Venice is a city unlike any other. It’s captivating, intriguing and more surreal than you could imagine. With narrow, crumbling streets and canals where streets should be, no wonder it’s still one of the most-visited cities in Italy.
That said, no matter how often you’ve seen it in films and photos, or how much you’ve read up on it, some aspects can still be confusing! So if you’re heading to Italy, here are 10 Venice travel tips to know before you go!
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Essential Venice Travel Tips
Here are some travel tips to help you enjoy your trip to Venice (Venezia).
1. It’s Normal to Get Lost in Venice. So Wander Around the City and Don’t Be Afraid to GET LOST
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This is one of the most important Venice travel tips. Venice is unusually confusing, with its labyrinth of narrow, medieval streets, meandering canals and small bridges. That is part of its charm, and the sooner you accept the fact that you will be lost and confused, the less stressed you’ll be.
There’s nothing better than being lost in such a mysteriously alluring city. So wander around the twists, turns and dead ends, and get utterly and thoroughly lost. Seriously. You’ll soon realize that getting lost in those narrow alleyways can be a delightful experience and that that’s a quintessential part of touring Venice. Unless, that is, you want to get to places and see sites in a limited amount of time.
After all, being lost is an indication that you’ve eluded the tourist crowds. And although you might not come across all the landmarks, churches and artwork you’d set out to see, you may end up discovering a quirky little shop that sells colorful Murano glass. Or you may stumble upon a bacaro (a traditional wine bar), where you partake in the Venetian tradition of sampling regional wines and delicious cicchetti (bite-size snacks). The probability for such chance encounters increases when you’re lost and you’ll get to see the most interesting parts of the city this way.
Remember that Venice is built on islands—it’s self-contained—so you can’t wander so far that you’ll never get back again. Just ask someone how to get back to whatever major landmark is close to your hotel and sooner or later, you will back on familiar ground.
2. Finding Your Hotel
It’s crucial to have precise directions for arrival including the address, the sestiere (neighborhood) and preferably a nearby landmark. Even though you decide to take a vaporetto (water taxi), you may still have to walk some distance to your hotel, depending on where the boat leaves you. Venice’s streets can be quite confusing (even if you have a GPS); turn-by-turn directions can prevent you from meandering back and forth along side streets, in the narrow alleyways, and across bridges, while lugging your travel bags.
3. Make the Most of Your Time
Most visitors will want to take the vaporetto (water bus) down the Grand Canal to Piazza San Marco, see the piazza and the basilica, and walk up to the Rialto and back to the station. You will want to make this circuit, too, but do so in the early morning, before most tourists have finished their breakfast cappuccinos. Also, choose weekdays, instead of weekends, to visit the city.
Photo Credit: en.wikipedia.org
Away from San Marco and the Rialto, the streets and quays of Venice’s beautiful medieval and Renaissance residential districts and important artistic monuments receive only a moderate amount of traffic. Even on weekends you probably won’t have to queue up to get into the Accademia museum.
Venice proper is quite compact, and you should be able to walk across it in a couple of hours. The water buses will save wear and tear on tired feet but won’t always save you much time.
4. Have a Great Itinerary, BUT…You Must Be Patient
This travel tip is related to one of the other Venice travel tips—don’t be afraid to get lost. Venice itself may be compact, but it requires time. If you’re looking to check things off a list in a limited amount of time, or have a set agenda, then consider taking a tour. A guide can be an excellent resource for giving insider’s tips and for getting you from point A to point B. Because while Venice is an amazing city to wander about and explore, the fact that you’ll get lost even when you’re already lost may be frustrating. You certainly won’t enjoy your vacation and it may ruin your experience.
The best way to experience Venice is to have as much free time as possible, be patient, and enjoy being lost. This is considerably easier to do if you aren’t trying to run from church to church or museum to museum, or maintain a set itinerary.
That being said, the first thing you will probably want to do in Venice is to take a vaporetto ride down the Grand Canal and see the Piazza San Marco. When you do go to Piazza San Marco, you must check out Basilica di San Marco, The Doge’s Palace, and the Torre dell Orlogio (the clock tower). They played important roles in Venetian history and they’re famous landmarks/tourist attractions for a reason: they’re simply stunning!!
From there, make your way to the Galleria dell’Accademia and spend a few hours taking in its wonderful collection of Venetian paintings. If you want to see more Venetian paintings, visit churches and institutions, such as Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo and Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni. If your taste runs to more-modern art, there is the Guggenheim Collection and, down the street from it, the Pinault collection in the impressively restored Punta della Dogana.
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Don’t forget to check out one or more of the outer islands—the perfect day trip from Venice. Catch a vaporetto to Murano, where you can shop for Venetian glass and visit the glass museum and workshops; Torcello, Venice’s first inhabited island, home to a beautiful cathedral; and Burano, the cheeriest little island, known for lace making and colorful houses. If you have time to spare in Venice, you should add them to your must-see list!
5. Go to Rialto Bridge Early in the Morning. Stroll Piazza San Marco in the Evening
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The Rialto Bridge and Piazza San Marco are simply unforgettable and are among the most beautiful sights in Venice. Unfortunately, they are usually congested with tourists (and pick-pockets) during the day. You’re better off seeing them in the morning, preferably before 8:30AM to dodge rush hour on the vaporetto. If you really dislike crowds, stay for no more than an hour—take some pictures, have a coffee or an aperitif, even buy a souvenir, and then move along.
Visit Piazza San Marco in the evening, around sunset, when most tourists have left. It’s a great time to stroll along the waterfront and appreciate the dark blue sky set against the amazing architecture of the Doge’s palace.
6. Take the Vaporetto!
Photo Credit: en.venezia.net
Most people are surprised to learn that Venice has no cars, motorcycles or roadways. Between the Grand Canal and the countless narrow, maze-like alleys and piazzas, they are of no use. That means by far the best way to get around the city and a fantastic way to see the magnificent palazzos lining the Grand Canal is by boat, specifically the vaporetto—Venice’s primary public transportation, the water bus.
A ride on the vaporetto is one of the most remarkable experiences of the city and it’s quite easy to figure out how to use. Just pick up a map of the vaporetto system. They’re conveniently located at the main tourist information spot in front of the main station. Line information is also posted at each landing. Tickets are available at the main vaporetto stops and at some tobacconists. A single ticket costs €7 and is good for 60 minutes each way; a ticket to take the vaporetto one stop along the Grand Canal is €4. If you board without a valid ticket, ask to buy one immediately to avoid a fine of €59.
7. All Those Vaporettos are Expensive
The most economical way to move around Venice is, simply, to walk. But sometimes you get tired and your feet just can’t take it anymore. Also, part of Venice’s charm is the way in which it’s just like any other city…except that there are canals instead of streets, and boats instead of buses and trains.
The dilemma is that the vaporetto system can be quite costly. Don’t fret though. You won’t use the boats in Venice as much as you would use the bus or metro elsewhere. Andthis is because so much of Venice’s charm (including most of its hotels and restaurants) is found in the narrow alleyways and piazzas—places that the vaporettos usually don’t go.
To save some money, consider purchasing the TRAVELCARD. It’s offered in timed tickets (from 12 hours to 7 days) that offer unlimited travel. Though a bit costly, they afford you the convenience and freedom of going on the vaporetto whenever you like. You can take it for only one stop, or you can take it simply for sightseeing on the boat, especially along the Grand Canal.
8. Wear Comfortable Shoes
This is one of those Venice travel tips that sort of go without saying, especially in a city where there are NO cars or motorcycles, just boats and narrow alleyways. As a tourist, you’ll be either on a boat or on foot. And if you don’t walk as much as you can each day, you’re missing out on quintessential Venice and are cheating yourself.
9. If You Want to Eat Like a Venetian, Have Some Restaurants in Mind Ahead of Time
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Food in Venice, as in the rest of Italy, can be very expensive, especially in touristy areas. If you would like to experience local, authentic and inexpensive cuisine, then you need to have a plan—with at least a few places in mind. Find places that are on bizarre alleyways that serve up local dishes (seafood, risotto, etc.) and which most of the patrons are Italian. You could also ask your hotel concierge where he/she eats and go over there.
Another option is going to a local grocery and stocking up on some arugula, Parmesan, prosciutto and chocolate and enjoying a picnic. This option can save you a significant amount of money and time, though it can be a little tricky finding a grocery store in Venice.
10. Sitting Down At a Café in Venice Costs More Than Anywhere Else in Italy
This is one of the most outlandish Venice travel tips and you may be aware of it already: Anywhere in Italy, if you sit down at a café or bar, the price goes up. For the same exact order eaten standing at the counter, the price is lower. (That’s why you’ll see so many Italians eating at the counter).
In Venice, though, your bill can be three to four times more expensive than what you would pay for standing. If you decide to take a seat at a café at a major tourist site, like the Piazza San Marco, your bill will be even more costly! Some cafés also add a considerable surcharge onto the bill for “listening to the band” that they have playing at the tables. To avoid these kinds of charges, or the stress of worrying about them, it’s advisable to refrain from eating in touristy areas—and to always take your coffee at the counter.