Some people think Venice has a tourism problem– as in, too many tourists. Destinations like Venice risk becoming too popular for their own good. When tourism becomes so valuable an industry, locals move out to free up space for accommodation. The city slowly evolves into a city of tourists rather than the city it has always been.
Venice has been a popular attraction for centuries. Some even consider it one of the first tourist destinations along with places like the pyramids. Its unique layout of canals and splendid architecture, galleries filled with fine art, and rich history hardly need any introduction.
How do we make sense of all this if we’re the kind of traveler who’s often jaded? How do we find the real Venice beneath all the tourism fluff, massive crowds, and inauthenticity? True critics would point out that we’re all part of the problem. Our mere being in Venice as a foreigner adds to that inauthenticity. But let me just take a morning to look for the real Venice and I’ll share some of my ideas for getting off the beaten path here.
Although I found the Venice I was looking for in just one morning, it’s always better to take more time to explore a place. Find a family-run guesthouse or small hotel in Venice or even rent an apartment for a few days. The closer you get to feeling like a temporary local, the better. This is transferable advice that can be applied to almost any destination. Give yourself more time and you’re bound to make more discoveries.
Take the “get off the beaten path” advice literally. That was my plan the morning I arrived at Santa Lucia Station. I followed the rest of the horses out of the gate on the main pedestrian way towards Rialto but then saw an inviting side street that led down some other quiet back street and before I knew it I was exploring Cannareggio. No tourists. Just me walking through normal Venetian neighborhoods where locals still live. This experience gave me a totally different feel of Venice. It’s the Venice I remember to this day. Giudecca is another neighborhood with fewer tourists that is worth a stroll.
The Mercato di Rialto fish market is a place that tourists with limited time will miss. The market opens at 7:30 am but if you go earlier you’ll see vendors setting up. This is where locals and restaurant chefs go to buy their seafood as well as fruits and vegetables. The market is located along the Grand Canal just behind the Rialto Bridge. This gives another alternative version to the Venice-flooded-with-tourists narrative.
Murano is a series of islands linked by bridges in the Venetian Lagoon just to the north of Venice. It is well-known for its glass making, and that’s an excellent reason to explore the area. It is by no means free of foreigners but you can wander easily to untouristy parts here. Glass aficionados point travelers to Franco Schiavon and Murano Collection, two shops that don’t offer generic glass-blowing demonstrations but actually have great pieces of art. But they don’t come cheap. After looking at too-expensive-to-purchase glass works, walk along the canals here, which are picturesque and quiet. Plus, visiting Murano gets you on the water via the vaporetto (water bus), which gives you another perspective of this unique urban landscape.
Burano is an archipelago, just like Venice, with four small islands connected by bridges and crossed by three canals. It’s situated to the northeast of Venice and is reachable by vaporetti from Fondamente Nuove. The only way to get around Burano is by foot. People come here to see the famous colored houses and to escape the tourist crush of St Mark’s Square. Burano is small and once you’ve explored the whole area stop to get lunch before heading back to Venice or out to the beach.
Travelers that go somewhere with a purpose seem to get a deeper experience. Maybe they travel for music or dancing or some other hobby that allows a more fine-tuned exploration of the place. Maybe that hobby connects them to locals or engages them in conversation. They end up learning a lot more about the people and society of the place. My project in Venice was photography. I went in with an idea of the shots I wanted to get, and I did everything I could to make them happen.
Have you been to Venice? How long did you spend there? Do you have any tips for getting off the beaten track in Venice? Leave your ideas in the comments below.