To help you make the most out of your trip to Venice, I put together this travel guide based on my own experiences in the city. Venice is an extremely touristy city, more so than Rome. The BBC reported five years ago that “there are 60,000 permanent residents, 60,000 day visitors (tourists and commuters from the mainland, including waiters and shop assistants to serve the tourist hordes), and 20,000 university students.” Locals have been priced out of the city where a 2-bedroom apartment can command as much as 2 million EUR. Indeed, even tourists on a budget often stay outside Venice because of the high room rates.
Although the city is overrun by tourists, you can avoid the crowds and find quiet canals to stroll along. The golden rule: the farther you are from St. Mark’s Square, the quieter and less touristy it becomes.
Finding a hotel in Venice
If you make hotel reservations months ahead of time, you won’t have trouble finding a room unless you want to stay in the city during Carnival, the Biennale or some other major event in the city. Hotel rooms are expensive. Even a three-star hotel charges 200 EUR and more. Because the city is swarming with visitors who crowd the narrow streets and rent water taxis to cruise along the canals, Venice is noisy. It’s critical to find a hotel that is situated in a quiet location, away from the walking routes that tourists take. One hotel I recommend highly, which is where I stayed, is the Pensione Accademia located on tiny side canal with no foot traffic behind or in front of the building. Otherwise, you can check Mapplr’s favorite hotels in Venice.
Getting into Venice from Marco Polo Airport
The best way to get from Marco Polo airport to the city is by boat. You can take the Alilaguna boat which makes many stops along the way. As of this writing, a roundtrip ticket on Alilaguna for 2 persons is 25 EUR. Obviously it’s critical to know ahead of time which stop is closest to your hotel.
If there are four or more people in your party, take the water taxi (which is about 100 EUR from the airport to the stop nearest your hotel) or if your hotel has a dock, right at its doorstep.
Eating out in Venice
There are hundreds of osterias, trattorias, cafes, and bars in the city. I created a list of favorite restaurants in Venice based upon my own experience and the recommendations of friends who have an apartment in the city. To find a restaurant that does not cater exclusively to tourists and that has reasonable prices, you must avoid the area around Rialto and St. Mark’s Square. Go as far as possible away from those places, pick restaurants with Italian-only menus at the door and check if most of the customers are Italian. Here is Mapplr’s list of favorite restaurants in Venice.
What to do in Venice
The most popular attractions are St. Mark’s Basilica and the Doge’s Palace. Be prepared for massive crowds and long queues especially to enter St. Mark’s Basilica which is an absolute must-see for its Byzantine architecture and stunning golden chapel. The Doge’s Palace is less crowded. Best time to go to St. Mark’s Basilica is around 4:20 pm, 40 minutes before closing.
Buy tickets in advance to avoid long queues at museums and the Doge’s Palace. Venice also have a museum pass which allows you to go to 12 museums (including the Doge’s Palace and Ca’ Rezzonico, a Venetian palace that houses 18th century Venetian art) for a 6-month period.
To enjoy the most impressive views of Venice, go to the church of San Giorgio Maggiore on the isola (island) of San Giorgio Maggiore, across the Grand Canal from St. Mark’s Square. There is a lift that takes you all the way to the church tower. Surprisingly, very few people know this or perhaps they just don’t bother to go. From there you can see all of Venice.
Peggy Guggenheim Collection: A modern art museum and sculpture garden that houses the collection of Peggy Guggenheim, an eccentric American heiress who collected European and American modern art, mostly from the first half of the 20th century. Among the works exhibited are those of Picasso, Braque, Leger, Max Ernst (to whom she was married for a brief time), Mondrian and Pollock.
Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo: This basilica, consecrated in November 1430, made a deep impression on me because of its vast interior and splendid side chapels. Many of Venice’s doges are buried in this church. Few tourists visit this basilica so you can wander around at your leisure without the noise and the crowds.
Jewish Ghetto: The word “ghetto” comes from Venice. It was the only district in the city where Jews were allowed to live beginning in the early 1500s. The first wave of Jews who came to live in the Ghetto hailed from Germany. They were followed by Jews from Spain, Portugal, Turkey and Greece. Residents of the ghetto were prohibited from leaving the area between sunset and sunrise. In 1797, Napoleon’s troops entered Venice and tore down the gates of the ghetto. Today, you can wander around the ghetto, visit the Jewish museum and the synagogues (only through a guided tour which starts at the museum every hour).
The best thing to do is to simply wander around. You will get lost but it’s part of the delight of coming to Venice. Besides, how far can you get with all these little islands? Eventually you come to the water, then you take one of the ferries to another island.
How to get around
The least expensive and most convenient way to get around the islands is by purchasing a travel card for the number of days that you are in the city. You can buy these travel cards at ticket machines located at the ferry stops.
Shopping in Venice
All of the major Italian designer brands have boutiques in the city: Ferragamo, Gucci, Prada, Ermenegildo Zegna, Max Mara, Dolce e Gabbana, Valentino, Versace, Philosophy di Alberta Ferreti, Fratelli Rossetti, Pollini, Loro Piana, Frette, Pomellato, Bulgari and more. However, if you are looking for more reasonably priced leather goods, the city is filled with small shops selling bags, shoes, belts, wallets and jackets made in Italy. Other things to buy in Venice are gourmet items like olive oil and pesto. There are many wine stores selling excellent wines from the Friuli-Venezia region.
Books about Venice
I will not bore you with the usual disposable travel guides, you know, the ones that need updating every year. Here are classic books about Venice and they make great reading before and after your visit to the city.
Venice by Jan Morris: originally published in 1960, recently revised, Morris paints a portrait of Venice that is unforgettable.
The Stones of Venice, 3 volumes (published between 1851-1853) by John Ruskin about the art and architecture of Venice (note: make sure you get the unabridged edition).