Venice is one of those cities that has always fascinated me. It has beautiful architecture, culture, and not to mention 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 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. Technically there is a way to get into Venice without having to get on a boat. But it will involve taxis, trains, and once you get into the city itself, a lot of walking. Plus, it’s not really in the spirit of what Venice is all about.
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).
After a bit of sulking on my part, we ended up using the cheaper option, the Alilaguna ferry. The ferry stopped at Rialto which was right outside our hotel. There are a few different routes depending on where abouts in or around Venice you are staying. You can visit their website for exact details of their routes and fares at http://www.alilaguna.it. If you have the budget and you’d like to punt for the Bond option of a water taxi, there are plenty of websites just a Google search away which enable you to book in advance and they will be waiting for you at the airport. If you do decide to find one on the day, make sure you agree the fare with the driver before you board the boat.
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.
You see the red building to the right of the bridge? That’s it.
You see the room at the top with it’s 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 Venice hotels 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 24 hour, 48 hour, 72 hour etc. So it’s best to make the most of them for however long you’re in Venice for. 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 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.
Things to do
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, ands 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 part. There’s no photography allowed, which is the case in most cathedrals. And you have to have your shoulders and legs covered as it is a place of worship. (Although I did get a cheeky picture!) 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. All visitors can go through the Bridge of Sighs into the new prison which is well worth doing.
Keep your eye out for flower seller’s in St Mark’s Square. They are very pushy so you need to be very firm to get them to leave you alone.
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 Chinese 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.
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.
Unfortunately, most of the restaurants with the best views aren’t going to provide the best food. These types of restaurants are known as ‘Tourist Traps”. The best restaurants to eat at are usually the ones off the beaten track, down the narrow backstreets of Venice. 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.
Nightlife & Bars
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 Grand Canal. The food is perfectly adequate, 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, etc, they also had a huge collection of bras hung from the ceiling. Yeah. Marco told us that they’d all been donated from customers around the world. And with that said, I whipped mine off at the table and gave it to him to hang up. I’d like to say I was more drunk than I actually was to give my bra to a complete stranger, but it was actually at the beginning of the night. Stay classy.
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. I payed 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 when I say it was completely worth it. The night we saw them 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 even took a string which came from the Double Bass and had landed on the floor. I’m such a groupie.
Take a boat trip to Murano & Burano
The Venetian Lagoon is actually made up of a number of different islands. You have the main island itself, and surrounding islands such as Murano, Burano, Torcello, Lido, etc. If you get a chance to, make sure you get to see some of the other islands, too. 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). This was definitely my favourite part of the whole trip.
Murano is where Murano Glass comes from. Murano Glass is widely used for homeware, lighting, and jewellery. It’s what they use to make Troll Beads. It was great visiting Murano and having a look in the shops at all the stunning glassware on sale. There are also lots of workshops you can visit. We actually watched someone making 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 a masterpiece at the same time. I mean, I doubt I could even make a mess, let alone anything that looked half decent. Definitely worth a visit if you can find one!
Onto 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 here, but it’s definitely worth a visit. There aren’t many restaurants in Burano, so I’d advise you to take food with you. Even though Burano is known for it’s lace, I think the main reason people visit is 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 the high tide isn’t too inconvenient. So it’s pretty easy to get around. Still, I’d recommend taking wellies with you, if you can. That way, you can frolic in the water!
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 related posts here.