Venice photos without tourists – is it possible?

The workshop travel agent artistravel, for whom I am working, asked me if I would be interested in taking a photo course in Venice. Of course I was interested and I immediately agreed, although I never was in the old lagoons city. The course titled “Venezia di Notte” can be booked here.

Getting there | Public transport services | Location | Excursion destinations | San Michele | Murano | Burano | Equipment | Recommendations | Literature | Further informations

So it was clear that I would have to visit the city before I go on a exploration tour with the workshop group. To visit Venice for taking pictures and not just for snapshots is, however, a challenge that is not easy. With some 28 million tourists every year, the most attractive motifs in the city have to be shared. Thus it can be a bit tight and one is asking: “Venice photos without tourists – is it possible?”

Karl H. Warkentin | Travelin’ Camera
The St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice, sometimes without tourists.

The week before Christmas seemed very suitable for me – there are less tourists than usual in Venice and since I left on the 23rd of December, I was also spared from the rapidly rising hotel prices for Christmas and New Year. And I must say the trip was really worth it. Venice has almost high season all year round, but November, December and January are optimal, because the tourist masses at least escape a bit. The following Venice photo tips give a little impression of my experiences there as a photographer and maybe help to develop your own individual view of the city.

Getting there

I have chosen my “favorite airline” Easyjet from Basel, in about one hour one is there. For an additional hour, “alilaguna”, the maritime airport shuttle that connects the airport “Venice Marco Polo” with the actual city center. A nice little boat trip, where you can get to know some other islands like Murano and San Michele shortly when passing. The boat trip is usually followed by a short trip with a vaporetto (water bus) or a footpath or both, depending on where in Venice you got your domicile. Venice is an car free city and so you walk there much more than elsewhere, only the larger distances are worth to take the vaporetto.

Public transport services

As is quoted in Billy Wilders wonderful movie “One, Two, Three”, “All the streets are under water in Venice!” public transport in Venice is therefore essentially carried out by various boats. In addition to private water taxi and the airport shuttle there is a reliable service with the so-called vaporettos, the waterbuses. However, many interesting destinations can not be reached by boat. Only two means of transport remain: the left and the right foot!

The most important means of transport in Venice is the boat.

Location

It is certainly not necessary to lose many words about Venice’s famous sights. Everyone has already seen St. Mark’s Square, the Rialtobrücke and the Doge’s Palace, everyone can imagine something under a gondolieri and everyone knows that the city is famous for its tons of doves. So what if you want to escape the typical tourist motifs?

I was very impressed by the Sestiere (district) Castello. The region around the unfortunately inaccessible Arsenal, the restored dockyard and port area is a quiet district with nice old streets, few tourists and authentic pubs and bars. You can simply drift there and capture so many small details and the original atmosphere of Venice away from the big tourist streams. But also Cannaregio has its charm and once you get away from the main traffic axes, it becomes really idyllic. Quiet small residential areas, small gardens, tiny canals, workshops and even small pubs, where the artisans, artists and neighbors meet for a glass of wine, a chat or a snack.

Idyllic and unaffected by tourist streams, these houses seem to be in the Sestiere Cannaregio.

And something else: In the hotel, where I lived, I am alone by the fact that I have stayed 5 (!) nights there. The normal Venice visitor comes only for one night to get to know the city. It is easy to imagine which parts of the city can never be visited by the “standard tourists” from China, USA, Russia or Japan, because they just have not the time to see more besides Markusplace, Rialtobridge, Dogenpalace and souvenirshopping !

Lonely alleys off the tourist trails, which invite you to stroll with the camera.

In addition, the visitors of the cruise ships have to be back on board for the Captains dinner in the evening, as the streets get also a bit empty and later, when it’s time for dinner in Venice and afterwards, at least in the winter months many places and streets become much quieter. A good time to take pictures …

Excursion destinations

Karl H. Warkentin | Travelin’ Camera
It is not always possible to photograph in a shopping center like here in Venice with a tripod.

San Michele

The island of San Michele in the east of Venice is the last retreat of the Venetians, where an old cemetery is located, including Igor Stravinski’s grave.

Murano

Murano is the well-known glassblower island and can be reached quickly by the vaporetto from the station “Fondamente de Nove”, it is also a stopover to Burano. If you are lucky, you can discover an open door to one of the glassblowing workshops and can watch the craftsmen at work – and maybe even photographing them!

Glassblowers at work on the island of Murano.

As well as their showrooms, some manufacturers offer official glass-blowing demonstrations, and as I have heard, photography is not always allowed. Otherwise Murano is an idyllic small island and it is worth it, walking along the alleyways and along the small canals. The more you get away from the glassblowing shops, the fewer visitors to the island will be there to block your photo motifs. However, you will not be allowed to take pictures at the small islands cemetery.

Karl H. Warkentin | Travelin’ Camera
There are not only glass blowers on Murano, but also the lighthouse next to the feeder is an attractive photo-motif.

Burano

The island, which is about 10 km from Venice, is famous for its colorful fishing houses and you reach it with the vaporetto from the station “Fondamente de Nove.” On the way you can also easily take a stopover on the Murano island. Burano island is comparatively quiet and very popular with photographers as well as with painters because of the colorful architecture. The houses are almost all designed in different, bright colors, in sunny weather an intensely luminous color spectrum with innumerable motifs emerges.

Burano
Colorful fishing houses on the island of Burano near Venice.

A nice little bar and trattoria on Burano is “SU e ZO” centrally located in Via San Mauro. There you get pizza, small food and of course fish.

SU e ZO
Via San Mauro 55
30012 Burano (Venezia)

Equipment

My favorite lens on travel, the AF-S Nikkor 24-120 mm 4,0 G ED at the fullframe camera Nikon D750 has met my requirements in Venice in most cases fully. But unlike in other cities in Venice also very long and very short focal lengths are useful.

The reason? Alleyways and squares are extremely tight, so a 15-18mm wide-angle lens is often the only way to capture the grand old architecture completely. The only disadvantage of these lenses, you need endless patience, until the wide angle of view is almost  free of people in the foreground! Ok, and the long lens? Quite simply, there is often an interesting motif on the opposite side of the canal where you are standing. But Canale Grande or Canale Giudecca are simply too wide for shorter focal lengths, if you want to not only take an overview. So my old 300 / 4,5 ED Nikkor was used more frequently. The AF-S Nikkor 300 / 4.0 E PF ED VR is ideal for these (travel) purposes, it is very small with a length of just 15 cm and is light with about 750 g and has a great image quality. Unfortunately, it has its price …

Chiesa di San Giorgio Maggiore with seagull
300 mm focal length are necessary to capture this view from Arsenale over the Grand Canal to the Chiesa di San Giorgio Maggiore.

For moments in which the light for these lenses is not enough, I always have the small fixed focal length, the AF Nikkor 50 1,4 D in my camera bag. It is a very wide open lens of high quality at a reasonable price, which is available also from other manufacturers, such as Canon, Sony, Pentax etc. Even cheaper is the version, which I recommend to anyone who wants a wide open lens at a very small budget. The AF Nikkor 50 1.8 D is available for about 100, – €, also for CanonSony or Pentax mount. With the zoom lens, however, the Nikon photographers benefit, because comparable lenses to the 24-120 / 4.0 other brands, such as Canon or Sigma cover only the focal range of 24-105 mm.

Venice at night
Even in the night and fog, Venice is a photogenic city, as in the vicinity of St. Mark’s Square.

In my opinion, the only professional photo dealer in Venice was located very centrally in the Sestiere San Marco. But it closed at the end of the year 2016. Of course, there are numerous small shops, adapted to tourist needs, where you can bye a memory card or similar. You should remember, however, that it will be difficult to buy a forgotten charger for a special camera, replacement battery or even forgotten lenses, tripods or cameras. For that probably only the Amazon Prime Service may help!

Photo equipment Venice
The photo equipment I was traveling with in Venice. It only lacks the charger for the camera battery and the camera case.

What is in the photo bag:

Nikon D750 (24 MPx Fullframe DSLR)
AF-S Nikkor 24 – 120 / 4,0 G ED
D-Nikkor 50 / 1,4
Nikkor IF-ED 300 / 4,5
Replacement battery EN-EL15
Phottix Wireless trigger set WXD-188 w. cable
Tripod Giottos Vitruvio Aluminum (similar to Sirui T-005X Traveller)
LowePro camera gloves (IMPORTANT, I hate cold!)

… the whole fits in my favorite camera bag:
Vanguard UP-Rise 38

Recommendations – hotels, restaurants, shopping etc.

Of course, I do not have the opportunity to present an overview of the gastronomic offerings of the city. I therefore limit myself to the hotels and restaurants visited by me and as I find recommendable.

Hotel Canaletto ***

Thousands of hotels and restaurants make the choice in Venice not easy. The hotel has been reserved mostly from home, so I’ve also made it. My choice with booking.com was on the Hotel Canaletto in the heart of Venice in the Sestiere (district) San Marco. Only 250 m from the Rialtobridge and St. Mark’s Square, it is the best yet quiet location.

This family-run hotel is located in the former residence of the famous Venetian painter Canaletto. It is decorated in the style of the 18th century, with stucco, fabric coverings on the walls and magnificent Muranoglas lamps. In addition, there are of course all modern amenities such as air conditioning / heating, TV, telephone, minibar, room safe and WLAN in all 38 rooms.

Cozy and decorated in a Venetian style, Hotel Canaletto is located in the center of the city.

The front desk is staffed 24/7, the staff is very friendly and endeavored to satisfy every guests request. The personal provides any help needed during their stay there. Also the breakfast for the Mediterranean conditions is more than sumptuous and contains something for every taste, whether you prefer English, French, sweet or healthy breakfast

Hotel Canaletto ***
Castello, San Lio 5487
30122 Venezia
T +39 (0) 41 5220518
www.hotelcanaletto.com
info@hotelcanaletto.com

Da Mamo

The Da Mamo is a trattoria. It is tight, it is full, it is loud – and it is good! While in front of some restaurants in the neighborhood the waiters are at the doorstep to lure the guests, here the guests are queuing up in front of Da Mamo to wait for a vacated place. This will have its reason! So I also wait in December 10 minutes to get a place allocated. I do not want to know what’s going on in the high season …

But despite the full house and the hustle and bustle, the staff is very friendly. The amuse gueule is just as fast as everything else and the food is very delicious (pizza, tiramisu etc.).

Trattoria Pizzeria Da Mamo
San Marco, Calle dei Stagneri 5251
30124 Venezia
T +39 (0) 41 523658
www.damamo.it
Info@damamo.it

Ai Barbacani

I do not want to say that the “ai Barbacani” is an insider tip in Venice. It is too central in the district of San Marco, but it is nevertheless in a small side street so far from the great tourist streams. Thus not every Venice visitor automatically stumbles in this beautiful, small, old building. Very tastefully furnished with many old little things, it creates a cozy atmosphere in the lively city.

The food (Bressaola with rocket, scaloppine, rosemary potatoes, etc.) was just as outstanding as the relaxed ambience and the hospitable service. It is certainly an address, in the more lively times a reservation is necessary (I was there in December). I’ll be back!

Closed on Monday.

Ristorante ai Barbacani
Calle del Paradiso
Castello 5746
30122 Venezia
T +39 (0) 41 5210234
www.ristorante-ai-barbacani.it
barbacani@liberio.it

Osteria ai do pozzi

The small and simple Osteria ai do pozzi I discovered during a night-time photo tour in the Sestiere Arsenal. Here the atmosphere is still original, tourist streams will be less here than at the hotspots of Venice. There are simple cold and hot appetizers as well as small dishes and a selection of drinks, the prices are favorable for Venetian conditions.

Open daily from 09:00 to 02:00.

Karl H. Warkentin | Travelin’ Camera
Tasty food and drinks are served in the slightly laid out Osteria ai do pozzi.

Osteria ai do pozzi
Calle de la Muneghete 2614
30122 Venezia
T +39 (0)41 5207141

Literature tip

In which city, if not in Venice, the Marco Polo travel guide is the adequate reference book for his photo trip, because the son of a merchant and world traveller was born in Venice.

Marco Polo Travel Guide Venice as a pocketbook or eBook for iOS and Kindle
The No. 1 bestseller for Venice tour guides

Marco Polo Venice (Marco Polo Venice (Travel Guide))
  • Walter M. Weiss
  • MAIRDUMONT GmbH & Co. KG
  • Auflage Nr. Fol Pap/Ma (01.03.2012)
  • Taschenbuch: 136 Seiten

 

Further informations

Italy – General Informations
Venice – General Informations