Finding the un-tourist in Venice

Venice is the city of canals. And tourists. Thousands and thousands of tourists. I have yet to meet more than a few people who have visited Venice and really loved it. “It’s too crowded. It’s dirty. It smells.” These are the most common descriptions you hear from travelers who have spent time in Venice.

But did they really spend time in Venice? Many cruise ships drop anchor every day during peak season, just off Piazza San Marco. The Times (London) once reported that an average of 50,000 people invade the historic city each day. Considering less than 60,000 people live in Venice proper, tourists nearly equal the population and make Venice seem less Italian and more like a cultural hodgepodge.

So how do you find the real Venice? It can be difficult, but if you look down alleyways into small campos, you will find the real romance of this Italian city. Here are a few of my recommendations:

  1. Spend at least three days in Venice – five if you can swing it. People hate Venice because they fight crowds for a day and move on. Stay after hours. Venice at night is an entirely different experience. The tourists are gone, for the most part, and the city comes alive in each community. You can find quiet cafes or dance to orchestra music in front of San Marco.
  2. Unless you cannot travel without seeing every piece of art a country offers, cut back on the number of museums you visit. Venice is full of art, but I encourage people to view the art on the street versus in a museum. My top favorites: Galleria dell’Accademia, which houses many of the Renaissance greats, and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, an awe-inspiring museum of 20th century art, located in the heiress’ former home on the Grand Canal. If you want to see art of a local Venetian, Scuola Grande di San Rocco has one of the greatest Tintoretto collections in the world. After that, the rest is gravy.
  3. Get off mainland and visit other islands in the Venetian Lagoon. Torcello, Murano and Burano are can’t miss islands that are a one-hour boat ride from Venice proper. The colorful homes on Burano are stunning in the Italian sunshine, and the ride back into Venice gives you a gorgeous view of the city that you wouldn’t normally see.
  4. Find a campo to call your own. Mine was San Barnaba. It felt like home the moment I stumbled onto it. The decent sized square had several cafes, a bookstore, and most importantly for me, families. Children played European football, old men played dice games and women would water their dogs in the public fountain. It was true Venice, living out its life.

My trip to Venice taught me – or maybe confirmed – the way life should be led. Respect those around you. Laugh often. Take time to enjoy the finer things. Make living beautiful.

Still need convincing? Rent Bread and Tulips, a quirky Italian film from 2000. You’ll immediately book your trip to the city of canals. Ciao!

The island of Burano.

Basilica di San Marco at sunrise.