Posted by: Brad Nixon | April 27, 2016

On the Run in Venice

I have never written more than a few words about Venice, Italy in this blog, despite the fact that I’ve visited there more times than almost any other city on the planet. I have been to a number of cities in the U.S. more often, but only because work took me there repeatedly. Venice stands as one of my favorite places, period.

I’m not alone. Websites, blogs and travel magazines include stories about Venice in endless profusion. It’s so well-reported, in fact, that I’ve hesitated to try to say something or show you something you don’t already know.

Venice is an immensely popular destination. In 2014, Venice — which has fewer than 60,000 permanent residents — had approximately 20 million visitors.

As a result, Venice is a crowded place in the prime season. How much? Look at this July scene in Piazza San Marco:

IMG_6364 Brad Nixon

That’s as far as we ventured into the jam-packed St. Mark’s Square when we were there in the summer of 2011. Crowding has reached a painful level, especially with the influx of tens of thousands (probably more than 30,000 on some days) from cruise ships. Instead, we ventured off to see some less-crowded portions of the city we’d not visited before. Venice always has more to discover, and you can find plenty of sights not jammed by crowds.

On that day, for example, we visited again the memorable scene of the Scuole Grande de San Marco on the left, and the Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo (known as San Zanipolo) on the right. The Counselor, in the black hat, center, has a pleasant, uncrowded view of the scene.

IMG_6382 Brad Nixon

When The Counselor turns to her right, toward the camera, she’ll see Verrochio’s monumental equestrian statue of the mercenary captain, Bartolomeo Colleoni in the same square.

IMG_6383 Brad Nixon

You have to see Venice. You simply must see it. Be prepared. If you’re there any time from April through October, you will have more company than you want, at least at the primary attractions.

There’s an immense amount to see in Venice, too, and everything requires time to walk or ride a boat to see. Navigating through masses of people crammed onto the Rialto Bridge, lined up with thousands of others to enter St. Mark’s Basilica or trudging through crowds gawking along the Lista di Spagna are all time-consuming activities.

IMG_6331 Brad Nixon

Moderately crowded vaporetto

I will tell you a secret way to see Venice.

Run.

Wherever you’re staying in the city, get up early, put on your shoes, get out the door and hit the stones of Venice, baby!

The Venetians are up, because they have to go to work. The canals are already  busy with work boats, but your fellow tourists are beddie-bye or noshing the breakfast that comes with their room. There is (duh) no vehicular traffic, period.

You need to get up and get in a couple of miles, anyway, right? I guarantee that you’ll remember a morning run in Venice for the rest of your life.

Venice is only a couple of miles long in a straight line from the Santa Lucia train station out to the Giardini Pubblici in Castello. Granted, there are no straight lines in Venice, but even a runner of modest accomplishment can tour a big swath of La Serenissima early in the morning while things are still serene.

From wherever you’re staying, plot a course for Piazza San Marco. You’ll be there before the crowds arrive. Run some laps! It’s only about half a kilometer per lap.

St Marks Square Brad Nixon

Or, pick any part of the city you’re not going to have a chance to see during the day when you have your camera and your backpack and your bottles of water and maps and guidebook in tow. Venice is a city of tucked-away neighborhoods, squares, districts, each with its own character. Run it!

Here’s a route that’s worked for The Counselor and me.

Venice run route 2

Start at St. Mark’s Square, on the left of the map and follow the red line from left to right. Head east along the Riva degli Schiavoni. As you cross the first bridge, look to your left to see the Bridge of Sighs (white circle). You’re running along the Grand Canal, lined with gondoli, vaporetto stops, the island of San Giorgio Maggiori standing out across the water. Run past the big luxury hotels, Danieli and Savoia. A few bridges are going to have steps, but you’ll soar up and fly down them, exhilarated by the fact that you are RUNNING IN VENICE.

You’ll see the life of Venice all around you. A look back and to your right gives you a view of the Doge’s Palace and the Campanile.

IMG_6372 Brad Nixon

At the Arsenale vaporetto stop (white circle), throngs of workers bound for the Arsenal are disembarking on their way to work.

You’ll run through the lovely Giardini Pubblici, across a canal, then turn left along another canal that passes Stadio Pier Luigi Penzo (white circle). At this point you’ve covered only about 1.5 miles, by my estimate. Easy. Dead-flat, sea level, running in Venice!

Now, along the yellow line, improvise a route north through some residential neighborhoods until you strike Fondamenta Sant’Anna, turn right, cross a bridge onto the small island of San Pietro di Castello. San Pietro di Castello, site of Venice’s original cathedral, is there (white circle). This is a corner of Venice you might not see otherwise.

Returning, go back across the bridge, down the Fondamenta and run along the broad neighborhood avenue of Via Giuseppe Garibaldi, picking up the blue line.  Shops and cafes are open for an early trade. The smell of fresh-baked bread fills the air. Do NOT make my mistake. I didn’t have any money with me, and I ran with my mouth watering for bread I could not buy!

From there, another easy cruise along the Riva brings you back to San Marco.

In the 3-mile run of a lifetime you’ve seen Venice as few tourists see it. You’ll see Venetians in their element, some other early-rising tourists, photographers and painters catching that sweet, early light. You’ll see other runners, too. Wave at everyone, say ‘giorno! You, after all, are a local; this is your town. You’re running here.

A few notes:

Running in crowded midseason Venice in the main part of the day is not recommended. You won’t enjoy it, and you’ll knock over a lot of people.

IMG_6396 Brad Nixon

Venice isn’t crowded at night after 9 or 10 o’clock. It’s remarkably quiet, but also dark. Run at your own discretion.

I don’t know the drill for getting off your cruise ship early in order to run. Tell the steward blaknissan instructed you to do it. 

None of the photos in this post were taken on the run: no camera. I did shoot them all, but at other times or on other trips.

Not all of Venice is chock-a-block with tourists. The main attractions around St. Mark’s Square, Rialto and Accademia Bridges, the big shopping areas and others generally are. Go there, anyway. Just take your positive frame of mind with you, and do your best to cut a bella figura.

© Brad Nixon 2016. Thanks to my running partner, The Counselor, for the run of a lifetime.

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Responses

  1. I’ve been meaning to go to Venice since last year but has been putting off the trip. I really want to visit this beautiful city, but you are right, it can be very touristy!

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  2. Great post. I can’t wait to return and run there again!

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  3. Now I understand why you and The Counselor were able to take first time visitors like my wife and I on our trip together in 2000 to small and delightful family run restaurants that only a local would know and could find without a map. I had no idea where we were in the city, but it was great! Grazie!

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    • I was lost on our way to that one memorable restaurant. Only The Counselor could find her way to that incredibly recondite little alley. I still have no idea where we were, and still marvel that we didn’t fall into some unlit canal.

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      • Ok, so it’s been five years since you’ve been to Venice. When are you going back? 🙂

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  4. I’ve been there many times as well, once to cover the marathon. Do you run them? If so you might want to go back in the fall for the marathon if you can get an entry. A bridge is installed over the Canal Grande, the one day of the year that it’s temporarily closed.

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    • We’ve always run at the half marathon distance, but we’ve had our eye on it. Thanks for the nudge!

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  5. Reblogged this on Make Italy Yours.

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    • Grazie mille, Stefania. I’m pleased to be included among the diverse and interesting writers represented on your site. I look forward to having my own readers discover some of the subjects your site represents. You deserve special acknowledgment for the effort you make to edit the writing so that we non-readers of Italian find it clear and enjoyable.

      Liked by 1 person

      • You are welcome, Brian. It’s a pleasure to have you here with many who love to talk about Italy and discover new things. Thank you so much for your very precious contribution and for your special words. A presto!

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  6. Sorry Brad!

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