Venice. It is like no other place I have seen in all my life! It is magical and unique but has a tinge of sadness about it. Read on to find out what I discovered about Venice in my short time there, and what I loved most about it…
The sheer idea of Venice is something out of a dream…
“To build a city where it is impossible to build a city is madness in itself, but to build there one of the most elegant and grandest of cities is the madness of genius.”
Until you see Venice with your own eyes you can only imagine what it is like. But when you spend time there and simply watch the locals living their day to day life, you will see just how amazing it truly is.
The canals connect the whole city, there are no real roads, everything is done by boat. Local deliveries of food and drinks arrive at hotels and restaurants by boat, with delivery workers bumping them up and down the small bridges and steps, day by day. Taxis are boats, police arrive by boats, I even saw an ambulance boat. It isn’t just gondolas for tourists, it is a way of life for the Venetians, and quite a spectacle at that.
Local police and ambulance boats.
A taxi boat arriving at the main entrance of a hotel, accessible only by a small canal.
Taking a tour with a local.
You can find free walking tours everywhere in Europe and they are one of the best ways to find out more about the place you are visiting in a short period of time. I have done so many on my travels & I recommend them 100%. Whether it be a tour by a student living there, a local born and bred in the area or someone who simply fell in love with the city, they will have something unique to share with you.
We took our tour with Venice Free walking tour as we were intrigued by the fact that each tour leader had a different route and shared with you a different part of the city that they loved. Our tour was given by a lovely adopted Venetian shall we say.
As we began the tour she asked us “Why do you stay in a place?” the simple answer “For love”. Whether it be that you fall head over heels in love with the city itself or for one of it’s people. Your head makes you go but your heart makes you stay.
She had come from another part of Italy to study in Venice, but after falling in love with a Venetian, she wasn’t going to be leaving any time soon. She shared with us so much about what she had learned & I will share with you my favourites:
Historically, there are no street names in Venice.
As it is such a small place, everyone knew everyone and they knew places by what was on that street, or someone important who lived there. For example, our tour began on a street where there was originally a toy shop, so that is how it became known. These days there is no toy shop but still a window with toys above the street name.
This wasn’t a problem until the Venetians were forced to give all the streets and bridges of Venice a name so they could try to make accurate maps and they came up with about 50 baker streets! Not so much fun for the tourists or people visiting. Now they have made yellow signs with arrows which direct you to the main sights like St Marks. However my advice to you: don’t even try to navigate your way anywhere, lose the map, just get lost & enjoy it!
There used to be fields in Venice.
Yep, you heard right and here is your clue: Wherever you see a square with small tiles like this:
It was originally a field. How interesting! Another little gem our tour guide told us about.
Churches which are plain outside are not always plain on the inside.
Our tour guide was a fan of churches and took us to a few different ones in the North part of the city. There are so many as each local community within Venice would have their own church as a focal point in the area. This one was my favourite. It didn’t look like much from the outside in comparison to St Marks, but inside the marble work was like nothing I’ve ever seen before!
Yes, this simply looks like a curtain but in actual fact it has been constructed out of solid marble. I thought it looked incredible and so life like! Such artistry.
Again, these spirals are solid marble. Pretty impressive.
You can visit the Gesuiti (Santa Maria Assunta) in Northern Cannaregio for a small donation 1-2euros if I remember correctly.
Venice itself may not be around forever.
Due to the fact that Venice has been built up from the water, it is in a rather precarious position. So many of the buildings and homes are salt damaged over time from the changing tides and are beginning to look like this:
This, as you can imagine is a serious problem for Venice and to rectify this is a very difficult job. Researchers have found that restoration is a better solution than conservation and they have begun this process in Venice, but it is difficult and takes time and money to complete. This is devastating and I hope everything that can be done is done before it’s too late for this beautiful city.
Venice has so many islands!
When you build your city from the water up, you design it as you like and so each island was made for a different reason or with a specific function in mind. Our tour guide even told us about one island which is the graveyard for all the locals of Venice. As we were only in Venice for a short time we didn’t make it to any of the islands, we were advised to stay on the main island and explore around there but when we go back one day I would love to see what the islands have to offer!
How to become a sustainable tourist!
This was a huge part of the tour as it addresses a main problem that Venice is experiencing in this day and age. Of course, everyone wants to see and experience Venice for themselves (myself included) but there is a way to do it which helps the economy and doesn’t take advantage of it.
As most people who travel a lot learn, you want to be a traveller NOT a tourist. You want to explore the real place, talk to locals, learn about life there and contribute what you can. Venice is having lots of problems (a lot like Barcelona) where thousands of people come by cruise ship, for a few hours, eat on the ship, see St Marks Sqaure then leave and don’t contribute in any real way to the local economy. Now I’m not saying by any means that it is everyone who travels by cruise ship but they have identified it as a growing problem for them. If you are visiting Venice through this form of transport, use your time wisely, go a bit further afield and explore the smaller, quieter streets and you will discover the more authentic Venice.
Honestly though, it’s not as easy to do as you may think. We actually found Venice the hardest place to do this in, compared to other countries in Europe. This is largely due to the fact that it is now so geared up to tourists that so many of the locals have been forced out of their homes and have left Venice altogether. This trend began in the 1960’s when the flooding started, and with recent rises in rent prices, there are as few as 55,000 Venetians living there now. So how can you help?
My advice would be, walk a few streets away from St Marks square and you will see the hoards of people disintegrate in the small streets. In terms of finding somewhere to eat, there are so many fancy hotels where you can get big, 5 course meals which I’m sure are amazing but this is not how the locals do. Look for small bars with people standing around barrels or spilling onto the street. With no photos of food, or menus in 5 different languages. This is a local place. It will be serving aperitifs like Aperol spritz, prosecco, or the local Venetian Bellini.
Or Cicchetti, which is typical to Venice. Small sandwiches (quite similar to Spanish tapas – dare I say it) which you can find at very reasonable prices in small streets all over the city. We went on somewhat of a cicchetti tour one afternoon and I would highly recommend doing the same!
This place was our favourite! Osteria Al Squero had wonderful Cicchetti which kept you going back for more & a beautiful wall to sit on and watch the boats go by. Which is the most magical thing to do in Venice after all.
See all the wonder of Venice
Now, I hope this article has inspired you to see Venice through new eyes. Yes by all means visit the wonderful St Marks Square and take in the wonder and stories behind the bridge of sighs, but remember Venice has so much more to offer!
I am going to leave you with this quote which I feel captures the magic and romanticism of the historical city of Venice:
“A realist, in Venice, would become a romantic by mere faithfulness to what he saw before him.”
Thank you for reading! I hope you enjoyed and found it interesting and useful if you are planning an upcoming trip to Venice! Please let me know what you thought in the comments below!
Here are some other articles which I think compliment the points I have made and will help you experience real Venice:
The Wee Wanderer x x