Five ways to beat the crowds in Venice, Italy
With its artistic heritage and winding canals, Venice has long been celebrated as one of the most romantic cities in Europe. But, as the locals will tell you, the city’s intense tourism boom has become somewhat problematic in recent years.
As visitors to the Italian city gather in their droves at famous monuments such as St Mark’s Basilica, Doge Palace and the Rialto Bridge, the crowds can be beyond overwhelming.
In fact, as 25 million holiday-makers descend on Venice via planes, trains and large cruise ships every year, it’s clear that drastic measures – including the building of a new dock for bigger ships in nearby Marghera and the introduction of a visitor’s fee – are needed to safeguard Venice from the negative aspects of tourism.
That’s not to say tourism isn’t a major industry for the floating city – and there are popular activities that are well worth experiencing – but there is much more to the ancient city of Casanova, Marco Polo and Vivald than the crowds might lead you to believe.
While you can check the Cruise Ship Calendar to avoid the largest influx of bodies to the main squares, we’ve put together our tips on how you can venture away from the crowds to rediscover Italy’s most unique destination.
Take a punt on a historic gondola tour
Despite being one of the most obvious tourist activities for holiday-makers, a Venetian gondola tour is a true symbol for the city’s millions of visitors – not to mention a remarkable way to discover the city’s hidden history.
The maintenance of the canals and lagoon is a true feat of achievement by the city’s residents – a normally temporary waterway, the lagoon would have silted 500 years ago if it weren’t for diligent environmental protection and technological intervention.
While you can see the beauty of the Grand Canal and larger waterways with a boat tour or journey on the Vaporetto (waterbus), only a gondola can squeeze through the narrowest of canals and show you even more of Venice’s historic charm.
A 40-minute tour can start from €80, and a great gondolier will share a wealth of knowledge about the city of masks on this most picturesque of tours. Miss the canal traffic-jams by starting early in the day.
Discover a world of art at the Giardini
Venice is known as a hub of art and culture, but if you want to be wowed by some of the world’s greatest and most conceptual contemporary art pieces, then swap the city’s more crowded museums and palazzos for the Giardini.
The leafy park in the east of Venice is home to the Venice Biennale Arte until 24 November 2019, and visitors can see some truly wild artwork housed in the incredible permanent structures dedicated to different nations.
The 58th International Art Exhibition is entitled ‘May You Live In Interesting Times’, and is this year themed on periods of uncertainty, crisis and turmoil – just as we live in today, according to event curator Ralph Rugoff (of the Hayward Gallery, London).
Stretching from the Central Pavillion to the city’s Arsenal, the Biennale boasts artwork from 79 artists from all over the world, as well as 89 nations – with Ghana, Madagascar, Malaysia, and Pakistan all participating for the first time – and is a mind-bending, immersive experience for art lovers and visitors alike.
Explore lesser known neighbourhoods
Yes, with the cathedrals, bridges, palaces and clocktowers, San Marco’s architecture can be hard to beat. But if you want to get a glimpse of Venetian architecture sans the crowds, head to Canareggio, north of the Gran Canal.
Canareggio is now where local Venetians hang out – and therefore boasts a lively atmosphere and authentic Venetian cuisine along the canalside (head to Fondamenta della Misericordia and Fondamenta dei Ormesini) but without the exploded price tag. The Strada Nova is the local’s modern shopping street, while venturing off the main street will open up a treasure trove of craft and vintage shops.
While a hub of modern activity, there’s also plenty of historic gems to be found in this area. The grand Palazzo Ca’ d’Oro houses a remarkable Renaissance art collection, while the Campo di Ghetto Nuovo is the site of the 16th-century Jewish Ghetto. Now, it is home to the oldest synagogue in Venice and the Jewish Museum.
Visit the neighbours
While Venice is the area’s most important hub of culture and trade, there are plenty of neighbouring towns and islands that are equally charming without the hustle and bustle of holiday-makers.
Head to Chioggia, a fishing town that boats plenty of Venetian-style arched bridges and narrow canals. While admittedly a little rougher around the edges, it’s the perfect spot to slow down and watch the world go by over some of the best seafood you could eat.
If that doesn’t float your boat, take a water taxi out to one of the city’s surrounding islands. Murano and Burano are both well-trod day trips for traditional crafts – glassblowing, lace-making and the latter’s distinctive colourful houses – but there are plenty more options if you’re seeking some tranquillity. Visit Torcello’s nature reserve, or hike the ruins of Sant’Andrea’s 17th-century fort for an excellent view of the Venetian lagoon.
Drive through the Prosecco road
Just 45-minutes out of Venice, wedged in the hills between the Dolomite Mountains and the Adriatic sea, is Prosecco country. This Italian wine has become a fizzy staple of bars, brunches and celebrations across the UK and is an important local wine, forming the basis of the original Bellini cocktail and a key ingredient of the Venetian Spritz. But it is far more than an affordable version of bubbly.
In fact, prosecco is produced in three forms – spumante (sparkling wine), frizzante (semi-sparkling) or tranquillo (still) – and it’s production is strictly regulated and awarded DOC of DOCG status. Prosecco wine must include more than 75% glera grapes and, like Champagne, must be made within the Prosecco region.
Plenty of tours run from Venice, or you can also take a train and then taxi, but we most recommend visiting the areas of Conegliano, Valdobiaddene and Asolo – where the top-rated vineyards of the area reside. You’ll know you’re on the right path when you hit the route between the three, aptly named the Prosecco Road.
Cheers to that!