There are many things that make Venice an amazing city, but perhaps one of its most unique features is the fact that there are no roads and no cars whatsoever. There is a single train station on the west side of the island, not far from the foot of the only road that bridges Venice and the mainland. Here, buses offload passengers and go no further, while cars pile into nearby multi-story car parks. This is without a doubt the ugliest part of Venice, quite possibly because the vehicles and car parks are totally jarring compared to the rest of the city.
When I first arrived in Venice to begin a term abroad there last October, my friend and I were faced with the challenge of getting to our accommodation either by boat or on foot. Being the thrifty pair that we were, we didn’t consider the options for very long and quickly concluded that we would walk halfway across Venice. It wasn’t our finest decision. Following the apparent wisdom of Google Maps, we ended up pulling our bulky cases through narrow streets that were crammed full of people. Bustling past tourists and dragging our luggage over cobbles, it’s fair to say that the potential for a glowing first impression of Venice was somewhat ruined.
It can help save money on public transport, it can help save the planet from global warming and it can give you the best opportunity to see a place
However, that particular ordeal aside, I would always be one to advocate walking whenever possible. It can help save money on public transport, it can help save the planet from global warming and it can give you the best opportunity to see a place. Venice was a particularly incredible place to walk around since the city is virtually just a floating maze. Even as I became more familiar with it, I often liked the challenge of walking aimlessly for a while, getting lost and then attempting to navigate back home. Thankfully, my flat was next to a well-signposted public toilet, which made the journey back a little easier.
But I really took that love of walking to the extreme when spending a week interrailing around the rest of Italy. Paired with that same thrifty friend, we were determined to spend as little as possible on public transport as we explored Rome, Florence and Milan (trains to get to these destinations notwithstanding). In Rome, our Airbnb host offered us a tourist map of the city which became our most treasured possession. Free from the shackles of Google Maps, we were able to set our own route.
The result of this was that, by the end of our first day, we already felt like we had seen the whole of Rome. We had walked from landmark to landmark and seen much more than we’d planned. Everywhere we walked, there were several other things to see on the way. When arriving in Florence and Milan, we made sure that the first thing we did each time was find ourselves a map. I would recommend doing that to anyone, even though in theory you have all the same information on your phone. For some reason, it was more satisfying to design our own route through these cities.
Even as I became more familiar with it, I often liked the challenge of walking aimlessly for a while, getting lost and then attempting to navigate back home
But walking is not only something I would recommend when visiting cities. One of the highlights of my year is always at Easter when my family and I travel (not all that far) to the North Norfolk countryside. It’s always a week with lots and lots of walking. Being in the vast countryside does mean that you often have to drive in order to find somewhere to walk, but in the many years that we’ve been there we’ve enjoyed walking on marshes, farms, woodlands, priories, windmills and abandoned military sites. Year after year, those country walks never become dull.
And, for what it’s worth, when my friend and I were eventually leaving Venice and had that same trip across the city that had been such an ordeal when we’d arrived, we chose to walk it again. Armed with ten weeks of local knowledge, we were able to complete the route on the only street in Venice that was actually significantly wide. According to Google Maps, that particular route wasn’t worth it because it was about half a minute longer than the way we’d originally come, and yet the walk was much more satisfying than any form of transport would have been.