How to Get Lost in Venice

by Jessica on August 23, 2010

by | August 23rd, 2010  

If you’re as directionally-challenged as I am, the idea that you’d need a “how to” article for getting lost might seem a bit ludicrous. But hear me out.

Venice, unlike most other cities, gets better as you get lost-er. And because Venice is both relatively small and almost always crowded, getting lost can be a little more challenging than you might expect – especially because the kind of “lost” I’m talking about here isn’t just the kind where you don’t know precisely where you are or where the road you’re on will take you.

I’m talking about getting lost in Venice, like you’d get lost in a lover’s eyes.

I’m talking about the kind of lost where you might forget your name and not only not care
but actually be totally okay with that.

Since “getting lost in Venice” tends to be the top tip offered by Italy travel guides – including this one – then you’ve got no time to (ahem) lose when it comes to getting lost.

How to Get Lost in Venice

1. Ignore the Map


I love maps, and typically carry either a Moleskine City Notebook or a Popout city map with me wherever I go in Italy, but in Venice the best thing you can do is pretend there’s no such thing as a Venice map.

Okay, yes, you may need a map – or at least an address – to find the location of out-of-the-way Venice hostels or to get back to the train station in time for your departure, but for the rest of your visit to Venice avoid looking at maps of the city. Walk in whatever direction looks appealing, without regard to where it may lead.

When you’re feeling antsy about going in circles forever and you’re tempted to look at a map, look up instead – chances are you’ll see directional signs pointing you back toward the Piazza di San Marco or the Rialto nearby. The fact that two signs for the same Venice landmark can be pointing in opposite directions simultaneously is just another indication that you’re meant to get lost in the city.

2. Ignore the Clock


Anyone who only has a limited amount of time in Venice will constantly be looking at his or her watch, always conscious of the dwindling hours before it’s time to race back to the train station or cruise ship to move on to the next destination. In other words, having a schedule – being a slave to the clock – is the enemy of getting lost and enjoying Venice.

Sure, unless you’re moving into a palazzo on the Grand Canal or something you’ll eventually need to respect the time and make your way to the station to catch your train. But give yourself at least one day where you have no obligations, no schedule, no appointments. Wander at will, stopping to eat and shop when the mood strikes, and exploring whatever’s in front of you.

3. Ignore the Crowds


The further away you get from the well-worn main pathways in Venice, the better chance you have of getting lost. This is partly because the less-visited parts of the city aren’t as well-marked when it comes to those directional signs mentioned above, and partly because with fewer people around you’re less likely to just follow the herd from attraction to attraction.

As an added bonus, walking away from crowds in almost any direction in Venice is also more likely to lead you to those elusive good places to eat in the city, as well as decidedly un-touristy things like hardware and grocery stores, reminding you that this surreal wonderland is still home for some people.

4. Ignore the Tourists


The number of people who actually live in Venice is shrinking at an alarming rate, but there are still enough people who call Venice home that you can find them out and about on any given day – and paying attention to where they go (as opposed to where the visitors go) is another great way to get lost.

Follow the lead of Venice’s residents to find things like shortcuts around the tourist throngs and restaurants that don’t have their menus translated into seven languages. Lest you want to get lost in a Venetian police station, however, I do recommend you stop short of following the locals into their homes.

5. Ignore the Guidebooks


Any guidebook or online travel guide to Venice will have attractions, restaurants, hostels, and hotels in Venice that are recommended for you. If you’re looking at a good Venice guide, some of those listings will be for places away from the main roads. But the main roads are “main” for a reason – they’re where all the big sights or nicer hotels are.

Just as you’re pretending there’s no map for Venice, another good way to get truly lost in the city is to pretend there’s no guidebook. Or, if you’re trying extra-hard to lose the crowds, to deliberately avoid any place listed in the guidebook. In general, however, if you approach Venice as an explorer might then everything has the potential to be wonderful, whether it’s on someone else’s “must-see” list or not.

photos, top to bottom, by Joe Shlabotnik, majdal, Kevin H., mararie, Sonse, openroadimages


{ 12 comments }

Lisa Bergren August 23, 2010 at 7:51 am
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Love this post. I’ve had the luxury of time in this special city–ten day stretch–and it was marvelous. Watch for plaques that point out famous people’s dwellings, and look for little places to grab a tiny bite to eat, standing up. I love it when you get to neighborhoods, full of kids and old people. That, THAT is Venice. And you won’t find it on the main tourist tracks.

P.S. Take the boat out to Torcello–birthplace of Venice!

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Randy Bosch August 23, 2010 at 3:54 pm
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Wonderful post! Thank you! We have spent many fabulous days wandering Venice, trying to “get lost”. It’s perfectly safe, you’re on an island (well, many islands!), and your points are “right on”!
Our favorite places to eat, to shop, to paint, to sit quietly, to actually be approached and engaged by true Venetians were “found” by “getting lost”!

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Scene by Laurie August 23, 2010 at 3:56 pm
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You’re so right….Venice is one of the best places to get lost both literally and figuratively. It’s easy to fall in love with it and so worth ignoring maps and guidebooks and just going off on your own to discover it’s many charms. We did when we were there and found an amazing artist’s studio and now I have his work hanging in my house to always remember lovely Venice.
Great post, thanks!

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Susan Van Allen August 24, 2010 at 9:23 am
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Great Post, Jessica! I agree travelers should spend more time in Venice than the typical “go see San Marco then get back on the train” scenario, so they can have a day without an agenda. I think it’s a great place to begin an Italian vacation, as you must slow down exploring this fairytale place–the magic happens when you allow Venice to lull you into its peaceful Italian rhythms and beauty…

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Risamay August 25, 2010 at 2:12 pm
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I miss getting lost in Venice, when in Venice. Having spent two months there – broken into two month-long trips in two different years – and a lot of time getting lost, I got to know the city quite well. On subsequent trips, I always aim to lose myself in Venice, but too often know just where I am. Bummer! But still molto enjoyable, all the same.

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Eleonora September 15, 2010 at 12:39 am
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Jessica, I couldn’t agree with you more: this is by far *the* best way to experience Venezia. In fact I wrote a similar article for Get Lost Magazine last year. But your “ignore” imperatives though, make this the best “getting lost in Venice” contribution yet.
Ciao,
Ele

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Jessica September 15, 2010 at 8:54 am
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Grazie, Ele! :)

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Jessica Peter January 12, 2011 at 12:39 pm
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I got lost in Venice, but not in the good way. I was in the actual city for the day (I was staying a shuttle-bus ride away at a campground), and was there with only a 50 Euro bill, a credit card that didn’t work in Italy, a ticket for my shuttle, and absolutely no map. I thought finding my way back to the train station would be easy. . . it wasn’t. After running out of money to take the bus-boat back, I wandered for an hour, alone in the dark, until I found myself lost in a housing area, with no one I could ask in sight – and no stores or restaurants either. I was nearly panicking, but then I noticed something behind the row of closest houses: a gap. When I found my way out, I found a big sketchy canal with a cruise ship parked in it. I asked a gate attendant at the checkpoint about the train station, and he pointed me in the right direction. Phew!

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Jessica January 14, 2011 at 2:53 pm
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Yes, it’s definitely important to give yourself plenty of time to figure out how to get back to the train station (or your hotel, or wherever you want to go) in Venice, and you bring up another good point – if you know in advance that you’ll need to catch a vaporetto at the end of the day you can buy a ticket in advance and save it for when you need it.

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Norman Bean January 24, 2011 at 7:18 am
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Well, it is time to be-dazzled by Venezia.

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Su Cheen Theng September 2, 2011 at 6:24 am
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Thanks for the wonderful article. I decided to go to Venice because of the idea of getting lost in this city. I did get lost on my first day unintentionally. I love Venice and will definitely come back again!!!

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Rogue June 27, 2012 at 11:20 pm
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Considering we’ve spent the last 3 days getting lost again and again in Venice, I have to say the advice is vastly over-rated. Getting lost is no fun when it’s hot and sticky outside, you can’t find decent food to save your life (but you still try valiantly to walk until you find an osteria with locals and no english on the menu, like the guidebooks tell you to, only to be ushered into a back room and handed the “tourist” menu), you need a toilet but are stubbornly waiting until you find that fabled osteria, and then give up on the whole idea and go into the nearest eatery (which happens to have Pyramids on it for no good reason), eat an overpriced calzone with cold tomato sauce, pee in bliss, and drink enough bad wine that Venice once again becomes a beautiful “experience.”

The next person, blogger, or guidebook author who recommends getting lost in Venice can go jump in the Grand Canal with my compliments.

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