Are tourists ruining Venice?

Asking the question are tourists ruining Venice?

In front of me, a sea of people spans in all directions, even as the gray clouds above us threaten to burst.

Deep in the heart of San Marco Square, and what I deem the heart of the touristic center of the main island which makes up the step-back-in-time Venice, the tourists are unavoidable. In fact, here they are more in my face than any other place I have visited (and I am counting the mass of people gaping at Mona Lisa at the Louvre). It is shoulder-to-shoulder packed and puts me into the throes of those tense, pre-anxiety attack moments where all I want to do is throw elbows and make my way from where my packed water taxi has deposited myself along with the other throngs of tourists, through the massive square, and down into the veins of the town where my hotel is.

But, I can’t.

Instead, I dodge. I duck from my eyes being poked out by umbrellas which are already open, despite the fact that said clouds have yet to open up onto us. It’s nearly impossible to wheel my luggage and my mom and I struggle to keep everything in check as we are poked, prodded, elbowed, shoved and tripped as we make our way past historic sites like St. Mark’s Basillica and Doge’s Palace, eventually arriving to our hotel for two nights.

Our hotel for two nights … just off the congestion and rudeness filling San Marco Square. Enter tourist hell for two nights and one full day.

What’s my problem with Venice?

Venice and tourism

Venice itself is magnificent. Just being on the water taxi and looking out at the colorful buildings bellying up to the water, the weathered doors, the history and stories that whisper in the air are enough to lose myself into a world I desperately wish I could have experienced.

But, beauty and culture only do so much. Then, there are the tourists and the tourist industry of Venice, which I believe are ruining the charm and history of UNECSO World Heritage Site.

I’m not talking a few tourists here.

The main San Marco region and surrounding areas see more than 21.9 million a year (according to Deutsche Welle). In 2013, a report from the Study Center of Census Experts showed that for each Venetian historic center – minus the islands – is “in charge” of roughly 354 tourists per day, 247 being day visitors. To put it in perspective, Verona averages a paltry six visitors per resident.

And while I aim to be considerate and responsible when I travel, it is evident that most don’t have that on the top of their agenda. Just looking around the tightly packed San Marco Square, it become clear the most important thing to most visiting this Italian jewel are their own experiences. There is little (if any)thought to preserving a place, a way of life or a culture. Instead, tourists dump their coffee cups, their half-eaten foccacia, their oil-soaked plates that used to hold slices of pizza. They stop in the middle of the narrow thoroughfares, in front of workers hauling goods via carts to their shops, to take photos. They disregard rules (like not touching historic artifacts or using flash photography) because it doesn’t matter.

Beautiful Venice, trashed and overcrowded. A history being thrown away because there is a demand.

The tourist-centric heart of the town, which includes the magnificent Doge’s Palace and St. Mark’s Basilica, is overrun, being slowly destroyed by the same people who are throwing down their money to experience these historic places.

When the rain comes, it sends the crowds ducking under awnings, inside tiny restaurants and thankfully, out of the square so I can simply breathe and appreciate what I am looking at: historic architecture and places, without worrying about getting an elbow to my side or worse.

Venice and San Marco Square

Under the darkness, with a still slick square reflecting in the moonlight and golden lights from the buildings, the city seems magical. Tourists have gone to bed, and it is just my mom and I, breathing in the fresh (and slightly chilly) night air, having our silent and peaceful moments to let the mood of the town, the history of the town and the sheer beauty of it just seep into our skin and souls.

The Venice Times recently ran a story regarding mass tourism and its impact on the city, and what measures need to be taken to stop the destruction of it.

” … Venice is an open-air museum and the city is dying,” said Ilaria Borletti Buitoni, the former president of the Fai, an Italian Environment Fund. “The mass of tourists in the city is expect to increase to unbearable amount in the coming years.”

It’s easy to see why: more than 650 cruise ships come to port here and every single guidebook, article and beyond include Venice as one of the must-see places in the world. Crowded waterways are ruining the foundation of buildings; cruise ships and the massive amounts of water they displace are sending huge surges down small canals; culture and craftsmanship are being lost because money can be made; residents are being chased out of their homes and hotels are taking over; locals no longer have a city to call their own because the tourists have claimed ownership, outbidding Venetian’s in their own homes.

Attractions like San Marco Square show the ugly side of tourism. The side of tourism which makes me swear under my breath (and aloud) at how much I despise people at times, how over-crowded the town is (and it isn’t even high season yet) and how ignorant and disrespectful tourists can be. It is where touts harass, tourists collide and litter abounds.

The tourists, which are the bread and butter for Venice, in my opinion, are exactly what is ruining this city. At least the touristic center of it. Some refer to Venice as a living and breathing museum? Yes. But, if it isn’t being preserved, how long can it be considered as such?

On our full day in Venice, we skip the annoyingly packed square, passing and getting stuck behind people, as we make our way out of the heart of town and towards the ghetto.

Just outside of the massive crowds exiting and entering the train station, we were able to explore deserted streets, smile at locals, sit and grab a coffee without being hustled out for the next customer. We were able to learn. To breathe in the tranquility, the timelessness, the spirit of the city. It’s the Venice which has been lost and one I can only hope can be found again one day. For now, that little slice of the city is what makes it special; not the packed areas which have become mass marketing ventures and cheap money grabs while compromising quality and the history of this special part of the world.

What do you think can be done to help save Venice?

Published by dtravelsround

Awakening the soul while traveling ... a story of being on the cusp of adulthood.

52 thoughts on “Are tourists ruining Venice?

  1. Is Venice in danger of becoming a theme park? I am not sure what you can do to stop it. I’ve never been to Venice and from what I have read and heard I’m not sure if I want to. However, tourism provides jobs and revenue to the city. Limiting it will impact those who reply on it.


    1. I think parts of Venice already are a theme park, sadly. It is a gorgeous place though, and I think people should definitely experience everything it offers, just far more responsibly than they are. There are places in the cluster of islands which are far less touristy, and those are the places I prefer.


  2. Sad story. I’m not sure what the solution is, though. People want to go to beautiful places! Unfortunately, they often love them to death :-/ On a happier note, I love the graphic you made for this post!


    1. Haha! Thank you!!

      I don’t know what the solution is either. I am all for people loving a place, but would hope they love it enough to preserve it versus ruin it.


  3. Barcelona is experiencing the same thing. Tourist flats are disrupting neighborhoods. Old barrios with tight-knit communities are losing properties to hotels and tourism-related businesses. Metros and buses are pretty much unbearable during the summer. The area around Sagrada Familia is an absolute circus.

    Basically, the quiet neighborhoods that once provided retreat from city life are now crammed with people looking for paella, sangria and cheap beer.

    On the flip side of the argument, tourism isn’t a bad thing if managed well by local governments. We think, as you probably do too, that local governments need to create tourism frameworks in which the city is presented as a treasure and the city and its management force visitors to think, “How can I make this city better while at the same time enjoying my vacation?”. The answer to that question is complex, of course, but we definitely can affirm that simply spending your money in the city in which you visit isn’t helpful.

    As a side note, we think the Venice/Barcelona question is interesting because Barcelona (we think) could support itself if there was a steady drop in tourism dollars. The city and region has long been an industrial powerhouse and it has an emerging biotech industry.

    What do you think would happen to Venice without tourism, or at least a sharp decline in tourism? We’re curious to know, as we aren’t too informed about the city or its economic situation.


    1. Interesting that Barca is going through the same thing. Although, I do remember four years ago when I was there being entirely unimpressed with the Aussies on the streets hawking bars.

      I don’t think Venice would be sustainable without tourism, but perhaps regulations put in place to limit crowds at specific areas, like purchasing tickets or something, plus tighter controls on environmental regulations … perhaps these could help without ruining the industry. I am certainly not against people visiting Venice, I would just like to make sure that it is still around for my kids and great grand kids.


  4. Yes, tourism is probably killing the city however, that is the situation I think with most of the popular cities mainly Rome. The tourism does help stimulate the local economy because without there wouldn’t be much else.


    1. It is a tough situation. How do you say “hey, wait a minute. We need to preserve this place where people are coming without impacting the fact that people are coming.” Tough.


  5. OH MY GOSH, I have a similar post running next month! I was there this summer and absolutely hated it! Glad to know I’m not alone, as I was already preparing for the backlash I’m going to receive from that post (since people get so mad if heaven forbid you ever write something negative about a place!).


    1. I think people who criticize commenting on the negative side of Venice likely haven’t been there and gotten a spoke from an umbrella to the eye or seen for themselves how ridiculously crowded the tourist areas are … or have taken the time to learn about the damage being caused by tourists. I spent some time in Venice winter 2002, and it was crowded then. I didn’t like it and swore I never would go back, but still ended up here on this last trip. I LOVE the city. I think it is magical … but not in the areas like San Marco. I enjoyed finding the little, quiet streets where it was just locals working versus fighting to cart their wares against crowds of people taking selfies.

      I cannot wait to read your post!


  6. Another thought provoking piece Diana. With tourism numbers predicted to keep growing exponentialy Venice can only come under more pressure. If Venice is being tteated like a Theme Park then manage it like one. Options are available like limiting numbers of visitors to the congested parts. There are many examples of places where numbers are managed including the Inca Trail and most museums. When the optimum number of visitors have been admitted no furher enries are allowed until other visitors leave. Not managing destinations like Venice will cause more damage than good. When determining visitor quotas the key people that need to be consulted are the local inhabitants.


    1. I agree with you, John. Entirely. Your insight is valuable and I hope that one day the industry there takes note and can make a positive difference while still letting people experience the beauty and history of the city.


  7. I wonder if putting a limit to the number of visitors to Venice would help its case at all? Something along the line of Machu Picchu? You’d have to apply well in advance to enter the region and only a certain number of permits are given out yearly. I’m not sure how sustainable this is, though, considering Venice’s economy is driven mostly by the tourism industry. I mean, look at the number of cruise ships that dock there to let out boatload of tourists! On the other hand, it’s also beneficial to educate travelers on manners and “how to be a good visitor”. It’s incredible how rude and self-centered people can be in a new destination!


    1. Pauline, I think something like that could do wonders for Venice. I have no idea how it would be implemented, but I would personally think that limiting the number of people within certain areas of the city could definitely help without damaging the tourism economy. Also, education, yes. It is key in terms of helping people become more responsible tourists.


  8. Oh, what a shame 😦 I don’t know what can be done, other than trying to manage it better? As much as we all wish ignorant tourists would be less ignorant, I think the burden will fall on the city instead to minimize impact. Perhaps multilingual signage and ambassadors to corral the herds?? More trash/recycling bins? Harsh fines or something for bad behavior (touching in ‘don’t touch’ areas)? It’s sad.

    I’m finding the same thing happening on the little island I live on – in the last few years they opened cruise ship ports and those people absolutely ravage the island during the 5-6 hours they get dumped off here. A place with already overloaded infrastructure does not need an extra 6,000-10,000 people a day showing up, getting drunk, standing on the coral and treating the locals like zoo animals. Okay, that’s my stupid tourist rant for the day!


    1. It is a shame because the city is wonderful. But, it is hard to experience those well-known places (or even maneuver to and from the train station) without horrible crowds. I think it does need to fall on the city to minimize the crowds and environmental impact tourists bring with them.

      I think once cruise ships come into the picture, the location becomes that much more of a Disney Land than a real place, unfortunately. I have seen it in Dubrovnik, Turkey and beyond. The real feel for a place is lost and, instead, it is a manufactured version. You are right, a place with an already overloaded infrastructure does not need even more. And, if more are coming, the infrastructure needs to be sorted.


  9. I don’t understand how you can complain about the tourists when you are also one. They are there for the exact same reason you are-for the “the charm and history of UNECSO World Heritage Site.” Why are you more entitled than any other tourist to enjoy Venice in whatever manner that is? You can say the same thing about Machu Picchu, Angkor Wat, Taj Mahal. I knew when going to these places, it would be crowded. How can I blame the throngs of people there when I’m just as guilty as them by just being there. It’s also a huge generalization that most of the people there don’t have an appreciation for Venice.


    1. You are absolutely correct, LS, I AM a tourist and I was there to experience the charm and history of the city. I am not more entitled than anyone else to visit, however I am certainly within my right to dislike my experience there because of others. I disapprove of the cruise ships dropping people off for the day; of the massive tour groups who shove past each other with umbrellas open (even if not raining) with little regard for the people around them; I loathe the idea of historic relics being destroyed because people want to touch and feel and take flash photography; I hate seeing the litter floating in the lagoon and on the streets. When I travel, I personally try to be mindful and respectful not only of others whose paths I cross but also of the places I am visiting. Am I generalizing that this is how every tourist in Venice is? Yes. But, if you go there and look, you will see that I am not far off — more are like what I am describing than not. Crowds are one thing; disrespectful crowds are another; and crowds taking over an entire area are another.


  10. Ah….Tricky, tricky, tricky but it’s a problem with tourism the world over and Venice highlights it more than most. Do you restrict on cost? Organisation skills with planning ahead? Stop cruise ships from calling in since they don’t stay longer? No clear answer. Reminds me of the issue with the love padlocks that are springing up everywhere – a piece of the Pont Des Arts in Paris broke under the weight of all that metal. On the plus side, it IS actually pretty easy to find quiet, peaceful spots in Venice. Just turn down any one of the side streets from the main tourist route. For some reason, most people stick doggedly to that one pathway. Love Venice, despite the crowds.


    1. It is super tricky! Venice does highlight the issue more than most. I think the idea of restricting the number of entrants into the main attractions could be a viable solution, and limiting the number of cruise ships calling there. It is tough, and Venice is a place I think people should see and experience. It is just that the number of people experiencing it at the same time makes it harder to enjoy what it offers. You are right, there are spots where it is peaceful and I was so happy to find them. I had zero desire to do anything near the throngs of people — it is too much for me. I find that when I travel, the more people in a place, the less I want to be in that place so I will often hightail it out and go get lost somewhere I cannot hear English or other languages except the native one.


    1. Haha. It should!! Venice isn’t all tourists and shoulder-to-shoulder. I found places which were peaceful. But, if you want to see those main attractions or are simply heading towards the train station, it is a mess.


  11. It’s about ten years ago since I was in Venice, and I wonder how much worse it’s got since then – I think I was lucky and had rainy weather (but went out it in anyway, when others didn’t), and also had a few lovely early mornings – even had a great gondola ride for half price because we were out and about long before any of the other tourists were. But perhaps it’s got a lot worse since then. I have no idea of a good solution though.


    1. I first visited Venice in 2002. I was there a few weeks before Carnivale and during. It was crowded, but I don’t remember it being as packed as it was this time around. That is the tough part in regards to tourism: finding a solution that doesn’t hurt the local economy and improves the tourist experience. It is a tough one. I like the idea of admission numbers and keeping certain areas restricted to X number of people not only for crowd control, but to cut down the environmental impact.


  12. I’ve been to Venice three times already in the last three years and my experience couldn’t be more different from yours – but that’s because I go at the quietest time of year, in January. No queues, no crowds. I’m sure I would have reacted like you if I had been there at a busy period. It seems that most tourist destinations in the world which have/encourage day trippers instead of visitors who stay one or more nights suffer from similar problems of overcrowding and lack of real interest for the place visited. Apparently only a tiny fraction of day-visitors venture into a museum or an historic building, and the benefits to the local economy ‘per visitor’ are relatively small. Perhaps that’s an aspect that tourist authorities should concentrate on – encourage longer stays?


    1. I was there the first time in February, just before Carnivale. It was definitely less crowded than the other two times I have been there. I think it is hard, because the city itself is small with limited infrastructure and essentially an open-air museum. I think encouraging longer stays could help, but I think setting a limit on the number of people allowed within certain areas would be a better solution. It is the crowds which really detracted from my experience. It was awful to not be able to move or see what was around me.


    1. Really? That would be interesting. I would love to see how it would be implemented, the reaction of tourists and the reaction from not only those who rely on the money from tourists but locals with nothing to do with them, too.


  13. This is actually one of the reasons Venice is not really on the top of our list – WAY too touristy. Unfortunately, we don’t think there’s much that can be done once a city has been placed on everyone’s bucket list. Much like Kuta in Bali, once it’s gone…it’s gone.
    But, perhaps there is hope. Vang Vieng in Laos is starting to clean up a bit, but that’s more to do with the type of tourist they now attract (those looking to enjoy outdoors-y things) versus the drug-inspired tourists of yesterday.
    So will we go to Venice…yeah probably one day, but it’s at the bottom of our list.


    1. You’re right. It is hard to reverse what is happening. But, like Vang Vieng, maybe there is a way to help turn it around and to preserve the city and its history. It is definitely a beautiful place to experience, just go in the off season.


  14. We have never been to Venice, and now we’re not sure if we want to visit (just kidding), but your post is certainly a turn off.
    We experienced much of the same disrespect and disregard for ancient structures during our travels through Egypt. Tourists knew very well that they were prohibited from taking photos inside the tombs at the valley of the Kings and queens yet people still did it, as if it wasn’t enough to just be there and witness such magnificent architecture. They also left a lot of garbage behind. We are all tourists, but we must be mindful of our footprints on this planet. The solution is having respect for the country you are visiting and those around you, but that’s easier said than done. For some anyway.


    1. It is hard to see such disrespect in places. It is sad. I wish more people were mindful of the places they were visiting and aware that their actions impact the future of these places.


  15. I had similar thoughts in Prague. I’ve been wanting to visit for my entire life, and I was a bit disappointed. Food was over priced, everywhere was packed with tourists, and there was no authentic life to be seen in the city center anymore.


    1. Prague, the first time I went, was far less touristic than the last three times I have been there. Sadly, you are right. The city center is entirely touristy and overpriced. It is about getting away from the centers of these places to see true local living, although that is getting increasingly harder to do in popular locales.


  16. We visited Venice seven years ago and loved it but absolutely see your point with the over-commercialization, and in some instances, destruction. It’s bad for every destination, but especially a place like Venice that is already so fragile due to its location and the rising water.


  17. Great and important post. As a tour operator, I feel that there needs to be leadership from those in the tourism industry in Venice. Stop the litter – pass laws against the use of disposables. Restrain the crowds. Limit the new hotels and accommodations. If Venice cares about its future it must take control. If it doesn’t care, and does nothing, they don’t deserve your business.
    From the point of view of the traveller – you can do something about this. Don’t go. Research the small, unknown places with similar history and culture to Venice and go there. Small towns need more tourism, tourist meccas need less. Tourism is best when it is spread. We operate in several small, underrated regions that desperately need some income from good responsible tourism. We battle against the might of the tourist meccas. All because so many travellers go to places they’ve heard of. Trust me, you will have more fun in a place you’ve never heard of!!


    1. There are all wonderful points. Thank you so much for contributing, Janine! I would love to see the tourism board launch some of these ideas. And the travelers, to experience other places off-the-beaten path, while being mindful, would be incredible.


  18. That is a very tricky question Diana, not sure how we can help Venice. I felt the same way when I fist went there, then took Dale on another short trip and we enjoyed the more deserted areas (very rare and out out the center) or ended up going out super late at night when the streets weren’t crowded anymore, it was nice and definitely more enjoyable.
    I really wish there was a way to control the mass tourism so that the local businesses still see the financial advantages but without spoiling the city and the visiting experience.


    1. It is a super tricky question, and there is no right answer. But, hopefully encouraging a conversation about it can help raise awareness and, in turn, a shift in the tourism habits to those who visit. 🙂


  19. I visited Venice around 2005. It was in July, which I presume would be high season. It was busy, but certainly not like you describe, so I suppose those (almost) 10 years in between have made a big difference 😦

    I don’t know what the solution is – if there even is one. People want to visit amazing places. You can’t limit or tax only one type of tourist (say, the Cruise ships) but not others. I think that better policing of the busiest areas would work best and tour guides who are more in control of their groups. There should be fines for littering and flash photography.

    Unfortunately, personal space is not something many countries of the world have the luxury of experiencing. I have spent many years living in Asia (Japan, Vietnam and India) so elbows in my sides, umbrellas in my eyes, and people standing where I want to go is a way of life. I would say that people living in big cities like London also have a smaller ‘personal space zone’. Many tourists are unaware it is even a problem to others, because for many crowds are a way of life.

    I had a wonderful moment in Venice when we missed the last water taxi home of the evening (we were staying over the other side of the lagoon). We walked through all the tiny back streets to find the bus station. It was completely deserted – the only person we saw was a policeman who showed us the way. We saw the whole city alone, it was eerie and exciting!


    1. Umbrellas in your eyes. Oh goodness, I know EXACTLY what you mean having lived in Chiang Mai for more than two years. Venice is beautiful, it is just crowded. I just read somewhere they are banning cases with plastic wheels and imposing hefty fines. Not sure how that will help, but maybe it will make a little change in at least the crowds and space issues. I agree, fines for littering and photography would be great. Nothing like the threat of losing money to help make a change.


  20. Hi Diana,
    I love reading all your stories and thoughts in regards to responsible tourism. It is so important to stress this mode of travel and awareness especially for long time and frequent travellers. Thanks so much for spreading the word.
    Cheers, Eva


    1. Hi Eva, thank you for dropping by and for your support. I hope more travelers embrace the idea of being responsible when they visit places, and at home, too!


  21. Wonderful photos on the other post, Diana. Brings back all my memories in Venice.

    Well, compare to most of the attractions in China or attraction around the world which had been “invaded” by my fellow Chinese, I would not call Venice “ruined” yet. (I had seen much more horrible scene in Bangkok, Taipei and Paris)

    Luckily most of the tourists at Venice are on day tour so they could only spend their time on San Marco & Ponte di Rialto so I was still able to enjoy the city without being harassed by some ignorant tourists. Searching a local restaurant in Sant’ Elena, exploring the Museo di Storia Naturale as there are only me and my wife inside it. What I loved the most is the tiny streets in Venice, walk between San Marco and Santa Lucia for couple times on different times via different route, so peaceful and so many beautiful things to be discovered.

    I think what impacted Venice the most are the tourist on group tour or from the cruise ship, they are the kind of tourist that do not have enough respect to a place, they are not willing to spent their time to discover the city, they just needs to stop at some famous attraction to take photo to post on social network and then they could claimed “I had been there”. And due to they always move in pack, which could cause severe impact in the tiny, lovely street of Venice.

    I believe apply tourist tax or additional charge to group and cruise tourists could help to reduce the amount of such kind of tourists and easy to execute.

    Despite the crowd, I had a wonderful moment in Venice; there are so many enjoyable things Venice could offer as long as you willing to spend your time to looking for it.


    1. That is exactly what I saw! As soon as you can move away from San Marco and the train station, the city is quiet and beautiful! You’re absolutely right about the cruise ship and that tourist mentality. It makes me sad. The city itself is so fragile and people are coming in and treating it like a dump. I think a tax would be wonderful. Would love to see it happen.


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