Travel better with our tourists' guide to Venice
Venice is like no city on Earth. Rising from the sea and running on a series of canals, it's easy to see why many refer to it as the City of Water. In fact, the city is actually sinking into the Venetian Lagoon right now (albeit at a quite pedestrian 2mm a year). What's more, Venice isn't just easy on the eyes; with a wealth of culture, history and copious amounts of delicious food (*carbs) to enjoy.
However, in the Summer months the small city can get very busy as over 50,000 tourists per day flock. If you're unprepared it's easy to miss some of the hidden gems that this unique place has to offer, such as where to find the best authentic Venetian cuisine, how avoid the long queues in the Piazza San Marco and where to find the all important free wifi! Fortunately, dear traveller, you're in the best place to be in the know and make the most of the things to do in Venice.
In our Venice travel guide we'll cover:
- How to get to Venice
- The best ways to travel around Venice
- Top 10 things to know before your Venice holiday
- Where to eat in Venice
- How to make the most of your money in Venice
- Do you need to be able to speak Italian to enjoy Venice?
So grab a glass of red and come with us as we navigate grand buildings, old palaces, tiny streets and of course, gondolas!
What better place to start than at the beginning.
Venice is 697 miles from London, where you've already stayed at an airport hotel with parking and left your car, with flights taking approximately 2 hours. Just enough time to practice some Italian key phrases. Ciao bello.
What airports are near Venice?
There are two airports serving Venice. Most flights will be directed to the larger Marco Polo Airport, which is a mere five miles outside the city. If you're flying with Ryanair from Stansted, East Midlands or Leeds-Bradford Airports, you may arrive at Treviso Airport, which is roughly 25 miles out of the city.
We definitely recommend flying into Marco Polo Airport if possible, as the city centre is just a stone's throw away and you'll get the best views of the Venice from above.
How to get from the airport to Venice
Now you've touched down in beautiful Italia, what's the best way to get to Venice from Marco Polo Airport?
You have the choice of bus, taxi or boat to ferry you to your destination. Let's break down these options so you can make the right choice.
The ATVO Express Venice costs 15 for a return ticket and transfers take around 20 mins. Tickets are available from the public transport booth in the arrivals hall, but to travel better like a pro, you can book ahead online and beat the queues!
Taxi transfer from Marco Polo Airport to Venice
If speed's the name of the game, then nothing will get you into the city faster than a local taxi. As with all taxis, this is a premium method of transport, and as such costs 40, but like the bus can be booked online for maximum convenience.
Both buses and taxis take you over the bridge from the mainland to Piazzale Roma, which is as far as cars can go into Venice. If you're staying in the city then you'll need to sort your own way to your hotel so it's either a walk, the water bus or a private water taxi.
Boat transfer from Marco Polo Airport to Venice
Of course, the real way to get into Venice from Marco Polo Airport is by boat. You can either take a private water taxi or catch the water bus - the vaporetto.
The vaporetto is run by Alilaguna and takes you right into the heart of Venice, stopping at Fondamente Nove, Lido, San Marco, Rialto and Guglie. A single costs 15 and a return 27.
Pro tip: You can include an airport transfer with an unlimited vaporetto travel card for an extra 6 each way. If you're planning to use the vaporetto a lot in Venice, then this is the best way to get your airport transfer ticket.
Bus transfer from Treviso Airport to Venice
If you're on a Ryanair flight to Treviso Airport the best way to transfer is by bus. The ATVO service takes 70 mins to Piazzale Roma, costing roughly 12 for a single and 22 for a return.
Alternatively, the Barzi bus costs the same and takes around 40 mins to reach Venice. However, the downside is this bus stops at Tronchetto, which is further out and a much less convenient drop-off location.
What are the best ways to travel around Venice?
Phew, you've arrived! Time to start exploring and getting around Venice.
You're probably wondering about the public transport in Venice. Normally this would be where we talk about your options of taxi, bus, subway and such, but you won't find such talk when it comes to Venice! As the city is essentially standing on stilts, there's no roads, no cars, no buses and certainly no subways (the salt water tends to turn them pretty rusty). No, you're best getting around Venice by foot or by water.
Should I travel through Venice on foot?
As with all cities, but especially when it comes to Venice, we believe the best way to explore is to walk. The city centre is fairly compact, with a walk from Piazza San Marco to the Rialto Bridge only taking about 10 mins. That being said, it's still worth packing a pair of comfy shoes, just in case the flip flops don't cut it.
Moreover, we think walking is the absolute best way to get lost in Venice's myriad of side streets and alleys. Trust us, getting lost is the only way to truly discover all the hidden restaurants, bars, shops, workshops and boutiques. Planning is great, but the best moments are often unscripted!
Naturally, we recommend having Google Maps installed on your phone to help you find your way again.
Should I travel through Venice by boat?
Although walking gives the most intimate experience of the city, unfortunately most of us don't have the time to wander every meandering Venetian street. If time's a factor, nothing gets you around the city faster than the vaporetto which is the city's water bus.
The vaporetto operates just like a bus in any other city, with multiple routes and regular stops but there are a few things you should know about the water bus before jumping on:
- Let people disembark before boarding.
- The free app Venice in Time.
- Validate your ticket before you board the vaporetto, or your could be fined. Non bene.
The variety of different tickets available for the vaporetto can be a little daunting. Fortunately, we found out that you can ignore most of the options as they're designed for locals, leaving you with the tickets for tourists. Here's some of the most popular tickets we saw:
- Single journeys are 5 and returns 10.
- An unlimited number of journeys for 75 minutes will cost you 7.50.
- 1, 2, 3 and 7 day unlimited travel passes are available. If you plan on using the vaporetto a lot, then we think that picking up one of these is the best value for money.
- Those of you aged between 6 and 29 can buy a Rolling Venice card for 6. This entitles you to a 22 72-hour unlimited travel ticket.
- As mentioned above, you can upgrade your daily passes to include an airport transfer, costing 6 for one-way and 12 for a return.
- Tickets are available from machines at vaporetto stops or from ticket offices spread around the city.
Top 10 tips for your Venice holiday
Want to know our top tips for making the most of your Venice holiday?
It's no secret that the city is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world and the busy crowds could have a negative impact on your time here. We've learned a lot during our stay, so here's our 10 tips to help make your Venice holiday better.
1. Avoid busy periods
Venice is busiest during the Summer months, when everyone comes to soak up the Mediterranean sun. But we've found the city much more enjoyable in late Spring or Early Autumn, when the weather's still pleasant and the lack of people traffic is pure bliss!
2. Stay in the city
Venice is best first thing in the mornings and during the evenings, when the cruise ships aren't running and the streets are quietest. To prevent missing out on these times (or to save you from a 5AM wake up) we think it's best to stay within the city itself. There's accommodation to suit every taste a budget, but we recommend the Hotel Caprera for affordable, excellently located lodgings.
3. A gondola ride is a must
Because how can you visit Venice and not take a gondola ride?
However, knowing how much a gondola ride should cost is easier said than done. The city of Venice actually sets the official rate of gondola rides, which start at around 80 for 30 minutes, with additional 20 minute slots costing 40. Expect these fares to rise even higher after 7pm.
It's worth knowing that although these prices are set by the city, they're seldom adhered to. For example, a singing gondolier can cost a premium, so it's worth discussing the cost and length of your ride with the gondolier before you've even stumbled into the boat.
You can find gondolas throughout the main tourist spots, so finding a ride shouldn't be too difficult. Piazzale Roma, the Rialto Bridge Area and the Doge's Palace are all top areas to find a gondolier just waiting to let you aboard. If you're travelling to Venice as a group, it's also worth remembering that gondolas can seat up to 6 people.
4. Avoid food from the tourist traps
A coffee in Piazza San Marco can set you back 5 (did I just hear a wail of pain come from my wallet?). If cash is more important to you than the view, food and drink gets cheaper away from the tourist centres. You never know, you might even find an even more authentic brew and a fraction of the cost.
5. You can't take your bag into the Basilica
During the peak Summer months, queues for Venice's main attractions can be incredibly long, but one destination that's absolutely worth waiting in line for is Saint Mark's Basilica in the Piazza San Marco. Arguably the most famous church in the city, it's stunning opulence is breathtaking and certainly one of the top things to do in Venice.
But it's worth bearing in mind that they don't allow any bags in the building. We saw some unfortunate tourists queue for half an hour, only to be told to join another queue to put their bag in the cloakroom, where they were told to rejoin the BACK of the first queue. A painful rookie error.
Learn from these mistakes; make sure you deposit your bag in the cloakroom first to avoid queueing twice. There's so much to experience in Venice, don't spend all your time in line!
6. To really avoid the queues, book ahead
Much like the Basilica, you can expect long queues throughout the city during busy periods. However, the longest queues are normally for the ticket offices, so to travel better, book ahead to skip these.
Tickets for some of the most popular attractions can be found here.
7. Make the most of your hotel's wifi
Wifi on holiday has become as vital as sunscreen and a spare pair of undies, so it's useful to know where you can get a free connection.
Most hotels and restaurants have freely available wifi, giving you great opportunities to upload pictures of your rustic, wood fire calzone to Instagram (is it lunchtime yet?). There are WIFI hotspots dotted around the city, but be prepared to pay for the luxury. We found that 24 hours cost us 5, 72 hours cost 15 and seven days packages would set us back 20. Naturally, if you're lucky enough to be jetting off to Venice for a week, the latter option is by far the best value for money.
8. Make the most of free loos.
There aren't many public toilets in Venice and occasionally have queues to rival the Basilica! Just to sweeten' the deal, you have to fork out 1.50 for the convenience.
If you're able to, make use of the free loos found in hotels and restaurants. Paying for wifi and loos makes the 5 coffee not seem so expensive now! Just remember - signori for men and signore for women.
9. It can flood (and smell)
Sadly both come part and parcel with a city in a lagoon. We've noticed the smell in Venice is at its most pungent during the hottest periods, so if you needed another reason to avoid the peak Summer months, think of your poor nostrils!
Locally known as Acqua Alta, flooding normally occurs during high tide, and can make the Venetian alleys feel more like the streets of Atlantis. Normally occurring during the Winter months, the flooding is usually quite minor (an odd puddle or overflowing drain) and won't be much more than a nuisance to your Venice holiday. However, if you hear a siren, it means a higher than usual tide is approaching, during which time the city will place elevated wooden walkways in areas most susceptible to flooding.
10. Expect to get lost
It can feel like there's no logic to Venice's address system, as all of the buildings are numbered sequentially, not by street, but across the whole city from 1 to over 15000. Unless your orienteering skills are almost superhuman, you can expect to find yourself walking to a dead end or being cut off by a canal. The important thing is to not panic, but rather give yourself time to get around and amble through this enchanting city. After all, getting lost is part of the charm!
Want even more Venice travel tips?
Click here for even more advice on how to get the most out of your Venice holiday.
What should I eat in Venice?
Many people holiday in Italy simply for the promise of the nation's fantastic food and captivating cuisine. This is with good reason, as images of pizza, pasta, lasagne and garlic bread have this humble writer salivating and wishing for lunchtime.
Yet with so much choice and variation amongst different local dishes, it can be tricky to know exactly where and what to eat.
But fret not!
During our time in Venice, we learned a lot about some of the culinary delights the city has to offer. Let's dive in, fork first into what we found out following our nose around Venice!
Is Venetian food different to classic Italian?
Traditional Venetian food is different from most of the food you'll find elsewhere in Italy, with a much heavier emphasis on seafood with dishes commonly including sardines, anchovies, crab and even squid ink. Trust us when we say you haven't tried antipasto until you've tried fish antipasto! Baccala mantecato is our favourite variety, and is made by poaching and blending the fish into a smooth mousse, seasoning with olive oil, salt and pepper. It is then served spread on slices of fresh bread or grilled white polenta, a typical staple of the Veneto region. delizioso!
Where's the best places to eat in Venice?
To find the most authentic Venetian experience, try to eat outside of the major tourist areas for the best food in Venice.
If you're looking to impress and perhaps splash the cash, then we think you can't do much better than Alle Testiere, near Santa Maria Formosa. Expect the freshest catches from the local fish market and staff with a passion for Italian wine. Seating only 22 people (and only having two sittings a day), booking is an absolute must if you want to enjoy this intimate setting. Also, keep in mind that although a meal at Alle Testiere is worth every penny, you won't see much change from 60 per person.
Where's best to eat on a budget in Venice?
An Italian holiday can certainly be tough on the wallet, so it's worth knowing where you can find good food cheap.
We're big fans of Dai Tosi, which you can reach easily from the vaporetto stop at Giardini to the west of the city. Offering classic pizzas, as well as traditional Venetian and pasta dishes, you're sure to satisfy all tastes, no matter how fussy. The cherry on the panettone is that pizzas start from as little as 5, with other dishes not costing much more. I think that calls for seconds!
Where not to eat in Venice
Be wary when looking for some grub in and around Piazza San Marco, as you may be getting ripped off!
Many restaurants in these tourist traps will sell you overpriced Italian food that's no better than what you can find in your freezer. We know they say even the worst pizza is still pretty good, but when you're in a city of so much variety to make your palette tingle, why would you settle for less?
Keep an eye out for restaurants that are already full of tourists, with multi-language menus and waiters standing outside, trying to tempt you in. These would be places to be cautious of if you're looking for fairly priced, authentically Venetian eating.
Pro tip: If you can't understand the menu or waiter, use Google's Translate app for real-time language translation. We did and it worked a treat.
How to make the most of your money in Venice
We've established how to get to Venice, things to do and where to eat during your Italian holiday, but you're not going to get very far doing any of them if you don't bring your euros!
That being said, let's take a look at how to make your money go further on your Venice holiday.
1. How much money should I bring to Venice?
Like the rest of Italy, Venice's currency is Euros, however prices are pretty steep compared to the rest of the country due to it being such a popular tourist hotspot. Although you can spread the cost by purchasing tickets to attractions before your holiday, it's still a good idea to bring a sizeable amount of spending money.
If you're unsure about carrying a lot of money on you through the busy Venetian streets, we recommending picking up a currency card, such as the FairFX money card before you leave. You can load the card up with your travel money before you set off for Venice, meaning all your funds are readily accessible wherever you are.
What's more, the exchange rate will be set there and then at the best rate for you. Then you can travel with peace of mind, knowing you're protected from the volatility of the currency market.
2. Where can I get the best deals in Venice?
As mentioned before, if you're looking for the best deals on food, drink and such, then avoid the likes of Piazza San Marco. Merchants and restaurateurs know these are the locations that tourists flock too, so will bump up their prices to reflect the demand. Like with most things in life, it pays to shop around; if you're looking for an authentic taste of Venice, have an explore around the roads less travelled. For example, the walking tour with our lovely guide Luisella from seevenice.it gave us a great insight into the city's secrets that can easily be overlooked, especially when it's particularly busy.
It's always nice to find some hidden gems that you weren't expecting to find!
3. Is tipping compulsory in Venice?
Tipping isn't generally part of the culture in Italy so don't feel compelled to tip at restaurants. In fact, many will include a 12% service charge that goes to management. Of course, if you've felt the service has been exceptional then a small tip is appreciated, but don't feel it's necessary.
4. Don't forget to have fun in Venice!
It's always a good idea to be careful with money on holiday, but don't let it stand in the way of fun. Venice is such a unique city with things to do that you can't experience anywhere else in the world. How many chances do we get to ride in a gondola in our lifetime, anyway?
Carpe Diem and all that!
5. How much did we spend?
Here's a breakdown of some of the costs of our Venice trip:
- Return flights: £64
- 3-Bed apartment (two nights): £420
- Gondola ride (30 minutes): 80
- St. Mark's Basilica: free!
- Doge's Palace: 20 adult, 13 children
Do I need to be able to speak Italian to enjoy Venice?
Whenever travelling to a new, foreign-speaking country, it's always a worry that your English might not be understood. After all, no one wants to attempt to order squid ink risotto, only to be greeted by a plate of chicken nuggets and a look of contempt from the waiter!
With that said, do you need to be able to speak Italian to enjoy your Venetian holiday?
Good news! English is spoken and understood across Venice, especially at the tourist sites. To survive here you don't need to learn Italian, but it certainly helps and the effort will be appreciated by locals. Here's some basic phrases that we found useful, and will let you show off your multilingual skills:
What phrases should I learn for my Venice holiday?
- Hello: Ciao (informal) or Buongiorno (formal)
- Yes: Si
- No: No
- Please: Per favore
- Do you speak English?: Parla inglese?
- May I have the bill please?: Il conto, per favore?
- How much is it?: Quant'e
- Thank you: Grazie
- Goodbye: Ciao (informal) or Arrivederci (formal)
That wraps up our whistle-stop tour through just some of the things Venice has to offer, but the only way to truly experience such a wonderful city is to see it with your own eyes. We hope this travel guide will hope you make the most of your Venice holiday.
Venice... you've been beautiful!
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