Venice is one of those cities that has always fascinated me. It has beautiful architecture, culture, and not to mention great shopping. When I close my eyes I can still hear the hustle & bustle of the Grand Canal from our bedroom window first thing in the morning as if I was still there.
If you’re thinking of making a trip to this gorgeous city, here are the best things to do, eat, and places to stay in Venice!
If you suffer from seasickness and really can’t stomach setting foot on a boat, then, unfortunately, Venice might not be for you. Part of Venice’s charm is that there is pretty much no other form of transport than by boat.
We flew from London Gatwick to Marco Polo airport, which took around two and a half hours. Once we landed at Marco Polo, it was just a short walk to the dock to catch the waterbus to the island itself. There are a few different ways to get from the airport. The two most popular modes of transport would be the Alilaguna ferry, or if you’re wanting to arrive in Venice in a bit more James Bond style, you can always opt for a private water taxi. (Once you’re in Venice you’ll see the private taxis everywhere you go and will be annoyed that you didn’t choose that option).
Unable to justify the hefty price tag of a water taxi, we ended up using the cheaper option, the Alilaguna ferry. The ferry stopped at Rialto which was right outside our hotel. You can visit their website for exact details of their routes and fares at http://www.alilaguna.it.
Where to stay
We stayed at the Rialto Hotel. Once we got there we discovered that our hotel was in pretty much every single picture, postcard, keyring etc of the Rialto Bridge and Grand Canal. We couldn’t have been luckier with the location of our hotel.
Do you see the red building to the right of the bridge? That’s it.
Do you see the room at the top with the light on? Ours was the room below that.
This was the view of the Grand Canal from our bedroom window.
I can’t remember exactly how much we paid, but I think it was around £600 for 6 nights. Not cheap, but when you consider the classic Venetian room we had, the location, and not to mention THE VIEW, I don’t think that’s too bad. Most hotels in Venice aren’t particularly modern. The lobbies and reception areas are usually fairly plush, but unless you pay thousands to stay in a five-star luxury hotel, most other hotels have more of an old-fashioned style charm. A lot of people take to Tripadvisor to complain about how their hotel was old and grotty. But I just think – you’re in Venice! What do you expect?!
When choosing where to stay keep the location of your hotel in mind. Once you get off the water you’re on your own from there. And Venice is a labyrinth full of narrow, cobbled streets. So if you don’t know your way around it might be a bit of a shock, especially if you don’t pack light!
There’s no sugar coating it – prepare to do a lot of walking. The easiest way to get around in Venice is to use the Vaporetto, which is essentially a bus on the water. There are a variety of different tickets available from 24hr, 48hr, 72hr etc. So it’s best to make the most of them for however long you’re in Venice. Boat is the only form of public transport, so once you’ve reached your stop you need to walk from there. Make sure you validate your ticket at the machine every time you use the Vaporetto.
Venice isn’t huge, but there are a lot of tiny back streets. It’s very easy to walk for miles and have very tired legs by the end of the day. Venice is very well signposted, and you can always use the GPS on your phone. But in my opinion, the best way to explore Venice is to put your map away and just get lost.
St Mark’s Square
St Mark’s Square is one of Venice’s most famous tourist spots. (Labelled San Marco on the signposts). The square boasts a variety of (expensive) coffee shops and cafe’s, high-end shops, and St Mark’s Basilica. The Basilica is a must-see. There are plenty of tours which you can attend, or for free you can look around the main section. There’s no photography allowed, which is the case in most cathedrals. You also have to have your shoulders and legs covered as it is a place of worship. The Basilica was originally the chapel for The Doge’s Palace, which was the residence of the Doge of Venice. The Doge is also famously known as the prison from which Giacomo Casanova escaped.
The Doge’s Palace
We went on a Secret Itineraries guided tour of the Doge which was really interesting and informative. I highly recommend doing this as opposed to general admission. The tour costs €25 per person and includes more rooms than general admission, plus a tour guide explaining what each room was used for and the history. They also take you inside Casanova’s prison cell and show you how he first attempted his escape.
On the tour, you also get to walk through the Bridge of Sighs into the new prison. This bridge was named as such because the prisoners would sigh at their final glimpse of Venice through these windows before going to prison.
Overpriced tourist trap or a once in a lifetime experience?
When it comes to Gondola rides in Venice, there are generally two types of people. Those who refuse to pay €80 – €100 for a 40 minute Gondola ride, and those who know it’s expensive but think that it’s one of the things you NEED to do when you’re in Venice. I’m definitely in the latter camp.
You certainly won’t be spoilt for choice when choosing a Gondola ride in Venice. There are ports everywhere you look, and the Grand Canal is filled with them. It’s generally more expensive after dark, but there is a good reason for that. It definitely works out more cost-effective if you’re part of a group so you can all split the cost. But unless you’re part of a tourist group it’s likely that it will just be you and your significant other, and, for the men reading this, I’m afraid you’re going to have to fork out for this one.
My advice would be not to book a Gondola trip along the Grand Canal.
You can get the same journey on the Vaporetto. We went down to the waterfront by The Doge and booked a trip from there. From there we went underneath the Bridge of Sighs, and all throughout the silent backstreets of Venice. Legend has it that you’ll be granted eternal love if you kiss your lover while going under the Bridge of Sighs on a gondola.
Food & Drink
There are plenty of restaurants to choose from in Venice. The staff will usually try to lure you in off the street, but don’t just go to the first place you find! You’re spoilt for choice with delicious Italian pizza and pasta dishes, but as you’re near the sea there are a lot of fish and seafood choices, too.
There are a lot of tourist traps in Venice. We did eat at one restaurant on the Grand Canal by the Rialto Bridge – but the view was far better than the food. The best restaurants to eat at are usually the ones off the beaten track, down the narrow backstreets. TripAdvisor is great for finding restaurants, but often the best places are the ones you stumble upon by accident. Don’t be afraid to sit outside during the colder months, as many places have outside heating. We went at the end of November and we were able to sit outside comfortably without coats.
When it comes to nightlife, there is one place I will recommend every time: Bacaro Jazz. This is a quaint little Jazz bar, just a couple of streets away from the Rialto Bridge. The food is fine, but the real treat is the atmosphere. There was no live music the night we went, but they were playing live performances of the likes of Amy Winehouse and Michael Bublé on their big screen.
One of the best things about Bacaro Jazz was the decor.
As well as having framed black & white pictures of Billie Holiday, Miles Davis, Frank Sinatra, among other legends, they also had a huge collection of bras hung from the ceiling.
Yeah. Marco (the bartender) told us that they’d all been donated from customers around the world. Before he was able to finish his sentence, I’d whipped mine off at the table and gave it to him to hang up. I’d like to say I was drunker than I actually was to give my bra to a complete stranger, but it was actually at the beginning of the night. My unsupported chest did not thank me for that.
Another must-do is a visit to the famous Harry’s Bar, which is on the waterfront near St Mark’s Square. We had the bright idea of going on a Saturday night. If you choose to do that, good luck getting a seat. It’s one of that you visit just to say you’ve visited, in my opinion. But, that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable. I paid probably around €9 for one of their classic Bellinis. It was nice, but I can’t tell you what it tasted like years later!
If you have the time and want to pretend you’re a sophisticated concert go-er, have a look to see if Interpreti Veneziani are playing at the San Vidal Church. You don’t have to love classical music to appreciate how incredible this orchestra is. Tickets are around €25 – €30 per person, but trust me – it was worth every cent. On the night we went we were lucky enough to see them perform Vivaldi’s Four Seasons which was just beautiful! Gorgeous live music in a gorgeous church – what more could you ask for!? After the performance, I went up to the stage took a string which came from the Double Bass and had landed on the floor to put in my memory box.
Take a boat trip to Murano & Burano
The Venetian Lagoon is actually made up of a number of different islands. There’s the main island itself, and surrounding islands such as Murano, Burano, Torcello, Lido, etc. If you get a chance, make sure you get to see some of the other islands. We took the Vaporetto from Fondamente Nove and chose a route which included both Murano and Burano. (There are a few different routes and lines to choose from – check the board at the boat stop). This was definitely my favourite part of the whole trip.
Murano is where Murano Glass originally comes from. Murano Glass is widely used for homeware, lighting, and jewellery. There are tons of shops to browse, and also some Murano glass workshops you can visit. We stumbled upon a workshop and watched someone make a small horse figurine out of Murano Glass. He just seemed so casual while he was crafting as if he was absentmindedly thinking “What shall I have for dinner?”, “Did I feed the dog?” while creating this glass masterpiece. I think the only thing I’d be able to make is a great big mess. Definitely worth a visit if you can find one.
Onto the next island; Burano, which, in a nutshell, is absolutely stunning. The bright coloured houses are a photographer’s dream. I wasn’t into photography much at the time, but now I really want to go back with my camera! It’s quite a small island so there’s not as much to do other than look around, but it’s definitely worth a visit. There aren’t many restaurants in Burano, so I’d advise you to take food with you. Burano is actually known for its lace, but I think the main reason people visit is just to walk around admiring the houses.
When to visit
Late spring/early summer is the best time to visit Venice as far as the weather is concerned. The summer months are usually the busiest, so there will be long waiting times for the museums and attractions. It’s also been said that Venice smells in the summer, so personally I’d want to avoid that.
As Venice is sinking, it’s not uncommon to experience a high tide while visiting Venice. October – January is the typical high water season. To put it into perspective, we were there for 6 nights, and there was a high tide on at least 3 of the days we were there. When they experience a hide tide, wooden walkways are put up all over the city early in the morning, so it’s still pretty easy to get around without being too inconvenienced. I’d recommend taking wellies with you if you can.
Alternatively, you can purchase these ultra sexy knee-high plastic boots for the *ahem* bargain price of €10 each from street sellers!
I hope you’ve found this post helpful! Leave me a comment about your favourite thing about Venice!
If you enjoyed this post, why not check out some of my other travel posts here.