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