Saturday, 21 May 2016

Venice: expectations vs. reality

Venice has been "my place" since I was 8 years old, by which I mean that if anyone asked me where I wanted to go more than anywhere in the world, the answer was always Venice (if anyone reading this is thinking of whisking me away anywhere, Cuba, Marrakech and Namibia are next on the list, thanks very much).

I don't know where my fascination with the watery city came from - probably a TV programme or film, but the romance of the place has always intrigued me. Whatever it was, after 16 years of hankering after the colourful buildings and winding waterways of Venice, it's safe to say I had a few firm ideas in my head of what I expected the city to be like. But how true did they turn out to be?

1. Beautiful architecture. That goes without saying (in all your hours of scrolling through Pinterest and double-tapping on Instagram, have you ever seen a bad photo of Venice?). Palatial style buildings sitting alongside historic clock towers and sweeping domes.

The truth: Venice is beautiful, in many ways. Some buildings ooze regal splendour, while the quieter parts of town absolutely rock the shabby chic vibe. A Venetian we met on the plane (that's another story for another day) had told us of a few "modern" buildings around the city. Turns out "modern" is a subjective term -- if you're looking for 21st century glass and metal boxes, Venice isn't the place for you, my friend.

2. Lots of independent shops, cafes and bars. Realistically I know that this is the 21st century, Venice is a European tourist hotspot, and therefore there's probably a MacDonald's or Burger King on every corner, but can't a girl dream of cute little cafes and family-run pizzerias?

The truth: You can wander miles down the back streets of Venice without coming across a single recognisable shop: just tiny, individual shops selling Murano glass, Venetian masks, macarons and, er, yacht paint (yes, really). But seek and ye shall find - the central area to the east of the Rialto Bridge has Mac, Sephora, Pandora, Disney Store, Intimissi and other chains, while the area around St Mark's Square addresses the higher end of the market with Gucci, Dior and friends. Strata Nova in the north of the island is home to the likes of Lush. Oh, and this recogisable chap:
To be fair though, Venice seems a lot less commercialised than most other European cities.

3. It's expensive. It's the first thing anyone tells you when they hear you're going to Venice - usually while pursing their lips and whistling through their teeth. That's regardless of whether they've even visited Venice themselves - they all know someone who knows someone who's been ripped off by astronomical service charges in a restaurant or a gondola man whose price was just that bit too steep.

The truth: Venice *can* be expensive, but no more so than any other city. If you're going to chow down on oysters and sup champagne in St Mark's Square, you probably will spit it all back out in shock when the bill arrives. But by wandering away from the main tourist centres, you can easily get dinner and a drink for 12-14Euros. Two things to watch out for in restaurants are service charges and cover charges - if they're not clear up front, check before you order.

Transport on the other hand can be pricey, with a single ticket on the Vaporetto (waterbus) costing 7Euros. 

Gondola men - waiting to rip you off?
4. It's smelly and crowded. By this time you're probably wondering why I ever wanted to visit Venice at all, what with the pong of the canals in the height of summer, and the narrow alleyways so crowded there's barely a chance to whip out your selfie stick.

The truth: The occasional whiff of sewage wafted up our nostrils, but nothing too offensive. I can't speak for the situation in high summer though. As for the crowds, they tend to gather around St Mark's Square the Rialto Bridge so as long as you avoid those, you'll be fine. If you are heading to St Mark's Square, go early in the day - 10am is perfectly pleasant, 3pm is a heaving mess.


  1. Great post! I loved Venice and had no complaints really. One place did try charge us €25 on St Marks Square for tea with a live orchestra, but we just went to a less expensive establishment down the way and still got to hear the music.

    1. Completely agree. As with any city, as long as you dodge the main tourists traps, Venice is perfectly affordable. Glad to hear you love Venice too!