Venice is the ultimate picture-perfect Italian city. It is, of course, famous for being completely devoid of cars. Accessible solely by boat and the only way of getting around is on foot or by gondola. The lack of public transport and modernities that characterise other cities is very refreshing. It’s what makes Venice such a popular destination, because it really is like nowhere else.
With winding, narrow streets, it’s easy to get lost – but that’s no bad thing. If you wander far enough, you’ll find the more untouched areas, which aren’t brimming with tourists. Just make sure you have a detailed map. And remember you can’t just ‘hop in a taxi’ back to your hotel, because cars are banned in Venice.
If you’re looking to visit Venice soon, with any luck this Venice travel guide should come in handy. Here are my top tips for visiting Venice:
1. Best places to stay in Venice
You’ll be spoilt for choice with beautiful hotels in Venice. We stayed in Hotel Metropole, a gorgeous hotel situated right on the canal. We’d open our bedroom window to see gondolas gliding along the water below us. Just a few minutes from Piazza S. Marco, it’s an ideal location, close to all the key sights.
The interiors were lavish and exuberant, the perfect embodiment of grandiose venetian architecture and design. Brimming with antique furniture but with an elegant feel, you felt a bit like a prince or princess. There was also a gorgeous outdoor area, complete with palm trees and jasmines. An idyllic spot for an evening cocktail.
Other great accommodation options include:
- Hotel Galleria – a small, charming hotel located right on the Grand Canal.
- Hotel Cipriani – a luxury 5-star hotel with views of Venice Lagoon and Doge’s Palace.
- Ca’ Bragadin e Carabba – complete with 18th-century Venetian furnishings and luxurious rooms.
- Hotel Ca’ Dogaressa – set in a popular location within the Cannaregio district of Venice.
- Ca’ Angeli – featuring beautiful views over the Grand Canal.
2. Best places to eat in Venice
As with accommodation, there are so many options for amazing places to eat. Here are some personal recommendations of places we dined at. Just be wary that most restaurants in Venice are rather pricey – which is a general theme of visiting Venice unfortunately!
Bistrot de Venise – Stunning historical food recreated from the work of Renaissance cooks.
Taverna La Fenice – A warm and welcoming restaurant that services fresh, authentic food.
Trattoria Antiche Carampane – Tucked away, this is a charming restaurant that’s popular with Venetians. More traditional with delicious food.
La Cantina – Some quite imaginative dishes and definitely no tourist-friendly menu. A good atmosphere, if a little hectic.
Harry’s Bar – Famous for the birthplace of the Bellini. It’s a very small, quaint little bar and tourists tend to visit so they can say ‘I’ve had a Bellini at Harry’s Bar in Venice’. It’ll be the most expensive Bellini you’ve ever had.
3. When is the best time to visit Venice?
The best time to visit Venice is between September to November. The summer months are best avoided, as the number of tourists is almost unbearable. Plus, temperatures are pretty hot in the summer and Venice isn’t really somewhere you go to sunbathe. November to March is flooding season, so best avoided unless you’ve got thigh-high wellies.
Autumn is a great time to visit Venice because you’ll miss the peak busy period and heat of the summer months. Plus, it can get a bit smelly in the summer; takes the edge of a romantic gondola ride when there’s a general aroma of eggy fart lingering! Due to the Autumn being a little more off-peak, it also means that prices are slightly lower too.
I visited Venice in October and we were pretty lucky with the weather. It was actually really warm for that time of the year. We’d all packed trousers, jeans and jumpers but it was hot enough for light tops and skirts.
4. How to get around Venice
It’s quite straightforward with Venice, as there are essentially two options: by foot or by water. Venice is the largest pedestrian city in the world but it’s still compact enough to get everywhere on foot easily enough. Aside from being a pretty healthy way of getting around, it’s also the best way to take in all the sights and really soak up the Venetian atmosphere.
If you travel by water then there are several modes of transport:
- Water bus (or vaporetto). Where walking isn’t an option, the next best mode of transport is by water bus. This is a public service that runs 24/7. A water bus service runs every 10 minutes from the stops on the Grand Canal. A water bus is also the best way to get to the nearby islands of Burano, Lido, and Murano – if this is part of your itinerary then get an ACTV Water Bus Pass, as it is the most cost effective option.
- Water taxi. Essentially a private water bus, these water taxis can fit up to 10 people. Water taxis are rarely used by the locals because they do have quite high fixed prices. They are commonly used for getting from the airport to the centre of Venice, which usually works out at good value for money if there is a group of you travelling. It’s by far the most glamorous airport transfer you will ever experience!
- Gondola. The gondola is not technically a mode of transport, as you can’t use a gondola to get from A to B. They return to their boarding station, so gondolas are very much used for sightseeing and the general experience. Gondolas are also helpful for exploring narrow canals and other hidden areas that are not easily reachable by water bus or on foot.
5. Spend at least two or three days in Venice
It’s simply not possible to explore Venice on a day trip. To really discover all that this unique city has to offer, you need to stay for at least two nights. There’s nothing worse than rushing around trying to squeeze everything in. Spend a little longer in the city and take everything at a more leisurely pace.
6. Pack light
Given the limited modes of transport, you’ll need to carry your luggage on and off boats, as well as by foot if you’re not dropped right in front of your hotel. It therefore follows that packing light will save you a fair bit of stress and sweat. As you are only likely to be staying for a few nights, you won’t need much with you anyway.
7. You’ll need more time than you think to get from A to B
Believe me when I say: there are a lot of tourists in Venice. So many tourists that it’s actually difficult to move. Narrow streets and bridges combined with hordes of people all vying to take pictures can create some serious human blockages. It’s one of the biggest downsides of visiting Venice, and does take the romantic edge off it a little. But if you know what to expect then it won’t be such a shock.
8. Don’t leave without a gondola ride
It may seem touristy but you cannot leave Venice without having a gondola ride. The gondola is an icon of Venice and is wonderfully romantic. Sit back and relax while your gondolier steers you through the winding canals of the beautiful city.
9. Avoid dining in St Mark’s Square
You’ll need to take out a small mortgage if you plan to take a seat for a drink or some food in St Mark’s Square. It is excruciatingly expensive. You pay a premium for the location but it’s not even worth it. You’ll be surrounded by masses of pigeons and tourists, plus you won’t be able to stop thinking about how much you just paid for the most expensive below average wine you’ve ever had.
10. Use a traditional map to get around
Venice can be quite tricky to navigate with all its winding streets and hidden alleys. Unfortunately, it can be difficult getting a good GPS signal for apps like Google Maps – possibly due to the tall buildings and narrow alleyways. It’s therefore better to rely on a good old fashioned map.
Having said that, there is something fun about getting a little lost in a city like Venice. You’re more likely to stumble upon hidden corners where there aren’t so many tourists. Just make sure that you have a map handy so you can find your way back.
11. Go on a walking tour with a local
In almost every city I visit, I take a guided walking tour with a local. It is by far the best way to discover the city, learn a bit about the history, and get some insider’s tips. Opt for a free walking tour where you can tip however much you like at the end of the tour.
These walking tours are best done on your first day in Venice. It will help you get your bearings and prioritise which areas and attractions you’d like to see more of.
12. Skip The Line tickets are essential
Some of the queues for the main attractions, such as Doge’s Palace, are ridiculous. I cannot stress enough the importance of buying Skip The Line tickets so you can bypass these queues. If you’re visiting a city as beautiful as Venice, you don’t want to be spending most of your time in a never-ending queue.
13. Be wary of public toilet fees and availability
When you’ve gotta go, you’ve gotta go. But Venice is quite limited in terms of the number of public toilets, plus they are expensive to use (as far as toilet fees go). You can expect to pay €1,50 unless you have the Venice Connected Pass.
In some museums and galleries, the toilets are free. Don’t be alarmed by unisex facilities too, as these are quite common in the museums. On the plus side, the toilets are generally very clean for public toilets – which goes some way towards justifying the excessive fee!
If you can’t face paying for the use of a public toilet, personally I’d recommend putting that money towards a coffee or pastry in one of the many cafes. You can then use their toilet and enjoy a pleasant stop-off.
14. Flooding can be a problem in Venice
It’s true that Venice does have a bit of a problem with flooding. However, it’s not really something that visitors need to worry about too much. On the whole, the flooding is only bad for a few hours on a limited number of days. It’s rare for vast areas of the city to be affected. So generally, you should be just fine – unless you’re really unlucky.
Do you need wellies in Venice? No, you do not need wellies when visiting Venice. You need to travel relatively light to this city, so don’t use up precious luggage space with big rubber boots. If worse comes to worse and the city is badly flooded when you visit, you can buy some temporary wellies when you’re there. Or, you can just avoid the flooded parts.
15. Bring a refillable water bottle
There are countless fountains dotted around the city with perfectly safe drinking water. Carry a refillable water bottle with you and fill up from the fountains. Not only is it better for the environment, but it’s significantly cheaper too.
16. Visit the local markets
A vision of bright colours and diverse smells, an amble around the local markets of Venice is a must. Discover fresh local produce and a vibrant atmosphere. The best markets include:
- Mercato di Rialto – in the heart of Venice and probably the most well-known.
- Campo San Barnaba – sells fruit and veg from a boat on the canal, for over 70 years.
- Calle Longhi – a farmer’s market with the freshest produce.
- Mercatino di San Giobbe – find antiques at this quaint flea market.
- Mestre market – for fruit vegetable, meat, cheese, and flowers, as well as other snacks and household items.
17. Explore the artisan shops
A fantastic way of immersing yourself in the rich culture of Venice is by exploring the various artisan shops. You’ll have the chance to discover artistic artisans and centuries-old crafts.
If you’re a big fan of arts and crafts then join one of their workshops for a truly authentic Venetian experience. These traditional techniques and souvenirs are a breath of fresh air in the age of mass-production and manufacturing.
18. Leave your high heels at home
As you will primarily be getting around on foot, it pays to have comfortable shoes. Leave the high heels at home, unless you want to tackle long walks on uneven streets. Add to that the crowds, steps, and bridges – and it’s easy to see why you could be creating a problem for yourself.
19. You can visit the beach
If the sun is shining, the temperature hot, and you fancy a relaxing break, then head to Lido. Many are surprised to hear that Venice has a beach. Lido is one of Venice’s islands and has an 8 mile stretch of sandy beach. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the sound of the Adriatic waves. Sun beds are available to rent.
20. Indulge in some gelato
Typical of any Italian city, you’ll find a number of enticing gelato shops around Venice. It’s the perfect snack for a warm day exploring Venice. Try to uncover the more traditional gelato shops. You can usually tell by the colour of the gelato – if it is brightly cooloured then it probably means it contains artificial flavours.
What did I love about Venice?
Venice is undeniably beautiful. The canals, the architecture, the winding streets. You could just spend all day wandering around, taking in the sights. And, of course, the food is to die for. You’d expect nothing less from an Italian city. Having said that, I’d recommend venturing a little off the beaten track and researching some of the restaurants loved by locals.
What did I not love?
Venice is busy. Really, really busy. I think it’s important to be aware of this before you visit, or you could be disappointed with the sheer volume of tourists. Think Piccadilly Circus in London at rush hour. Just meandering around the city can be painful, as you often find yourself queuing simply to walk over a bridge. Usually made worse by endless tourists trying to snap the perfect instagram picture. Err, guilty! It’s also expensive. Like, really expensive.
Costs and tourists aside, Venice is the perfect European getaway for a long weekend and an absolute must for your Europe bucket list. A beautiful and romantic city – just make sure you budget enough to cover the costs.
Do you have any Venice travel advice or tips and tricks? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!