- While the image of two lovers taking a gondola ride in Venice has become pretty common in movies and travel guides, please DON’T do it. It’s expensive and smelly. Instead, put on those walking shoes and buy a map. Get wonderfully lost and explore the city. In general, look for the direction in which everyone is going and head in the exact opposite direction.
- Murano and Burano are two good options for a day trip. Take the vaporetto and then explore the island on foot. Burano is generally less crowded than Murano and the further into the lagoon you go, the less crowded the islands become.
- Walk on Torcello Island. You can get to the island by vaporetto from Venice in about 1 hour but is miles away from the tourist crowds.
- Venice is really empty at two times of the day: really early in the morning and really late at night. Choose whichever suits you best and plan to be just you and the city.
- Do some people watching in Campo Santa Margherita. It’s not as crowded as Piazza San Marco and is the place where you can spot the locals.
Why you should add Venice to your RTW travel listOf course, visiting Venice wouldn’t be complete without seeing some of the sights that make it famous. Here are some ideas on what to do if you’ve never been there or plan on staying for a while.
- Piazza San Marco is the quintessential Venetian experience. Basilica di San Marco, Doge’s Palace and Torre dell’Orologio are impressive and a reminder of the city’s influence in Europe.
- Cross the Bridge of Sighs. You have to take a tour of Doge’s Palace to do this but it’s worth it. The bridge gets its name because it leads from the palace court to the prison and this was where the prisoners would get the last view of Venice and sigh.
- Carnevale is world’s most famous masked ball and takes place each year on the streets of Venice. While it’s a very expensive affair to travel to the city for the event, you can always plan a day trip from Treviso for this purpose.
- Take #1 Vaporetto for a Grand Canal Tour. It’s pretty much the equivalent of the open bus city tour elsewhere but worth it because you can see the sights go by. Excellent opportunity for photos.
- Get a bird’s eye view of the city from the top of the Campanile. Because you’ll be going up to the bell tower try to avoid the hour mark.
- Check out Rialto Bridge and walk among the stalls in Rialto Market, too.
- Gelato anyone? When the weather is warm , the gelato is an excellent way to cool down. Try various combinations of flavors.
Why you should not add Venice to your RTW travel list
- Venice is a very popular travel destination. That means you’ll be bumping into tourists pretty much all the time. For fewer crowds, plan to visit during early spring or late autumn.
- Just like other popular cities in Italy, Venice is expensive to visit. If you plan to find accommodation in the city, it will get worse. A small city and a high demand results in very expensive rooms. While staying overnight in Venice opens the opportunity to know the city better, if you are on a tight budget, choose to stay in Treviso, Mestre or Lido.
Depending on who you talk to, you'll find people who love Venice and people who hate it - there doesn't seem to be much in between. For those who hate it, it is a crowded and sometimes smelly place where you can't get a decent meal. For those who love it, it is a charming maze-like theme park for adults where you can't get lost no matter how hard you try. Believe it or not, both sides of the equation can be equally true. It's all about perspective.
Yes, Venice can be unbearably crowded - especially in the Piazza San Marco and around the Rialto Bridge when the cruise ships are docked during the day. But if you treat yourself to at least one night in Venice, you'll give yourself a chance to see the city really shine. The canals, streets and alleys empty when the cruise ships leave, and the city is left to those who linger. Getting lost in Venice is your best bet if you want to find the places where the few remaining residents actually live - and if you're lucky you'll even stumble upon a craftsman making one of the city's famous gondolas.
What to Do
In Venice, the city itself is the real sight. Just wandering the crazy streets and bridges can take up the better part of a day. There are a few things in Venice that you don't want to miss, however, including the fabulous Byzantine Basilica di San Marco, or St. Mark's Basilica. Its facade is a testament to what a powerful people can bring home when they pillage someone else's riches, and its interior is even more impressive. With nearly every square inch covered with tiny gold mosaic tiles, it's a feast for the eyes. Just watch your step - the sinking city has taken its toll on the floor, leaving it seriously warped. The nearby Doge's Palace (Palazzo Ducale) makes an interesting tour, if for no other reason than it's the only way to actually walk across the famous Bridge of Sighs.
There are a few smaller islands around Venice which can make great side trips, and you can easily do the three main ones in a day. Murano is world famous for its glass making, and is the most visited as it's very close to Venice. Burano is a fishing village which is also known for its brightly colored houses and lace making. Torcello is furthest away and therefore the least visited - it's mainly a nature reserve, so very few people actually live on the island, but it's got a lovely old church and is generally refreshingly free of other tourists.
Venice has its own airport, Marco Polo International Airport, which is located on the mainland and is a quick boat ride from the canal-filled city, so be sure to check on international airfare to Venice. It's a great airport to fly in and out of, as it's much smaller than Rome's or Milan's airports which makes getting through customs easier. Plus, you can't beat flying into Italy and immediately stepping into a boat instead of a taxi. That's atmosphere times ten. Just be wary of getting into what you think is the cheap water bus that turns out to be an expensive private water taxi. The water taxi drivers are out in force, so it's easy to get confused.
Once in the city, you won't need a car - which is good, because there aren't any! You'll get around on foot or by using the city's extensive system of water buses. Gondola rides aren't for transportation, they're for the experience - and they're not cheap. If you absolutely must ride in a gondola to make your Venice visit complete, try to get a group together to split the cost.
Where to Stay
Venice is not a cheap city to visit by any stretch, and that includes accommodations. You can find cheap options, however, if you get clear of the touristy centers. There are plenty of expensive hotels in Venice, if that's what you're looking for, and there are also hostels in Venice, so don't think it's a city just for the rich.
Like many places, Venice is largely what you make of it - give it a chance and you'll probably at least see the appeal of this water wonderland. You never know - you might even end up being one of those people who gushes about Venice to your friends.
For more information on Venice and the rest of Italy, don't forget to check out our Italy Travel Guide.