Venice is one of those cities that has been on my travel bucket list for a very long time. Everyone kept telling me to go, but somehow I never managed to get there. So when I decided to go to Italy, I knew this was my chance. Especially after watching Chasing Liberty for the millionth time 😉
I have to admit, I was a little apprehensive.
On the one hand, people kept telling me how beautiful Venice is, on the other, I knew it would be stuffed with tourists. And if there’s one thing I hate, it’s large crowds of tourists. So I was all set to be underwhelmed.
And o boy, was I wrong!
The moment I stepped out of the train station I was blown away. I had those delicious butterflies tingling in my stomach, the way I get when I instantly fall in love with a place. One look at the buildings and the Canal Grande and I was sold. Because the thing about Venice is that pictures do not do it justice. It is like walking through a museum with a new masterpiece around every corner.
And honestly, the crowds weren’t even that bad. Even in Venice, you can avoid them as long as you know where and when to go. To make sure that you will love Venice as much as I did, here are my tips on what to do and see:
1. Walk around
Venice is a perfect city for getting lost in. Even with the canals running through the town, it is perfectly suited to pedestrians. There are no motorised vehicles anywhere, aside from the boats. Navigating in Venice is a little more difficult as the streets wind and curl, and every third one ends in a dead end at the canal. Signs lead you to big tourist attractions such as San Marco and Rialto bridge, but if you have a specific destination in mind, make sure to take a map. Alternatively, if you have the time, simply let yourself get lost. Venice is stunning: every single street, bridge and canal are gorgeous, and you will find so many hidden gems if you just wander around.
I also highly recommend the Venice Free Walking Tour. Not only are walking tours a great way to learn more about a city, this one is specifically aimed at slow and sustainable tourism. They will take you around the lesser known spots in Venice, tell you about the fascinating history and give you tips for the rest of your stay.
2. Visit a museum
Venice is basically one giant living museum, but if you have the time, it is worth visiting some of the cities excellent actual museums. Fans of modern art will love the Biennale, fans of old art will love the Galleria dell’Accademia. A must see is the Leonardo da Vinci museum where you can see and operate some of the inventions of Venice’s most famous citizen.
Another popular option is the Doge’s Palace. It is absolutely worth a visit to see inside the opulent rooms where the Venetian Doge once resided.
If you are planning to visit multiple museums, consider getting the Venice Museum Pass.
3. Take a boat ride
Venice is built on islands and lagoons, and the canals are its signifying feature. So the best way to see Venice is from the water. Since there are no cars or buses to take you around, you are reliant on boats to visit different islands. The Vaporetto is much more expensive than regular buses with a single far ticket costing €7,50. There are day and multi-day passes available, but these are only worth it if you are planning more than two boat trips per day or if you are staying on Guidecca. Visitors under 30 can get a cheaper three day pass with the Rolling Venice card. Water taxi’s and gondolas are far more expensive. Gondola rides cost €80,- for a 30-minute tour and €100,- in the evening. You can arrange them at different gondola point in the city. Do not book online if you’re less than 4 people as you will be sat with strangers to fill the gondola. But there is a cheap way to get a Venetian boat experience! There are small gondola’s called Traghetti that take you across the Grand Canal for 2 euro’s. The trip takes 3 minutes, and these gondolas are much less impressive, but you can’t beat the price.
4. Visit the other islands
Venice is only one in a group of islands in the lagoon. The other islands around Venice are beautiful, unique and worth a visit as well. The most famous ones are Murano and Burano. Murano is known for the hand-blown glassware and Burano for the cute bright coloured houses and handmade lace. On the way to Murano, you can also visit the cemetery, which is located on a small separate island.
For a more authentic side of Venice, take the Vaporetto across to Giudecca. This island just south of Venice is trying very hard to resist the gentrification and mass tourism that’s overtaken Venice, but sadly they are losing the battle. However, Giudecca is still a fun island to go, and the boardwalk offers a stunning view of Venice, especially at sunset.
For a day away from the crowds, take a Vaporetto to Lido. It is the only island with a beach, and it is a popular place among Venetians to lounge in the summer.
5. Avoid the tourist traps
So, this is where I’ll let you in on the real secrets when it comes to having a good time in Venice. The main thing is: avoid the crowds at all cost! The best way to experience Venice is to take at least 4-5 days so you can spread out your activities.
Piazza San Marco and Ponte Rialto are the most popular tourist spots in the city, and they are incredibly crowded during the day. The best time to visit them is either early in the morning or late in the evening. Especially Ponte Rialto is gorgeous lit up after dark.
If you want to visit the Basilica di San Marco, make sure to get there around 9. You’ll have to cue for half an hour until they open, but the line gets much longer after that. Be sure to drop your backpack at the luggage check-in before, since you are not allowed to take it into the church. And as always, dress appropriately. For the Doge’s Palace, it is worth getting a skip the line ticket unless you want to stand in line for an hour in the burning sun. At these crowded places, always keep an eye on your belongings, there are pickpockets everywhere.
Never, ever, ever, EVER, sit down for a drink or meal at Piazza San Marco. You will pay through the nose. Think: 10 euro’s for a coffee. Instead, find places for food and drinks a bit further away from the tourist areas. The San Polo, Dorsoduro and Castello neighbourhoods are the best location for authentic and reasonably priced food.
So, these are just 5 must-do things when you visit Venice. But of course this city has a lot more to offer. I wrote a more extensive guide to Venice for A Passion and A Passport, so check it out!