – Renaissance pallazos, colorful homes, quiet canals. So to give Venice its due, here are some of those scenes. This part of Venice we loved.
We spent the better part of two days walking the “back streets” (though there really aren’t any streets) of Venice. We loved this aspect of the city.


This street (once a canal but filled in a few hundred years ago) is no more than a hundred yards from the crowd scenes.

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No cars here, so everything is done on the water. Need an ambulance? An ambulance boat will show up.



Lumber for construction – delivered to your door via canal.


Like any good European city, Venice has local markets. But here, the markets float.


Construction supplies.

The fastest way to get around: these beautiful wooden water taxis. Also the most expensive: $16 to get in, $2.25 a minute for the ride!

The fastest way to get around: these beautiful wooden water taxis. Also the most expensive: $16 to get in, $2.25 a minute for the ride!

Regatta Storica

We just happened to be in Venice for the Regatta Storica – the Historical Regatta. As it turned out, the Venice authorities realized that September 6 was Laurie’s birthday and scheduled the Regatta that day just for her and 50,000 people turned out to celebrate with her.

The Regatta included some beautiful historic gondolas followed by gondola races. The historic gondolas – complete with gondoliers and passengers in costumes of past times – were beautiful. The gondola races…well, we watched the boats race down the Grand Canal and then twenty minutes later race back up to the finish line. Not so interesting for us, but we loved the historic boats.


It was a bit busy on the Grand Canal for the Regatta Storica.

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Another Seattle-ite was there.


Paul Allen’s boat Octopus. We didn’t see Paul, so we couldn’t ask him for a ride.

Beautiful at Night, Too.


I love the name of this street: “Street on the Side of the School.”

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Now we’ve fulfilled our desire to visit Venice. Did we enjoy it? Yes, definitely, as long as we stayed away from the main tourist areas. Will we return? I doubt it. We’ve seen what we want to see and we don’t want to fight the crowds to see the rest. Do we worry about the future of this ancient beautiful city? Definitely – we can’t see a way that it returns to a slower, less tourist-oriented existence.




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3 Responses to Venice

  1. Carol Nelson says:

    Aren’t you glad you can walk?!

    • John says:

      A big YES to that. I can’t tell how much we walked, but it was miles! And there were so many times we’d turn a corner or walk through an arch into a campo or a street and just stop. That part of Venice was just wonderful!

  2. Margaret Geffrey says:

    I was shocked at the crowds! I do not remember that at all but also did a lot of walking and venturing into the back streets and little plazas (?). The more touristy areas did not have such hoards waiting in line or crowding up the streets. Maybe it was the time of year? Some great photos John!!

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