It’s one of the world’s most iconic spots, but Venice isn’t without its problems when it comes to mass tourism. Here’s our (responsible) guide to the city of more than 100 islands, 400 bridges and, of course, lots of canals.
Think of Venice and there’s a good chance images of impossible over-crowding and budget-busting cappuccinos may be as front of the mind as stunning squares, romantic spots for an aperitivo – and an atmosphere all-together unique.
Plans are underway to prevent the largest cruise ships docking in the city by 2021 with authorities hoping the move will go some way to relieving tensions between local and tourists. It is possible though to still savour the best of the city by doing a little research and getting some expert advice.
“We should visit Venice as if we are visiting a museum, since it’s so delicate and fragile and has so many historical palaces and monuments,” says Vittorio Talvacchia, sustainability concierge of the JW Marriott hotel which is located on a private island away from the city centre.
Helen Coffey, The Independent’s deputy head of travel, recommends staying off the island, visiting Piazza San Marco (St Mark’s Square) briefly (it is overrun with tourists) – and “don’t cruise”.
“If there’s one thing locals can’t stand, it’s cruise ships. And for good reason,” she says. “Cruisers don’t generally boost the economy but they do put a huge strain on infrastructure.”
We asked some travel industry insiders for their Venice tips.
Citalia’s Heather Green says:
“To escape the crowds, head to Dorsoduro and wander the back streets. Here you’ll experience the real Venice. Look up and where you see laundry hanging from balconies, you know you’re away from the hotspots. Find a bar and sit for a while watching life pass by enjoying some Cicchetti and an aperitivo. You can’t beat it.
“If you can travel in winter you’ll see far fewer people and will be able to enjoy the sights and views. If summer travel is a must then try and avoid the city at weekends. Hotels are more expensive and it’s very crowded.”
Patrick Millar is marketing manager at Kirker’s which has been offering tail0r-made trips to Venice and its environs for 30 years:
“During peak season Piazza San Marco has such a high concentration of tourists that it can test the patience of many discerning travellers. However, there is much more to Venice than this single square and it’s still possible to escape the madding crowd and enjoy sublime Renaissance churches and charming local trattoria on peaceful squares.
“Venture onto the hidden backstreets of Cannaregio with an expert local guide and you’ll find priceless art treasures in serene neighbourhoods where local residents still live, work, eat and drink. Our concierge can arrange a walking tour with a local expert and our guide notes include recommended restaurants, cafes, bars and back street bacari, or traditional Venetian wine bars serving tapas-style dishes.”
Alison Garrard is an Italy expert at Sunvil and says exploring the wider Veneto region shouldn’t be overlooked:
“The Veneto region is home to both Prosecco and Palladio,” says Alison, who has now visited all 47 of the Palladian houses there.
“Andrea Palladio built these stunning buildings in the 16th century when the Venetian Empire was at its height and it was fashionable for nobles to construct exotic countryside palazzi within easy reach of Venice by river.
“Vicenza is one of the stunning towns of the region with a good helping of his work as are Padua and Treviso. Verona is worth seeing for its Coliseum alone – an absolute must is attending a performance. Just strolling around Verona is a joy – but perhaps avoid more than a quick glance at the Romeo and Juliet balcony, as it’s hugely busy with selfie-taking tourists.”
When to go
November is generally considered one of the best months to visit Venice – the crowds have (mostly) gone and hotel rates are more affordable, although nights can be chilly and higher water levels may hamper your sightseeing. Late spring and early summer offer the most pleasant weather but this is also when the tourists start to descend. Late summer is really best avoided.
Pick of the Trips
Venice may be built on 118 islands but it’s also built on romance and the Hotel Ca’ Sagredo provides a near-perfect setting with a backdrop of antiques, marble detailing and fine décor mixed with comfort. Citalia (citalia.com) offers a three-night stay from £599 pp including flights, transfers and breakfast.
Two for one
Combining Venice and Florence gives you unforgettable sightseeing and wonderful food in two of Italy’s finest cities. Citalia (citalia.com) has an eight-day trip that takes a train journey through rolling Tuscan countryside to connect the two and showcase an abundance of Renaissance architecture, some of the world’s finest museums and galleries and the freshest of seafood on just about every restaurant menu. From £1279 pp including flights, transfers and excursions.
Kirker (kirkerholidays.com) is offering a five-night Venice at Christmas escorted cultural tour that includes flights, water taxi transfers, accommodation with breakfast at the four-star Monaco & Grand Canal Hotel, three dinners, a special Christmas lunch at the world-famous Hotel Danieli, and all sightseeing and excursions. The trip departs December 23 and costs from £1948 pp.
If you’re going to use cruising as a way of visiting Venice then do your research and choose carefully. Jules Verne (vjv.com) has two trips using the small (78 cabin) MS Michelangelo. The seven-day Venice & The Ducal Cities costs from £1595 pp including flights and the four-night Venice from the Water starts from £925 pp and also offers certain departure dates minus the dreaded single room supplement.
For something special how about taking a luxury hotel barge from Venice and gliding through the Venetian Lagoon, River Po and Canal Bianco on route to Renaissance Mantua? The meandering voyage travels through diverse landscapes including lagoon islands, beach dunes and pine forest and visits historic towns and cities such as Ferrara, Mantua and Chiogga – a ‘mini-Venice’ that remains unspoilt and little-known to many travellers. The six-night trip from Kirker (kirkerholidays.com) costs from £3798 pp including flights.
With just five bedrooms, Cima Rosa is a chic B&B in a 15th century palazzo, tucked away from the tourists yet overlooking the Grand Canal. Rooms start from £167 and are bookable via i-escape
(i-escape.com). Flights from Gatwick in November start from around £80 return through Expedia (expedia.co.uk). Baldwins Travel (baldwinstravel.co.uk) can also offer expert advice across a range of Venice holidays.
…you’ll need a hefty bank balance for this one! Famous for hosting George Clooney’s wedding, the deluxe Belmond Hotel Cipriani (belmond.com) is home to glorious gardens and a stunning pool set on the island of Giudecca – a place of full of hidden gems rarely visited by tourists. Think around €1500 a room a night!
First appeared in the October 2019 issue of The Index magazine.
Photo: (c) Kirker Holidays