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Are you curious about simple, yet effective tips you can implement for sustainable travel in Venice? These 15 things to consider are critical for anyone planning a trip to Venice. Sustainable travel in Venice isn’t just an option for the conscious traveler; it is something that all travelers should adopt immediately. If we, as travelers, don’t implement these travel tips for Venice, Venice will continue to lose its cultural and historical authenticity and we lose the very charm that makes Venice worth traveling to see. Going beyond sustainable travel, I encourage you to take it one step farther for positive impact tourism in Venice and be willing to go out of your way to reap the benefits of slow travel in Venice.
Venice is one of the major battlegrounds for sustainable travel. As large cruise ships dominate Venice’s tourism industry, cruises contribute to the degradation of Venice’s UNESCO status and cultural significance and contribute to tourism leakage making sustainable travel as crucial as ever. These 15 tips should be part of my wider sustainable travel itinerary for Venice for a well-rounded stay to save travel in Venice. Make sure you save this post to your Italy Pinterest board for when you start planning that perfect trip to Venice.
1. Skip the Cruise Ships
This should go without saying, but the cruise industry is incredibly problematic in Venice. From creating waves that destroy heritage buildings to dropping off hundreds of tourists in the same spot, creating chaos in the city center, contributing to tourism leakage, these ships and their clientele bring many problems. Locals have been standing up, demanding action by the government to regulate cruises. Venice finally banned cruise ships from docking in the Lagoon, but cruise passengers will still be visiting other docks in the region. Cruise passengers don’t stay long, nor do they add much to the local economy. So, the single most meaningful impact you can make is to visit on your own.
2. Slow Travel Venice
If your itinerary in Venice is any less than two full days, then your visit is unlikely to be considered sustainable. I recommend staying at least 3 – 4 nights. While most cruise visitors only stay in Venice for less than 20 hours, they only see a couple of touristy highlights in San Marco square. Why is slow travel in Venice critical? Enjoying a slower-paced itinerary allows you to help diffuse mass tourism by visiting local neighborhoods and less touristy islands while still allowing time to see the iconic sights. Plus, with most tourists only seeing this one square, it loses its cultural authenticity with mass crowds bombarded by cheap souvenirs. It degrades the overall charm of Venice for you, other tourists, and locals. It is essential to take the time to connect with locals to learn about the culture and history of Venice along with the modern-day struggles. Following my sustainable itinerary to Venice, you’ll have plenty of time to do and see it all more mindfully.
3. When Visiting the Main Tourist Sights, Consider…
A lot of people ask me if it is sustainable to visit the main tourist sights. In my opinion, yes, it can be! In fact, It can add important context to your stay, but as always, there are a few things to consider.
Seeing the touristy highlights should be part of a longer multi-day itinerary. That way, you don’t feel like you have to cram them in all in one day.
You should also hire a local guide to tour St. Mark’s Basilica and Doge’s Palace. This will give you so much living context to the history and give you a local perspective.
Have a plan B. Honestly, there is so much to see and do in Venice that if you miss out on Doge’s Palace and San Marco square, it is not the end of the world. They are amazing to see, but if your only way to see them is by waiting in line for hours in the heat of summer, you’ll have a much better time skipping them and heading into local neighborhoods.
Dress modestly if visiting St. Mark’s Basilica. Otherwise, you will have to buy an imported over-priced scarf before entering.
4. Hire a Local Guide Committed to Sustainable Tourism
Venice is a complicated place, with a rich past of great historical and cultural prominence and an uncertain future as locals grapple with harmful behaviors of cruise lines and irresponsible tourists. To even begin to understand the nuances and ensure you’re engaging in sustainable tourism in Venice, you must book a guide committed to sustainable tourism. We found Matteo from When in Venice listed on Venice Guides for Sustainable Tourism. This network of guides has come together and taken an oath to only engage in responsible practices during their tours. Beyond running sustainable tours, many work with the local and national government fighting for a better system to prevent the further loss of Venice’s identity. We hired Matteo as a private guide, and he was 10000% worth every penny we spent. For 3+ hours, we enjoyed the casual conversation, learning about history, culture, modern life, recycling, the impact of unsustainable tourism, and asking questions of free will. It was clear that Matteo, a life-long Venice resident, was committed to showing the best side of his city. We hired him for the off-the-beaten-path tour, which suited our tastes. Together we wandered local neighborhoods away from the touristy sights, and we were able to fall in love with the city’s charm without crowds.
There are certainly ways to be sustainable on a budget, from homestays to taking a shared bus, but I’m not sure Venice is the best place for budget sustainability. While espresso and certified campsites allow for more affordable options, sustainable travel in Venice is likely to cost you. Cheap accommodation outside the city might contribute to out-pricing locals. Cheap imported food takes away from the local agricultural and fishing industry. Buying cheap souvenirs takes away from decades of cultural artisan work. Not hiring local tour guides contributes to tourism leakage. Overall, sustainability in Venice is more expensive, and if you visit, I would argue you should build this into your budget, so you can do it right. Pay the right price for certified accommodation, quality handcrafted souvenirs, and hire local guides. Not only will your experience be more memorable, but your money will go a long way in helping Venice transition away from an industry reliant on cruise ships and pave the way for sustainable development.
6. Support Local Authentic Artisans
If you’ve read my sustainable ecotourism guide, you’ll know that buying cheap souvenirs such as magnets and bottle caps from vendors is incredibly problematic, contributing to the decline of a region’s cultural and historical authenticity. Over time, Venice, known for generations of glass blowing and artisan skills only a few can master, is diminished to nothing more than a cheap fridge magnet. Not only does this take away from your experience, as locals hassle you to buy cheap trinkets, but locals that spend their entire life perfecting a craft are not supported, and either have to move or find a different trade.
Venice artisans are often certified in their trade, and you can look for this seal to know your money will support a local crafter. However, not all artisans pay for this certification, and I always say to trust your gut – if you’re like me, you can spot a cheap souvenir a mile away. Along the narrow alleys between Calle San Bernardo and Calle Cappeller, you’ll find hidden gems. Perla Madre Designs is a women-owned glass bead shop putting a new twist on traditional Venetian glass. Ca’Macana sells hand-crafted authentic Venetian masks. If you prefer to support social impact causes, then stop at Process Collettivo, a store selling work from women at the local prison to help them develop trade skills. My all-time favorite store was Lunardelli Venice. The artist up-cycles the wooden poles in the water, fusing them with recycled glass residue from the glassblowers on Murano, and every piece tells a story. I ended up buying the wooden art piece that had the roughest life – chewed away by clams and left adrift.
Is it sustainable to visit the glass shops in Murano? Over time, even the island of Murano has become a hot tourist spot. If you visit Murano, ensure you support authentic, local crafters, be aware of tourist traps, and use your best judgment.
7. Find Sustainable Accommodation
Where you stay in Venice matters, I’ll start with the easiest tip to avoid – do not rent AirBnB in Venice. Unregulated AirBnB type rentals displace locals who no longer have affordable housing and empty the historical centers of local businesses and historic charm. As part of Venice’s ten commandments for sustainable tourism, locals demand better management of Air Bnb. Until that happens, your best bet is to avoid AirBnBs. Ok, so where do you stay? Local hotels, such as Corte di Gabriela, committed to sustainability and preserving Venice’s cultural authenticity, are a great place to start. Ultimately as you search for a hotel, you’ll want to read the hotel’s page and look for hotels with certifications, have a statement committing to sustainability, or are locally owned. Since we were visiting with a campervan, we stayed at a camper van park outside the city, certified by Slow Venice.
Is it more ethical to stay outside the city center? I got asked this question on Instagram. The logical answer seems like yes, staying away from the mass tourism epicenter is more sustainable – however, there are lots of things to consider before booking outside of Venice. If you stay outside the city at one of the budget hotels popping up, it can be problematic. Locals outpriced from Venice’s city center have moved to San Giuliano, where they are now being out-priced as cheap hotels and Airbnb continue to displace them from San Giuliano. On top of that, locals displaced to San Giuliano have to commute into Venice, and as more tourists stay outside the main island, the public transportation is quite crowded (something to be mindful of). So, the bottom line is that it doesn’t matter where you stay as long as you stay in an ethical hotel committed to sustainable development in Venice.
8. Yes, You Should Take a Gondola Ride
If you know me, you know I typically stay away from touristy activities, especially in major tourist spots like Venice. I know, it’s a shock I even went to Venice, but I’m SO glad I did! So one of the main questions I got about my time in Venice is, “is it ok to take a gondola ride in Venice?” The short answer is YES! You absolutely should take a gondola ride. Our local tour guide put this into perspective when he said Venice was designed to be seen from the water. You do the grand city a disservice to enter from the landlocked train station and only wander the streets. Only until you see the grandeur from the water will you truly appreciate Venice’s beauty. So, take that gondola ride and enjoy every minute taking in the intricate details from the water. However, instead of hopping on the gondolas near the main attractions, headfirst into more local neighborhoods and book a gondola there. You’ll get a unique experience helping diffuse mass tourism and help diversify tourism dollars to various gondoliers.
9. Enjoy Sustainable Food and Drink
Find food you like within your budget, eat, drink, and be happy – seems simple enough, right? Unfortunately, food is an incredibly complex matter in Venice. Where and what you eat matters more than you might think. During our guided sustainable tour of Venice, we came across a fish market. A few stalls stood in the husk of a once-grand market building. “This used to be full, you know. Full of local fishers selling their goods for the day.” Over time, restaurants started serving cheap imported seafood and produce appealing to cruise tourists’ price point and convenience. Local fishers, farmers, and suppliers lost jobs, pushing the economy to rely only on unsustainable tourism. Eat local food. Ask for fresh local seafood and regional, seasonal produce from Sant’erasmo. Find restaurants committed to sustainable eating even if they are more expensive. I can recommend Local Venice for local seafood, Bar All’Arco or Cantina Schiavi for an authentic Cicchetti and spritz experience, Ai Mercanti for seafood and limited vegetarian options, and this guide about slow sustainable food in Venice including places serving local seafood and produce. If you’re looking for vegan and bio food, which is important for reducing your carbon footprint then I suggest La Tecia Vegana. Our guide suggested we eat at locally-owned Bacaro Risorto Cannaregio for craft beer and a quick lunch with some vegetarian options.
When in Venice, do as the Venetians do. You can always spot the tourists at restaurants because they will be crammed into tables eating low-quality food. Part of sustainable tourism means engaging in cultural exchanges, which also means picking up a thing or two from your destination. Seek out those local spots serving traditional spritz and Cicchetti with standing room only and enjoy the unique experience. We tried this once for the experience, but after days of hitting 20-30k steps, we wanted to sit down and rest, and that’s ok too. Cicchetti is a traditional Venetian-style tapas. There are usually dozens of types to try, but be careful; the vegetarian ones are hard to identify. Grab a set of 3-6 different ones, order an Aperól spritz, which was created in Venice, and enjoy slow eating in Venice.
It is important to remember that people live in Venice. The streets are not an open-air museum. Many locals have to commute, go to the supermarket, and get around town. Construction workers, waste managers, and archaeologists all have jobs to do. Standing in crowded streets to take photos, sitting on doorsteps, or treating public transportation as your sightseeing tour is frowned upon, and in some cases, trespassing is illegal. Be aware of your surroundings and locals as you navigate and enjoy the city.
11. Use Those Water Fountains
Venice has fresh, accessible, and clean water flowing throughout the city. There is NO reason to buy bottled water during your entire stay. Bring your water bottle and fill it up from these fountains as you explore the city. We loved having all this great water readily available, staying hydrated during our long hot days meandering the streets.
12. Reduce Your Waste & Recycle
On that note, there is honestly no reason why you should create any waste during your time in Venice. Very few places have plastic, as waste management on the island is incredibly difficult. As always, bring your water bottle, tote bag, and other zero-waste accessories, but honestly, we hardly needed them. Just respect the island by not bringing trash and rubbish with you and taking advantage of a minimal waste system.
Recycling boats in Venice
If you do create trash, recycle. Venice does sort and recycle. However, to collect the recycling, they have to bring a boat through the canals, which increases the carbon footprint of trash collection. So ultimately, it is better to avoid creating waste.
13. Visit Outside the Norm
Visiting outside the norm can significantly impact your enjoyment level and contribute to a well-rounded economy. Venice and San Marco Square can get so crowded, especially on summer weekends and cruise landings. These massive crowds are no fun for anyone. Locals aren’t happy, and you certainly aren’t happy wading through seas of people trying to take selfies. It distracts you from engaging in authentic cultural connections and genuinely appreciating the beauty of Venice. Plan your visit off-season, during the week, of around cruise schedules. This also helps keep locals employed in year-round jobs, preventing tourism leakage.
14. Explore the Gardens
Venice might seem like just wall after wall of brick buildings, narrow streets, and winding canals. Where is the green space? You might ask. If you’re like me and you need an escape from the heat and the crowds, find one of Venice’s hidden gardens and enjoy a natural reprieve with some small critters and cool shade. Instead of visiting Venice’s touristy islands, considering heading to Sant’Erasmo, where Venice’s farms produce local food.
15. Learn About Nature & The Tourism Crisis
If you followed my tips to book a local guide, you will likely learn a bit about the crisis facing Venice. If not, I highly recommend you seek ways to learn about over-tourism and the environmental crisis that historical places like Venice are experiencing. With sea levels rising around 3mm per year, places like Venice will literally disappear. Now, that doesn’t mean rushing to see it all in a day so you can check it off your list. It means visiting Venice at a slow and leisurely pace putting money into the local economy, so they can mitigate and adapt to rising sea levels. It means altering your behaviors at home to be more sustainable and reducing your carbon footprint. Take time to ask questions in Venice about the islands that were destroyed to build Venice that provided natural management of rising sea levels. You must educate yourself as you explore this beautiful city and take the threats seriously. Now is the time to change your behaviors, and now is the time to learn about how the climate crisis threatens our favorite travel destinations.
I hope these 15 tips for sustainable and slow travel in Venice encourage you to take actionable steps to visit cities suffering from over-tourism more responsibly. I had previously thought I would never visit Venice, but it was important for me to put my money where my mouth is. If we visit these places responsibly we can show the Italian government and locals that is it economically profitable to build a tourism model underpinned by sustainability.
What are some tips you have for visiting places suffering from over-tourism?
Which sustainable tip for visiting Venice are you most looking forward to implementing.
Have you been to Venice what is something you learned while there.
Make sure you bookmark and save this post so you and all your friends can learn how to be a sustainable traveler in Venice. Let’s save travel, together.
Susanna grew up in small-town Alaska where the changing climate was always on her mind. Through traveling, she gained an interest in the power of sustainable and regenerative travel. She now attends a Master's program for environmental sustainability and bridges sustainable travel with environmental science. When she's not outside playing, you'll find her drinking whiskey with her cat and partner while trying to get to level 99 in life.