Not finding quiet Venice? Don’t blame Venice.


7hrsvenice_mainOn my last Friday on my most recent stay in Italy, I decided to take a day-trip to Venice from Milan. It’s not a short day-trip, but it’s do-able. With the fast train, it’s a 2.5-hour trip one-way – and if I’d been willing to get up even earlier than I did, I could have been en route to Venice as the sun was still very low in the sky. As it was, I arrived at 11am, just in time to wander a bit before my lunch meeting. I ended up packing my short visit with meetings almost from start to finish – so what I already knew was going to feel like too little time in Venice felt like even less time than that. I caught a train back to Milan around 7pm (there are later trains, but only one later train that’s in the 2.5-hour trip range).

So. Seven hours in Venice. Was it worth it?

The short answer is – kind of. And yes, there’s a long answer coming.

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If your itinerary leaves you no choice but to make your stay in Venice only a few hours, then I might say go for it. (I might also say skip it entirely and return someday with more time for the city – it depends on what the rest of your trip looks like.) If you’ve been to Venice before and spent time on the “must-see” things and you’re just looking for a beautiful place to spend a few hours, then absolutely – enjoy Venice for the time you can. In my book, a few hours in Venice is better than a few hours in just about any other place on earth.

But here’s where the “kind of” comes in. A few hours in Venice should really, I think, come with a warning label:

“Caution: May cause heartache.”

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I’ve spent enough time in Venice over the years to know how much I love it, and to know that I’d rather spend a few hours there than not see it at all – even if it means a five-hour round-trip on the train in one day. But the truth is that after a few hours in Venice, I was perhaps more sad when the train pulled out of the station than I was the last time I spent a few days there.

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If it’s possible, I think I leave another small piece of my heart in Venice every time I go. Someday I’ll have to return for a good long stay and see if I can retrieve all of the little scattered pieces. If not, I might just have to buy a palazzo and call it home. Really, either way sounds like a decent plan to me.

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To be honest, I’d been wary of visiting for just a few hours, especially in the middle of June when the weather was spectacular. I had assumed the city would be truly overrun. My first trips to Venice had been in July and August, and I remembered getting in line at St. Mark’s super early to make sure we could see the famous basilica first thing in the morning. I figured early June and sunny weather would mean the same kinds of crowds. And it’s possible those crowds were there when I visited this last time – it’s possible they were lining up in St. Mark’s Square to get a peek at my favorite church on the planet or elbowing their way to a spot on the Rialto Bridge to get a photo or two – but I didn’t see much of them.

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When I visited last year in February, I wasn’t surprised to find that stepping off the main tourist drag by just one or two streets got me far enough away from the crowds that I could hear water lapping at the edges of the canals. During that trip, my nighttime walks led me to downright desolate alleys and squares – if I was any kind of fiction writer I’d have sat down right then and there to craft a murder mystery set in Venice in the winter. But Venice in June? I figured the crowds would have filtered into those previously quiet corners and I’d have to work harder to find the peaceful city I so love.

But they hadn’t. And I didn’t.

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I walked out of the train station and over the bridge, and not two streets off the main tourist route I was blissfully – and perhaps a bit surprisingly – alone. The photos you see throughout this post were taken during my seven hours in Venice – and I didn’t have to wait ages for a piazza to clear or ask people to stop walking down a street so I could get a shot. I just wandered off the main drag and started snapping photos. This, my friends, is what Venice can look like in the high season, if you break away from the herd.

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Most visitors to Venice still act as if there is only one street that will lead them from the train station to St. Mark’s Square and back. They funnel themselves slowly through the gauntlet of overpriced (and often bad) restaurants and tourist shops selling mass-produced Carnival masks and “Murano” glass. And if that’s the way they want to see Venice, that’s fine – but I will no longer tolerate people who say Venice is always too crowded, too touristy, and too overpriced.

If that’s the Venice they saw, it’s their own damned fault.

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>> Want to avoid seeing the same Venice everyone else sees? Want to give yourself a shot at falling in love with Venice? Here are my suggestions for 5 Venice survival tips to give the city a fighting chance.

all photographs by Jessica Spiegel & may not be used without permission


18 thoughts on “Not finding quiet Venice? Don’t blame Venice.

  • Cristina

    Blissfully not-crowded indeed. Maybe it has something to do wt the hated crisis? I remember I went to Budapest last year at the end of May (lovely weather as well) and it was PACKED wt tourists.
    Lovely photos , as usual!

  • Jessica Post author

    Thanks, I’m glad you liked the pictures – I played around with editing them this time (usually I’m too lazy) & I’m pleased with how they turned out.

  • Leslie (CGTravels)

    This echoes to a tee everything I think whenever I am in Venice. I’ve left a piece of me each time I leave too…so much so that I can’t have Venice as the final stop on my Italy itinerary anymore…it’s too painful! Haha. Great insight…there IS a Venice away from the crowds, no matter what time of year it is πŸ™‚

  • Nan

    So true. Unfortunately, people with the least amount of time head right for the most crowded areas. *sigh*

    My theory is, the folks who are not looking for a resort will take advice on how best to enjoy the city. Hopefully, yours!

    “Come back…stay longer.”

    baci
    nan

  • A Travel Addict

    Love it! It’s always better to walk off the beaten path and explore more on your own. I did that with my similar day trip to Seattle this past Friday and loved it.

  • Roam2Rome

    So true, in Venice as with many other Italian towns.

    When I lived in Padova, I was able to visit Venice and stay to my heart’s content and I noticed what you describe.

    I found that tourists tend to stay in the main crowded street… marching like ants, one after another.

    Puzzling. If you wander off deep into the side-streets, there is another Venice to discover, with amazing restaurants that mainly locals seem to enjoy.

    Love your pics!

  • Vera Marie Badertscher

    At the risk of being stoned, I will say that I was terribly disappointed in Venice. And I did NOT follow the tourist mobs–I took to the back streets. However, the way it is laid out, you cannot avoid the crowds all the time, and if you want to hitch a boat ride, you’re going to be a sardine. (I was there in early June). I have an article coming up about my reaction to Venice at http://yourlifeisatrip.com You can all come over there and throw pigeons at me.

  • Jessica Post author

    Thanks for your comment, Vera – and there’s nothing wrong with being disappointed in Venice. It’s not for everyone. I just mean that if someone’s only complaint about Venice – if the only reason they didn’t like it – is that it was too crowded, I’m no longer going to accept that as a valid reason for not liking Venice. Is it crowded? Absolutely. And there are still – always – quiet places you can find in the city. That’s my story & I’m stickin’ to it.

    πŸ™‚

    Honestly, though, I’m perfectly fine with not everyone liking Venice. The fewer people who like it, the less crowded it is when I go.

    πŸ˜‰

  • nyc/caribbean ragazza

    beautiful post and I agree with you 100%. I ate well in Venice and had a great time.

    I went to Venice for a week during Thanksgiving two years ago. Even during low season St. Marks and the surrounding area was packed.

    Once I moved away from that area it was magical. Venice is truly one of the most special places I have ever visited. I also went to Burano for a day and that was a nice trip.

    I can’t wait to go back.

  • bethany

    Ugh, I am dying, your pictures are killing me! I just know that I will love Venice instantly! My husband and I are planning to visit Italy (for the 1st time, i’ve written to you about our trip before:) in May of 2010 and the fact that Venice is a city to “do nothing” in, thrills me to the core! That is exactly what I am looking for Venice to be, just a magical ancient city to walk around and get lost in….to soak up the directionless beauty of it all! Haha, I sound like a wannabe poetic cheeseball! Do you think mid May will be a good time to go? Oh how I love your passion for Venice and I must say that the city should thank you, because you are making me fall in love with her by proxy!

  • Sheraz

    I am going to Italy with my wife on Sep 21st, 2009. Its our first time and we are very excited about it. I initially was planning on spending 6 days in Rome and 5 in Florence (with a day trip to Venice from Florence), but after reading about your love for Venice, I changed my plans to 5 days in Rome, 4 in Florence and 2 days in Venice. I am very excited about visiting Italy.
    I have just one query. Me and my wife are both love ancient architecture and art. However, we share the same passion for natural beauty (mountains, trees, grass, rivers etc). Can you suggest a (easy) day-trip from either Rome or Florence where we can witness beautiful scenery?

  • Jessica Post author

    Hi, Sheraz:

    I hope you like Venice as much as I do, since you changed your trip! πŸ™‚ I do think that staying in Venice for a day or two is a much nicer way to see it than just on a day-trip – especially from Florence. Florence is far enough away that it would make for a very long day, and you’d feel rushed in a city that’s meant to be taken slowly.

    As for day-trips, I did write up a list of day-trip options from Rome:
    http://www.italylogue.com/featured-articles/day-trips-from-rome.html

    Many of those are for places other than big cities or towns, including a couple gardens worth exploring. And some of the places on that list, even if the destination itself is a small town, offer spectacular hilltop views of the countryside. I’d say have a read through that list and see if anything strikes your fancy.

    Ciao,
    Jessica

  • Christopher Farinella

    Great Site! I am a Soldier staioned in Vicenza a city about 45 minutes from Venice. I make it to Venice at least 2 times a month with my wife and there is never a boring moment, there are many quiet moments but never and boring. I can never understand when my friends say that they did not enjoy Venice! I believe one must allow Venice to seep into oneself opposed to trying have it her entertain you like most other tourist destinations. Go to Venice to β€œfeel” a part of Italy not to just to visit.

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