Venice is one of the most popular tourist spots in Italy and while it is well equipped for visitors, I think these tips will help you make the most out of your trip.
I’m just back from beautiful Venice, the magic city on the water, and I thought I’d share with you some tips that I think would come in handy when planning a trip there. So, read on and start packing!
1. Choose your accommodation wisely
I read a lot about staying in Mestre to save money and then travel every day to Venice by bus or train. However, I personally suggest staying on the actual island of Venice to really enjoy the city to the fullest.
I stayed at Hotel Lisbona, which proved to be an excellent choice thanks to the unbeatable location (right behind St Mark’s Square, overlooking a canal with gondolas), the cozy and clean rooms, the excellent prices (ok, perhaps it’s not high season but I paid less than 70 euros per night, including breakfast!) and the super friendly staff. You can check prices and availability on Booking.com.
2. Pack light and wear comfy shoes
This point is particularly relevant to my fellow female travelers. Venice is not easy on the feet. There are no cars, so you’ll either walk (a lot) or stand on a boat. Leave your fancy heels at home and bring flats and sneakers instead, your feet will thank you for that.
Try to pack light, because even if you take a Vaporetto or water taxi to your hotel, you’ll likely have some walking to do to reach your final destination. And I’m sure you won’t find any delight in dragging a piece of big luggage up and down bridges and stairs.
Also, don’t forget to pack a reusable bottle, as there are many fountains throughout the city and this will save you some money on drinks. Check out this cool map called Fuorirotta that indicates, among other things, all the fountains.
3. Wake up early to beat the crowds
I know, when the alarm starts ringing at the crack of dawn it’s easy to keep the eyes shut, but believe me, it’s well worth dealing with that. Seriously, if you want to admire St Mark’s Square and take pictures without the hordes of souvenir stalls and selfie stick–wielding tourists, then you have to start your exploration well before 8:00 am.
This is the oldest trick in the traveler’s book but also the most effective since you’ll be pretty sure to have normally bustling parts of Venice all to yourself. You’ll experience a completely different side of Venice and the difference will likely shock you! There’s nothing more enchanting than wandering around its calli (streets) and admiring its famous sights surrounded by the soft morning light.
4. Venture beyond the main tourist areas
When crowds start filling the major sights, it’s time to venture to some lesser-known spots in Venice. Some of my favourite include the Jewish Ghetto in Cannaregio, which is still home to Venice’s Jewish community, the Dorsoduro neighborhood, blessed with some of the prettiest campi (squares) and charming little corners, and the Castello district, which is physically close to San Marco but feels like a world away.
Oh, and make sure to visit the island of Giudecca, where many Venetians still live and where you can find beautiful treasures and a relaxed atmosphere. On Thursday mornings there is a market pretty famous among locals, where you can buy the products from the vegetable garden of the female jail located inside the former Convent of the Convertite.
5. Eat like a local
Please, stay away from those restaurants where waiters call people inside and menus display big pictures of the food. Most of the time these are pure tourist traps, totally overpriced and with hardly any authentic local food.
Although they may seem hard to find these days, there are still genuine places where you can sample the traditional Venetian dishes. These include Rosticceria Gislon, a Venetian institution located in a hidden corner near the Rialto bridge, Osteria alla Frasca, located in one of those idyllic squares away from the hustle and bustle of St. Mark, and Osteria alla Vedova, with its legendary polpette (meatballs). Also, you can’t leave Venice without trying cicchetti, small bits of food accompanied by spritz or wine, in places like Osteria al Squero or Cantina Do Mori.
6. Stay away from the cafes in St Mark’s Square
If you are on a strict budget stay away from the cafes and restaurants in St. Mark’s Square, they are just ridiculously expensive. A simple coffee could cost you 6-7 euros and if you sit at one of those bars with live music at night, you’ll likely have to pay a surcharge. I enjoyed the music while strolling around the square, taking in the beautiful views (all for free!).
7. Take a local boat instead of a gondola
A gondola ride is perhaps the quintessential Venice experience, but it’s quite pricey: 80 euros for 30 minutes, which becomes 100 euros at night. Now, if you are tight on budget and you can’t find other people to split the cost with, don’t worry – there is always a plan B! You can still experience a gondola ride by taking a local ferry, which is essentially a shared gondola-like boat service used by locals to cross the canal (they cost just 2 euros one-way).
You’ll find these boats along the canal, away from bridges and Vaporetto stops. For example, a good place is near the church of Santa Maria del Giglio.
8. Enjoy a cruise on the Grand Canal
Vaporetto no. 1 sails along the Grand Canal and offers amazing views of the stunning palazzi that line both sides of the canal and it even goes under the Rialto bridge. I suggest to catch the Vaporetto at Piazzale Roma and get off at San Zaccaria (near St. Mark’s Square, it’s a 45-minute ride).
To avoid the crowds, do this early morning or at night time, when Venice is all lit up – it’s pure magic! Try to find a spot outside, grab your camera and prepare to stand in awe at the views in front of you! Check out the Vaporetto no. 1 timetable, the single ticket costs 7.50 euros, while the day ticket is 20 euros.
9. Go island-hopping and do it independently
When planning your trip to Venice, make sure to set aside one day to explore the beautiful islands of the lagoon. With their super colorful houses and charming little canals, they are a true photographer’s paradise! You don’t need to book an organized excursion, because you can easily visit all the islands by yourself. All you need is a Vaporetto day ticket (it costs 20 euros) and the timetable of the Vaporetto lines.
Get up early and catch the 8:40 am Vaporetto number 12 from Fondamenta Nove to Murano and then use the same line to reach Burano. From Burano you can then go to Torcello (about 10 minutes with Vaporetto number 9) and San Francesco del Deserto, a tiny island inhabited by a Franciscan community – trust me, it’s a hidden gem not to be missed (it can be reached with Lagunaflaline from Burano in about 15 minutes). From Burano you can head back to Venice with Vaporetto number 14, which takes a bit longer but it’s a great cruise around the lagoon before reaching St. Mark.
I know it seems a lot but trust me, it’s perfectly doable and makes for a fantastic escape from the crowds of Venice.
10. Avoid shopping for souvenirs at tourist stalls
This kind of goes without saying in pretty much any big city nowadays, but it’s particularly important in Venice. Sadly, the island is full of terrible souvenir stalls and shops selling items made in China and passed off as “Made in Italy”. I know the cheap prices are alluring, but please think twice before buying from them and sustain local artisans instead.
You can still find some amazing Venetian artisans making their own unique creations. They will be special and authentic items to bring home with you. Some of my favorite include the super cute paper jewels designed by Paperwool , the fine printings of Plum Plum Creations, the bags in recycled PVC realized by Malefatte Venezia and the incredible Venetian carnival masks of Ca’ Macana Atelier.
11. Visit off season
Venice is a fantastic city break destination all year round, with each season having a different appeal. However, I think that September – October, and May – June are perhaps the best times for a trip to Venice.
I was in Venice just a few days ago and I’m not gonna lie, it was hot, humid and crowded. Also, some sights may be closed for holidays at this time of the year. I thoroughly enjoyed it, but next time I’ll probably choose spring or autumn.
Winter is considered low season, so it could be a good time to visit Venice, although the weather can be really miserable and you wouldn’t be able to really enjoy the city, nor the small islands of the lagoon. February is the month of the famous Carnival celebrations but personally I wouldn’t plan my first trip to Venice in that period – the city is likely to be overcrowded and you would end up pushing between thousands of people.
Do you have any other tips that pop into your head? Feel free to share them in the comments below, I’d love to read your thoughts about Venice!
Until next time,
Thanks for the tips, Val! I’m hoping to do a long weekend in Venice before the year is up and will be referring to this tips before my visit.
That’s fantastic Chelsea, I’m sure you’ll love Venice!