The construction of Venice was a remarkable achievement, built on a marshy swamp that was drained by hand, and slowly built upon millions of wooden stakes. It could be argued that it was well ahead of its time. But time, mass tourism and the changing environment  have all had their toll on this slowly sinking marvel.

I am the first to say Venice is a must-see destination, but there are ways to visit that will reduce our tourism footprint on a city that thousands still call home. As much as it seems to be perfectly designed for tourists – it is very much a city where people still live, work and go to school! 

The people of Venice have been debating the benefits of tourism for some years now, and after the relative peace of worldwide lockdowns over 2020 and 2021, that call has only gotten louder.  So while Venice is initiating ways to reduce mass tourism without sacrificing an essential source of income for the bulk of its residents, here are 10 ways that you can travel responsibly during your visit to Venice. 

1 – Visit Venice in the off season

While summer is the most popular time to visit Europe, is being crammed in amongst thousands of other people during the hottest time of year really the best idea?

Venice can be visited at any time of year. Visit in winter to see the canals and city at its haunting best, bring your rubber boots to experience aqua-alta for yourself, or if you are like me and want to enjoy nice weather without the worst of the crowds – spring and autumn can’t be missed.

Bonus to visiting away from summer – prices are cheaper, locals are nicer, you’ll be able to take your time with exploring and you’ll get better photo opportunities!

2 – Stay for more than a night

Some people just want to tick off items on their ‘must-see’ list and move on, while others prefer to stay longer and take their time to really get to know a place. The answer lies somewhere in the middle, consider staying in Venice itself for at least 2 nights.

You won’t be rushing around trying to squeeze everything into a daytrip, and you’ll  be able to take advantage of early morning wanderings or late night adventures (whatever your preference!)

Something to consider is that starting Summer 2022, Venice will begin charging an entry fee into Venice if you are only visiting for a day. The fee is set to be small (roughly €3 to €10) and will need to be booked in advance. The cost will vary based on anticipated tourist numbers and season – peak summer being the most expensive. To avoid this cost, you will need to book accommodation on the islands. 

3 – Shop Local

Foodies will already know that some of the best places to explore are the local markets. If you are staying a few nights then you will probably be making yourself at least one meal or some snacks. Instead of going to a chain grocery store, head to the local markets or buy direct from farmers on gondolas along the canals. 

Some local shops to consider include the Osteria Zanze XVI, which sources only local produce with the aim of creating zero-kilometre cuisine. If you are in Venice on a Monday then a visit to the Santa Marta market is a must, there you will find the I&S store store which sells organic produce grown from their farm on the Sant’Erasmo island. 

Whether it is for breakfast, pre-cut fruit or vegetable sticks for snacks, salads or sandwiches for the road – whatever you buy from a local vendor will be going to help support a small business owner and the local economy.

If cooking is not your jam, then make sure to head off the main streets and find local restaurants and bars for meals that will not only be cheaper, but more accurate reflection of ‘local’ dishes.

4 – Be aware of your surroundings

I honestly don’t envy the Venetians, and can understand why they have been getting frustrated with mass tourism. While most cities have their landmarks spread out with some room to move, Venice is extremely condensed by comparison. 

Be mindful of the people around you when you are walking – it is easy to get distracted and not notice what or who is around you. Walk on the right-hand side of footpaths, this is important as the narrow streets can get crowded (plus you don’t want to risk falling in a canal!).

If you packed your own lunch or snacks and want to sit somewhere to eat, you will need to find a bench or public park. Sitting on the ground or on steps of buildings to eat is illegal and the fine is between €100-€200.

5 – Consider your accommodation options

While I love Airbnb and how competitive it can be against hotels, there is no doubt it has had a severe impact on housing affordability in major cities. Causing many locals to live on the mainland because they can no longer afford homes on the islands, raising their cost of living.

Instead of booking an entire apartment to yourself through Airbnb consider renting just a room. If the hosts are genuine locals then they will be able to provide an insight into different parts of Venice as well. If privacy is a concern, many hostels offer private rooms with ensuites that are still cheaper then hotels but you get the social atmosphere – perfect if you are solo travelling. Otherwise have a look at hotels, if you are travelling off-season you can often find some great deals.

6 – Bring your own reusable water bottle & shopping bag

Hands up who has been guilty of forgetting their reusable water bottle? Water bottles are infamous for the amount of waste they cause, especially when you consider tap water is free and safe to drink in most countries. 

Venice has dozens of free water fountains throughout the city, so remember to bring your reusable water bottle (my favourite is this foldable water bottle from Amazon) and top up when you pass through a campos (square).

A re-usable foldable shopping bag is also handy to have, especially if you plan to do some shopping. Shops in Australia have been charging for plastic bags for a while now, so this is second nature to me, but for others it may not be. Cotton is the ideal material for something truly eco-friendly, but there are also some great nylon options such as this bag, which can be easily folded down into a compact roll. 

7 – Buy genuine souvenirs and not cheap copies

Venetian crafts are exquisite and make great souvenirs. Unfortunately, when you are travelling on a budget they can seem out of price. That shouldn’t mean resorting to buying a cheap plastic mask, mass produced postcard or imported scarf.

You will find items much cheaper the further away from St Mark’s Square you go.  Locals markets sell handmade and second hand items. Wander through the island of Burano to see lace makers at work and negotiate in person for a item that catches your eye. Buy a necklace or earrings made with murano glass. Hand painted postcards or posters by local artists is another great option. Or join a workshop such as this one, where you can make your own mask fit for carnival.

All of these options are authentic souvenirs that help support local artists and business. 

8 – Avoid the cruise ships and large group tours 

Cruise ships can be a convenient way to travel but they are notorious for the ecological damage they can cause, especially the massive ships that seem to take over the landscape. It is no surprise then that Venice has been battling to stop large cruise ships from entering the lagoon. Not only do they bring large crowds who only visit for short periods and stay in the main tourist areas, but the underwater damage cause by wave actions is also causing irreversible damage to the foundations of the city.

The crowds brought in by these cruise ships can also play havoc with exploring, so if you want to avoid the masses (and get photos without massive cruise ships in the background) then make sure to visit CruiseDig, which shows all the scheduled cruise ship arrivals and departures.

Group tours are a grey area, you don’t want to join a big group because you won’t here anything the host says. Instead find a small group tour hosted by a local. They will not only actually know the area, but are more then happy to recommend places to eat and explore. This 2 hour mystery tour of the legends of Canneregio is a great walking tour option.

If you want to learn more about the campaign against cruise ships in the lagoon, then visit No Grandi Navi.

9 – Get Involved

If you have the time or interest, there are a number of organisations in Venice that are actively involved in preserving and maintaining their city. Here are just a few of them:

Venice Calls – run regular graffiti clean up days, as well as canal dredging and beach cleaning.

Save Venice – arguably the largest group, works to restore architecture and artworks.

WWF – an international organisation focusing on workshops, nature walks and beach clean ups.

Po Delta Park – bird watchers and nature lovers can help count birds in this massive nature reserve

10 – Reduce Waste

Have you ever considered how much waste you generate in a single day? If not, it might surprise you to learn that when we travel we use significantly more then we would at home. From travel sized toiletries, disposable cutlery, plastic bottles or take away coffee cups, plastic straws from drinks or those tiny plastic spoons in your gelato cup, these all add up to a ridiculous amount of waste. 

Some ways you can reduce your environmental footprint, without impacting your trip, can include: 

              • carrying a reusable cutlery set (ideally one with a straw);
              • buying gelato in a cone instead of cup;
              • drinking your coffee inside a café instead of walking with a take away cup
              • bringing your own reusable carry bag
              • using your own reusable water bottle and not buying single-use drinks from shops
              • use silicone reusable sandwich bags to store food in

#EnjoyRespectVenezia

Keeping track of local rules of every destination you visit can be a headache, but here are just some of the rules initiated by the Venetian City Council to help maintain the integrity of Venice. For more information visit their website #EnjoyRespectVenezia

            • Don’t sit on the ground or stairs of buildings, especially in the main squares. 
            • Don’t swim in the Canals – besides from the obvious danger of being hit by a gondola, you have no idea what sort of rubbish is in those waters. 
            • Throw your rubbish in a bin, if you are caught dumping litter you will be fined.
            • No bicycles on the main island, the streets are too narrow making it a very dangerous exercise for everyone. 
            • Don’t feed the birds – specifically seagulls and pigeons. This is enforced, especially around St Marks Square.
            • No camping – not even in the parks or smaller islands.
            • Please don’t try to put ‘love’ locks on bridges or monuments. The weight of locks causes structural damage and they end up being cut off anyway.
            • Avoid counterfeit goods. You can tell which ones are fake because they are usually on sheets spread out on the ground. It is an experience to watch them quickly scoop up the sheet with everything on it, and run when they see the police…
            • No graffiti or street art. Venice is careful to maintain its historic look, which means no street art. The conservation groups are very quick to remove anything they find as well.
            • No matter how hot it is, dress respectfully and cover up. Churches will also not let you in unless you have shoulders covered, and are fully dressed.

Responsible travel is both an individual and group effort, and it really doesn’t take much to be more conscious of the way we explore the world. Hopefully these suggestions will help you enjoy this beautiful city. Do you have any more tips for making a trip to Venice more sustainable? 

Comment below and let me know what you think!

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How to travel responsibly in Venice, Italy
How to travel responsibly in Venice, Italy

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