The Venice survival guide: 5 things to know before you go

Venice is one of those cities in the world you just have to visit. The city is world-famous, filled with history and  bursting with romance. No doubt its charm and elegance will leave you breathless. But: Venice can be tricky.  Here’s a survival guide for Venice virgins, with 5 things you should know before you go.

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1. You’ll have to work your way through the crowds

Venice is filled with things to see and do and hailed for being one of the most romantic destinations in the world. The city is also known for being packed with tourist, so be prepared. Especially around famous must sees like the Rialto Bridge or St. Mark’s square there’s simply no escaping the crowd.venice09

Here’s what you should do:

  • Get up early, stay up late. The best time to see the sights in Venice is before 7 am and after midnight. There are no crowds yet and the city feels peaceful and relaxed. Nighttime is also great for taking pictures, see my Venice by night-snapshot here.
  • Travel during low season. Spring and summer are the seasons with more tourists, higher temperatures and lost of mosquitoes. Fall is  a better time to visit Venice, although there’s a risk at acqua alta (high water and flooding). Be sure to bring your rubber boots with you and don’t panic, that’s just the way it goes in Venice. Winter can also be a fantastic time for exploring Venice, if you don’t mind the freezing cold and chilly winds.

2. Don’t let that gondola fantasy give you a financial hangover

One of the biggest tourist traps in Venice are the gondola rides along the canals. But: if you want to live the fantasy, go ahead. Despite the high prices and risks of being ripped off, it is still big fun.

How much does it coast? The official rate should be 80 euro for 40 minutes (increased by 40 euro with every 20 minutes extra). After 7 pm it gets even more expensive: 100 euro for 40 minutes.

These are the official rates and a lot of gondoliers raise the price whenever they want. Also: don’t expect a free serenade, you’ll have to pay extra for this little musical service. Agree upon a price before you get in the gondola.

Enjoy a gondola ride.

Looking for cheaper alternatives?

  • Share a gondola with other tourists. On www.city-discovery.com/venice you can find various gondola-tours, starting from 41 euro for 40 minutes. Of course: these are group tours and not really that romantic. On the Tourismo Venezia-website I’ve found some similar itineraries, but I haven’t checked these out myself (if you did, please let me know how good/bad these are).
  • Take the vaporetti. This public ferry service along the canals of Venice operates like a bus network. True, it’s no gondola but the sights from the water are the same. A standard ticket coasts 7 euro, much cheaper than your gondola but still pricey. You can buy special 12-hours to 7 days-passes, but these are only interesting if you plan to take this waterbus a lot (but you won’t, only when you want to explore the other islands then the 12-hour pass at 18 euro is a good deal).

Tip: So maybe you did take that gondola ride and now you think you can do better than the gondoliers? Why not try it yourself and book the ‘Row like a Venetian’-workshop? The 90-minutes rowing lesson coasts 40 euro and is great fun. Check out www.rowvenice.org for more infovenice05

3. Have a true tast of Venice

If you want to have your most expensive meal and drink ever you should try one of the restaurants at St Marks square: they are all overpriced. Sure you’ll want to see the famous Café Florian (Goethe and Byron loved to hang out there, although I don’t think they had to pay 10 euro for a single coffee) but you’ll get better meals and drinks at a fair price elsewhere: leave the touristic areas and look for smaller restaurants.

  • A bacaro or osteria is a small bar where you can have a glass of wine and a snack (think: tapas the Venetian style). Cheap, tasteful and frequented by locals.
  • If you just want to have a small cappuccino of vino, drink it standing at the bar. Sitting down will be charged extra!

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Tip: Take a Venice Food Tour. We booked one with Walks of Italy and got a true taste of Venice. There were food markets,  a lot of  tastings and some fine wines involved. It’s a great tour to book at the beginning of your Venice-experience because of the insight information you’ll get on good places to eat. Bonus: an organized theme tour on your first day is a good way to get to know your way around the city because….

4. You’ll get lost. Over and over again!

Venice is a walking city so be ready to walk that extra mile.  You’ll be walking for hours, even if you don’t want to because you will get lost, guaranteed. The narrow streets will lead you everywhere, mostly to places  you didn’t plan on going. That’s not a bad thing:  I love getting lost in Venice, it’s the best way to discover the beauty of the city.

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  • Invest in a good city map and prepare where you want to go. Mark the spot where your hotel is located: this can be useful if you need to ask a for directions on your way back.
  • Forget about the map. You’ll get lost anyway. And the gps on your smartphone will be puzzled as well. Just relax and enjoy the trip. You’ll bound to discover the most charming little streets and squares.

5. You may want to buy a Venetian mask

A typical souvenir to bring home from your trip to Venice, is a Venetian mask. There’s no shortage of  shops and vendors trying to convince you to buy one. Just make sure it’s a genuine Venetian mask, not one that has the label ‘made in China’ on it.

Tip: ‘Ca’Macana in the Dorsoduro district is our favorite place for mask-hunting, one of the oldest mask studios of Venice.  The masks Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman wore in the movie Eyes Wide Shut by Kubrick were designed and made here. The studio organizes workshops to make your own, personal mask. Have a look at www.camacana.com.

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One extra little tip:

Venice doesn’t come cheap. Transportation, food, visiting museums and churches (free entrances are possible, check when entering!) are real budget killers. Even going to a (public) toilet can cost as much as 3 euro.

On the website www.veneziaunica.it  there’s a toilet discount card available (seriously!) which will coast you 9 euro, allowing you 7 entrances to public toilets within one week. Since there never seems to be a public toilet around when you need one, this one is a waste of money. However, on the same site you can find transport-, museum- and  city passes that might be interesting for you, so check it out.

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Any tips for visiting Venice for the first time? Don’t hesitate to share them with us!

48 comments

  1. I have just discovered your website and I really enjoyed surfing it.. You just need to have more Italy in your guides, you only have Venice!!! You’ll be welcome in other amazing cities of my lovely Country!!!

    1. Hi, happy to read you like the site. 🙂 Italy is an amazing country. I have been there a couple of times and will be going back soon. So there will be more Italy-posts coming up! 🙂

  2. Great guide, Nina! The toilet discount card is just unbelievable! We visited Venice last year and while I liked it (because it’s beautiful and I could spend there hours just taking photos and never get tired), my partner Jon absolutely hated it (because it was ridiculously expensive and not that friendly). I guess Venice is one of those cities that you either love it or hate it!

  3. This is a really great guide to Venice. With all of the talks about Venice potentially being lost in the future due to the rising water levels, I think it’s crucial that we all take the time to visit this beautiful city at least once before it is too late. I think you make a great point about the gondola tours and how they are becoming so touristy and commercialized, but try telling my wife that we are not going to experience them when we go to Venice! I am sure we will try them just for the experience.

  4. I’m likely to be going to Venice later this year (yet to be finalised) and haven’t been for about 20 years. In many ways, ,it doesn’t look to have changed a great deal in that time. Who would have thought there was such a thing as a toiet discount card, though?!

  5. great tips, I did a whole series on Venice and can recommend the 12 hour or 24 Vaporetti ticket to get to the various islands, which are worth visiting. Toilets, it is easy just visit any of the large hotels and use the facilities and enjoy some of these amazing institutions or even have a nice drink on the terrace.

    1. Agree so much on the toilets in a large hotel: it’s a great excuse to see the inside and have a drink or snack.

  6. Venice is on my hit list but I am a little worried that when I finally get there it may disappoint. Your tips for going out of season, getting up early and staying up late sound very good advice. I’d love to be able to photograph the city when virtually no one is around – that would be fantastic! I wander what time the sunrises in autumn!

    1. Tx Kathryn. Autumn would be a great time to visit Venice, I think the colors of city will even be more impressive.

  7. I am not surprised there are so many comments here – this is a superb guide about Venice, packed full of wonderful tips. Now that I’ve read it, I wouldn’t go to Venice without it! 🙂

  8. Loved venice when we went in April – you are so right about getting up early and being there out of season, but we did find that as we wandered, it quickly got less busy away from the tourist spots that are overrun by midday. Similarly away from the beaten track, food and drink isn’t too pricey – especially prosecco which seems to be in no shortage… We did do the Gondola on our last day, it was sunny and it was one of 2 days a year when there are no motor boats on the rivers. This meant we got our money’s worth as it was so peaceful – choose your location carefully, pick a side ‘street’ and it is worth every penny to glide along!

    1. True, going of the beaten track is the best way to experience Venice. Great Gondola trip you made! 🙂

  9. I miss Venice! Its a lovely city and you have some good tips! I remember walking around and constantly coming to dead ends! It would be so easy if you could do a giant leap to the other side instead of a 15 minute detour to get to the point you can see right across the water….! 🙂

    1. Yes, and these are the official prices, you might even be paying more if you don’t watch out. But: there are cheaper alternatives.

  10. Curious if it’s that busy in the winter, too … I was there once as a kid but couldn’t really appreciate it, would love to go back now that I’m a “grown up” haha

    1. Hi Antonette! Now that you’re a ‘grown up’ you should go back 🙂 :). Winter will definitely be calmer, but also colder (and it can get very cold, that wind…brrrr…)

  11. Great tips!! I want to visit Venice but I’m a bit intimidated since it is insanely touristic. Luckily our best friends here in Costa Rica are from Venice so we have a local to show us around and avoid the tourist trap.

    1. Hi Samantha! Having a local showing you around must be a fantastic way to see Venice. It is insanely crowded (especially during summer) but I actually don’t really mind that. In Bruges (where we lived) it can get crowded as well (packed with Japanese tourists looking to buy chocolate :)) so I guess I have gotten used to it. And at night we have the city to ourselves again. The good thing about Venice is that there are lots of calm and picturesque areas to discover. Despite the high prices and crowded, it is still one of my favorite cities.

  12. Hey Nina
    really enjoyed reading this, and if I may, I would like to add another tip. The best way to get a gondola on the cheap is to go to one of many ‘traghetto’ spots along the Grand Canal, where you can be ferried across on a gondola for 2 euro. Many locals do it, because bridges across the Grand Canal are so few and crowded. And explore Giudecca, the best part of Venice in my opinion, really local and picturesque. Loved your post !

    1. Great tips! Only 2 euro for the traghetto is such a bargain compared to the gondola! I’m putting it on my list next time we visit Venice. And I agree so much with you: Giudecca is truly the best part of Venice! Tx for sharing. 🙂

  13. A toilet discount card? That´s the first town I heard about having one. I was there during the Carnival. It was beautiful but the crowds are huuuuuuuge.
    In the end I liked Verona better than Venice.

    1. Lucky you! Visiting Venice during the Carnival sounds great! 🙂 Verona is indeed a fantastic city, very beautiful en certainly not as crowded as Venice.

  14. Great post. Brings back memories. Beautiful pictures. Whilst I don’t rate Venice as highly as the rest of Italy. It still is an amazing place. Those Gondola prices are crazy! But we did it anyway. When in Venice….

  15. Agree with your comments – Venice can be overpriced and overcrowded and it’s much better to avoid the summer when planning your visit. I’ve never been on a gondola – they look like expensive tourist traps! – but the vaporetto is great fun.

  16. Great tips. Been to Venice and yes it is a budget killer like you said. I was suprised at how we got ripped for when we bought two sandwiches and come coffee. Like they couldnt be bothered. I wouldnt pay a euro for what we got but we ended up paying a good chunk for crap. We ended up going to s super market to get some food which we should have done to start with. Thankfully it wasn’t as crowed when I visited with my sister.

    1. Hi Bianca. So true, you really have to be careful were you’re going to have a snack. The super market is always a good idea for the little hunger. 🙂

  17. Awesome photos, Venice looks like such a beautiful place to visit! Shame its so crowded during the day – great tips about getting up before 7am to get the best photos 🙂

  18. I’ve avoided Venice specifically because of the crowds though it looks like a city definitely worth exploring. I’ll have to give Venice a few days as a launching point for exploring the Istrian Peninsula or the Dolomites

    1. Yes, despite the crowds it’s worth a visit. The good news is: behind the popular touristic areas there are plenty of calm and quiet areas to discover. Good look exploring the Istrian Peninsula and the Dolomites, must be great! 🙂

  19. Great guide Nina, my boyfriend and I visited Venice last year for the first time and definitely struggled to adapt to the city – in the end we left a little bit disappointed. However I think your guide will really help prepare people ahead of time. I love your tip to invest in a good map and then forget about the map, this is so true in Venice 🙂 One other tip I would add is to escape the city for a bit with a trip out to Burano. When we visited it was nearly empty and the colourful homes are a must see!

  20. Woah! 80 euros for a 40 minute gondola ride… I guess that’s the price of paradise. The Venetian mask looks like it’s made to be worn at a Masquerade Ball? I wonder if they have grand galas like these to go to…

    1. I haven’t had the opportunity to attend the big carnival gala, but I suppose that would indeed be a good choice to wear the mask. Tx for visiting the blog! 🙂

  21. Wow, this is a pricey town! Seems like the off-season is really the best time to go. These are really useful tips for getting around the city – always good to know where hidden/additional costs lie.

  22. Hola amigos, enhorabueno por vuestro artículo sobre Venecia.. Teneis toda la razón en lo que contaías, he estado 3 veces en el último año ya que tengo familia cerca y es una ciudad que me encanta… Venecia es un lugar especial, en el que siempre que acudes encuentras algo nuevo y que te dejará maravillado… Los precios son excesivos, sobre todo en la zona de Rialto y de la Plaza de San Marcos.. Tomar un Cafe en Florian te costara unos 15 Euros por persona con suplemento de música (Y unos 8 sin ella).. Lo del suplemento de música es algo que solo verás en Venecia.. Pero por lo menos una vez en la vida merece la pena tomar un cafe en este mítico lugar.. Ya fuera de la zona céntrica, como en las cercanias de la Ferrovía los precios son normales y puedes tomar un cafe por poco mas de un Euro, y tomas un “panino” un trozo de pizza o algún dulce a precios razonables. De todas formas es una ciudad muy cara.. Comenzando por el transporte en el Vaporetto y terminando por el precio de entrar al Toilet, en que tendrás que pagar por entrar…

    Aún así, sin duda es una ciudad que me encanta, que merece la pena conocer y que recomiendo a todo el mundo que pueda que la visite.. Tiene un encanto y un aire especial…………Saludos.

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