Venice bad reviews: 5 criticisms that just don’t make sense

“Too crowded, too touristic, absolutely fake”. Many people seem to feel entitled to have a negative opinion about Venice, but is all this criticism really constructive and well-deserved? Keep reading to discover it.

Shit people say about Venice

This is the entry I wished I never had to write, or, to better say, the one I wished I could post under different circumstances. This was supposed to be an interview with V, a young woman whose hometown was Venice, that I had the pleasure to meet through common friends a year ago and that I could call “friend” as well since then. She left us too soon. She was one of those people you instantly click with and that you could tell she was a gift to this world. This is not rhetoric, just truth.

V was born in Venice and lived there until, like many others, she had to move because life had become way too expensive for natives.

walking along Venice

Venice, like a despicable mother, is selling herself for money and neglecting her own children. Venetians have a love-hate relationship with it: they are aware that tons of the city’s problems come directly from their administration and from their wrong way to deal with mass tourism – let’s not hide the head under the sand – but they also hate the way many people criticize their city, after they have (sometimes barely) visited it.

First they are all keen to visit, often literally invading the city, then they talk s*it!”, V said to me once. And that’s right, how many times since we had paid for our vacation, we felt entitled to “rate” a destination, forgetting that a city is a city that belongs to its inhabitants and not a box of cookies sold in the supermarket?

I won’t hide behind a mask of hypocrisy, I used to work in the tourism department and I know exactly that when a tour operator or a tourism department promote a destination, they are literally selling a “product”. However we must also be aware that operators sell a “travel package”, a touristic experience made of visits at the museums, walking tours, dinners at local restaurants, they are not selling you “cities”.

Gondolas, black and white

As we have sadly seen too often in the news, tourists are entitled to protest if they realize they have been scammed or if they have experienced a poor customer service in a restaurant or a hotel (Speak up! Never stop doing that!), but what I have also seen happening too often is tourists having negative experiences in bars or shops turning their frustration on the city itself which, if in some sort of measure is understandable, on the other hand not so much.

What you are experiencing as a tourist is a just a layer of the city and especially if you have a blog or are posting a review on Tripadvisor, you should think twice before making certain statements about the city. A bad customer service in a restaurant or aggressive sellers do not make one of the most beautiful cities of the world suddenly “ugly and overrated”. Venice needs to face its problems for sure and Venetians are aware of that, but don’t let your judgement about the historical and architectural value of the city be clouded by the craziness of the mass tourism.

Here you are five statements I’ve seen spreading around the Internet that I wish to contest:

  1. PIAZZA SAN MARCO IS OVERRATED

palazzo_ducale

This is one of the most common assertions that I’ve seen around and well, what’s overrated is not Piazza San Marco, but the stalls which are supposed to sell “true Venetian souvenirs” (which in reality are made in China) and the fascination of buying corn from abusive sellers in order to feed the pigeons. The wide offer of cheap trinkets and the huge crowds of tourists do not make one of the most beautiful piazzas and impressive architectures in the world suddenly “overrated”.

Island of St. George, Venicean overrated view from Campanile di San Marco

Gondolier and Island of St. George, VeniceDull stuff you see everyday in the office

2. AN ENTIRE DAY IN VENICE IS WASTED, YOU CAN VISIT IT IN 2 HOURS

Sunset, Basilica della Salute - Venice

Wow. Let’s just make one thing straight: Venice is not just Piazza San Marco. If you state something like that, then you should also have the courage to assert that New York coincides with Time Square. Or that Tokyo is just Shinjuku. It’s true that Venice is much smaller than these two metropolises , but guys, it’s a city you have to explore entirely by foot and I can assure you, your feet will hurt at the end of your day in Venice after having tried to visit it properly.

Spoiler? You won’t be able to see the whole Venice in a day, even if it’s just a small island. It used to be an independent Republic that lasted 1000 years (!), a real treasure to be uncovered. Literally packed with gems.

3. VENICE DOESN’T LOOK ITALIAN

Tables, Venezia

Define “Italian”, because as a native myself, I still have difficulties in understanding which are the characteristics that make a place worthy to be called “Italian”. If by Italy, you mean sunny beaches, olive groves and lemon trees, I’m sorry, but this country is much more than that.

Italy is a complex country, with multiple environments and realities. Everyone who comes from abroad has an “ideal Italy” in his mind (it’s completely normal, everyone tends to idealize foreign countries), but this does not mean the idea of Italy one has is the “real thing”. As Italian journalist Beppe Severgnini likes to say: “ Your Italy and our Italia are not the same thing”.

4. VENETIANS ARE RUDE AND UNWELCOMING

Chilling in Venice

I have witnessed myself to outbursts of anger by people living in Venice and what I can honestly say is that rather than innately rude, it seems to me Venetians are just exhausted. So much exhausted that even a innocent negligence by a tourist can sometimes trigger them.

Honestly, I think people should try to walk in their shoes. They are living in a city that is slowly trying to push them out by making their life impossible. They have waited too many years to have the problem of the acqua alta solved (and they are still waiting btw). Going to work has become impossible for them, as there are masses of tourists constantly blocking the bridges or standing in the vaporetti without letting them pass. Just try to imagine yourself going to work in the morning and having to battle constantly against people who don’t allow you to reach your office in time. Tourists clearly don’t make it on purpose, but still.

They also have to argue on a daily basis with visitors that A) jump into the water from the bridges as if they were in a waterpark; B) roam around the calli in a bikini or even naked ( ! ); C) randomly bring their kayaks around town as if they were at the rapids; D) leave their garbage in front of their doors; E) have sex under the bridges (how romantic).

Last but not least, they are not able to find houses anymore because for owners it’s more convenient to rent them to visitors. What’s happening in Venice is exactly a “Venexodus” as they have called it. Just imagine being forced out of your home and then being told you should also be happy about it because it’s all for the economic benefit of the area. How would you feel about that?

5. VENICE IS FAKE

Arsenale area, Venice

I’ve seen coming up the topic of the alleged Venice’s lack of authenticity several times and in different terms. Not all of them are valid.

The argument that baffled me the most was the one asserting that we should stop asking for a more authentic experience in Venice as visitors, since the Venetian architecture is “fake” itself. I’ve seen people claiming that Campanile di San Marco is fake since it was rebuilt after having collapsed in 1902, that Teatro La Fenice is just a copy built after it was destroyed in a fire and that the Four Horses outside the Basilica di San Marco are “impostors”.

Well, one must make a distinction between “faking” and “restoring”. Yes, La Fenice’s interiors and Campanile were rebuilt, and the Horses are just copies (the original ones are inside the Basilica to protect them from the atmospheric agents), but honestly, what was Venice supposed to do exactly? Leave Piazza without its iconic bell tower? Leave La Fenice to its ashes and the ancient and fragile horses outside without a proper shelter? Wow, sometimes it’s really hard to make people happy: if we leave our cultural heritage without proper protection, we’re (rightly) accused of being irresponsible, if we restore it, they say we’re “faking it”. Sigh.

Another criticism is the one asserting that Venice lacks authenticity because of the huge amounts of tourists. Well, I don’t think tourists make a destination “less authentic”, it’s the fleeing of the inhabitants that makes a city a mere touristic destination only to be “consumed” by tourists. For this reason, it’s important to support the locals in their battle to make Venice a more liveable city.

 Laundry, VeniceTourists will soon have to forget about taking beloved pics of laundry if Venetians flee

The fakery that I invite you to abandon when visiting Venice  is the one that involves the cheap trinkets and the sad touristic menus. For this reason I fully support what the guys of Venezia Autentica are doing: check their website before visiting the city and learn about what you can do to support the local artisans who makes authentic Venetian products.

What else we can do as responsible tourists in Venice:

  • Report the bad behaviour of irresponsible tourists and operators;
  • Read these simple rules on how to behave in Venice, which is a fragile city that needs us to be very careful and respectful;
  • Remember that as tourists we are visiting a city, not consuming it (and this is valid for every destination, not just Venice). Try to learn about the local history and customs during your vacation, it will allow you to live a more enriching and fulfilling experience.

I hope you don’t take this post in the wrong way. As I said Venetians are fully aware that the problems of the city are not just caused by people visiting it (that would be hypocrisy), so don’t take it personally. But what I can say is that they are sincerely wounded when they see reviews that state the “ugliness” of their city, just because the reviewer (who maybe barely visited a corner of the Piazza) had a bad experience with a restaurant owner. Venice is much more than an overcrowded piazza and bad customer service by certain shop assistants. Everyone is entitled to have a personal opinion, but what I invite people to do is to be extra-careful before stating that Venice is “a ugly city”. Especially as bloggers we have a responsibility towards our readers: let’s just be honest and discern between “tourist services” and the city itself.

My friend V would have explained the perspective of the local people way better than me, but I hope my points were clear enough and that I was able to elaborate why the attitude of several tourists and “reviewers” wounds Venetians.


V, I’m sorry I didn’t make it to do this article together by giving our time on this earth for granted. I wish you were here, it was way too soon for you to go.

This is for you,  my way to say goodbye.

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26 thoughts on “Venice bad reviews: 5 criticisms that just don’t make sense

  1. Jill

    I wish I had read this post before visiting Venice myself! I really found the architecture of the city quite beautiful (especially the Piazza San Marco!) but was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of tourists everywhere you turn (I definitely heard way more English than Italian), since it is a small island there’s no where for the people to go and they just block up all the narrow streets. Very frustrating and I can certainly understand why the locals would be fed up! We got lost trying to find our hotel and consequently ended up in a less “touristy” area of the city, which turned out to be quite a nice way to see the city, in the end 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. fkasara

      Ciao Jill! ❤
      If you ended up in a less touristy area, you probably got to see what Venice truly is. The city is indeed packed with tourists, but the "funny" thing is that they are generally all gathered in the area of San Marco and Ponte di Rialto, and you just have to walk one or two streets away to basically find a ghost city.

      Just to give you an example, I took the pic of the two Venetians on the bench the day of "Regata Storica", one of the most crowded days of the year and, as you can see, the square is empty!

      I wish one day tourists will realize that Venice doesn't end in Piazza San Marco!

      I'm glad you enjoyed the architecture! ❤ 🙂

      Like

  2. I just love that this entry is dedicated to V. ❤

    Of course, I agree with every syllable you wrote and wish this post was widely read, visitors in Venice would have a much better experience if that was the case.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. fkasara

      It’s the least I can do in her memory. She was so sad when she read negative reviews that were based on superficial statements 😦

      Like

  3. Great post, Sara! I visited Venice twice and I really like the city. I think all those statements are “fabricated” by some city-hoppers.
    The restaurants around San Marco are indeed overrated. But the Piazza itself is not. It deserves attention. Btw, you don’t have to eat around San Marco 🙂
    And 2 hours is enough to see Venice? Give me a break. I need days and I could not even see all the districts.
    The crowd? Around San Marco: yes. Elsewhere: no. There is also no crowd in the early morning.
    And what the heck is “true Italy”? For me, I like Italy because each regions are different. The diversity makes the country beautiful and worth visiting 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. fkasara

      Thank you very much ❤

      The thing that baffled me the most is that certain comments were even made by popular travelbloggers and this fact annoyed me quite a bit as it shows that they are turning into city-hoppers, as you said. They try to fit a destination in a very packed itinerary and they end up barely scratching the surface of a city and writing posts based on such a superficial experience. And let's not talk about certain reviews on Tripadvisor, lol.

      True about the restaurants and the crowds. As I said in a comment above, I took the photo of the two men on the bench during one of the most crowded days of the year in Venice and that square, as you can see, is literally empty! Tourists are all gathered in the usual spots and the rest is just a ghost city!

      Very true! I always say that Italy is complex and diverse! I'm glad you noticed it as well!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Ahh, I’m sorry about your friend, Sara. You did well with this post. I can’t even imagine how it must feel to be a local in Venice and watch what it is turning into. Even the changes in Ljubljana are startling, and this is nothing compared to the hordes of tourists Venice is experiencing.

    Now to my opinion:

    I was there twice, just for a few hours each time. Both times I felt like I had fallen into a fairy-tale, or onto a film set, and had to pinch myself to make sure it’s all true. The vaporetto ride in February on the calmest surface was especially memorable.

    But also both times – first time with parents, second time with friends – we rushed through the city without buying a single thing (apart from a cassette by Michelle Shocked that was on my list and it soon became my favourite thing). We didn’t have either lunch or just a drink. The city seemed hungry for our money and we were not willing to give. Probably because we paid for parking what you could spend all day on food and drinks. In short – it seemed a city for people much more well off than we were, and we were ecstatic already just to be there.

    All photos I took then are lost now so you can imagine how much I’d love to return and search for overlooked corners and find good offers that must be there too. Both of us, especially amore, are not fans of crowds though so it’s not really in the plans, no matter how we pass it each time we drive from Slovenia back home to Tuscany or vice versa. Also, I’d love to stay there for a while, not just rush through.

    I hope that the city manages the sea rise somehow, and I wish that everybody who visits it considers its fragility and not just stomps around demanding this and that.

    Excellent post, worth sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. fkasara

      Thank you dear. It was way too soon for her to go…

      Eh, I know what you mean with the cost of the parking ticket. Venice is not a city like the others, where we can expect to find lots of parking spots. The car parks have to be in those gigantic towers like Tronchetto (because of the lack of space) and as a result the prices are astronomical. In fact I always recommend people to come by train (or to share the cost of the parking spot with all the passengers of the car).

      The bit about Venice being an overcrowded place is a bit of a myth in some sense. The “classic touristic spots” are literally packed, but you just have to move two streets away from those spots and you find a ghost town. Like, literally. And it’s not like the empty spots are not worth visiting, quite the contrary! There are amazing hidden gems. I can tempt you by saying you’d find a lot of beautiful doors waiting for you 😀

      Thank you for the share!! 💗

      Liked by 1 person

      1. fkasara

        It has already happened in many areas xD They have to put panels to block the water from entering the houses when there’s acqua alta 😫

        Like

  5. Very interesting and thought-provoking post, especially as I’m one of those people who actively dislikes Venice. I’ve been there four or five times, and apart from the ghetto and Murano/Burano, I’m really not a fan. I hope you’ll accept (even if you don’t agree) with a different perspective on it, specifically on point 4.

    Of all the points you make, it’s 4 that for me that I really have trouble with. Not because Venetians individually are unfriendly (far from it), but because Venetians collectively want to have it both ways with foreigners; they deliberately exploit them for as much money as they can, often unscrupulously (the most obvious example being charging obscene prices at restaurants (such as the latest story), or all those junk stalls) and then blame them for not being able to avoid being fleeced. Perfect example is the mayor, elected by the people of Venice as their representative, blaming the family in the latest story for being charged for dishes they didn’t order, on the fact that they didn’t bother to learn Italian *or Venetian* before going there on holiday. Now… come on…

    I can tell you, to give another, personal example, I’ve had a restaurant in Venice where, hearing me speak English, they gave me a menu without the coperto listed in it (I’ve learned to look for it in the strangest places), and then when the bill arrived with a coperto charged and it emerges I’m not actually a tourist but do speak Italian and know Italian law, “oops”. The fact is, Venetians know this happens all the time. They just know to avoid these places, and automatically expect that tourists will too, and furthermore, that it’s their own fault if they don’t. And well… that’s not how it works.

    For me as a tourist, the bottom line is that your city gets treated by tourists the way you treat them. If you treat them as nothing but a cash cow (see: latest remarks by the elected mayor of Venice on “when you come to Venice, you should know you are in Venice and you should be prepared to spend”) don’t be surprised when they’re not impressed and feel ripped off. In the same way as when residents of places like Ibiza and Magaluf, marketed as places with cheap booze and wild parties, complain about Brits going on “lads holidays” there and behaving like… well, like British lads abroad.

    Unfortunately, for me Venice has earned its reputation as a tourist trap, and I tend to direct friends of mine who are thinking of going there elsewhere as a result.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. fkasara

      Don’t worry, I don’t pretend everyone agrees with me. I’m actually happy to hear different opinions, so to gather different perspectives!

      Concerning point n.4, the thing is that I don’t think those behaviours are to be specifically ascribed to “Venetians”, but to a certain category of people who operates in tourism. I’ve noticed the kind of behaviour you described in all the major touristic cities and I can assure you that they try to play dirty even with Italians, because I’ve experienced this as well, respectively in Florence and Rome.

      The thing is that big touristic cities don’t have any interest in treating people well in order to “make the client a faithful customer”, as to say, because they know they will have a costant flux of tourists anyway. Sadly the majority of businesses in these spots sees the customers as cash cows, as you said 😦 ( It’s true that specifically in Piazza San Marco prices are insanely high, even more than in touristic spots in Rome, Florence, etc.)

      It’s exactly for this reason that I fully support projects like Venezia Autentica that promote (for free) businesses that are attended by locals and provide authentic stuff.

      I also think authorities should put a stop to certain “furbi”: more inspections are needed.

      I disagree with what the major said, of course! 😑 * sigh *

      I hope I made my point clear, though. Is it truly honest saying that Venice as an art city is overrated? I think we have the right to complain about tour operators, but, personally, I don’t think it’s honest to say that the Venetian architecture and landscapes are overrated.

      Thanks for sharing your experience and thoughts, I always appreciate people who share their pov in an articulate and respectful way, as you did 🙂

      Like

      1. The question of overrated is an interesting one. I would argue it maybe is; not because it’s not got its beauty or its unique selling points, but because people hype it up *so* much that it could never meet those expectations. I feel the same way about Pisa: is Campo dei Miracoli beautiful and unique? Unquestionably. Is Pisa one of the top… five? ten? places to see in Tuscany? Not for me.

        Likewise, is Venice that much more beautiful or unique than Padova, with Prato della Valle, the Capella degli Scrovegni, or the Basilica di Sant’Antonio, which is very close by yet only gets a fraction of the tourists? In my (biased, as one who lived in Padova) opinion, I would say not. But that of course is only ever and can only ever be a subjective opinion.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. fkasara

        You know what? I think most of the charm that Venice exudes on people consists of the fact that it’s a city without roads and that it was built on the water. And not to mention the men’s effort to build something like that, battling against the elements and the lagoon. It’s really unique if you think about it, you do not actually see something like that in the world. (Same for Pisa, it’s the wow-factor of a leaning tower and its precarious balance…)

        I do think that tourists tend to focus on Venice too much forgetting about the rest of Veneto, but, being from here, I can tell you it’s mainly caused by our local administrations that have never promoted other realities. They were all too focused on the secondary sector and tourism has always been seen as something “too unstable” if you know what I mean. They have started NOW to wake up 😑

        Like

  6. Excellent post Sara. I’ve been to Venice a few times and unfortunately I’ve seen both the good and bad. Much of the time, I think that we, as tourists, bring it onto ourselves though. I was with a tour group and they would stop and block off entire streets to take a picture, totally oblivious to locals who were trying to get by with their luggage. I feel like they wouldn’t do this back home, but the Venetians then had to say something to get them to finally move and of course, it wasn’t a very “kind” request at this point. But I related more to the locals than to my fellow American tourists. You can’t just pretend you own the city because you’re visiting it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. fkasara

      Exactly. Sadly when we are on holiday, we tend to forget that other people are trying to go on with their everyday life…We pay for our vacation and we sort of pretend that all is at our disposal :\

      Like

    1. fkasara

      At the end of the article ( and before the comment section) there are all the buttons that allow you to share, even the one of Pinterest 🙂

      Like

  7. Sorry about your friend. I’ve only visited Venice once and even though there were negative aspects, I would never discourage someone from visiting. Let’s face it, the city’s gorgeous.
    I was there quite a number of years ago and I’m sure the problems have gotten worse way beyond what I can imagine, although I think I have a pretty good idea as I mistakenly booked my visit during Easter week. I didn’t realize it was Easter when I made my reservations as I was tagging it on to the end of another trip. I was there for 5 days.
    What didn’t I like?
    Most of the tourists. Feeding pigeons and posing with them on their heads? Really? Why don’t these people just go to a petting zoo and call it a day.
    The cheap souvenirs. I remember there were these really tall cat-in-the-hat hats for sale everywhere. Why don’t these people just buy stupid trinkets made in China at their local Walmart?
    Many of the vaporetti. I was scared to death to get on and off of them with the masses of tourists sweating and pushing all around me.
    Restaurants with signs in multiple languages and the hawkers aggressively trying to get you to eat there. When I see Japanese, I either want to be in Japan or in a Japanese restaurant.
    These are just a few of the things that come into my mind. I did my best to avoid the rude tourists and those locals who chose to cater to them.
    Would I recommend going to Venice? Well, that depends on who’s asking me. Are you a rude, uncultured lout? By all means, don’t go. You’ll hate it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. fkasara

      Thank you…she was way too young to go…

      Do you know something that really baffles me about the souvenirs? That some people don’t even realize that those stalls actually sell Made in China stuff. Once I was in Venice for Regata Storica and I was casually standing next to a stall, when suddenly an enraged German who had just bought a fake Venetian mask, came back yelling: “This is not authentic, it’s already broken!!” LOL, did he seriously believe THAT THING made of cheap plastic was an authentic mask when he first bought it?!
      I don’t know, some tourists rightly say that we can’t just pretend they know which things are authentic and which are to be avoided, but please…it’s quite evident that those souvenirs are fake.
      As Italians we have a better understanding of how our cities work and we know that one has always to be careful and look out for tourist traps (tourists are often “living the dream” and they let their guard down), but on one thing I think they are right: we can’t always pretend they recognize the abusive sellers from the authorized ones (another big problem in Venice). Those who sell the corn for the pigeons should not be there, for example, but why do they go on undeterred? Tourists should stop playing with those damn pigeons, but it’s the city that should stop the unlicensed sellers (sorry for the rant!)

      Yeah, the city is gorgeous and I’m always in awe when I go even if it’s something “in my neighbourhood”. There’s nothing like this in the world, it’s just amazing how they were able to build a city literally on the water fighting constantly against the elements! Too often people just stop at the surface and they do not actually THINK about what’s behind a city.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Gladys

    Thank you for this post Sara and for all your other posts. I’m glad I have found your blog. Venezia is beautiful beyond words. My husband is from Vicenza ( Bassano del Grappa) . We live in Australia. His family lives in Vicenza and Treviso region. I have visited Venice 5 times when we were there, and every visit was different in the most exciting way. We discovered alleys, we got lost(?) many times but it didnt matter. I would visit the city again and again when we get the chance and I’m sure I will continue to discover new things everytime.
    Any place , not just Venice can be ‘ seen’ overrated if we just look at it on the surface. Anywhere there are tourists, there will be opportunitoes for hawkers, touristy food etc. The onus is on the tourists themselves, its your own experience, your own money, choose wisely not just the easy way. For example we bought authentic Venetiam merchandise from a 100 years old family artisans ( and no it didn’t cost an arm and a leg), a shop tucked in one of the alleys.-
    one of the joys of exploring on foot. Of course having an Italian husband, you know how they value quality. Enough said.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. fkasara

      Ciao Gladys,
      thanks for stopping by! Ah, I’m from the province of Vicenza as well, born and raised here 😀
      Yeah, actually “getting lost” is the best way to visit Venice! You have the opportunity to discover all the hidden gems and also to see the way Venetians live (well, the very few who are still there :\ ) And YES you are right, we do value quality!!

      Your husband surely knows Vicenza really well and you don’t need further info, but if you want you can find some posts I wrote about Vicenza and the province here https://theroverinleatherjacket.wordpress.com/tag/vicenza/

      It’s nice to get to know you, ciao!

      Like

  9. Lindo

    I wholeheartedly agree with this article. Sorry to offend any American/Chinese but they are absolutely the worse. American tourist don’t have common sense to understand that people have to make a living and that a country is not Disney World – Locals are not there to entertain you or give your obnoxious child diabetes.

    Like

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