How to celebrate Venice’s Vogalonga regatta like a local

April 23, 2018
Simona Manarin

Venetians are taught to drive a boat or swim before they can even walk — that’s the saying here in the city.

We love this part of local Venice life so much that as soon as the first rays of spring sunshine come out, we take our boats out into the lagoon. It’s mainly motorboats, but there are still some of us (and the number is growing) who love to row the old fashioned way — the same way used by gondoliers, a particular kind of rowing that is called “voga alla Veneta.” It’s the technique of using one oar while standing up, and it’s easier to row this way along the narrow canals of the city.

Over 40 years ago, a group of lovers of this sport, and of the city, decided to promote it through a non-competitive rowing race every May, which they called Vogalonga. At the first race, they gathered about 500 traditional row boats in front of Saint Mark’s Square and rowed for 30 kilometres around the city and lagoon. Little did they know (or expect) that this regatta would become one of the most celebrated events in the city.

View our day tours in Italy

So beautiful and so noble is the reason behind the regatta, that it’s not only loved by Venetians, but by anyone who wants to raise awareness of the dangerous environmental conditions of the city. The founders were particularly concerned about the dreadful damage caused by motor traffic waves, which is why they wanted to promote using traditional oars instead of engines. The event is totally self-funded by the admission fees everyone pays to participate. Today, Vongalonga attracts more than 8,000 rowers and 1,700 row boats to the event. The event is open to all kind of row boats, from dragonboats to canoes.

dragonboat in a Venice canal

Anyone can come and row at Vogalonga | Photo by Venice Urban Adventures

I want to participate!

The race is open to all types of row boats and crew over 16 years of age (if you are under that age, get your parents to row with you!). Be sure to follow not only the rules given by the organising committee, but also the standard laws of canal boat driving. Imagine that our canals are like highways; you don’t want an infuriated driver yelling at you, do you? Same rules apply to drinking and rowing — it’s a big no no.

Be responsible in respecting the lagoon environment — that means no littering in the water or anywhere else. You want to help preserve our beautiful lagoon for future regattas, right?!

READ: How to be a responsible tourist in Venice

Most foreign crews arrive in the city a few days before the event to train on the actual circuit, but also to visit and tour around Venice. There are rows and rows of boats parked along the canal before the event, so plan in advance if you intend to take part.

I’m not into rowing… can I still enjoy the event?

Not into rowing? No worries, we’ve got you covered! You can follow the race, especially the bit along the Grand Canal, by taking a spot on the riverside where you can watch the boats pass by. Two of our favourite spots are Fondamenta de Cannaregio and the fish market in Rialto. Do not stand at the waterbus stops, though, to avoid disrupting the service.

Since the regatta will go through Vignole, S.Erasmo, San Francesco del Deserto and over to Burano, Mazzorbo and Murano islands, it’s a good time to hop on a vaporetto and explore those islands. Get yourself a VeneziaUnica pass to save some money (that you can instead spend on toasting with your friends!). You won’t be able to visit and enjoy all the islands in just one day, so pick your favourite ones and keep the others for your next trip to Venice (we already know you’ll want to come back!). Remember to carefully check the times and lines to each island, as there are different boat routes and schedules.

boat at sunset

Even if rowing isn’t your thing, there’s still lots to be experienced at Vogalonga | Photo by Venice Urban Adventures

After the procession of boats has passed by, immerse yourself in the beautiful colours of Burano, the perfect backdrop to any pic. Don’t miss the traditional esse biscuits at Palmisano bakery, a staple if you love a sweet treat, and they go great with a good cup of coffee.

Hungry for some traditional, tasty food? Cross the bridge connecting Burano to Mazzorbo and enjoy a relaxed and organic lunch at Venissa. Their chefs serve dishes using produce straight from their own veggie garden or from the nearby island of Vignole and S.Erasmo. Not the cheapest meal, but an experience definitely worth it if you want to taste the real flavours of the lagoon.

READ: The best of Venice’s summer festivals

As the regatta is held in May, it is also the perfect time to explore Sant’Erasmo, our farmers’ island, as we like to call it. Easily reachable on line 13 from Fondamenta Nove, the island is one of our Venice Urban Adventures team’s favourite places. Quiet, green and simply the best place to spend an entire day eating, drinking and relaxing. You can rent a bicycle and browse around the island, but what locals love to do in warm weather is lay at the small central beach of Bacan. A tiny beach, it’s nothing fancy, but is usually busy with small boats of Venetians chilling on weekends. Don’t forget to try some of the local artichokes called carciofo violetto, a local delicacy, especially during this time of year.

Craving more countryside life on the lagoon? Vignole is another must-do. This is where Venetians love to enjoy some leisure time in the sun, especially in spring and summer. Trattoria alle Vignole is a simple and rustic place, but our go-to if you want feel at home. Grab a plate of frittura mista (deep-fried fish) and some of their house wine, sit beneath the beautiful trees and mingle with the locals. Don’t miss the sunset on the lagoon from here, as it’s simply stunning! (Even better if you are sipping a good glass of wine!)

This year, Vogalonga (the 44th edition!) will be held on May 20th. We hope to see you there! For more information on how to participate to the regatta, visit the Vogalonga website.

Venice Tours | Urban Adventures

As one of the world’s most famous destinations, Venice is just made to be explored. Consisting of 118 islands and 150 canals, there’s certainly plenty of ground (and water!) to cover. Our Venice tours are designed to show you the very best things to do in Venice, from tapas and wine, to the beautiful landmarks in all their glory. Venture through Venice with a local to discover this unique Italian gem.