Overtourism in Venice: This is what it is really like to travel in August, its busiest month

Venice is ruined. At least you'd be forgiven for thinking that if you have been following the news in recent months.

Barely a week goes by without another over-tourism story emerging from the Lagoon. Earlier this year the city mayor Luigi Brugnaro proposed a cap on day-trippers. Over Easter, controversial crowd-control gates were installed at pinch-points to distribute the flow of tourists. Just a few weeks ago there was outrage when a cafe charged $67 for two coffees and water.

We travelled to Venice at peak season to find out if it has really been loved to death.

What we found were "respect wardens" patrolling the streets, locals who have been forced to squat in abandoned homes, rhinoceros-sized cruise ships drifting past the city and – whisper it – some pockets of blissful solitude (yes, in August). This is what Venice looks like, from the inside.

The activist: Tommaso Cacciari​


Photo: Shutterstock

Tommaso Cacciari is a born and bred Venetian. He is on the front line of the resistance movement against mass tourism in Venice. We caught up with him on the island of Sacca Fisola.

"This kind of destructive mass tourism that has hit Venice since the '80s, it has changed the structure of the city. When I was a child, the three shops underneath my home sold eggs, bread, milk and vegetables. Now they all sell rubbish for tourists. When everything is just for tourists, the residents are pushed outside.

"When they put up the barriers we went and threw them away. And we will do this every time that they try to put this kind of thing up. It has nothing to do with controlling mass tourism. We're not in a zoo, we're not animals. That was a symbolic operation to put a gate at the entrance. I will not bring my son up in a place where he has to show a document to get inside."

We're not in a zoo, we're not animals


"It's not a problem of respect if a young person doesn't have much money and eats a sandwich on the steps. This [he gesticulates to cruise ships] is a lack of respect on the city. If you want to respect Venice you need to keep the ships out of the lagoon. To respect Venice you should put a limit on the apartments and the flats that you can put on the tourist market. #EnjoyRespectVenice is just a propaganda campaign."

The tourism chief: Paola Mar

Paola Mar is Venice's councillor for tourism. It is her job to work alongside mayor Luigi Brugnaro and the local government to implement initiatives to improve the state of tourism in Venice.

"When people come to Venice, they need to know some rules. Venice is unique, it's a special city. People have to have fun in the city of Venice, but they have to understand that Venice is not a beach. It is an important, fragile city.

"It's funny. How many people do you think come by cruise ship? It's 1.5 million, but there are 26 million tourists per year. That's under five per cent. The cruise ships have a big impact because you see pictures of them. We want the cruise ships away from San Marco Basin and we don't want the ships to enter by the Lido. We want that and we await the decision from the government.

"People ask me which are the best places in Venice. I normally answer that you have to get lost in Venice. It's a safe city, it's not too big. If you get lost you can understand the soul of the city, the spirit of the city, and find some places where it's only residents. By getting lost you can see the normal life of Venice."

The resident artist: Deirdre Kelly

Deirdre Kelly has lived in Venice for 14 years. She is resident artist at the Scuola Internazionale di Grafica Venezia, based in the Cannaregio. The school recently developed an exhibition with advertising agency oZone, focusing on issues that are relevant to locals. She shows me some of their posters.

"Where are the Venetians? Sometimes I ask myself that question on a Monday morning when I'm confronted by tour groups of 40 or 50 people or more. Perhaps they're asking the same question. Because it's getting harder and harder to recognise us in and amongst all the tourists.

"What about the cruise ships? Interestingly when we took this poster out and around Venice, none of the shopkeepers agreed to post it in their windows. It's obvious that the issue of cruise ships coming into Venice is a very sensitive one and targets tourism. I think they felt that they didn't want that discussion brought to their doorsteps.

"One of my daily joys is actually stopping people arguing about which way to go and just telling them to put away Google Maps, open their eyes and wander around. My love of Venice comes from the fact everything is on the outside. All you have to do is open your eyes and absorb what you see. Unfortunately a lot of people have a phone or camera in front of them to do that."

The holidaymakers: Juan from Colombia

Colombian couple Juan and Paola visited Venice part of a month-long tour of Europe including Prague, Amsterdam and Barcelona. We caught up in St Mark's Square, two hours after they arrived.

"I am really speechless. Of all the churches we've seen in Europe, this one is one of the most amazing we have seen after travelling for a month. But Venice is also the place where there are more people than anywhere else on our trip. There are tourists everywhere in Europe, but here you can't walk. Maybe it's because it's so small? Perhaps it's because of this part of the year? But it's too many people. I don't know if I could live with all the tourists around; for me, it would be really difficult."

Michael from Alabama


Photo: Alamy

Michael has visited Venice a number of times before. He helps with an exchange programme that makes excursions to Venice every summer.

"My dilemma with coming to Venice is that on the one hand I want to explore, but on the other I'm in someone's backyard. I'm kind of torn on the inside. I like to think of myself as a bit more than a tourist most of the time. I wish I could get beyond the tourist area – but like staying on a path in a national park, you've just got to do it."

The Telegraph, London

See also: Venice rip-off - cafe charges customer $67 for two coffees, two waters

See also: 'Do you do this at home?' Over-tourism ruining lives in Barcelona