My weekend in the little-visited twin of Venice, 24 kilometers away on the other side of the lagoon

Tell someone in Chioggia that his or her hometown is a kind of “Little Venice” and you will get the following answer.

“Little Venice?” they will say mockingly indignantly. “Venice is more like a Little Chioggia.”

Chioggia (pronounced “kee-oh-dja”) is a small fishing village on the southern side of the Venetian Lagoon. While the comparisons to Venice are partly due to proximity, they are also due to the fact that, captured in the right light, from a certain angle, Chioggia can bear a striking resemblance to its famous neighbor.

Searching for similar places, or “dupes,” is a rising travel trend. According to a 2023 industry report from Expedia, tourists are increasingly looking for quieter but comparable alternatives to popular vacation spots. Utrecht instead of Amsterdam, Girona instead of Barcelona. That kind of thing.

But what if you take it a step further? With Chioggia, I felt like I had stumbled upon the dupe to end all dupes. Even my most well-traveled colleagues had never heard of it. So I booked a stay based on appearance. The question was whether there was substance behind the aesthetic similarities, or whether appearances can be deceiving.

The Canal Vena in Chioggia

The population of Chioggia is about one fifth of that of Venice.

First impressions suggested the latter might be the case. I took the bus to Chioggia and arrived on a quiet road on the edge of town, lined with post-war apartments with wind-swept exteriors. A man was arguing with his fat dog as if he was getting money from him, so I walked the other way, afraid that I was the one who had been ripped off.

At the Hotel Grande Italia, my base for the next two nights, I asked the receptionist where she could recommend for dinner. She looked out the window, winced, and pulled out a tourist map, marking off a few restaurants in that spidery, reverse calligraphy unique to European receptionists.

“These are good, but it’s raining, so are they open?” Her shrug didn’t give me much hope. When she handed me the map, I saw that there were only three canals in Chioggia. On the other side was a map of Venice, with 150 canals.

The history of Chioggia and Venice is similarly intertwined. The first mentions of the former date from around the 6th century AD, when it was part of the Byzantine Empire. The city’s population grew along with the flourishing industries of fishing, agriculture (the Chioggia radish is a point of local pride), salt trade and textiles. Chioggia was long contested by Venice and Genoa, and eventually became subordinate to Venice after the Naval War of Chioggia (1378-81).

Once the rain had stopped, I set out to explore the area, starting at Ponte Vigo, a beautiful bridge at the entrance to the city, made of white Istrian stone. The bridge, like a miniature Rialto, offers views north across the lagoon, but I was more drawn to what lay to the south: the Canal Vena, the Grand Canal of Chioggia, which runs the length of the city.

The Ponte Vigo bridge is located in the historic center of the city of ChioggiaThe Ponte Vigo bridge is located in the historic center of the city of Chioggia

The Ponte Vigo bridge is like a miniature version of Venice’s famous Rialto Bridge (below) – iStockphoto

Rialto Bridge in VeniceRialto Bridge in Venice

Rialto Bridge in Venice – iStockphoto

Along the canal I saw motorized fishing boats tied to old wooden pilings, with a number of footbridges crossing the waterway and leading to shady spots. calli (alleys) where colorful clothes were hung to dry on balconies. From these nine bridges you can capture “that” view, the Venetian impression of pastel-colored buildings reflected in the water, with a Romanesque bell tower in the background. So I did and sent it to a friend. “Guess where I am?” I asked.

Opposite the fish market there was a free table outside La Chic Chetteria, one of many bacari along the canal, where I ordered a selection of excellent seafood sluts (Venetian tapas) and a beer. A moment of peace, impossible to capture in the centre of Venice, was interrupted when three men started a boat whose engine appeared to have terminal lung disease. The waitress shouted something to the man at the helm, who grinned back, a cigarette between his lips, before zooming out onto the canal.

“Who were those guys?” I asked.

“Pirates,” she said. “Illegal fishermen.”

The more time I spent in Chioggia, the more I learned that this everyday, combative spirit is part of the city’s identity. In fact, the Chioggiotti are proud to say that they “Where” – earthy, a little rough – compared to the frivolous, high-society sensibilities of their northern neighbors. Many of the old buildings along the Canal Vena crumbled into the water, giving the impression of a city battered by time, rather than deformed.

Close-up of laundry drying on an old facade design, ChioggiaClose-up of laundry drying on an old facade design, Chioggia

Chioggia offers all the rustic, sun-drenched splendor of Venice, but at a much more reasonable price – Getty

I asked Roberta Boscolo, who grew up in Chioggia and has also lived in Venice, what characterizes the city.

“Chioggia is authentic,” she replied. Whether or not she found Venice “authentic” remained unsaid.

Venetians, for their part, have long mocked the Chioggiotti, going back to Venetian playwright Carlo Goldoni, who depicted them as quarrelsome simpletons with a penchant for quarrels. And the teasing continues. Today, Venetians call Chioggia’s emblem, the Lion of St. Mark, which stands on a column in Piazza Vena, “the Ciòsa cat” (the cat of Chioggia) because of its small size.

The Chioggiotti take this in good humor. El Gato? The cat was designed to be small to undermine the authority of their Venetian rulers, they say. And as for that Goldoni play? It is performed in Chioggia every year for the first five days of August and is always sold out.

As I wandered along Chioggia’s wide central boulevard, Corso del Popolo, I got the sense that it was a city where tourism had been at a low ebb. As I entered a dark souvenir shop, the shopkeeper walked slowly to the corner of the room to turn on the light. I left with two Murano glasses, about half the price of what you’d find in Venice, which he packed in an old shoebox. Later that evening, at dinner, a street vendor ignored all the other diners, who were Italian, and tried to sell me a plastic flower before realizing I was alone.

Fishing boats and old buildings in the old town of ChioggiaFishing boats and old buildings in the old town of Chioggia

Fishing boats and old buildings in the old town of Chioggia – iStockphoto

But change is afoot. In 2021, Venice banned large cruise ships from docking in the historic center, and some now stop in Chioggia instead, including a Viking ship with a crew of 930. It’s a big change for the city. People used to visit Chioggia as part of a Lagoon tour, or perhaps as a day trip from the nearby Sottomarina beach resort, but now it’s accidentally become a destination in its own right.

Silvia Vianello, a resident of Chioggia, tells me that the introduction of cruise ships has been good so far. “Tourism has revived many businesses and shops that were on the verge of closing after the Covid pandemic, with new shops, restaurants and support services springing up,” she says. The wider tourism economy is also booming – some of those crumbling buildings are being bought up and converted into B&Bs.

“Showcasing our city is a source of great pride. We strive to ensure that visitors not only appreciate its beauty, but also understand its fragility,” says Vianello.

Towards the end of my stay in Chioggia, a bell tower chimed to signal aperitivo time, so I found a spot on the terrace of Bar Bellini and ordered an Aperol spritz. It was served blood red, with a small ham sandwich that the local pigeons claimed as their own, much to the amusement of the post-work rabble who were already on their second or third spritz. I checked my phone and saw that my friend had swallowed the bait.

“Venice?” they asked.

“Not far,” I replied. Although, apart from the occasional aesthetic similarities, Chioggia feels worlds apart. A city of fine art, gondoliers, majestic architecture, it is not. What you get instead is a glimpse of an unpretentious side of Italy, where tourism remains a force for good, where the fish is sold fresh and the Aperol is served strong—which is illuminating in its own way.

Writer Greg Dickinson enjoys an aperitif at Bar BelliniWriter Greg Dickinson enjoys an aperitif at Bar Bellini

Writer Greg Dickinson enjoys an aperitif at Bar Bellini – Greg Dickinson

Where to eat

One of my favorite places was Bella Venezia (, a traditional restaurant with white tablecloths on a street from Corso del Popolo. Try the langoustine and saffron tortellini, or the pan-fried tuna with fried potatoes. The fan favourite, however, is El Gato (, which sources the freshest seafood from the daily market around the corner. There are decent pizzerias all over town, but be warned that you’ll struggle to find one open between 2.15pm and 7pm.

Where to stay

With its sea views and prime location, the Hotel Grande Italia ( is Chioggia’s only four-star hotel. With its marble floors and high ceilings, there’s an air of faded grandeur to the place, but room rates are reasonable compared with what you’d pay at a similar complex across the lagoon. Another option is Basta Bussare (, a B&B with three modern rooms in a prime location.

What to see

There are a number of churches to visit in Chioggia, including the imposing Basilica minore di San Giacomo Apostolo, with a beautiful fresco depicting the martyrdom and glorification of St. James, and the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, a beautiful example of Baroque architecture. Chioggia’s biggest claim to fame is probably the mechanical clock on the Torre di Sant’Andrea, which some say is the oldest working clock in the world, dating back to 1386.

The Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, ChioggiaThe Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, Chioggia

The Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, Chioggia – iStockphoto

If you are in Chioggia on a Thursday, you can experience El Zioba, the weekly market, one of the largest in the Veneto and good for souvenirs, flowers and fresh fruit. If you miss it, there are plenty of craft shops in the main shopping arcade of Corso del Popolo, selling traditional souvenirs such as delicate lace or “chioggiotte” terracotta pipes.

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