How to be a responsible tourist in Venice

February 26, 2018
Simona Manarin

Oh, Venice! The bucket-list destination for so many people around the world. I can’t even tell you how many times people have told me it’s like living a dream to take a boat ride along the Grand Canal or sit at an outdoor cafe with a good glass of Prosecco (that’s even mine, too!). But unfortunately, often that dream is ruined by floods of crowds who are unaware of how to be a responsible and sustainable traveller while visiting.

The topic of responsible tourism has become such a big issue in Venice these days that the administration has even put on a social media campaign called “#enjoyrespectvenezia” to try to raise awareness among visitors of the fragile environment they are walking into.

Most of these tips are just a matter of common sense and respect, but there are some rules only applicable and known among locals in Venice. Read on to make sure you’re the right kind of tourist when you come to visit Venice!

Keep to the ‘right’ side

Sure, there are no cars in Venice and you can cover the city centre entirely on foot, but please keep to the right-hand side while walking around, and especially in the more narrow alleyways. Do not occupy the whole street. If you were trying to get to work on time and found yourself met by a human wall, you wouldn’t appreciate it either.

Bridges are no exception. Keep the right and try not to stop too much on top. If you need to snap a picture, do it while standing to the side. And please use that selfie stick safely and with consideration for those around you.

Unless you want to anger some elderly lady with her small cart of groceries, do not sit on the steps of a bridge. Would you sit in the middle of the road at home? Find a nice cafe in a small square, order an espresso and write those postcards comfortably at a table instead.

If you hear someone behind you say “permesso,” they are politely asking you to step aside; if someone yells “ocio ai cai” (literally ‘watch out for your heels!’) it is most certainly a delivery man with a huge cart full of goods. For your life, step aside!

water bus in Venice

Remember that vaporetti aren’t just for tourists | Photo by Venice Urban Adventures

Know that public transport is not a tourist attraction

Remember, our public transportation is for exactly that: transporting the public around town. Please use it consciously, aware that residents are using it to get to work, to school, to do their grocery shopping and to just go about their daily life.

At the water bus stations you’ll need to queue up, scan your ticket and wait for the bus to come up and dock. Please always use the entrance and not the exit access, otherwise you’ll clog the way for people exiting the vaporetto, and make boarding a nightmare for everyone.

When boarding, always proceed towards the back of the boat. Don’t stop and stand in the front — you’ll be blocking access to the people boarding behind you. Also, you’ll feel less like a sardine in a can and will enjoy the ride better.

We know that taking off a heavy backpack every time you board a water bus can be quite annoying, but for those around you, a big backpack in the face is not fun either. Plus, if you put your backpack in front of you, it’ll be more under your control and away from possible pickpockets.

If you decide to use the Traghetto gondola to cross the Grand Canal, queue up at the pier on the right side, allowing others to get off easily. Then get those coins ready for the gondolier and again proceed towards the end of the boat.

Dress properly and be respectful

We know that Venice can be quite hot during the summer, but beaches are the only place where it is acceptable to wear a bikini or go shirtless, and they are also the only place where you are allowed to swim (I would avoid getting fined and spend that money on good food and wine instead!).

Dress properly, especially when entering churches or any religious places; keep in mind that knees and shoulders must be covered up as a sign of respect. Plus, #localsknow tip: a beautiful lace scarf from Burano is always an amazing gift or memento for when you go back home.

View our day tours in Italy

Do not use our doorsteps, riverbanks, or church and well steps as a picnic area — it is not respectful to us and it is not fair to you, either. Eating and drinking is more fun and comfortable in a good restaurant, right? Trust me, if you know where to go, your wallet will not cry in despair.

Learn the basics

Did you know that ‘ciao’ is a Venetian word? Knowing this greeting will immediately make you friends with everyone. We love when foreigners make the effort to learn basic Italian words such as ‘grazie’ (thank you), ‘per favore’ (please), ‘buongiorno’ (good morning) and ‘buonasera’ (good evening).

But when in Venice, do like Venetians do and learn some Venetians words, too. Yes Venetian, though similar to Italian in some words, is a dialect commonly spoken by everyone in the city. Make the effort to learn some words — those relating to food and drinking will open doors to you when you’re ordering. Use words like cicheto (Venetian-style tapas), ombra (a small glass of house wine), or bacaro (typical Venetian bar), and you will become best friends with most bartenders.

platter of toasts with meats and cheeses

Learn to order cicheto and ombra in Venetian, and you’ll impress the locals | Photo by Venice Urban Adventures

Eat local

Take those foodie keywords in our dialect and use them while trying local cuisine, which is cheaper and tastier than any touristy restaurants or fast food joints. Do like we do: go where locals go, stay away from restaurants with pictures outside, and choose restaurants or bacari away from the main streets (even a side street away is enough) or close to the university area.

Don’t think that every meal has to be crazy expensive here, and please do not consume your meal on the streets when you can have a fantastic lunch or dinner at a restaurant at a reasonable price. Grab a great selection of cicheti and make that a light lunch, so that you can experiment with different dishes without breaking the bank. No more sitting on the ground, eating cheap and cold prosciutto from a paper plate while dodging nasty pigeons trying to still your lunch!

Our favourite bacari at the moment are: Vecio Biavariol (S.Croce), a former cheese shop transformed into a tiny bacaro with tasty cicheti, wonderful wine and a unique atmosphere; Ostaria San Trovaso (Dorsoduro), which is just in front of a gondola shipyard and will easily win you over with inexpensive house wine and delish cicheti; Osteria al Ponte (Castello), another family-run business that we particularly love for its seafood cicheti and great location.

Buy responsibly

One of the perks of travelling is bringing back a small piece of that place in the form of a local craft. Why not start planning for birthday or Christmas gifts ahead of time and bring home something authentic from Venice? And I am not talking about fridge magnets for EUR 2 from a convenience store. Artisanal is the new and very much sustainable way of souvenir-shopping.

READ: The artisans behind the Venice Carnival masks

There are many wonderful artists in Venice, but how to recognise them? Well, you’ll see them in their shops everyday working their craft — surely a mask made in plastic costs not more than EUR 3, but it is not made in Venice or authentic. Do not support the knock-off industry by purchasing their stuff; instead ask locals if you are not sure, as we love supporting local artisans.

From mask-makers (mascareri), to the last goldsmiths (batioro) through all the great artists working with glass, iron, accessories and textiles. Check out some great work at the Mian Glass factory or the extraordinary ancient art of bronze casting at the Valese foundry, or buy a bag from Le Malefatte, a sustainable co-op that rehabilitates prisoners. Choices are endless, it is really up to you!