Venice and the perennial woe of unruly tourists

With its history, labyrinth of canals and romantic gondolas, Venice is on most peoples’ travel wish-list. But authorities and residents alike are at their wits' end over how to deal with uncouth tourists.

Venice and the perennial woe of unruly tourists
Venice attracts some 22 million people a year. Photo: Moyann Brenn

Seeing a grown woman pull her trousers down in broad daylight to take a wee is enough to make anyone despair – let alone in one of the most famous cities in the world.

In full view of passersby, the woman, allegedly from Britain, shamelessly urinated by St Mark’s Square over the weekend.

She was snapped in the act by an angry gondolier, who shouted at her and told her to stop, only for her to allegedly swear back at him in English.

Just a week before, a reportedly drunk yacht worker from New Zealand jumped off the Rialto Bridge and smashed into a passing water taxi.

The 49-year-old, who was hospitalized with severe injuries, now faces charges of endangering public transport.

The city’s long-suffering mayor, Luigi Brugnaro, took to Twitter to vent his despair, threatening unruly sorts with jail.

A few days later flyers started to appear across the city, containing a blunt message from frustrated locals to tourists: “Tourists go away!!! You are destroying this area!”

Rarely a summer goes by without stories like these bringing the Unesco World Heritage site into the spotlight.

Brugnaro has made it his mission to crackdown on the industry that helps fill the canal city’s coffers ever since he was elected in June 2015.

“I insist on introducing special powers to the city to uphold public order. Pickpockets, vandals, drunks! A night in the cells,” he wrote on Twitter.

The city’s tourism councillor, Paola Mar, backs his non-nonsense approach.

“The situation does seem to get worse every year,” she told The Local.

“It happens in other major tourist places but when it happens in Venice it gets more exposed – once the newspapers have the story, that’s it.”

Photo: Moyan Brenn

Some 22 million pour into Venice each year, an excessive number which Brugnaro argues “risks flaring confrontation between tourists and residents”.

And while it’s not exactly a “hidden gem”, the city’s popularity endures – it came third in The Lonely Planet’s “best European destinations to visit this year” list, which was published in May.

It's so popular that Mar pointed to the significant growth in the number of tourists to the city – especially over the last few years – from far-flung places such as China and India.

In mid-July, it was reported that the city had seen a five percent uptick in tourist traffic so far this year, over 2015.

“Venice is a dream for everyone,” Mar said.

“And if we add the fact that people are avoiding other holiday destinations this year – such as Tunisia and Turkey – because of the fear of terrorist attacks, this adds pressure – and it’s unsustainable.”

The summer is a vulnerable time for Venice, but when it comes to the city’s image, Mar insists that “one or two fools” do not represent everyone.

“When you consider the sheer number of people who come, the majority of tourists respect the city and are well behaved.”

Aside from the local vigilantes who expose those misbehaving, the city has some 700 police officers, while people can be fined up to €250 for throwing rubbish in the canals or €50 for taking a dip.

Mar said most of the troublemakers are “day-trippers”.

She backs the suggestion by Brugnaro to jail drunken tourists who in anyway cause damage to the city during their stupor but said it would be very difficult to limit tourist numbers, as has been suggested by the mayor and by others in key Italian hotspots, such as Cinque Terre.

“We can’t simply ‘close’ the city – besides, it’s against the constitution,” she said.

“But what we can do is make sure that other destinations in Italy are better promoted, so we can share the tourist numbers.”  

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How to avoid huge ‘roaming’ phone bills while visiting Italy

If you're visiting Italy from outside the EU you risk running up a huge phone bill in roaming charges - but there are ways to keep your internet access while avoiding being hit by extra charges.

How to avoid huge ‘roaming’ phone bills while visiting Italy

Travelling without access to the internet is almost impossible these days. We use our phones for mapping applications, contacting the Airbnb, even scanning the QR code for the restaurant menu.

If you’re lucky enough to have a phone registered in an EU country then you don’t need to worry, thanks to the EU’s cap on charges for people travelling, but people visiting from non-EU countries – which of course now includes the UK – need to be careful with their phone use abroad.

First things first, if you are looking to avoid roaming charges, be sure to go into your settings and turn off “data roaming.” Do it right before your plane lands or your train arrives – you don’t want to risk the phone company in your home country starting the clock on ‘one day of roaming fees’ without knowing it.

READ ALSO: Ten ways to save money on your trip to Italy this summer

But these days travelling without internet access can be difficult and annoying, especially as a growing number of tourist attractions require booking in advance online, while restaurants often display their menus on a QR code.

So here are some techniques to keep the bills low.

Check your phone company’s roaming plan

Before leaving home, check to see what your phone plan offers for pre-paid roaming deals.

For Brits, if you have a phone plan with Three for example, you can ask about their “Go Roam” plan for add-on allowance. You can choose to pay monthly or as you go. Vodafone offers eight day and 15 day passes that are available for £1 a day.

For Americans, T-Mobile offers you to add an “international pass” which will charge you $5 per day. Verizon and AT&T’s roaming plans will charge you $10 per day. For AT&T, you are automatically opted into this as soon as your phone tries to access data abroad.

READ ALSO: Seven things to do in Italy in summer 2022

These all allow you to retain your normal phone number and plan.

Beware that these prices are only available if you sign up in advance, otherwise you will likely be facing a much bigger bill for using mobile data in Italy. 

Buy a pre-paid SIM card

However, if you are travelling for a longer period of time it might work out cheaper to turn off your phone data and buy a pre-paid SIM card in Italy.

In order to get a pre-paid SIM card, you will need your passport or proof of identity (drivers’ licences do not count).

READ ALSO: TRAVEL: Why now’s the best time to discover Italy’s secret lakes and mountains

Keep in mind that you will not be able to use your normal phone number with the new SIM card in, but will be able to access your internet enabled messaging services, like WhatsApp, Facebook and iMessage. Your phone will need to be ‘unlocked’ (ask your carrier about whether yours is) in order to put a new SIM card in.

Here are some of the plans you can choose from:


WindTre, the result of a 2020 merger between the Italian company Wind and the UK network provider Three, currently offers a “Tourist Pass” SIM card for foreign nationals. For €24.99 (it’s sneakily marketed as €14.99, but read the small print and you’ll see you need to fork out an additional €10), you’ll have access to 20GB of data for up to 30 days.

The offer includes 100 minutes of calls within Italy plus an additional 100 minutes to 55 foreign countries listed on the WindTre website. Up to 13.7GB can be used for roaming within the EU. The card is automatically deactivated after 30 days, so there’s no need to worry about surprise charges after you return from your holiday. To get this SIM card, you can go into any WindTre store and request it.

A tourist protects herself from the sun with a paper umbrella as she walks at Piazza di Spagna near the Spanish Steps in Rome.
A tourist protects herself from the sun with a paper umbrella as she walks at Piazza di Spagna near the Spanish Steps in Rome.


Vodafone has had better deals in the past, but lately appears to have downgraded its plan for tourists, now called “Vodafone Holiday” (formerly “Dolce Vita”), to a paltry 2GB for €30. You get a total of 300 minutes of calls and 300 texts to Italian numbers or to your home country; EU roaming costs €3 per day.

Existing Vodafone customers can access the offer by paying €19 – the charge will be made to your Vodafone SIM within 72 hours of activating the deal. 

READ ALSO: MAP: The best Italian villages to visit this year

The Vodafone Holiday offer automatically renews every four weeks for €29 – in order to cancel you’ll need to call a toll-free number. The Vodafone website says that the €30 includes the first renewal, suggesting the payment will cover the first four weeks plus an additional four after that, but you’ll want to double check before buying. You’ll need to go to a store in person to get the card.


TIM is one of Italy’s longest-standing and most well-established network providers, having been founded in 1994 following a merger between several state-owned companies.

The “Tim Tourist” SIM card costs €20 for 15GB of data and 200 minutes of calls within Italy and to 58 foreign countries, and promises “no surprises” when it comes to charges.

You can use the full 15GB when roaming within the EU at no extra charge, and in the EU can use your minutes to call Italian numbers. The deal is non-renewable, so at the end of the 30 days you won’t be charged any additional fees.

READ ALSO: MAP: Which regions of Italy have the most Blue Flag beaches?

To access the offer, you can either buy it directly from a TIM store in Italy, or pre-order using an online form and pay with your bank card. Once you’ve done this, you’ll receive a PIN which you should be able to present at any TIM store on arrival in Italy (along with your ID) to collect your pre-paid card. The card won’t be activated until you pick it up.


Iliad is the newest and one of the most competitive of the four major phone companies operating in Italy, and currently has an offer of 120GBP of €9.99 a month. For this reason, some travel blogs recommend Iliad as the best choice for foreigners – but unfortunately all of their plans appear to require an Italian tax ID, which rules it out as an option for tourists.


Though buying a pre-paid SIM card is a very useful option for visitors spending a decent amount of time in Italy, as mentioned above, there’s a significant different difference between buying a one-time pre-paid SIM versus a monthly plan that auto-renews.

Make sure you know which one you’re signing up for, and that if you choose a plan that will continue charging you after your vacation has ended, you remember to cancel it.

UK contracts

If you have a UK-registered mobile phone, check your plan carefully before travelling. Before Brexit, Brits benefited from the EU cap on roaming charges, but this no longer applies.

Some phone companies have announced the return of roaming charges, while others have not, or only apply roaming charges only on certain contracts.

In short, check before you set off and don’t assume that because you have never been charged extra before, you won’t be this time.