A guide for first time travelers to Venice, Italy, sightseeing, food and more.
Venice is one of the most romantic cities in the world, not to mention a UNESCO world heritage site and if you are in Italy, you must visit it at least once in your lifetime, even if only for 24 hours. The worry that most people have is the crowds. The tiny alleyways and narrow roads do get congested with tourists in the high season and even though tourism sustains the economy, the locals can sometimes become visibly irritated by the swarms of outsiders. It has even been reported by The Independent that authorities are looking to limit the numbers of tourists entering central areas.
Even the most worldly traveler is left a gasp seeing Venice for the first time. No matter how many photos you have seen of the “Queen of the Adriatic“, she is more beautiful in real life.
There is an international airport, The Marco Polo Airport of Venice. Airlines such as EASYJET, IBERIA, AMERICAN AIRLINES, BRITISH AIRWAYS,BRUSSELS AIRLINES, VUELING, AIR DOLOMITI, AEGEAN AIRLINE, HOP!, AIR FRANCE, NORWEGIAN AIR INTERNATIONAL and many more fly into Venice.
The best way to get around Italy is by train and the Santa Lucia Station is right on the banks of the Gran Canal. From Milan it’s a 2.5 hour ride, from Bologna it’s a 1.5 hour ride, from Florence it’s 2 hours, and from Rome it’s a 3 hour and 45 minute train ride. Find trains
If you rent a car and decide to go to Venice, you have to park outside the city limits. Venice is closed to automobile and motorbike traffic.
From Milan by car its 271 Km and about a 3 hour drive (excluding traffic) via the A4 autostrada, from Bologna about 2 hours via the A13 autostrada, from Florence about 3 hours via the A13 autostrada, from Rome about 5.5 hours via the E35 autostrada.
You may want to consider staying near the airport or in nearby towns such as Triestina, Mestre, Marghera or Padua and travel into Venice by train.
Public Transportation – Ferry boats
In traditional cities they use buses or subways. Here in Venice you can take “Il Vaporetto”, the public transport ferry boats.
When you arrive at the Venice train station Santa Lucia, outside the station is a kiosk on your left that sells tickets. Single rides are very expensive (4-6 euro) so I highly recommend a day ticket or multiple day ticket valid for unlimited rides.
Or you can get a three day pass for 40 euro. In the three days I was in Venice I took the Vaporetto at least ten to twelve times, so it was a savings, not to mention the convenience of having my ticket with me. You must validate your ticket by passing it over the electronic sensor. Some stops have a little gate to go through but some don’t. Pass it through the sensor anyway.
You can buy a map at the tourist kiosk too (3 euro), or most hotels give you a free map. Today with our handy smart phones, Google maps can tell you what Vaporetto to take.
The Canal Grande is the main “highway” of Venice where you can get to just about anywhere from the ferries passing through there.
Ferries zig-zag across the canal, stopping on both the right bank as well as the left bank. There are a few main bridges you can pass from one side to the other but if your stop is between bridges, check first that your ferry stop is on the side you want. Each stop has a name. When you get on a ferry ask the attendant if they stop there. While you wait for your ferry you can read the signs and route map that indicate all stops and transfers.
Wear Comfortable Shoes
Walking is a great way to see the Venice too. Be warned, there are lots of steps! Up and down! Wear comfortable shoes! I would not recommend a visit to Venice if you have bad knees, use a cane or wheelchair. Although, as the law requires, there is wheelchair accessibility on public transport and in many (not all) hotels and restaurants, but the ancient roads and bridges that give Venice its charm, I imagine may be problematic for accessible tourism.
Most streets and alleys are named but use Venetian dialect. In Rome a street is a” Via”, here “Calle”.
Streets are “Calle”
Squares are “Campo”
Bridges are “Ponte”
Motor boat taxis are the ideal luxury transport in Venice. You will definitely feel like a star in a 007 film. Radio taxi services in Venice are available. You can book a taxi boat by sending your pick up address as an sms to +39 33 88 44 2000.
Not really recommended as a means of transportation but if you’re in the mood for a special evening under the moonlight take a gondola, and yes, you can ask for a Gondolier that sings!
Are you planning a marriage proposal ? There is an agency that helps you make the perfect proposal in Venice! For €240 they will set it all up, you just have to show up and your partner just has to (hopefully) say “Yes”! Read more about it.
What to visit
If you have read any of my previous travel guides, you’ll know that I always recommend getting up early to walk around the city. It’s the best way to see any city and Venice is well worth sacrificing some beauty rest for. Sunrise is always the best time for photos. Just search “sunrise time Venice” in Google and it’ll tell you the best time to venture out. I went out for a 6 AM morning jog, got completely lost and rained on, but got some of my best photos and loved every minute of it!
I felt as if I had the city to myself. The only people out at that time of morning are a few delivery guys pushing heavy iron trolleys and I saw two street cleaners sweeping up Piazza San Marco in preparation for the new batch of visitors. At about 7:30 AM the ferry boats from the mainland come in. Their black jackets and bulky briefcases tell me they are commuters on their way to open the shops, cafes, banks, and offices that keep Venice afloat.
Suggested Tour: Secret Venice – Enchanting Palace and secret corners of Venice
Step into a Venetian palace, visit an unlikely yet breathtaking staircase, gem of Venetian architecture, explore the most hidden corners of Venice, experience the thrilling atmospheres hidden Venice. Read more
In three days I did quite a lot, but I left so much unexplored!
- Gran Canal Grande– take the Vaporetto number 1 it goes the whole way down the canal, to Lido
- Lido- walk around the Lido area, there are also beaches there – watch out for jelly fish
- Palazzo Ducale- there are always lines to go in to visit the royal residence, but if you already have tourist fatigue, go to the secondary line to get in for the temporary exhibit, you will still see a lot of the palace.
- Piazza San Marco just seeing the square is impressive.
- Saint Marks Basilica – warning long lines to get in
- Teatro Le Fenice- famous antique theater
- Peggy Guggenheim Collection – museum of contemporary art
- Santa Maria della Salute Church
- Galleria dell Academia – beautiful art works
- Galleria Pallazo Cini- small museum small private collection of renaissance art work
- Ponte Rialto
- Old Jewish Ghetto – The Fondamenta Ormesini area is the Old Jewish Ghetto and is a nice area of town along the canal with lots of little restaurants, bistros and pubs.
I still haven’t explored everything, I will have to go back for:
- Bienalle di Venzia
- Visit Murano island
- Visit Burano island – Tour the islands of Venice
- …and so much more!
Where to Stay
San Marco 2893, San Marco, 30124 Venezia, Italia
(it is not in the famous Piazza San Marco, it is located at Ponte Accademia)
This is where I stayed. Simple, clean, friendly service, with an excellent location. The rooms were recently refurbished in modest style. Very reasonably priced for Venice (150 euro per night). Foresteria Levi is run by an association for musicians, it was once an invitation only guesthouse for musicians passing through Venice and in 2006 was opened to the public.
Also near Ponte Accademia:
Luxury hotels in Venice
Elegance is abundant in Venice. If you are looking for fine dinning, personalized service and peaceful slumber all under the same roof, then luxury accommodation in Venice is for you.
The Gritti Palace, Venice
Winner in the Big Hotel Award category of the National Georgraphic Big Sleep Awards which includes properties of world-class grand style. The expert panel said “The sumptuous Gritti has it all: history (it’s a 15th-century building); location (overlooking the Salute church at the mouth of the Grand Canal); and creature comforts, thanks to a £30m renovation in 2013. The cantilevered terrace is unbeatable.”
Once a noble residence, The Gritti Palace has been restored to its splendor and elegance. Easily accessible to the city center and transportation. The Gritti Palace will pamper you like royalty.
The Sina Centurion Palace offers a five star luxury experience overlooking the Grand Canal, next to the Basilica of Chiesa of Santa Maria della Salute. There’s a fabulous private courtyard where you can relax with a cocktail. It is so refined, you really feel like you are in a palace. Part of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World.
Where to eat
I had some help finding these places. I was travelling with my (Italian) husband’s family. My brother-in-law’s nephew was going to university in Venice, so they had been there several times before and had the nephew’s insider tips on where to go and what to eat.
My tip for finding good restaurants in Italy: Ask someone that lives there, but doesn’t work in hospitality or tourism. Don’t ask a taxi driver, hotel reception or shop keeper. People working in tourism tend to send people to the same places, they usually have a prepared list they rattle off to tourists. Ask a market vender, a butcher, or a delivery person. Ask them where they go when they want to go to a restaurant.
Fondamenta Zattere al Ponte Longo, 922, 30121 Venezia
Great to sit and have a drink or ice cream looking out to the canal. They are famous for their “Gianduiotto affogato alla panna”- chocolate and hazelnut ice-cream with coffee and whipped cream.
Campo Barnaba, Dorsoduro, Venezia
What to eat:
-Tris di Pesce tartar (three kinds of fish tartar)
-Fegato Venessiana con polenta (Venitian beef liver with onions and white polenta)
-Bacala e polenta (cod and polenta)
Friendly service. Both meat and fish specialties. The interior has quaint, nautical style décor, with many books like an old library. The lighting is good and could also be nice for a romantic meal. There are also tables outside in the square which also looked very pretty. It’s not a hustling bustling square in the evenings so it would be nice to eat outside as well, weather permitting.
Fondamenta Ormesini, Venezia
Excellent for “cechetti” (pronounced Che-ket-ti) which is the Venetian version of tapas. It’s a hip cool place for the thirty something crowd but there was the occasional table with old-timers sipping wine and chatting.
Had dinner there, sorry for the sparse vocabulary; but nothing says it better than YUM!
What to eat:
– “Cechetti” for starters
– Anantra arosto – (Roasted Duck)
– Fiorentina Steak (T-bone)
Everything was delicious, T bone was so big, would have been enough for three people.
The friendly waiter (quite possibly also the owner) sits down at the table next to you to take your order, he will even scoot next to you if there isn’t a free chair nearby.
There are a few tables outside, but frankly, they looked flimsy and not terribly comfortable to sit at for a full meal. Better inside.
San Polo, Venezia
Da Fiore has a restaurant and a little bar. We had cechetti in the little bar for lunch one day. Excellent! Quick, easy, glass of wine and some snacks.
The restaurant looked very nice as well, offering three course meals and tasting menus. The décor is simple and authentic. I read that they also have a Michelin star!
Venice is infamous for their carnival. Opening with the flight of the angel ceremony, followed by a week of elaborate masquerade costumes, balls, contests and celebrations. Although going to the gala ball is a special event, if you are traveling on a budget, you can still enjoy the festivities. Put on your costume and join in the celebrations happening in the streets and local pubs.
Be forewarned: Venice is FULL of people during carnival.
If you are looking to go at Carnival time, book your hotel well in advance. No joke.
Next Venice Carnival: 2018 January 27 to February 13
See the Venice Carnival calendar for upcoming celebrations.
Best times to visit Venice are autumn and early summer (it rains a lot in Springtime)
Enjoy your visit to Venice!
Don’t be shy, take a selfie!
This is an independent guide, I did not receive any freebies.
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