Venice Walking Tour: Leave The Map Home

As a person who prides himself on finding anything with a halfway decent map, Venice had me confounded. I’d check our location, take note of what was coming up (Three turns: first left at the next corner, second left at calle vendra-something, then a right to reach the square) and almost every time I’d wind up nowhere near where we wanted to go. It got to the point where after each corner, I’d stop to consult the map to see if we were on the right track. Prior to coming to Venice, my wife and I talked about doing the six-hour walking tour in our guidebook. With gondolas expensive, cars nonexistent and plenty of things to see, this seemed like a great idea, but now we weren’t so sure.

Venice is built on 117 small islands connected by 400 bridges over 150 canals. There are no automobiles and the only modes of transport are either walking or taking a gondola, vaporetto or traghetti on the canals. Aside from the Grand Canal, there is no principal thoroughfare and the pedestrian walkways turn at almost every corner. Streets are not straight, vias veer at all angles and squares (campos) are not square. With calles going off in all directions and fondamentas ending abruptly, it is extremely easy to get lost.

I guess the question is: does it matter if you get lost? With one of the most beautiful cities in the world in front of you, would you rather spend your time looking up at the gothic architecture or looking down at a map? Everything you see in Venice is old, unique, beautiful and worthy of inclusion in a walking tour, anyway. We didn’t mind getting lost because around every corner was something interesting to see. A wrong turn meant seeing a beautiful Gothic church, a gondolier poling down a canal or a tower leaning slightly to one side.

Venice’s physical environment is indeed unique but so is its history. Interestingly for us, it had nothing in common with the places we’d been to on our trip. In South America it’s a familiar theme: the Spanish, and to a lesser extent the Portuguese, colonize the continent about 450 years ago and in the 1820’s most of them get their independence from their European masters. The details are different but the story is the same. In the Eastern Mediterranean, once Egypt’s great civilization is on the wane, it’s all about the Greeks, whether they’re Mycenaeans, Spartans, Athenians, Macedonians or Byzantines. The Romans ruled for quite a while but they begrudgingly admired the Greeks (their gods were renamed Greek gods) and the Renaissance was a rediscovery of Greek ideals. Traveling through the eastern Mediterranean, most of the places we visited told a story of Greek, Roman, and to a lesser extent, Ottoman occupations. Again the details are different but the story is the same.

After two days of walking around and getting lost, my wife and I had pretty much decided that we weren’t going to do the walking tour. We were having too much fun discovering things along the back streets and side canals and by now we were starting to learn how to get around without a map. From that point on the map stayed in our apartment.

This post is part of Denise Pulls' Blogsherpa Blog Carnival Memorable City Experiences at Travel With DenDen.


  1. We haven't been to Venice yet. Reading your post makes me wish we would go there sometime soon!

  2. It's one of those few places that live up to, and surpass, its reputation. You'll love it.

  3. Hi! I couldn't agree with you more. Venice is THE place to allow oneself to get completely lost! However, if you fancy a great experience beyond what getting lost can rustle up, I say you should splash out on a gondola ride with the one and only Alexandra Hai.
    She's the only female on the lagoon with the permit to row a gondola. And she's got quite a story to tell! It's so worth the money! I've written a section about her in my blog

    Enjoy Venice!

  4. Thanks Vibeke,
    I enjoyed the article very much. I didn't realize there was a woman gondoliera out there!

  5. It sounds like you found the authentic way to enjoy Venice! I really hope I get to implement your advice when I visit Venice some day.

  6. I love Venice. Despite all its tourists I think it rewards a wander around because there is so much to see. I don't think I could overdoes on the ochres and browns and reds and sand colors of the buildings or the architecture itself.

    As a photographer, it is one of those places I dream of.

    And I completely, absolutely agree that the best thing to do (and this applies to finding places to eat and all kinds of things to do) is to go beyond the guidebook or the guided walk.