Overtourism and its adverse effects are the main reasons why Venice has taken over the news headlines for years. The consequences of the ever-growing tourism in Venice are clearly visible. Today, only a bit over 50 000 locals inhabit this iconic city centre. In the 1950s, the number was more than triple.
The amount of Venetians keeps decreasing, and it’s no coincidence. Approximately 25 million tourists travel to Venice every year. According to the forecasts, the number might reach 38 million in the following years.
best worst day, as many as 125 000 tourists visit this city of bridges. It’s 2,5 times the current amount of locals and a big part of the problem. The Venice Project Center, a research facility that aims for preserving and improving the living conditions in the city, has calculated that the daily tourism capacity for Venice is 55 000.
Can you see a conflict here?
Is Venice really sinking?
Tourism isn’t the only factor causing significant problems in Venice. The sinking of the city has been a popular topic across media for years if not decades. ENEA (Italian National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development) reports that Venice is in danger to vanish underwater by 2100.
Even if the sinking is partly a natural phenomenon due to how and where Venice was built – on wooden poles in a muddy lagoon above the Adriatic Plate that is slowly pushing under the Apennine mountains – overtourism has its role.
In addition to many other negative effects, the hundreds of cruise ships visiting Venice every year harm the lagoon’s ecosystem. According to scientists, the rising of the sea level caused by climate change doubles the yearly sinking. Besides all this, only a few years ago the experts found out that Venice is slowly tilting to the east.
Venice tourism has various problems – but what are they?
There’s no simple answer to this question as we’ll discover when proceeding with this article. Some of the apparent results of overtourism in Venice are the increasing costs of living, especially the rents, that have forced locals to move out of their homes.
As I mentioned above, the giant cruise ships bring along enormous problems of which the all-inclusive day-trippers aren’t the least. Behaving disrespectfully, the cruise passengers take over the city for just a few hours leaving behind garbage and angry locals but not spending any money on local businesses. Guess who ends up paying the cleaning? The Venetians, who are already suffering from lack of work, poor wages, extensive living costs, continuous flooding and literally the vanishing of their birth-city.
The Venetians feel their city has lost its authenticity. It’s one of the reasons why Unesco considers adding Venice on the List of World Heritage in Danger. After the recent cruise ship accident in Venice, the mayor has requested adding the city on the world heritage blacklist.
Tourism hasn’t always been a swear word – even in Venice
Overtourism has become a problem in Venice only in the 21st century. Thanks to the growing culture of mass tourism and low budget travelling, visiting Venice is now easier and cheaper than ever before.
Trying to dive into the mind of an average traveller feels overwhelming. An iconic destination, just like Venice, is the must-see for most of us. Yet, we’re not willing to spend time, effort or money to help to preserve this unique and precious city that is one of its kind.
One can only guess how many times Venice has been listed among the destinations to avoid. So should Venice tourism be banned once and for all?
I think not. A complete boycott is rarely a solution in a city where locals are dependent on tourism. It’s one of the most complicated dilemmas in the world; How can tourism be so deadly and vital at the same time?
Banning tourism wouldn’t be an option for Venice but increasing the quality of tourists is essential. No, Venice doesn’t need or deserve drunken, noisy tourists who run along the streets half-naked, jump into the canals and force locals despising them. Venice needs responsible and conscious tourists who are aware of the problems threatening the city, stay for longer than a day or two, behave respectfully and spend money thoughtfully.
And these are the exact reasons why I’m now writing this conscious traveller’s guide to Venice. That said, instead of adding Venice to your boycott list, change your travel plans and make your visit in Venice as sensible and beneficial to the locals as possible, for instance by following these guidelines.
Conscious traveller’s guide to Venice – 9 valuable tips for a more responsible visit
1 – Avoid cruise ships and one-day visits: stay in Venice as long as you can
Cruising sounds like a chilled way to travel, right? So how can it be such a red rag for Venetians?
In 2018, over 500 cruise ships carrying more than 1,5 million tourists anchored in the harbours of Venice (source: vtp.it/en/company/statistics/). Only a third of all 25 million yearly tourists stay in Venice overnight.
All-inclusive cruise passengers are often described as the worst type; They land in Venice pockets full of food, leave behind loads of trash but not necessarily a single penny to local businesses. In the worst scenario, the minimal amount of money they spend goes to an overseas junk shop owned by a faceless international investor who gives nothing to the city. But let’s get back to this topic a bit later.
Venice strikes back: Tourist tax for day visitors
To minimise the harm, Venice is planning to introduce a tourist tax for short-term visitors. At the time of this article, the implementation of the tourist tax is estimated to happen in January 2020. You can get the most recent updates of the tourist tax from this article by All About Venice.
The revenue will be directed to essential services, like cleaning the city. The Mayor of Venice, Luigi Brugnaro, estimates tourists cause 30 million euros cleaning costs every single year. In addition to the tourist tax, the city is planning to create a booking system where tourists need to make an announcement of their arrival if they want to visit Venice.
All-inclusive passengers aren’t the only reason why Venetians stand on the barricades against the massive cruise ships. With their engines running throughout the day, these cruise ships pollute the air and water while damaging Venice’s fragile structures. The masses of water moved by the cruise ships cause even more harm to the buildings and deepening the canals to allow these cruisers arrive has worsened the effects of the flooding caused by the high tide, Acqua Alta.
If you’re interested in reading more about the impacts of cruise ships in Venice, head over to this article by Venezia Autentica.
2 – Travel off-season
Travellers visiting Venice often criticise the city for crowded streets and restaurants. Think about this: if you decide to travel to one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations on a July weekend when the whole of Europe is enjoying their vacation, what could you realistically expect?
Crowded streets are only one small reason to travel to Venice off-season. If you’re able to avoid the peaks, you’ll find more affordable accommodation and dine inexpensively, too. Besides, the weather in Venice is much more tolerable and tourist-friendly outside the hottest summer period.
I travelled to Venice at the end of March this year and combined my visit to a work trip in the Dolomites. Of course, Venice wasn’t empty of tourists in March either, but there was plenty of space on the alleys, and the locals were in a better mood thanks to the missing tourist flocks. For a Finn, March weather in Venice was gentle and warm enough for a t-shirt. All these factors made losing myself in the indescribably beautiful maze called Venice such a pleasant experience.
Plan the perfect timing for your visit with the Venice tourism calendar
What’s the best time to visit Venice? For me, the end of March was ideal, but if you want to be really sure you can plan your visit with the help of this tourism calendar maintained by the city of Venice. Select your preferred dates, and the tool will forecast how busy Venice is at the chosen time and provides suggestions on how to make the best out of your visit to Venice.
3 – Participate in a guided tour
Several organisations provide an intriguing selection of guided tours in Venice with different themes. In addition to the tours with a fee, you can find many free walking tours where you choose yourself how much you tip the guide (and I suggest you do). Participating in a guided walking tour is the best possible way to start your holiday in Venice, especially if you’re visiting the city for the first time or your knowledge about Venice is minute.
With a local guide you’ll learn to understand the uniqueness of Venice, venerate its fragility and residents plus you’ll get valuable tips for the rest of your trip; what should you see, where should you eat and how to shop responsibly. A local guide will help you understand the problems in Venice and place yourself in a Venetians’ shoes. After the tour, that will only take an hour or two of your time, you understand why tourist are expected to behave a certain way and learn to get along with the locals.
However, when booking a tour, pay attention to who you’re booking with. Support only legal and responsible tour providers. Before booking, take time to go through their website, read about their history, their values and their goals. If you’re not sure who to book with, you can always ask for recommendations from your hotel reception.
I chose a tour provider called Venice Free Walking Tours, and I couldn’t be happier with the tour and the guide herself. And I showed it in my tip, too.
4 – Know where you stay
Finding accommodation can be a real stumbling block for a sustainable traveller, especially in Venice. How can a tourist be sure to find a reliable and responsible place to stay? Airbnb and similar short-term rental services might sound tempting, but unfortunately, the idea of Airbnb isn’t that great when you look at the topic from a local’s perspective.
In many cities, like Venice, Airbnb can create more problems than benefits. Easy money and profitable housing business entice international investors and landlords to force the locals out of their homes with extremely high rents. Those homes are then turned into Airbnb apartments, B&B’s and self-service hostels for tourists.
Again, the revenues float out of the city, leaving the Venetians with more problems and without income.
How to find responsible accommodation in Venice?
Google doesn’t always provide the answer. Guest reviews are faked, and even illegal accommodation can be veiled to look like a perfect option with minimal effort.
The first step for finding responsible accommodation from Venice is to check the map for authorised providers maintained by the city of Venice. Every single hotel, hostel, guesthouse and even a tourist apartment has to be registered. If the accommodation is registered, you will find it on the map linked above.
Take time to investigate the hotel you’re about to book. Go to their website, and try to find information about their background and values. Look for a mention about the city tax chargeable from every overnight tourist, and try to find honest experiences by real travellers who have stayed at the hotel. Careful search can be time-consuming, but you’ll get peace of mind once you can be sure that you’re spending your money on a liable and preferably local business.
Even the most thoughtful tourist can make a mistake and choose poorly. If it happens to you, make sure you’ll report the illegal operator and share your experiences with other travellers. Most importantly, make sure not to give your money for such an operator twice.
Fairbnb – a sustainable counter-attack to house-sharing market
While doing my research for this article, I came across with a new, interesting booking platform called Fairbnb that I’ve waited to launch since June. Besides assuring the liability, Fairbnb allows only one short-term rental for each host. Also, half of the revenue will be directed to support local communities.
Venice is one of the five pilot destinations; Once the service is up and running, we have another easy way of finding responsible accommodation in Venice.
It’s worth remembering that things are rarely black and white; an Airbnb apartment can sometimes be a sensible choice even in Venice. Read Venezia Autentica’s tips for where to stay in Venice.
5 – Learn the local habits and respect them (or pay the penalty and get banned)
Before the walking tour, our guide shared two essential rules for our visit to Venice; Always walk on the right side of the street and never, NEVER loiter on the bridges.
If you’ve been to Venice, you already know that the alleys and bridges in the historic city centre are narrow and full of steps. Keep in mind that not all people in Venice are tourists; The locals walk along the same streets when they rush to work, grocery shop or home after a long working day.
The Venetians can be rude when they want to. Blocking the walkways and bridges, shouting, littering, acting rowdy, being intoxicated and even clattering your luggage along the streets of Venice are guaranteed ways to aggravate the locals. Always dress up respectfully – don’t be the shirtless idiot who causes reprehension and remember to cover your shoulders and knees when visiting any of the 139 churches of Venice.
According to the new rules introduced in May 2019, tourists committing these offences might face a fine up to 500 euros. Misbehaving tourists swimming in the canals, wearing a swimsuit in public areas, laying on benches or having a picnic at a wrong place at a wrong time won’t only be fined but might even be banned from Venice.
Read the 12 golden rules for a responsible visitor in Venice listed by #EnjoyRespectVenezia.
6 – Eat local food in local restaurants
Venice is currently being cleaned from misbehaving tourist and litter but also from restaurants that distort the cultural heritage of the city. New kebab and fast food restaurants are banned at least until 2021, and remarkable improvements are required from the existing ones. Venice has taken over the news headlines also with restaurant scams like over 500 euros lunches in the central San Marco district.
How can you identify a local restaurant in Venice? Again, the best way to choose well is to ask a local. Ask for a responsible restaurant from a local guide, your hotel reception or even a random local on the streets. If you can’t find anyone to ask from, there are a few simple tips for choosing a restaurant in Venice.
Learn to recognise a tourist trap
The first and most important rule is to avoid tourist restaurants. But how to identify one?
Seeing a menu with a dozen languages and photographs of dishes accompanied by an unctuous tout should set on the alarm. This applies to most of the destinations, not only Venice. A typical Venetian restaurant is small and cosy. The wooden tables are rarely covered with tablecloths. If you step into a restaurant and you’re not immediately harassed by a vigorous waiter, consider it as a good sign. “It means you’re treated like a local”, our guide told us.
Find out the local specialities and what the price range should be; it’s a straightforward and fast way to find out the truth about the restaurant. In a city built on water, fish is always a good choice. Taste typical Venetian appetisers like Sarde in Saor or Baccala Mantecato. For main, try Spaghetti alla Busara or a squid-ink risotto. The Venetian tapas, Cicchetti, is served on bread and it should cost around 1,5-2,5 euros. According to our guide, if you see a menu with Cicchettis for 3,5 euros a piece, it’s a sign to run.
7 – Support local handcraft, avoid overseas junk
This is a rule that’s worth remembering anywhere in the world, even at home. We often want to purchase souvenirs, but we should think twice what and where we shop. Souvenirs don’t need to and shouldn’t be useless and meaningless second-quality crap but items that we need and use in our everyday lives. Don’t buy stuff just for the sake of buying; a conscious traveller purchases items that have a purpose and selects carefully from who and where they buy.
I think we can all agree that souvenirs should tell a story about the destination. A good example could be a traditional handcraft typical to the area. In Venice, it could mean Murano glass, Burano lace or authentic Venetian carnival masks.
Once again, if you’re not sure whether the souvenir of your choice is authentic or the shop you’re going to is a responsible business, ask a local. The Venetians would be happy to hear you’re eager to support local work and are pleased to help you. By choosing the worst option, the overseas junk, you might end up carrying your money to that faceless international investor who doesn’t leave a dime to Venice and whose second-quality items, in the worst case, can be poisonous.
Venezia Autentica is a great site that helps you find local, authentic and sustainable businesses in Venice, whether you’re looking for a restaurant, accommodation or a souvenir shop. Use it.
8 – Avoid the most popular ‘must-see’ sites – or choose your timing well, at least
St. Mark’s Square, Rialto Bridge, Basilica di San Marco… St. Mark’s Square, Rialto Bridge, Basilica di San Marco… A city that gets as many as 125 000 visitors a day has its essential must-see sites that almost every tourist visits at least once during their holiday. Giving the rest of Venice very little attention.
At the beginning of this article, I mentioned that the estimated tourist capacity for Venice is 55 000 visitors a day. It goes without saying that buildings that are hundreds and hundreds of years old can’t tolerate the burden of the current number of daily visitors. Where are tourists, there are also the tourist booths selling (perhaps illegally) their second-quality junk.
Let’s face reality: an over-crowded site isn’t comfortable for anyone, not even for the tourists themselves. So think twice do you really need to push yourself into the crowds or could you enjoy your trip to Venice in other ways, like visiting the less-known quiet gems? If the most famous attractions really are a must-do to you, at least aim to get there outside the rush hours.
If you ask my opinion, the best way to explore Venice after the guided walking tour is strolling along the rustic alleyways further away from crowds. Don’t create a tight schedule for visiting the most popular attractions but take time and allow yourself getting lost in the stunning maze of Venice.
Another great option is to escape the busy centre to the nearby islands.
9 – Know what Venice is
No matter where you travel, a conscious traveller makes an effort to get to know to their destination before the trip.
If you find yourself pondering questions like “What is Venice”, “When is Venice open” or “When can I see the next flooding show”, don’t book your trip to Venice quite yet. A city that suffers from several severe problems, most of them created or worsened by overtourism, deserves your respect. The people living there deserve your respect. Figuring out a few details doesn’t take too much time but helps you make the most out of your journey. Even reading this conscious traveller’s guide to Venice is better than nothing.
Some questions might seem harmless, and even the locals can feel that way. But there are sensitive topics you should avoid, like the high tide phenomenon Acqua Alta taking over the St. Mark’s Square several times a year. You need to be aware it’s a real problem, not some show built for careless tourists. Respect that.
This conscious traveller’s guide to Venice might feel like a heavy reading, but it’s good to keep in mind that common sense will carry a long way. Wherever you travel to, don’t do anything you wouldn’t like to see on your own doorstep. Despite the destination, it’s always a home to someone.
Have you been to Venice or are you currently planning your first trip? What do you think about this list? Do you have other examples or tips for planning a responsible trip to Venice? Share your thoughts in the comments.