Venice. Millions visit the city of romance every year. With crowded streets, low-quality food and foot blisters, the romance can quickly fizzle. Don’t get caught in the tourist trap!
Before my own spring trip, I read a variety of sites that gave various do’s and don’ts, and we still ended up with our share of trial and error experiences on this small island. I’ve compiled a list of tips on how to best enjoy your stay.
- To the Island
Located off the Italian mainland, you can visit Venice by boat, car, train or bus. If you drive a vehicle over the bridge into the island, anticipate a potential 30 minute (or more) wait time to get into the Piazzale Roma parking ramps. Yes, we were one of the many who waited in it. The parking wasn’t cheap, and we were asked to leave our keys with the attendant (insert nervous face). There are no driving roads in Venice! Read Europe for Visitor’s tips on transportation into the city.
- Into the Heart of the City
Once you’re in Venice, you have a few options to get to your hotel, host’s housing or apartment rental. Hoof it, take a water bus or take a water taxi.
- The city’s main square Piazza San Marco can take over 30 minutes to walk to (if you don’t get lost) from the city’sentrance. If you intend to walk, print a map before you go. If you’re staying at a hotel, visit their site for directions. Picture sweating as you walk in the humid air while carrying a suitcase half your size up bridge stairways with your loved one. It doesn’t exactly match the picture you had of the two of you snuggling in the back of a gondola, does it? How do I know this? We determined that we were a frugal and fit couple that could benefit from the workout of a walk. Needless to say, we took the water bus back to our car at the end of our stay.
- If you were one of the elite celebrities who attended George Clooney’s Venice wedding, you took a private taxi. For the rest of us, multiple water taxi rides add up quickly. However, if you’re traveling with a group and your hotel is situated on a canal, a water taxi could be your most cost effective and convenient option.
- My recommendation: water bus. While the water bus may not stop right next to yourdestination, the short walk usually far outweighs the extra cost you’ll pay for your water taxi.
- Getting Around
Once you’re settled into your hotel or vacation rental, grab a map from the front desk, and get out and wander.
Unless you have GPS (if you have an international cellular plan with internet coverage), you’ll be dependent on street signs (often painted on buildings) and your “Look at me: I’m a tourist” map. Don’t worry, everyone is a tourist.
The main tourist hubs are San Marco Square, Rialto Bridge and St. Mark’s Square. The streets surrounding these areas are packed with others, like yourself, who are searching for history and romance. U.S. News: Travel has a useful photo guide on things to see and do in Venice.
Wear comfortable shoes. You’ll likely get lost often in the alleys and end up seeing each street twice (or more). If you don’t feel like you without your heels, wear them one evening if you’re planning to take a water taxi out to dinner. Note, the city does not appear to be wheelchair friendly.
Use the water buses (vaporettos) to travel to different parts of the island, or the various nearby islands (more on that later). For details on fares and schedule, visit Go Italy.
If you want to indulge in all of Venice and it’s romance, you won’t regret a gondola ride with your partner one evening during your stay.
The food can be bad. School lunchroom bad. We read the tips on avoiding the busy tourist areas and the waiters standing outside and beckoning in would-be diners, and we were still the victims of nearly inedible food. At one seemably authentic-looking restaurant we stumbled upon, our anti pasti tasted like it came ‘fresh’ out of a can and the Italian bread was more of a stale freezer bun. This is coming from someone who lived on ramen noodles with peas and tuna in her early 20s.
Fellow Minnesotan Andrew Zimmern eats his way through Venice, Italy and takes in some of the city’s bizarre foods. Watch Zimmern sample foods from the lagoon like cuttlefish ink and eel in this segment on “Bizarre Foods” on The Travel Channel. Once you watch it, you’ll want to book a private room at a vacation rental Airbnb venice owned by a true Venetian family.
Situated on the sea, Venice is rich with seafood. Make sure to stop by the Mercato di Rialto to see the fish market and produce stands. While we loved the seafood dishes at all the restaurants, our bodies were vegetable-deficient exiting the city.
Burano & Murano
Take a day trip from Venice to one of the nearby islands (available via the vaporettos).
This tiny island near Venice is famous for glass-making. Learn about the city’s rich history with glass-making, and take a tour to see how the glass is made and purchase authentic Murano glass to commemorate your trip.
The boat ride to Burano is approximately 45 minutes, and it’s worth the money and time spent. While the island is famous for
the bright bold colors of the housing, it’s also known for lace-making, fishing and street cats. We made friends with a cat sitting by the water, assumably waiting for its owner to return from a fishing trip with treats.
The bright colored housing is a photographer’s dream. Couple’s activity idea: wear bright clothing and hold a photoshoot with your partner. Keep in mind that there are people living on the island, so be mindful of their lifestyle and their home.
Weather and Street Safety
U.S. News: Travel makes it easier for you to determine the best time to book your stay in Venice. Take the peak season, precipitation and temps into consideration. We visited in the Spring. The weather was warm, but not sticky (and stinky) like it can get in the summer months.
In high trafficked areas like San Marco Square, you’ll bump into fellow tourists. They’ll bump into you. Keep your belongings tucked away and tucked under your arms as much as possible.
If you’re accustomed to the NYC Chinatown discreetness of salespeople offering designer replica purses on the streets, you’ll initially be shocked by openness in Venice (and other popular Italian cities) of street vendors peddling Gucci and Prada knock-offs. None of the street vendors we passed were overly intrusive. I had the same experience with the street purse salesmen in Rome.
Buy your authentic Murano glass or Burano lace, but know that everything you buy will be priced for tourists. We didn’t make any shopping purchases in Venice, though there’s no shortage of masks, trinkets and t-shirts in stores and at street stands.
Since much of the city is not lived in year-round, you may walk for blocks at night without seeing a light on. While I read that the city is relatively crime-free, I would advise against strolling late at night on dim-lit side streets alone. We did a lot of strolling, and I felt uneasy a few times on side streets. If you didn’t grow up on a farm and in a city where you knew everyone and they knew you, maybe you’re not as skittish as me walking the streets of a foreign city.
Take In Its Wonder
Learn about the rich history of Venice (and its connections to the Far East) from the city itself before you travel. The city website is available in English, Italian and German, and it includes guides on the city and the surrounding area.
The city is split up into six wards (or sestieri). Each ward offers its own uniquenesses; see Frommer’s for a briefing on the neighborhoods. This can also help you determine the best ward to book your stay in. We stayed in the heart of the city, between the Rialto Bridge and Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square.)
Best advice: grab your camera and get lost. Take in the city’s wonder. As the water levels rise and Venetians disappear at rapid rates, tourists continue to flock to experience the magic of the city before it becomes an underwater museum.