13 Things Tourists Should Never Do in Venice, Italy

The crowded city | infanticida/Flickr
The crowded city | infanticida/Flickr
Photo of Ione Wang
7 June 2017

So many people visit Venice every year and there’s always some cultural friction between locals and tourists. Tourists sometimes have understandable complaints about getting ripped off by people looking to make a quick profit. If you’re going to be visiting Venice, here’s our little list of don’ts to help you navigate the city with grace.

Swim in the canals

No matter how inviting the water looks, this is a patently bad idea. First of all, the canals are public roads, so you could get seriously hurt by the propeller of a passing boat. Secondly, Venice’s sewage system is ancient, so that means that all the waste from the apartments and hotels get flushed out directly into the water. Last but not least, it is illegal, so you can get hit with a hefty fine.

Visit in August

In August, the humidity will be through the roof and all the local restaurants, shops and bars will be closed for ferraogosto. This is the time when everyone who actually lives here leaves, leaving it a hollow playground for the massive amount of tourists who will flood the city. Come to Venice in spring, fall, or winter to see a much lovelier city.

Venice's crowds | timmccune/Flickr

Ask what time Venice closes

Any Venetian who works in tourism has been asked this question and it might be the ultimate symbol of ignorance. “People live here!” they want to yell back. The point is that no matter how beautiful Venice is, it is a living, breathing city, not a museum, and those who treat it as such will have a much better time.

Expect to pay with card

Some of the best bars, shops and restaurants here don’t accept credit cards and even if they do cash is always preferred. This is also a reflection of the larger fact that the culture of small, family-run businesses is still very much alive. In order to participate, carry cash and don’t be surprised if you’re asked for small change.

Step on the green stuff

You might be tempted to go down a few of the steps at the water’s edge to get a better view of the canal. Be warned that the green stuff on the stones is seaweed, which can be deceptively slippery. Many a tourist has landed in the canal trying to get a selfie and you don’t want to be one of them.

Seaweed | thievingjoker/Flickr

Sit down in the alleys or on bridges

Venice is an international city with a small town infrastructure, which can create traffic flow problems. The main form of transportation here is walking. That means if you sit down on the bridges or in the narrow alleys, it’s equivalent to stopping your car in a four lane highway. Sit in the campi, where public space is more plentiful. Whether you’re in a supermarket or an alleyway, make sure that you’re aware of the space that you or your group are taking up and whether or not you’re obstructing traffic. The general rule is to stay to the right when you’re passing through narrow streets. Spaces are tight in this city, so it’s good to be extra considerate.

Buy knockoffs and low quality

In Venice, there will be no end of people trying to sell mass produced items as if they’re the real thing. You’ll see machine made masks from the US, “Murano” glass from China and oil paintings that are made by low wage workers factory-style. If something is surprisingly cheap, you know it might be a scam. Make sure to use your judgement and do your research so you won’t fall into one of these tourist traps. Not only will you getting something of real value, you’ll also be supporting those who are doing good, honest work.

Kiosks selling trinkets | 4nitsirk/Flickr

Eat in places with other tourists

If none of the people in the restaurant are locals, it’s a pretty clear sign that the place is going to be overpriced and not particularly delicious. Whether you like to do your research beforehand or enjoy being spontaneous, use your judgement when choosing where to eat. If you see a bar or restaurant that’s crowded with neighborhood people, you’ll know it’s going to be good.

Leave trash in the street

This seems pretty intuitive, but you’d be amazed at the amount of litter that’s left in the street in completely inappropriate places. Empty bottles, napkins and ice cream cups are found lining windowsills at the end of the day, or sitting on top of wells. It’s not hard to find a public trash can in the city, usually they’re located in the bigger campi and along main streets, so just hold onto your litter until you can dispose of it properly. Also, give a thought to the amount of trash you are creating, especially with regards to plastic bottles. One helpful tip is that the public fountains have drinking water, so you don’t need to buy bottles of water.

Overflowing trash cans in Venice | ter-burg/Flickr

Stay on the well-trodden path

Venice has several well-demarcated paths that cater mainly to tourists, but many more hidden roads that are full of local life. If you want to see an authentic, lived-in city, you must be willing to get lost, to take little backstreets that aren’t marked on maps and to explore without the need for a destination.

Eat pizza

It’s actually quite hard to find good pizza in Venice because wood-burning ovens are historically banned for fire safety reasons. Unless it’s one of the few places that do it right, most pizza restaurants are tourist traps. That’s also a reminder that Venice was independent for most of its history, and has its own cuisine that’s different from the usual stereotypes of Italian food.

Venetian-style squid | davebowman/Flickr

Drink coffee to go

There is absolutely no excuse for taking coffee in a to go cup in Italy. An espresso can be downed in a few seconds, and even a cappuccino can be sipped leisurely in about two minutes. Plus, what’s the hurry? If you have the time to get a coffee, you can take a few minutes to relax and enjoy your coffee in a real cup.

Stay in your comfort zone

Challenge yourself! You can spend your whole visit here in a tourist bubble, seeing only vague stereotypes of Venetian life. But what’s the point when Venice is right in front of you? Everything that makes this city different and strange also makes it unique and extrarodinary. There’s no guide for this, just like the back alleys of Venice aren’t mappable. The best of this city has to be actively discovered by a curious and open mind.

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