Welcome to Venice,
a place you will never forget. The flair of small canals, morbid facades of ancient palazzi, sipping a coffee or spritz in a remote place, watching Mediterranean life unfold in the alleys, hopping on a boat and discovering the lagoon as well as some islands. Most likely you will fall for the charm of this medieval town of pure romance and beauty.
I wish you a pleasant and unforgettable stay!
Travel light: Venice is a city without roads but with narrow alleys and hundreds of small bridges instead. It is quite fun to watch visitors sweat heaving their far too heavy luggage up and down. But you might not want to be one of those. Why pack everything you might need – Venice is a “normal” town, where people live and purchase their daily needs in town’s stores. There is hardly anything you might not get in town.
Getting around: No streets? No busses? Well, yes and no. The busses are boats in Venice, but since most canals are really narrow the Vaporetto (public bus boat) doesn’t reach everywhere. In fact, it sticks to the Grand Canal, two lines surrounding the Island and some heading to the many islands in the lagoon around town. For details about tickets and lines check the Getting Around section below. All other places, not reached by boats (and that is the vast majority) have to be discovered by foot.
Public toilets: In San Marco area most restaurants and hotels won’t let you step in for toilet usage only! There are a few public toilets around town, single use 1.50 Euro. To much? Obviously for many. But marking house walls cannot be the solution, especially in summer with millions of visitors and nearly no rain. Why not head for a coffee or a glass of wine in the next bar instead and use their toilet?
Bring time and patience: You are heading to Italy, known for its relaxed Mediterranean lifestyle. First: time is very relative over here. Second: pleasant life is far more important than the maximum of profit. So don’t get mad, when a servant needs 15 minutes to serve you (with the bill he will most probably be faster, but not even that is for sure), lean back and enjoy watching Venetian life instead. Don’t complain if things are less efficient or somehow different to your home country. It isn’t your home country.
Take a Guide or Discover Venice on Your Own
This is a really difficult question with answers depending on your preferences. If you are satisfied with just catching the magic of Venice, buy a map and get lost in the alleys. Then you definitely don’t need a guide. But if you want to get most out of it, learn about town’s history as well as about today’s life of Venetians, while being brought to the most beautiful places, then you won’t make it on your own for sure.
If you want to add an unforgettable photography adventure to your trip check out my Private Photo Walk Tours in Venice, where you will not only improve your photography but also shoot great Venice photos while being guided on and off the beaten track. From a quick 3 hours tour over 6 hours up to a full day Master Class anything can be arranged for best suiting your interests and needs.
Eat & Drink
Italy has a wonderful cuisine, unfortunately not easily found in Venice. A main rule as everywhere, the closer you come the hotspots St. Mark’s Square and Rialto the more expensive and of lower quality your meal will be. Step into side alleys, try the small Trattorias and Osterias you hear Italians in. Signs promoting a “tourist menu” are not necessarily an indicator of highest quality.
Seafood dishes and “polenta” as side are always among Venetian’s favorites. But there are lots of other wonderful things with pasta or rice, and also meat.
If you travel on the cheaper side you can watch out for one of the widespread supermarkets (Billa, Coop, Spar) and buy some mortadella, cheese , olives, salami or whatever you prefer and find a bench in a nice campo nearby for a quick lunch.
Staying on the cheap side with your coffee stop means sticking to the bar, even if your feet are tired from walking. An espresso is mostly 1 Euro or less at the bar (al banco) and often 2.50 Euro and more if you take a seat. With “cafe” you order an espresso. Less strong and the equivalent to filter coffee is an “americano”. You often will be given an espresso filled up with hot water then. A “macchiato” is an espresso with a bit of steamed milk, more milk you will have in a “cafe latte”. Whatever you order, you are in Italy and will be provided with the best coffee ever. Guess why Starbucks doesn’t get grip in Italy.
Heading for a quick wine stop now and then in the afternoon is quite popular, again “al banco” (at the bar) will be the cheaper choice. In some places off the beaten track you get away for a small glass of wine with not more than 1 Euro. Last but not least, if you go for a relaxing break, try a glass of the popular “spritz” which is Prosecco mixed with Aperol, with an Olive or a slice of lemon inside. Known since a decade in Venice at last and still the local drink of choice meanwhile this mix has made its way around the world.
Or do you prefer buying a bottle of wine to enjoy in a wonderful hidden campo or at the hotel’s balcony? Keep your eyes open during the day for wine shops with large wine amphoras, a plastic hose sticking to the top. After you made your choice of wine they fill up empty water bottles (no need to bring with you), mostly 1 to 1.5 liter. Prices should be between 2 Euro and 2.50 Euro per liter wine. Don’t expect a 20 years old deluxe wine, but it’s all very tasty table wines. Many Venetians also show up in these places.
Best Travel Season
Best travel seasons for a trip to Venice are spring and late summer, in detail the months of April and May (up to early June) as well as September and October. In autumn and winter fog often dumps Venice into a mystic mood, but also the chance of facing a week of rain in town raises during November, December, and January. Not the first thing you want to experience in your holidays I guess.
The regular flooding (Acqua Alta) in winter on the other hand can be quite fun, if you are prepared with gum boots. At last there are the high peak summer months. Don’t even think of travelling to Venice late June as well as in July and August if you can avoid. Town will be overcrowded, prices for hotels generally double (or more), and the heat will turn your discovery tours through the alleys into a nightmare.
Oh, I forgot to mention Venice Carnival, usually in February or March. During these crazy ten days you will have the summer experience, too, except for the heat. Millions of visitors head into town making the magic of Venice quite difficult to find. But the costumes, you might say. Yes, they are absolutely beautiful!! Just don’t expect any romantic feel.
Arriving by plane means you have to find your way from the airport into town. If you arrive at the low budget airlines airport Treviso your choice is narrowed down to a bus taking you to Venice (6 Euro as far as I know). Most visitors arrive in Marco Polo Airport though, right next to town.
Three options you have to reach city center: bus, large boat (Alilaguna) and Taxi (road or boat).
Bus: This is best and the cheapest option t of transport, taking about 20 to 30 minutes only. Whether you take the public bus (Line No. 5) or the Airport Shuttle (no stops in between) the price stays always 5 Euro. They both start directly in front of the airport building and end in Piazzale Roma in Venice, the end point for road connected transport. There you have to change to a water bus .If you have bought a travel pass including the bus you will have to stick to the public bus. Details on travel passes can be found in the Getting Around section below.
Alilaguna Boat: The boat stop is about a five minutes walk from the airport, just follow the signs. Alilaguna runs several lines and charges you 15 Euro one way, which will be up to an hour ride through the lagoon. Depending on where your hotel is, with the Alilaguna connection you might not have to change transport from bus to boat.
Taxi: On the road side of the airport you will easily find a conventional taxi taking you to Piazzale Roma in Venice. But usually it isn’t necessary, since busses run very regularly. A taxi boat instead you have to book inside the arrival hall at a special counter very easy to find. A trip into town, depending on your destination and route will cost 100-150 Euro.
Highlights of Venice
Venice has plenty of highlights considered not to be missed. But how many of them to visit depends on your time in town as well as on your interests. If you have a quick one day stop, maybe during a cruise, you might just want to catch the magic in the air. On the other hand during a one week stay it was a shame to miss the major highlights. But which ones are really important?
St. Mark’s Square: No matter how short your time in town is, this is the place to head for. See the facades of Dodge’s Palace, Clock Tower and the beautiful St. Mark’s Basilica, see visitors having fun with all these pigeons around, walking the nearby waterfront with gondolas. If you decide to have a coffee in one of the café’s along in the square check the prices before!
St. Mark’s Basilica: No doubt, this church is one of the most beautiful in the world. So much gold you hardly ever see in one place. The problem is, many others know that, too. And in summer it seems like all of them found their way to Venice at the same time. Day for day they return. Entrance is for free. Make sure you lock your bag before queuing. Otherwise you will have the dubious honor of experiencing the long queue twice.
Dodge’s Palace: This palace for the formerly reigning Dodges is definitely worth a visit. If you have time for two buildings only, choose the Basilica and Dodge’s Palace. It is a wise idea to book your tickets online and turn your back on the queue. Taking an audio guide if you are on your own is highly recommended. You will learn a lot not only about the building but also history and the town.
Gondola Ride: The question of all questions in Venice, is a gondola ride worth the money. As far as I know it is between 80 and 120 Euro for about 40 minutes these days. In winter it will be far easier to bargain than in summer, milk and honey time for Gondolieri. Whether recommending nor advising against I’d just say, if you decide to take a ride, try to catch a gondola anywhere but anywhere around St. Mark’s Square. It will be half of the charm if you get stuck in a gondola traffic jam with dozens of others around.
Rialto Bridge: This massive stone bridge was the first one crossing the Grand Canal and it belongs to the most picturesque landmarks in Europe until today. Mostly you will pass through when taking a boat from the bus or train station to St. Mark’s Square, but consider taking half an hour time for it ashore.
Canal Grande: The S-shaped Grand Canal divides Venice in two parts and is the main water route in town. Public water busses, transport boats, water taxis and rowers – in peak times this water street is really busy. It can be great fun sitting at the banks watching the traffic. Also hopping on a Vaporetto (the public water bus) line no. 1 riding up and down Canal Grande passing dozens of beautiful old Palazzi is an unforgettable experience.
Vegetable and Fish Market: Venice’s marketeers love to present their food. To find the stalls with the stapled food most picturesque turn up early before the majority of customers appear. Opening hours are from Monday to Saturday for vegetable and fruit. The fish market around the corner is opened from Tuesday to Saturday. Both will sell between 8am and noon. Around 9-11 am are the busiest hours.
La Fenice: The opera house is of incredible beauty. After the original opera house bunt down in the 18th century La Fenice was famous for its acoustics and built with all imaginable splendor. 1996 La Fenice caught fire again. It took several Years to rebuild it as close as possible to the prior Version. It still misses the patina of history it had before, nonetheless visiting an opera or concert or just stepping in for a quick visit will be an abiding memory.
Alleys and Facades: Here the real magic of Venice unfolds, along Grand Canal and in the back alleys. Along the canal you will be impressed by dozens of magnificent facades of formerly splendid palazzi. If afterwards you might separate from the masses and explore less visited areas of town you can get some insight to nowadays Venetian life. Turn your back on San Marco area and give it a try: get lost in the alleys!
Scuola Grande di San Rocco: This magnificent building is a jewel in Venice. Walls and ceiling inside are painted all over by Tintoretto. Though the Scuola is not to be considered as an “insider tip”, not every Venice traveler makes it over there, since the building is placed somehow off the main visitor’s route.
The Six Sestiere
Venice is divided into six districts, the so-called sestiere, three on the northern side of Canal Grande and three in the south. Each sestiere has its own characteristics and if you know where to put your steps you still find remote places and paths off the beaten track. Yes, there are areas with nearly no other travelers crossing your steps. But will you find them?
Cannaregio: Most visitors limit their exploration of Cannaregio to the ghetto and the shopping street Strada Nova. Then they choose the main path to rush towards Rialto and St. Mark’s Square. Don’t follow the herd! Cannaregio has some of the most beautiful canals of Venice and some of the finest views into the lagoon and on the walls of the cemetery.
San Marco: This is where the mass heads, to. St. Mark’s Square, the waterfront and dozens over dozens of souvenir shops in heavily overcrowded alleys, overpriced restaurants and coffee houses. If you search for a unique Venice experience you might be wrong here. At least don’t waste all day around San Marco. Venice has far more beautiful areas. But as long you are there, watch out for the mostly unseen, small passages to backyards, open doors into stunning old houses. Early morning by the way is a good time for this district, when the other visitors still sleep.
Castello: This is one of my favorite sestiere. Not many visitors make their way to the backyards of this wonderful area. From west to east it rapidly looses its touristic face. Find Venetian life in the alleys, picturesque laundry flapping in the wind above your head, children playing football, the green gardens of Giardini, a wonderful waterfront. Castello is extremely diverse from the large wharf and military area of Arsenale (accessible during the art fair Biennale only) to its gardens or small working class houses. Neighboring St. Elena, housing a small pine tree park as well as the football stadium, is also worth a walk.
San Croce: As soon as you leave the busy area around Piazzale Roma behind you’ll head into some beautiful small places. Nothing really notable on the to do list you will find in this sestiere, but that serves to the charm of this district. Near the port you can find some gondola factories and repairs.
San Polo: With Rialto bridge and the main fish, fruit and vegetable market you have some of the main places of interest in this district. All in all S. Polo, also the former merchants district, is a small but quite busy sestiere. For sightseeing it also houses Scuola Grande di San Rocco (highly recommended if you are into ancient paintings) and the church of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari.
Dorsoduro: This district shows up with many faces. There are the narrow alleys in the center with lots of Venetian life going on. On the south side you have the water shore for a pleasant walk in the evening sun, packed with locals enjoying the first warm sunbeams early in the year. In the west the docks are located and at the eastern end, between Accademia bridge and Punta della Dogana the Peggy Guggenhei Collection and lots of art galleries line up.
Lagoon and the Islands
If you have let’s say three days or more time in town I highly recommend a tour of island hopping in the lagoon to explore the unique character of each. Start with San Michele (Cimitero), head on to Murano, Burano, plan a quick stop on Torcello and then head all around by boat to Lido (you will have to change boats in Punta Sabbioni) and back to the center of Venice. It is a long but lovely day trip. with two days in Venice you might consider a half day trip to Burano.
San Michele (Cimitero): First stop on the way to Murano is the cemetery island. Hop off the boat, and stroll around this beautiful graveyard for half an hour, also housing a few famous people like composer Igor Stravinsky.
Murano: Famous for its glass blowing industry. Along the main alleys you will find shops over shops selling Murano glass, some of it from the island, other imported from China. If you see a factory just step in and watch the masters work.
Burano: Famous for its lace, but in my eyes (sorry, I am a photographer) even more for its beautiful colorful houses. A walk around the island might take about an hour or two. You will love it!
Torcello: This was one of the major settlements in the lagoon long time ago. Now it houses lots of green and some ruins. Don’t miss to step into the small Basilica which is a masterpiece of really fine architecture. Torcello is connected by a shuttle boat from the island Burano.
Lido: In high summer, when the heat turns walking in town into a nightmare, the place to be is the beach of Lido. The island divides the lagoon from the Mediterranean Sea. Most of the beach is reserved by hotels and bars. In the south of the island you will find beaches open to the public. But Lido has far more to show. Watch out for wonderful architecture of luxury hotels from 19th century as well as for the great variety of mansions.
Venice is flooded regularly between about October and March. Don’t worry, neither is the city drowning completely in these occasions nor will flooding last long. None of us would live here if it was dangerous. The opposite is true, it is quite fun if you are not used to it.
Make sure to purchase a pair of gum boots in town if you know of acqua alta appearing. Cheap boots should cost between 10 and 15 Euro. It’s a pity if you have to stick to the walkways put up. If serious flooding is predicted locals wear gum boots up to the waist. Some visitors decide to enjoy the fun barefooted – I would not recommend.
Acqua alta mostly occurs just few hours a day. If you’re not out at the right time you’ll miss it. Or with other words. If you are afraid of getting wet, lean back and enjoy a coffee. The mess will disappear soon. For a very reliable official website with acqua alta forecast click here.
Oh my god, high tides of 85 centimeters? Keep cool. Measure point is sea level. At a level of 85cm first larger puddles in St. Mark’s Square wil appear, since it is the lowest place in town. Rising to about 1m St. Mark’s Square is completely flooded, as neighboring alleys will be. With 110cm and more acqua alta spreads through town. A siren then will warn you two hours ahead.
Best of Biennale is not Biennale itself but Biennale around. What I mean is that Venice has much more to offer during Biennale times than the famous main art exhibition. Don’t miss the best. Nothing to say against the main exhibition parts in Giardini and within the old wharf Arsenale, with traditions reaching back to the year 1895 when the first International Art Exhibition opened its doors. This part is kind of a must itself. But my personal favorite are the countless small exhibitions spread all over town. Just watch out for the official Biennale symbol, follow the signs and step in for free.
If the art itself – all of it extremely contemporary modern – doesn’t attract your attention simply enjoy the buildings the art is shown in, often famous palazzi you would never be allowed to step in otherwise. Have a look to the floor, enjoy the special view out of the windows and from balconies, see stunning ceilings painted or carved. In one word, get an idea how Venetians lived and live.
Orientation: The best Venice maps you will find for about 2 Euro at the “venice connected” counters at the airport, the city entrance (Piazzale Roma), the train station (Ferrovia), Rialto and some places more. It’s the huts where they also sell the tickets for public transport. I highly recommend carrying a map, though it won’t prevent you from getting lost in the alleys at all. But being lost is the best way to explore this town anyway.
Public Transport: Since Venice has no roads there are just two possibilities to get around: By boat (public water bus called Vaporetto) or by foot. Due to the fares you might choose latter in the beginning. But believe me, after a long day of walking through all of these beautiful small alleys, up and down small bridges ending up anywhere bot not where you had planned, you will be glad to hop on a boat in the afternoon. A single ride costing 7 Euro will help you travel quite light on the wallet side quickly. Consider buying one of the various travel passes for 12, 24, 36, 72 hours or for a whole week.
The most used Linea 1 will take you down the canal along the waterfront at St. Mark’s Square up to the island of Lido, taking each stop along. Linea 2 takes the same way, but has less stops. Take care this one is tricky, there is also an express no. 2 stopping even less, from St. Mark’s square there are two vaporetto linea 2, one taking you up the Grand Canal (leaving at San Marco Vallaresso) and another taking a way though Giudecca Canal (leaving San Marco San Zaccaria).
The services 4.1, 5.1, 4.2 and 5.2 will take you once around the island. The dot one and dot two indicate the direction of circling.
Travel Passes: If you stay in town longer than a day make sure to buy a three-day or one week travel card for transportation, it will pay off quickly. With these cards you also won’t be conflicted with quickly hopping on a boat to reach your next shot in time or not. You can buy these time passes after arrival – or avoid the hassle and buy your ticket online in advance at the website of VeniceConnected, picking it up with an activation code at the widespread ticket machines, right at the airport or at the main waterbus stops in town.
Taxis: In Venice taxis operate on the water. The costs for being taken around by a taxi will be at least as exclusive as the adventure itself.
As in any places of the world you will be welcomed more likely if you try to express yourself in local language. You don’t have to learn the language, but a few phrases might help to get a warmer response. The greatest problem in pronouncing will be the rolling “r” in Italian, but everybody will understand you with the English version of it, too).
hello: buon giorno (pronounced en: buon gor-no) – Used all over the day until late afternoon, in the evening it changes to buona sera (en: buona sera).
goodbye: ciao (british en: chaow) – Often this phrase is also used to say hello, in Venice in the meaning of hello it is kind of reserved to people you know.
please: per favore (en: per fa-vo-re)
thank you: grazie (en: graa-tsee-e)
you’re welcome: prego (en: brego)
yes: si (en: see)
no: no (en: no)
where is St. Mark’s Quare: dov’é piazza San Marco… (en: dov a pee-azza San Marko)
the bill, please: il conto, per favore (il konto per fa-vo-re)
coffee: caffé (american en: kaffa) Translation seems obvious, but it’s a bit tricky. A caffé is an espresso, more a shot of coffee. How to order other kinds of coffee is noted in the Eat & Drink section above). If you order a coffee you would say “un caffé per favore” (one coffee please)
A good pair of walking shoes
Camera (expect pure beauty simply everywhere)
Ear plugs (some places can be noisy in summer months)
Mosquito repellent (except winter)
Credit Card (Venice is anything but a budget travel destination)