It’s the conundrum that many travelers face: how to be a tourist but avoid other tourists. In a place like Venice, that’s pretty hard to do. The canal city on the Adriatic has less than 300,000 permanent residents* but welcomes approximately 30 million tourists each year.
Numbers like that make it nearly impossible not to trip over your fellow Venice visitors. But there are some ways to make the experience of seeing Venice–one of the most remarkable cities in the world–slightly more pleasant.
Buy a Boat Pass
Single fares on Venice’s vaporetti (water buses) are high for non-residents, starting at €7 one-way. Buying a 1-, 2-, 3-, or 7-day ACTV pass upon arrival or online in conjunction with the VeneziaUnica pass is the best way to keep from being moored to one district during your visit and the best way to save money on transport. The vaporetti pass is good for getting around to all of the islands and neighborhoods of the lagoon, including the ones that are off the main tourist routes.
Of course, you won’t be able to avoid other tourists while you’re on the boats. But at least you won’t be left scratching your head like so many befuddled tourists wondering how and where to buy a ticket each time you want to island hop.
Stay In a Less Touristy Area
I travel with my family, including two kids. So staying in a more residential area usually makes sense for me. A residential area often means that family-friendly amenities like groceries and parks are nearby, not to mention cafes and restaurants with more down-to-earth prices. AirBnB has been a wonderful way to track down accommodations in areas like the Giudecca and Sant’Elena, where there are still some other tourists but fewer of them. And if you’re not into AirBnB, you can use the site to get a quick glance at some more residential neighborhoods, the knowledge of which you can use to peruse the hotel stock on Booking.com, TripAdvisor, or your other favorite accommodations app.
Staying in a less touristy area does have a drawback–it often includes a slightly longer commute. But that’s why I suggested you purchase a vaporetti pass…
Avoid Touristy Areas
This is such an obvious tip, you may wonder why I include it. But I do believe you can enjoy the splendor of Venice without following the herds around the Grand Canal. For example, instead of queuing for the belltower in Piazza San Marco, take a boat over to San Giorgio Maggiore where you can take an elevator to the top of its belltower–and actually get a full aerial view of the most iconic area of Venice. Obsessed with Venice’s symbol, the lion? Escape the throngs (again, in Piazza San Marco), and head towards the Arsenale, which has four ancient lion sculptures waiting to be photographed. The Rialto Bridge is pretty but do you really want to dine in the shadow of the bridge with tourists and touts milling all about you? We loved stopping canal-side in the Castello and Canareggio districts for cicheti (bar snacks) and drinks.
Plenty of other tourists will have the same idea of going to the places that I’ve mentioned above. But I guarantee you will feel the difference–more breathing room, longer strides, less danger from pickpockets–if you choose to meander just a little off course. The canals, the grand architecture, everything that makes Venice Venice will still be there.
You can also avoid tourists in Venice by visiting in the off-season. It is certainly less touristy during the winter before Carnevale. But that is also high time for the acqua alta (canal flooding) and very cold temperatures. Venice is much lovelier in the spring when it is warm and you can take advantage of outdoor dining and ambling around.
*Update: Several readers have noted that Venice’s population of permanent residents is hovering around 50,000-60,000. My figure of less than 300,000 is based on public data via UNData, which lists the population of Venice in 2012 at 260,060. This figure is probably including Venice Mestre within the total population figure. I apologize for any confusion this may have caused.
As for 30 million tourists in Venice per year, I found that figure from this 2013 article in Der Spiegel: Throttled By Tourists: Death Prompts Venice to Ponder Limits.