Get Lost in Venice, Italy (a Photo Essay)

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Grand Canal, St. Mark’s Square, Campanile, Rialto Bridge … Venice is on nearly every Italy itinerary.

There is little doubt that romantic Venice — Venezia in Italian — is one of the European cities that are so iconic you might almost feel like you’ve seen it … even before you’ve actually been there.

Until you’ve been there and realize: There is so much more to the city than its icons.

Lost in Venice


What makes Venice special

One thing is clear: No matter where you go in the city, water is ever-present. Truly, Venice would not be Venice without its labyrinth of alleys, picturesque canals and stair-stepped bridges. Many a visitor will wander down a street that ends nowhere but at the dead end of a canal … and that is part of the city’s charm.

a winding canal in Venice
Some Venice passageways end at water.
One of Venice's weather-worn buildings, sporting brilliant flower boxes

Yet, Venice is more than well-known churches, museums and landmarks. It is not just Carnival masks, Murano glass and Burano lace shops. There remains a quiet part of Venice that has somehow managed to resist the chaos of its endless guided tours and eager souvenir-hawkers and still retains its own unique character.

Bougainvillea over a wall in Venice. Couple embracing on a bridge

As much as Venice is winding streets, endless canals and narrow footbridges, Venice is also peeling plaster, streaked paint and metal rusting from centuries of rising and falling water. Venice is gondoliers in striped shirts and boaters, motor-boat ambulances and weather-beaten doors that open directly onto the water. Venice is Moorish, Baroque, Renaissance and modern, all seamlessly blended together, a city that has become more than the sum of its parts.

wide canal in Venice

Getting lost in Venice

We spent an entire day in Venice with one single-minded goal: Let’s get hopelessly lost. Our goal was to immerse ourselves in seeking everyday Venice, the one its citizens know. We would leave our maps behind and venture beyond chaotic St. Mark’s Square, full of its friendly pigeons and hordes of camera-toting sightseers.

Tourists on Rialto Bridge, Venice, Italy

Not to say that there’s anything wrong with all of these wonderful icons, but the crowds of souvenir shoppers was not for us. Instead, we yearned for Venice’s quiet passageways, brightly-hued houses, closely shuttered windows and flower-laced balconies.

flowerboxes on wrought-iron balconies, overlooking a Venetian canal
Boats on a Venice back canal

So we left the crowds of Rialto Bridge to meander through the city’s passageways and over its many bridges, turning whenever and wherever we wished and finding picturesque parts of the city we hadn’t expected. We weren’t alone, of course; it is hard to be alone for long in Venice.

Tourists cross one of Venice's many bridges

Lunch in a local Venice restaurant

At midday, we made a man smile when we walked into a small place and asked if his osteria was still serving lunch in halting Italian. He made us smile in turn when we realized that his business catered to Venetians: The menu was written entirely in Italian and he wasn’t charging tourist prices.

The handmade decorations of Osteria ai Carmini, a local restaurant in Venice

After our delicious meal we ventured further afield and soon found town squares and residential neighborhoods we didn’t expect. There, old men sat over a game of chess, housewives chatted on a bench, shopkeepers swept their doorways, energetic children raced home from their classes. Daily life went on, oblivious to the tourist activity going on only a few canali away.

We had found what we were seeking: Life on Venice’s terms.

Old women sit on a bench chatting, while pigeons look for food at their feet.

The back streets of Venice

Thanks to the tourist hordes and ticket lines, we have yet to enter any of Venice’s famous museums or churches. Perhaps we will one day. Until that day arrives, we will always have our own precious memories of our brief glimpses into Venice’s daily life.

Here are a few more shots from our walk around Venice. Feel free to pin them, of course. We hope you enjoy them.

This was once a doorway, but Venice is sinking.
Shops along an alley in Venice
Gondolas in Venice
Water taxis in Venice
A gondolier makes his way home through a narrow canal.
A weatherbeaten window balcony in Venice, Italy
An ambulance in Venice Italy
A collage of sights seen when you want to get lost in Venice Italy

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Written by Linda

Linda is multilingual and has been to over 50 countries. Her insatiable love of travel, cuisine, and foreign languages inspired her to create As We Saw It, where she documents her trips, shares practical itineraries, and offers insider tips. She’s passionate about helping fellow travelers save time, money, and hassle, and loves to discover new places to explore.

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16 thoughts on “Get Lost in Venice, Italy (a Photo Essay)”

  1. Absolutely gorgeous photos! I’ll be going to Italy two times next year and one of the trips will be a road trip that initially included Venice as well, but due to limited time and budget, I decided to skip it this time. I’m a bit bummed, but I’m sure I’ll make it to Venice soon too. 🙂

  2. Ah, is not hard to get lost in Venice! But for my son who has a very keen sense of orientation, we would have been lost every single time we stepped out of the house. But I’d love to get lost again in this gorgeous city. I don’t think I could ever get bored there. Fortunately, when we were there it didn’t rain at all.

  3. I love Venice so much. We did a similar thing and we wandering with the intention of getting lost. We wandered the back alleys and crossed bridges for several hours, in the rain. It was a fabulous day, so enjoyable… and the best parts were the ones we saw without the crowds. Amazing!

    • I’d imagine that Venice is pretty in the rain. Certainly the streets would be less congested with tourists…all of them spending their time in museums and churches.

  4. Beautiful collection of photos! I love Venice and it is one of my favorite cities. We’ve been twice and both times in November when there are I’m assuming a bit less people but without the gorgeous weather and flowers you had. I do agree that you really have to just wander and get lost. It’s such a fascinating city to discover what’s around the next corner.

    • I’ve thought about visiting Europe outside of tourist season but I’m not a fan of cold weather and Madrid is on the same latitude as New York. And yet … I grew up in the New York metropolitan area and lived to tell the tale. 🙂

      How was the weather when you went?

  5. I will also be more interested in taking a look at the real Venice than at the Venice that “everybody knows.” For me, it is important to get to know a place beyond its main attractions. Lately, I have been trying to stay 3 or more days in a city in order to soak up the place.

    • So true, Ruth, it’s important to go beyond the attractions! We try to squeeze the main sights into our first couple of days – after all, there’s a reason they are popular – and then like you, we spend the remainder of our time enjoying the culture and daily life.

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