You will get lost in Venice. It’s just a fact. There is no grid pattern, there is no intuition, there is no easy north or south landmarks. Venice is a maze. But once you submit to this, relax into the labyrinth, you realize that getting lost is the best part.
Venetians will be the first to tell you: “Per favore, throw away your map, turn off the GooGoo, have a glass of vino, è tutto bene.” Everything will be fine.
The other problem is the choking crowds during high season. There is a “ring road” around Venice called the “Yellow Line” — it shows up as a highlighted yellow line on street maps — which is the main route through the city, and also named so because of the yellow, directional signs that are on buildings, guiding your way towards various destinations. Though well marked, this doesn’t mean that every part of the Yellow Line is wide open… on the contrary, it bottlenecks all along the way because almost every tourist who visits Venice sticks to that Line.
So, how does one navigate through the city, avoiding the Yellow Line packed with tourists?
In the above photo, all of the people to the right are on The Yellow Line. But, what if you went left? Notice the graffiti on the corner of the building to the left?
Follow the instructional graffiti and take the backstreets!
All those people choked out on the Yellow Line, and yet, one street over — bliss.
Visitors are afraid of getting lost. That if they veer off the Yellow Line they will be hopelessly adrift, never to find their hotel again.
First, it’s important to know that Venice, in the historical center, is very safe. There are no bad streets, no bad neighborhoods. And, you are in a lagoon. You can’t wander somewhere and find yourself in a scary or dangerous situation. No matter how dark or lonely or ominous a street might seem, even in the middle of the night, you are safe. The second thing is, again, you are in a lagoon. It’s impossible to wander off in one direction and be miles lost. Venice is approximately 2.5 miles (4km) east to west, and 1.75 miles (2.8km) north to south. You can only be so far away from your hotel.
And finally… Graffiti is a global problem, almost everyone agrees with that. However in Venice, sometimes you can use the graffiti to your advantage. Anytime the graffiti is directional or instructional, it’s meant to have a purpose, to be helpful; it’s not there to confuse you or get you more lost. The directions are often put up on walls by business owners, having grown weary of tourists poking their heads in asking “Which way to Rialto? Which way to San Marco?” Those directions are also always accurate, because if they weren’t, people might go back in the same store and ask the same question again.
Once you are off the Yellow Line, the backstreets are usually quite empty and much quieter, so you can relax and not feel like you are in a herd. It’s along these backstreets you’ll experience the real neighborhoods, smell Venetian kitchens, see colorful laundry lines, all while being able to hear your own footsteps.
Almost every directional sign has arrows pointing you down the right path, but often there are some that have arrows pointing in multiple directions. Sometimes, even the complete opposite way altogether. Don’t panic. All that sign is telling you is that can reach that specific destination by going either way! The sign pictured above is indicating that your objective can be reached, regardless of whether you go left or right. There is a street on both sides of the building pictured, and once you take either one of them, you realize that both left and right meet back up on the other side.
In Venice, left and right are limited, because you can only travel so far before you reach the end of land. When faced with multiple or opposite arrow signs, pick a side and go around the obstacle in front of you. That’s it! No need to overcomplicate things. Once you arrive on the other side, continue on until you see the next sign, and repeat. Along the way, try to let go, and let Venice itself be as involved in your navigation and exploration as the posted markers. There are countless treasures for the eyes to feast upon, as long as one walks at the correct pace: piano, slowly!
Maya and Adam