Be ready for anything in Venice. This floating city consists of a group of 117 small islands separated by canals and linked by bridges. It can be the most romantic place on earth but it can also be terribly expensive. Definitely not as you imagined.
I’m not saying that visiting Venice has to be horrible and overpriced. All you need to know is how to prepare correctly so Venice can live up to your expectations and offer you luxury for an affordable price. Here are my travel tips for visiting Venice in Italy.
Tips for Visiting Venice in Italy (updated for 2017)
Pay attention to the location of your accommodation in Venice
‘If you go to Venice, book a flight and get a hotel somewhere in the city’. That’s the worst advice anyone can give you. Specificity matters, you should pay close attention to which airport you’re flying to (one of them is REALLY far away). Also, it does matter where to stay, as you could easily end up VERY unhappy.
I’d avoid staying on a mainland, as it might take you up to an hour by bus to get to the part of Venice you actually want to see. If you’re choosing a hotel, you can easily compare prices using this website. But if you’re still unsure which part of town you want to stay in check what Tripadvisor has to offer.
For instance, my first choice of accommodation was somewhere central around St Marco Square. I’m very glad I didn’t book this hotel in the end as St Marco Square can be a nightmare due to the amount of tourists and you definitely don’t want to drag your luggage around in this area.
Also, if you’re going to book a hotel at the last minute you might end up staying over an hour away from Venice due to the high demand.
A good option for accommodation is Guideca island. I had an amazing view of St Marco Square from my room. It was just 5 minutes away from the main island of Venice. I’d recommend investing in a multiple-day water transit pass to save money on canal rides by vaporetto.
If you get lost or you’re simply too tired of walking around you can hop on and off a vaporetto for just $24 for 12 hours of unlimited rides, $26 for 24 hours, and $33 for 36 hours. You don’t have to think twice about taking it only one stop, and you can also take it simply for the sightseeing. Compared to a $8 for a single ride, it’s a bargain!
Visit in the low season or be prepared for crowds
Venice is beautiful, but unfortunately you’re not the only person who thinks so. Be prepared for a gorgeous yet crowded experience with a lot of tourists running around. It may seem like everywhere you go is full of people, especially between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. when the cruise ships pull in and take their passengers on shore for excursions to the museums in the Piazza San Marco.
The further away you go from San Marco square the less people you’ll see. Get lost in the small streets to feel like a local. In the residential quarter around the Ormesini and Sensa canals at the northern end of Cannaregio you can still enjoy a real slice of genuine Venetian life.
Take behind the scenes tours
I had an opportunity to visit the Basilica of San Marco after hours tour with Walks of Italy. I can’t recommend this tour enough as there were only 10 of us in the entire church. We didn’t have to rush anywhere, and we also could explore the catacombs.
The tour is obviously more expensive than the regular admission. It only opened to our small group arranged by the Walks of Italy. As my guide explained during the day being the church feels like being in a sardine can because everyone is pushed together side by side. Not to mention the enormous line outside.
Instead of a gondola take a local boat
What’s the first thing people think about when they hear about Venice? Gondolas! As I explained in my other post, gondolas cost 80 euros for half an hour as they are regulated by the city. There’s no arguing over the price. If you’re not willing to spend that much on a short gondola ride take a local boat. It looks like a gondola, but costs next to nothing.
Avoid pizza in Venice
Italy doesn’t always mean pizza. In fact eating pizza in Venice isn’t recommended as it’s not going to be any better than a cheap pizza you can make at home. Restaurants in Venice don’t have permission to have real stone ovens so they bake their pizzas in electric ovens. But don’t worry – Venice has tons of other exquisite culinary options so you can definitely be satisfied!
See another face of Venice
Try the beach at the Lido, an historic, picturesque beach with just enough Italian girls in bikinis to keep a teenage boy’s eyes off of his electronic devices. Rent a bike, get some sun, and enjoy the local vibe!
Prepare to get lost
Venice is very confusing with its narrow streets and alleys. I recommend bringing a GPS or using the one on your phone as it can be a real help and it makes getting from point to point much easier. You can also just ask for directions, but this doesn’t always mean you’re going to easily find your destination.
Use water fountains
Don’t buy souvenirs at tourist stalls
As in any other tourist destination, a lot of crappy souvenirs are sold in Venice. Most goods are made in other countries such as China and passed off as “Made in Italy”, so it’s always great to find a genuine Italian product. For example, you can buy glass directly from Murano, known for its high quality glassware.
You can be taken to a glass making factory where they put on a glass blowing demonstration for a few minutes before you are escorted into the gallery, but don’t take out your camera. Although no photos are allowed, you can bring a great glass souvenir home!
(Click to watch Exploring Venice, Italy with Anna Everywhere on YouTube)