Kayaking Venice Is A Voyage Into History And Tradition

Kayaking Venice is a voyage into history and tradition

Or, how I fell in love with Venice (and you will, too)

They say Venice is for lovers. I don’t know about that, but I will say it’s for lovers of paddling.

When I first considered kayaking in Venice it seemed like it just might be the ideal way to explore Italy’s great water city. But based on the reputation of the quality of its water, I had concerns. Add in considerations about things like potentially murderous powerboats (admittedly, maybe I’ve watched a few too many Bond films) and possible confrontations with surly gondoliers bent on protecting their turf, and, well, I had a few thoughts running through my mind.

Imagine my surprise as I began to plan this journey and found out that there is a large and vibrant kayaking community in Venice and the surrounding islands. This group of paddlers was really the portal to discovering Venice’s captivating beauty from the water by providing my partner and me with local knowledge and, more importantly, introducing us to members of the larger Venetian rowing community.

In actual fact, the spheres of the kayakers and rowers overlap and intertwine, with the latter representing a 1,500-year-old tradition of self-propelled craft. Paddling in Venice is steeped in tradition that’s most evident in the skill of gondoliers as they maneuver their elegant and ponderously heavy craft through the city’s narrow canals.

How Venice adjusted my misconceptions

Venice is tidal, with two tides a day flowing in, around and out of the city bringing fresh water from the Adriatic. During acqua alta (high water) some canals overflow their banks, forcing tourists and locals alike to make their way on makeshift elevated walkways of planks or simply remove their shoes and socks, hike up trouser legs and wade across any watery incursions. In recent years, municipally supported installation of septic tanks in homes and businesses has done much to improve the baseline of water quality in the city.

Having paddled all over the world I’ve experienced firsthand the widespread antipathy between powered and self-propelled craft. So, as we began to explore the Venetian canals by kayak, I was delighted to discover a kayak destination truly unlike any other place I’ve ever paddled.

Case in point, on an initial sojourn we were nosing our way through narrow back canals of the Dorsoduro sistiere (district) when we came around a blind corner and into the path of the Venetian equivalent of a garbage truck. The craft was lumbering along with just barely enough room to pass between the walls of canal houses. The driver, while surprised, didn’t respond the way other working power boaters around the world might – with exasperation and curses – instead he asked where we were going and then carefully backed up his barge to let us cross to the continuation of our canal.

This sort of situation was repeated over and over and was clearly an indication of the cultural respect that is given to self-propelled craft of all sorts in Venice. It’s especially in evidence every year when the city hosts one of the largest paddling events in the world, the Vogalonga, attended by thousands.

The gondoliers also proved to be very friendly, providing us with a wealth of information about the city and suggesting good places for us to pull our kayaks out of the water. They even offered up recommendations for the best cicchetti (savory appetizers) bars that don’t charge tourist prices and are frequented by locals.

Our kayak trip combines the beauty of Venice with the splendor of the Dolomites

While paddling Venice is spectacular enough, our tour also includes enjoying the grandeur of Italy’s Dolomite Mountains. Why visit just one premier Italian destination and UNESCO World Heritage Site when you can visit a couple? The proximity of these locations allows for two unique kayak travel experiences on one trip.

The journey begins by paddling the pristine alpine lakes and enjoying gentle hikes through wild flower strewn meadows surrounded by stunning peaks. Then we head to kayak the canals of Venice where we experience the inspiring interplay of water, light and architecture that make the city so special.

Both portions of the trip boast excellent accommodation and, of course, sumptuous food. Always a favorite way to experience the local culture, paddlers will enjoy hearty mountain cuisine in the Dolomites and then dine on the freshest seafood prepared in classic Venetian style.


Venice is the pinnacle of paddling tourism

The exploration and tour guiding of Venice by kayak have been some of the most interesting and compelling experiences of my career. I consider it one of the world’s great paddling trips. There are really no equivalents in terms of a unique marine environment, architecture, culture and a connection to a paddling lineage that stretches back over a millennium and a half.

If you’re looking for a paddling journey like no other, one that will captivate your senses and leave you changed forever, join us as we paddle the Dolomites and Venice.

Click here for information on and more photos from our guided Venice tours. And be sure to have a look at our other Italian trips in our new online catalog. As always, if you have any questions about any of our destinations, please get in touch through our website, call (800) 677-0877 or email info@tofino.com.

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