During our two weeks in Italy, we attended a wedding in Tuscany, spent a few nights at the stunning Argiano Dimore Winery in Montalcino, wandered around the beautiful historic streets of Pienza and Florence and then made our way to the capital of Rome. We had visited several of these cities in our 2019 trip to Italy, including Rome, Cinque Terre, Sorrento, Siena, Florence, Milan and also drove around Tuscany.
Once city missing in that long list is usually on the first itinerary of any Italy trip: Venice! I’ve always had a deep desire to visit Venice and wanted to ensure that I could spend sufficient time there to really enjoy the island city. I had grand visions of a beautiful city, filled with romance, intrigue and an environment like no other city in the world. Upon arriving at the train station in Venice, the reality was somewhat more subdued than the fantasy.
All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day
As has been the case in the previous posts about our Italy 2022 travel experience, Venice’s train station was packed full of people. It was again overwhelming how many people were arriving at Venice at the same time. We were arriving right around Halloween time, which is not really celebrated in Italy, however November 1st and 2nd are All Saints Day and All Souls Day respectively, which are celebrated in Italy.
After having experienced the two holidays in Venice, I can see why so many Italian families bring their children there to celebrate these holidays. The streets were 100% full and people were partying wildly in the streets. People drinking everywhere, singing, children in costumes, and everything feeling a bit unhinged. Add into that the cold air and foggy conditions, and it became the perfect eery backdrop for celebrating the dead.
One of the primary concerns we had in going to Venice was how to get around. We weren’t sure how the water buses worked and we were concerned about having to walk long distances with our luggage. We therefore booked a private water taxi to meet us at the train station so that we would have no issues. This was totally not required as the Vaporetto turned out to be very easy to use and navigate.
We bought a 72hr travel pass which provided a card that we used to tap at the entrance and exits to various stops. It cost us only €40 for 72hrs. You can see the current pricing here. There is a stop right in front of the train station so you can pretty much get anywhere using the water bus. It’s very easy to get around Venice using the Vaporetto water buses.
At each stop, there are separate docks depending on which direction you want to travel. The numbering scheme is obvious and Google Maps will also tell you exactly which dock to wait at. There are timing clocks at each stop so you know how long the wait will be. Furthermore, the staff on the Vaporetto are super nice and are always happy to confirm if you’re on the right water bus.
It’s fun to walk around the small streets in Venice, but for going longer distances, the Vaporetto is the ideal way to get around. It also encourages you to go beyond the usual tourist spots like Saint Mark’s Square. For example, we took a ride up to the Venetian Ghetto (which the locals called the “Jewish Ghetto”) and really enjoyed that area with it’s beautiful and unique architecture and cool shops and restaurants.
Exhausted Service Industry
As we saw in Florence and Rome, the service industry in Venice was completely exhausted from a gruelling year of over-tourism. Reading the Google Reviews of many restaurants in Venice provides some insight into how the locals are currently feeling about tourists. They make for comical reading, but you can really feel the frustration at their city being overrun again by tourism. Here is an excerpt from a review of a pub that we actually enjoyed, but visited with trepidation given the reviews online:
Response from the owner:
(Translated by Google) It’s a shame!!!
despite the two years of the pandemic, the barbarian invasions continue to rape our Venice, in total disrespect for the rules, with absolute rudeness and arrogance, and look here.. even touchy ones.. you announced well, don’t waste time at the [redacted to protect the restaurant], o better, don’t waste your time, we are working…
RESPECT VENICE, NO TRASH TOURISM!
It’s a shame!!!
nonostante i due anni di pandemia le invasioni barbariche continuano a violentare la nostra Venezia, nella totale mancanza del rispetto delle regole, con assoluta maleducazione ed arroganza, e guarda qui.. anche permalosi.. hai annunciato bene, non perdete tempo al [redacted to protect the restaurant], o meglio, non fateci perder tempo, stiamo lavorando…
RESPECT VENEZIA, NO TRASH TURISM!
While we generally had an acceptable experience at most restaurants, I must admit that I did feel the angst from some locals at us being there and that they’d prefer we not eat in some of their restaurants. In those situations, we politely accepted that it’s their restaurant, their rules and went to other restaurants where we felt more welcome.
In researching this post, I did notice that the reviews improved in the past few weeks (December 2022), so perhaps the pressure is coming off Venice as the tourism season finally came to an end and people’s moods may be lifting. If you visit Venice, it may be worthwhile to read the most recent reviews before considering a venue for your dining pleasure.
New Rules for Visiting Venice
As was apparent when we visited, Venice is over-touristed and the government has put in place plans to fix this. Starting from January 2023, day-trip visitors will need to pay €3-€10 to visit the city depending on how busy it is; more info can be found here. For those like us that stayed overnight, the fee does not apply since we already pay a tax as part of our accommodation fees.
Personally, I would not recommend a day trip to Venice anyhow. The magic of Venice happens at night, when the masses of tourists have gone back to Milan or Rome. This is when the local Venetians come out, hang out on the streets, and when the fun really begins. Furthermore, you can find many quiet streets in Venice if you want to enjoy the views with the mist rolling in.
There’s also a long list of behaviour that is now illegal in Italy targeted at badly behaving tourists. Everything from eating in specific locations in the street, to playing with pigeons in the major squares, to where and when stags can be hosted. I think readers of this blog are all mature and won’t find themselves at the wrong end of the law, but it may be wise to check the latest laws and regulations before you decide to take a dip in any famous fountains.
Raddison Collection Hotel
I want to give a special shout-out to this excellent hotel that we stayed at. We didn’t receive any special rates or anything to write this. I share this only because it’s such a beautiful hotel, with a tastefully executed renovation. They kept the original building features while making it modern and very comfortable. The room was beautiful and large, the breakfast excellent and the service was five-star level. Furthermore, the location is ideal, right in front of the Guglie Vaporreto Station, and only one stop away from Ferrovia Station, which is right in front of the train station.
I would say that we were unlucky to visit Venice when we did. It was cold, damp, super busy and heavily polluted the four nights we were there. We only got one day where the sun was shining and that was upon arrival. There was an intense level of pollution from the boats, which may have been produced from the excess number of tourists in the city at the time; the smell from the exhaust fumes of the boats was overwhelming. Furthermore, the tired and frustrated service industry didn’t make the city feel welcoming.
I think the changes Venice is making to make its tourism sustainable is a positive change. I hope that future visitors will have a better experience than we did. The architecture and city are so beautiful that I think it deserves another visit, but for now, we have other cities and countries we want to visit where tourist numbers are still reasonable and welcomed with open arms. Perhaps when all the tourism issues are sorted out, we’ll consider visiting what should be a magical city under normal circumstances.
For unknown reasons, I also found myself unable to take any images that I was really proud of. This is not a reflection of Venice, but rather of me. I just couldn’t get into the groove and ended up taking so many drab images. I’ve shared them here for completeness, but I don’t feel it reflects the real beauty of Venice. Perhaps I was paralyzed by choice with so many interesting scenes in front of me; however I couldn’t find the right ways to really capture it all.
For the next and final stop of our Italy 2022 adventure, we’ll go to Milan for a very short shopping trip and our return flight via Milan’s Malpensa Airport.