Ahhhhhh Venice. Other than my wife, dogs, and wine – I think Venice is the other great love of my life. The grandeur and romanticism of it is very overwhelming. The irony of it is that we heard so many negative things about it when we were planning our trip to Italy that we almost didn’t go. We heard everything from “it’s a tourist trap” to “smelly” (which it absolutely is NOT smelly.) We couldn’t be more thankful that we didn’t listen to anyone and added it on to the end of our trip. Those who DO love it gush with such joy and adoration, that we finally understood it was one of those cities whose beauty was left to the eye of the beholder. A lot of the experience is also shaped by how much you know in advance before going.
So with that in mind and my desire to make everyone LOVE Venice as much as we do – I’ve compiled a list to help the weary traveler make the best of their Venetian trip so that you too may be romanced, seduced and enchanted by one of the world’s most spectacular cities.
1) Stay in Venice proper:
A lot of travel tips will tell you to stay outside of Venice because it is less expensive, and they’re exactly right. However, when you do that you miss the time of day when Venice really comes to life which is at night. After the thousands of tourists go back to their cruise ships or take the trains back to other nearby cities, you are left with a wide-open wonderland of history, majestically lit buildings, quiet restaurants, splashing water and classical music concerts in Piazza San Marco. It is at this time when you can spaciously roam the romantic waterways and bridges that Marco Polo, Vivaldi, Giovanni Bellini and Veronica Franco once walked (and occasionally hear a mandolin or the faint whisper of opera being played in the background.)
A Vaporetto is an open air, water bus utilized by most people in Venice. The reason why this is important to note is because when you step off the train and onto the platform near the water, you will be mesmerized by the beautiful, private boats (AKA “Water Taxis”) that will want to woo you and take you to your hotel. While this might be a tempting offer and even misleading because of the use of the word “taxi”, it is also extremely expensive for the person looking to steer clear of the luxury service prices. You can get a 2-3 day bus pass for the Vaporetti for only 20-40€ whereas you will spend nearly $75€ or more for a one-way trip in a “water taxi.”
Also, one of the best things about a Vaporetto is to catch one at the beginning of the Grand Canal and ride it all the way through to the end. It is here that you will get the most spectacular view of Venice from the water. We did this twice while we were there both during the day and night. It was fantastic! Many people do it so you will be in good company with other tourists who sometimes even bring wine and snacks with them while they sit in the front of the boat and take photos.
* Note on the Vaporetti: You can technically board one without a pass, but if you’re spot checked by the attendant you could face up to hundreds of dollars in fines. If for any reason you get confused about where to buy a pass, just board the boat and notify the attendant to purchase one on the spot. Don’t let him/her find you first, or you’ll be in a pickle.
3) Eat like a Venetian:
What many people may or may not realize is that Italy’s different regions have their own food and culture. Venice is not the place to order the world’s greatest pizza because pizza is more specific to southern Italy. Instead, stick to what Venice is known for which is the world’s best seafood! Find a local restaurant whose menu isn’t translated into multiple languages (that screams TOURIST TRAP), and avoid places that have someone standing outside trying to lure you in. You will be guaranteed a much more authentic experience the further off the beaten path you go.
4) When going to cafes/bars for wine or coffee, don’t sit at a table:
Not unless you want to be charged a million dollars for an espresso. Ok, so that was a little exaggeration, although it feels like that when you’re traveling on a budget. Unless your feet are just killing you, when going to a “bar” for a coffee or a glass of wine – do it standing like the locals do. Also keep in mind that the further away you are from tourist traps, the less prevalent this is. It’s always good to inquire and understand what you’re going to be charged for first before making yourself at home at a table.
5) Enjoy a Venetian “Spritz”:
Oh yessssss! Treat yourself to a “spritz” – the beloved staple drink of Venice during aperitivo hour (which is our version of ‘happy hour’.) This bright orange, alluring drink is made up of Prosecco (Italy’s famous sparkling wine), Aperol or Campari (your choice), soda water, and garnished with olives and occasionally an orange slice. While the combination of salty and sweet seems a little out of character – it is one of the most delicious drinks in town. And if you decide to actually sit at a cafe and order one, be prepared to be served accompaniments such as bowls of peanuts and pretzels. It’s a meal unto itself. I still dream about this drink as I have found few local restaurants that make the perfect version.
Another travel tip I see often is people saying to skip the gondolas because they’re over priced for nothing more than a short boat ride. I say to those people, “ARE YOU KIDDING ME?” Who goes to Venice and doesn’t want to ride a gondola at least once?! Hahaha. Let’s face it – it’s a bucket list item for most people. So the important thing is to know what to expect.
Gondolas are a highly regulated industry in Venice, and it is an honor for anyone to be selected as a gondolier. Because of this, you don’t normally run into too many “scams” when it comes to the gondola rides. The fees are city regulated and at the time of our trip, were 75€ per ride for 20 mins. If you run into someone looking like a gondolier and they are messing around with you about the price – know that more likely than not the person isn’t a legit, city employed gondolier. You should also catch a gondola at an official dock in order to avoid these situations.
There are different gondolier docks (stations) just like there are Vaporetti stations so before you commit to taking a ride, walk the islands to find which one you really want to take first. Terri and I took ours near the Rialto bridge and while we loved every minute of it, we later saw another station near San Marco square that we wish we would have done instead because of the views. At 75€ per pop, you want to get it right the first time as to not spend excess money.
7) Don’t feel pressured to stay near San Marco:
While this is the most major tourist attraction in Venice, don’t feel pressured to stay there because you’ll be paying top dollar. Those hotels in that district are some of the most expensive but in all honesty, Venice really isn’t that big! It’s misleading to look at on a map, but the fact of the matter is that everything is within walking distance. Do yourself (and your wallet) a favor and stay either close by or in an area that is centrally located. Here’s a great guide to the six districts (called ‘sestieri’) from Frommer’s. Each has is it’s own flair so choose the one that’s right for you and within your budget.
8) Drop in at the Hotel Danieli for an evening cocktail:
Terri and I were like two starstruck, teenage girls when we went to the Danieli. Anyone who has ever seen the movie The Tourist will know this hotel because it’s where Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp filmed.
The Hotel Danieli is one of the most famous 5-star hotels in the world and is located on the Grand Canal near St. Mark’s and the Doge’s Palace. Everyone from royalty, prime ministers, celebrities and world famous artists have stayed there. It might cost you your first born child to book a room, but you can still tour the lobby and relax at the bar for a drink. The staff is insanely friendly and doesn’t mind if you walk around and take photos.
PS. This photo is from their website. It is exponentially better than what I took with my iPhone!
9) Remember that Venice is one of the most visited cities in the world:
With over 300 million visitors per year, she takes a bit of a beating. Just like many other major tourist cities you will run into some graffiti, a little trash, clogged lines at tourist attractions such as St. Mark’s, and a lot of street vendors looking to sell you knick knacks you don’t need. This is true for any place and beautiful Venice is no different.
10) Look into purchasing a City Pass:
If you REALLY want to plan in advance, consider purchasing a Venezia Unica Card. You can go to their website or visit a kiosk when you get there and custom create a city pass for yourself which includes pre-purchasing entry into various museums, bus passes, wi-fi throughout the entire city, etc. all at a discounted rate. We did the same thing with the Firenze Card when we were in Florence and it was pretty sweet. If we would have been in Venice for a few days longer, we would have done this as well.
So there you have it! We hope your trip to Venice is as memorable and spectacular as ours was!
If you’re interested in other great resources for Venice, check out these travel sites with other helpful tips.
Cheers and Ciao!