things to know about venice
everything you need to know before you go!
I never believed in love at first sight until I stepped out of the San Lucia train station and saw Venice’s Grand Canal. I am always surprised to hear people scoff at the thought of visiting Venice. Typically they’re averse to the fact that it’s “overrun” by tourists. It is touristy – but for very good reason. It is loved by people all over the world, and is one of my favorite places on earth. First thing to know about Venice? Well, it’s unlike any place in the world.
I assure you, this is a city you don’t want to miss, so I’m priming you with things to know about Venice to ensure you can enjoy this incredible Italian gem while staying safe, avoiding crowds, and making the most out of your time there!
get ready for an adventure!
Possibly the most important of things to know about Venice – have an adventurous mindset when visiting! Venice was not designed for easy navigation. I used to live about 30 minutes away from Venice and visited the city as many weekends as I could. I kid you not, I still could not find my way around confidently even after 4 or 5 visits.
enjoy the scenic route
Venice can be disorienting, dead-ends, winding streets, and multiple ways out of each public square you come across. But don’t get me wrong, the enigmatic quality of Venice’s city fabric is what makes it a spellbinding adventure. Get lost and fall in love with the charming nooks and crannies of the place.
GO ON FOOT
My suggestion is always to walk. It may look far when you map it, but sometimes waiting for the vaporetto water taxis takes just as long going on foot. Plus exploring Venetian streets is where all the fun is. Long walks go by quickly when you’re surrounded by beautiful sights to see at every turn! Another thing to know about Venice: hire a gondolier if you really want the photo op, but I would suggest saving your money for other things, it can be upwards of 100 dollars per hour!
Be prepared and download Google Maps before you go (even then it isn’t always the most reliable). Or if you feel like going old school, buy an actual map! If you have to be somewhere on a tight schedule, be sure to map it beforehand. It is often hard to gauge how long it will take to get from point A to point B just because there is no such thing as a straight path when navigating Venice!
I think my favorite thing about Venice is that there are absolutely no cars – boats are the only form of transportation. Given that, the vaporetto water taxi is the main public transport here. There are 19 lines that serve the island. You can also take them to nearby Murano, Burano, and Lido. You can buy tickets for single rides, a day, or a week. Single-use starts at around 7.50 euros and a day pass for the ACTV system is around 20 euros.
I have bought the day passes a few times now but never actually end up using it as much as I think I will. Like a bus line, the vaporetto has time tables you’ll need to check. I usually never found myself waiting more than 15 minutes for the next boat, BUT, be warned, the vaporetto is not a speedy transportation method. It moves fairly slowly on the water which is why, if your feet can take it, walking is sometimes usually equally as efficient.
looking for a good walking route to see the island?
When you take the train into Venice, you will get dropped off at San Lucia station, which is located on the western end of the island. My suggestion for a fairly straightforward walking route that hits a lot of great sites, is to follow the Grand Canal east until you hit the Rialto bridge. Once you hit the bridge the canal will start to double back. Instead of following the water, follow signs to San Marco. There will be arrows at basically every street corner. You might feel like you are getting lost but just keep following the signs, you’ll get there eventually!
Once you reach San Marco, walk east along the waterfront for gorgeous views of the Guidecca. There will be loads of opportunities to duck into side streets or alleys. The Giardini is located on the most eastern edge of the island, which is a great garden park to stop at and find a waterfront restaurant or cafe.
While violent crime is less prevalent in Italy, petty theft is very typical. I have seen several people get robbed in broad daylight – but nearly every instance was probably avoidable. Like many touristy cities across Europe, pickpockets are not only common – they are extremely good at what they do. However, if you are sure to take extra care to keep an eye on your things, and exercise caution, you should be just fine. I myself am extremely cautious and have never had any trouble.
Here are a few tips to protect yourself and ensure your belongs stay safe:
Don’t leave your phone/wallet/other valuables in unzipped bags, or your pockets. If possible, I recommend using a crossbody bag so you can keep a hand/eye on it at all times. Backpacks are easy to access, especially in large crowds, or when you aren’t paying close attention. You can also find discrete pockets or holders that can be worn under your clothes if you need a safe place to store valuables such as documents. When possible – don’t have your passport on you – keep it in your hotel/hostel/Airbnb safe.
Cathedrals, museums, and the vaporetto water taxis are places where theft is common. Be sure to be extra aware of your bag and belongings. Some of the major streets and Campos can get very crowded. Often times thieves will work in teams, with one person distracting you by bumping into you, while someone else snags your things. Again, a crossbody makes it easy to keep your belongings in front of you, and a hand on it at all times.
Also, be sure to exercise extra caution in instances where you have to pull your wallet out. A very common place for theft to happen is when purchasing train tickets at a ticket machine. Be sure to pay attention to your bags, and don’t engage with anyone who comes near you or offers to help you (unless you are certain they work for the train company).
venice's dress code
Venice is FILLED with some of my favorite churches and cathedrals in the world. An important things to know about Venice is that appropriate dress is required in most of these places of worship. Make sure your shoulders and knees are covered up if you’re wanting to visit some of Venice’s incredible architecture, such as San Marco, or Il Redentore. You can always bring a scarf to wrap around your shoulders if you’re still wanting to sport your favorite shorts or tank top.
Also, remember that in the summer months Venice can get incredibly hot and humid. Bring sunscreen, sunglasses, and a good hat or visor – there is water everywhere so the sun is not only intense, but it gets reflected everywhere! In the winter months it can get down into the 40s and 30s (degrees Fahrenheit – sorry guys, I’m uncultured and don’t know Celsius lol), and October through January is the typical high water or rainy season. Even in the spring months when I frequented this city, I always brought a light rain jacket and an umbrella. Storms would roll in in a matter of minutes unexpectedly, and it doesn’t hurt to be prepared.
the main island
There are lots of options when it comes to things to know about Venice’s accommodations. One option is to stay on the main island – there are plenty of Airbnbs and hotels. I stayed near the San Lucia train station in a small 1 bedroom apartment Airbnb for about 30 Euros a night. It was really fun to stay on the island and see the city at night, that was nothing short of a magical experience. Check out some hand-picked AirBnbs right on the main island.
Venice is pretty quiet after dinner and there is not much nightlife here. If you’re looking to save a bit of money you could also opt to stay in Venice-Mestre. This is a neighborhood located on the mainland, and it is mainly residential, but it is a five-minute train ride from the island of Venice. Be sure to double-check whatever accommodation you do book – if it says Venice Mestre, you are not on the actual island of Venice! I found a very nice and affordable hotel in Mestre that I would definitely book again. Mestre is also a great place to stay if you need to catch a flight or are arriving from the Venice Leonardo Da Vinci airport. There are buses to and from the airport that drop off at the Mestre train station.
Another option is to stay in a nearby city like Padova, Verona, or Vicenza. There is a train that connects these Veneto cities, and you can get from Vicenza to Venice in 45 minutes. Staying in a town like Vicenza gives you a more central location, you can visit other nearby cities, and there are lots of affordable Airbnbs here that I love. Plus it is far less touristy and can give you a bit of a more authentic Italian experience.
Check out my post on my favorite small Italian towns for more info on places like Vicenza!
Venice is known for being a huge tourist epicenter. The thought of the huge crowds can be off-putting and some people (like me) are after a more authentic experience of this beautiful island.
Here are some tips for a less-touristy, and more authentic Venetian experience:
Hit the big tourist spots really early. Go visit the Rialto bridge in the morning. There is an open-air market along the canal here (the Mercato di Rialto) that opens at 7:30 AM. There is so much to see here, from vibrant produce to fresh-caught seafood. After exploring the Rialto – go visit San Marco cathedral right when it opens at 9:30 AM to beat the crowds that usually fill this piazza.
finding gooD eats
When it comes to finding food, if you’re looking for the most authentic, as well as the most affordable eats – make sure you wander away from main tourist attractions (namely San Marco, and the Rialto bridge). There are lots of affordable eats in Venice, just look for smaller streets off the main tourist paths.
Avoid any place where the hosts are chasing you down or the menu has pictures. The most authentic places are typically very modest and inconspicuous. Try Al Covo, a local and family-owned business, for a delicious meal featuring Venice’s best seafood. This restaurant is not only incredible but was featured on my FAVORITE travel/food show, Somebody Feed Phil.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
Despite heavy tourist traffic, many local, small businesses are suffering (even before COVID and the flooding Venice experience last year). This is a thing to know about Venice when considering accommodations and businesses to patronize. I would highly recommend finding a local hotel, and locally-owned restaurants to support during your stay. Tourist models like cruises often hurt local businesses as people come to the island but sleep and eat on the ship without supporting the local economy.
There are also plenty of spots throughout Venice that are more secluded, but still wonderful to explore. While you can certainly find these places just by wandering down smaller streets and away from touristy areas like San Marco, I would highly recommend taking a vaporetto over to the Giudecca island. There is a lot of newer apartment development here where young professionals and students live, as well as some beautiful churches, markets and waterfront eats.
there's more than just the main island
Murano and BUrano
A sometimes forgotten thing to know about Venice is that it actually is made up of multiple islands. Any trip to Venice should include a stop at two of Venice’s smaller islands. Take the vaporetto taxi and visit Murano and Burano. At Murano, you’ll find the some of the world’s best hand glass blowers, and glass studios. If you’ve never seen hand-blown glassmakers at work, you are in for a treat! On Burano, you’ll find an enchanting fairytale land, unlike anything in the world. Every house front here is a different color, making a rainbow of facades that line the canal. It is a surreal experiencing walking these streets. Pick up some lace while you’re there, the island is known for it!
If you’re up jonesing for some time at the beach, Venice also includes the island of Lido – known for its long stretches of beachfront where you can find a spot in the sand to tan or take a dip in the ocean. It is about an hour-long ferry ride across the lagoon to this island from the mainland. Jesolo is another beach destination – a seaside resort town that can be reached from Venice via bus and ferry (an hour-long journey).
Now that you’ve been primed with the top things to know about Venice – you’re ready to embark on an adventure through this incredible city. If you have any questions feel free to drop me a comment or email me! I seriously used to visit Venice every weekend when I lived in Italy and have fallen in love with all its nook and crannies. Keep an eye out for more Venice blog posts because TBH I have way too much Venice info in my head to keep to myself. Happy planning!