Don’t take Venice off your bucket list because of the horror stories of crazy crowds and new rules – visit in November instead.
There has been a lot of press lately about “overtourism” in Europe. Venice, in particular, has been getting a lot of attention, with its limitation on cruise ships, tourist taxes (including a new tax for “day visitors” – read cruise ship passengers), and newly adopted rules and potential fines directed at tourists behaving badly. Admittedly, some of those new rules appear pretty draconian – being barred from standing still on a bridge, leaning on a storefront, or buying from street traders (I have no problem with the ban on feeding pigeons, by the way). However, if you visit during the middle of the summer, when the narrow streets and bridges are blocked by gridlock, you might agree the rules make sense.
Avoid all that angst by visiting off-season, which is defined as November through mid-March, excluding the Carnival celebrations in February. Having just spent four days in Venice in early November, I can recommend it highly. Sure, there are still crowds – after all, it is Venice. But we saw only one cruise ship in port the morning we left. Hotel prices were significantly less – we stayed at an excellent four star hotel near Piazza San Marco, Hotel Bisanzio, for only around 100 Euros a night – published summer rates for the same hotel are in the 190-250 Euro range. There were no lines for entry to St. Mark’s Basilica or the Ducal Palace in the four days we were there. Getting on and off the vaparettos (the boats that serve as buses) was easy, as there were few, if any, crowds.
Most important, the thing that makes Venice unique for Italy – its silence – can truly be appreciated. Just think, you are in a city where there are no cars, trucks, buses, or motorcycles (what I consider to be the scourge of Italy). The only place you hear engines is on the canals. If you walk the narrow streets – highly recommended - you can find absolute silence. It’s wonderful. Also, for those of you used to walking the streets of other European cities, you also don’t have to dodge bicycles or the ubiquitous scooters that are appearing everywhere. Bicycles just don’t work in Venice – and indeed are one of the things specifically outlawed in those new rules. So, while one thinks of taking boats everywhere in Venice, remember that it is an excellent walking city as well.
But, you say, what about the weather? Yes, the weather isn’t necessarily as sunny in November as it is in the summer. But the temps in early November were in the low 60’s, which is actually quite comfortable, and you don’t have the problems of spotty air conditioning, issues about malodorous canals, or sharing close spaces with a lot of other sweaty people. Admit it – that’s what summer in Venice (or any crowded city during hot weather) is like. And yes, there is a possibility of rain. Having been born in Seattle, rain is not a real problem for me – I like the clean air that results – but rain in Venice can actually be an adventure.
On our arrival it was raining heavily, and that combined with a high tide created Acqua Alta – when parts of the city floods. I had seen photos of it but never experienced it before. Since it is a frequent phenomenon in the fall, Venice is ready, and when the streets and plazas start flooding, they erect wooden platforms for people to get from place to place. There are also vendors ready to sell rain ponchos and plastic coverings for your shoes. It is all very civilized. The heated towel rack in your hotel bathroom help dry whatever got wet while you were exploring.
And, when the rains go away, it is absolutely glorious. The air is clear, everything smells good (the garlic from the restaurants helps that as well), the vendors return to the streets with their carts, and the restaurants and cafes put the chairs back out on the streets so visitors and locals alike can watch the world go by. Venice is full of tourist attractions, but for a photographer there is nothing better than simply wandering the streets and canals, looking for the perfect photo. The city is just full of photo opportunities. Sun is good, but a quiet canal with a mirror reflection can make up for gray skies. Gondolas are an excellent target since they are so seldom seen anywhere else. So, too, are the old crumbling buildings, with water lapping at their doors. Even the shopping opportunities provide grist for the photographer – I love those fascinating papier mache masks made right in the stores. Evening shots, which happen of course earlier in the day than during the summer, can be quite dramatic. An excursion to one of the nearby islands of Murano or Burano, the lands of blown glass and where the buildings are smaller and more colorful, can provide a change of pace.
So, don’t let those stories about crowds and rules discourage you. There is nothing like Venice. One of my favorite memories was arriving by train for my first visit. The train station is like any other, with platforms and ticket offices and small shops. When you walk out the front door of the station, you come upon stairs leading down to a large plaza – again a common occurrence. Then, you look to where the street should be, and instead it is water. Busy water, with power boats and barges going by and vaparettos (the water buses) coming in to dock to take you away. I knew then I had arrived somewhere wondrous.