Venice, Italy’s sinking city, is certainly a beauty. It’s known all over the world for its pretty canals, romantic gondolas and beautiful buildings. Of course – it’s also known for being majorly touristic. I have to admit that worried me a bit beforehand, but I pretty much prepared for the worst when it came to crowds, and expected to be swooned by the prettiness of it all anyway. And in the end? I too, fell in love with Venice. It’s really hard not to, anyway. The crowds are there, but they can be easily avoided and Venice also has a lot of charming, more quiet neighborhoods to explore. My advice would be to go a bit of the beaten path, and choose to do Venice your own way – which will be way more relaxed and fun. A little preparation will get you a long way, and I’m happy to help you along with that in this city guide.
The practical things
Let’s get you started with the practical side of Venice. I’m pretty sure you’ll know by now that there are no cars in Venice – all transportation is done by boat. There’s public transport by water (called the vaporetto), which will take you through the canals and to the nearby islands. A single ride will set you back 7,50 Euros, which is definitely not cheap, but you can get a multi-day ticket – depending on the duration and intention of your stay.
Here’s the thing: if you only have two days and your plan is to fully and only explore Venice city, I would advise to skip the multi-day ticket. It’s a small and walkable city – and the vaporetto is often rather slow taking you to a destination. If this is your plan, I’d suggest to go for a single ride for fun on line 1, which is a good budget option to see the Grand Canal (make sure to get on at a non-popular stop somewhere in the beginning, that way you can score a seat outside and get the best view of the canal). The main trick to knowing which ticket is best for you is to figure out how many times you’ll really need to take the vaporetto, and see if a multi-day ticket will save you some bucks or not. You can check the prices and buy your ticket in advance here.
If you have a couple of days in Venice, and are interested in seeing the nearby islands (you should), I would advise a multi-day ticket. We got one for three days and really made the most of it. How? An island trip to Burano, Torcello and Murano is really fun and beautiful – and they’re all connected on one line, which is super convenient. We also went on a little afternoon trip to Lido, a nearby island with a beach, and hopped on the vaporetto to Giudecca to get a nice view on Venice from the other side. Lido and Giudecca are both only a short boat ride away, so it won’t take you much time getting there and back.
If you’re flying via Treviso airport, it’s really easy to take the ATVO shuttle to and from Venice. Check the timetables and book your tickets in advance here (and save a couple of Euros doing so). The shuttle is literally just outside the airport, and it will drop you at Piazalle Roma, where you have all kinds of options for different vaporetto lines. You can check the way the lines work in advance here, and also use google maps for real-time use.
Alright, you’ll find plenty of info of all the things you ‘have to’ see in Venice – but we decided to do things a little differently and I’m glad we did. It’s true that the main sights in Venice (the Basilica di San Marco, Doge’s palace, the bell tower, …) will be crowded and will often take you a lot of time queuing. It’s up to you to decide if you want to spend all your time on that, or discover Venice in a different way. We went for a mix of things – which was perfect. A sunny day of island touring, mixed with a lot of walking around in different neighborhoods of Venice (just get lost, you’ll pretty much find every street and canal charming), mixed with some (free) points of interest, and one actual (planned) visit to the beautiful Basilica di San Marco was the perfect way to discover Venice in my opinion. I would definitely advise to book a skip the line ticket for the Basilica – it’s only two Euros, and it can easily save you hours to get in. You can find all the specific info on their website, read ahead and your visit will be much more pleasant. Inside the basilica, you have the option to pay the extra entrance fees to see the Golden Pall, the Treasury, and San Marco Museum. I’d advise to do the latter, since you’ll get to see and learn a little more of the Basilica and you can access the terrace outside – which will give you a great view on San Marco square.
To gondola or not to gondola
… that is the question, is it not? You’ll see the typical gondolas going up and down the canals all day, everyday – which will probably fuel your own appetite for a little tour yourself. We knew the prices beforehand (80 Euros for half an hour by day, 100 Euros for the same by night), and were like “no way we want to spend that much!”. In the end, I guess Venice sort of swept us of our feet, because we caved and did it anyway. When it feels right, you just have to go for it, right? We did end up sharing our gondola with two other people, which is a good way to make it a bit cheaper. So yes, I’d say – to gondola! One advice would be to do this earlier in the morning, when the water traffic is still a bit more quiet. Also pick your starting point a bit strategic (I wouldn’t start at San Marco, but would rather go for somewhere around Rialto bridge). Other than that, just enjoy the ride and make sure to have your camera ready.
It’s really not that difficult to discover the alternative or more quiet side of Venice. Simply walk away from the obvious tourist areas, and you’ll find yourself in pretty little streets that you’ll have all to yourself. Venture out to Cannaregio (“the Jewish ghetto”), which is really charming and perfect for a drink by the water. Make sure to stroll along Rio di San Girolamo and Rio della Misericordia, a lovely canal with lots of options for a glass of wine or some food at sunset which won’t break the bank. The further you get out of the center, the more quiet it will get – and luckily Venice is small enough that it all still remains within walking distance.
Even though Venice is a treat in itself, the nearby islands shouldn’t be missed too. You can visit Torcello, Burano and Murano in a day – since they’re all connected by the same vaporetto line, it’s really easy to get there. Each of them is pretty small, and has their own characteristic. Burano is the one with all the colorful houses, aka a blogger’s dream come true. Torcello is the lesser-visited one with lots of green and a Game of Thrones-like church. Murano is the one that’s famous for the glass blowing, and has more Arabic influences in its architecture. They’re all lovely, and you’ll have a pretty perfect day visiting all three of them and ending your night in Venice. Other than that, there’s Lido, which is the one with the beach (and cars!). And if you have a multi-day ticket anyway, make sure to hop over to Giudecca for a nice view of Venice from the other side of the water.
Eat & shop
While it’s true that’s Venice isn’t particularly a budget destination, it’s also true that you can eat really good here for a decent price. These tips will help get you started with some of the basics. At a restaurant, you’ll usually pay an extra service fee – also called coperto – which is normally 2 Euros per person (most of the times this is mentioned on the menu). At a bar or pasticceria, you will pay extra for whatever you order to sit down. For instance, your coffee will be 1.50 when you drink it standing up, and 2.50 when you drink it on the terrace or inside. The locals and some budget-cutting tourist will do the stand-up thing, but I found this to be a bit unpractical or hectic at times. You’ll quickly notice that Italian pasta is more basic (compared to Belgian food) and they have their meat dish separate from the pasta (so it’s kind of like two main courses). Of course, this depends on your general appetite but I was usually more than satisfied with just the pasta dish – which definitely helped save plenty of Euros.
For breakfast, I loved Farini. Italians do breakfast differently, and it’s hard to find anything other than super sweet stuff in the local pasticcerias. Farini offered good options (croissants, sandwiches or granola) that were yummy, and budget-friendly. They have several locations scattered around Venice, which adds to the convenience factor. Some of my favorites for lunch or dinner were 6432 a le tole, a really nice spaghetteria slash pizzeria that is delicious and super budget friendly. I also loved the food at Osteria alla Staffa and Osteria Ruga di Jaffa. Definitely don’t miss lunch or apero by the water at Dodo Caffe – this place is a real gem! We stumbled upon the bar of hostel Generator by accident (by taking the vaporetto in a wrong direction – oops), and it was a super fun discovery! It’s located on Giudecca, which is just across the water from San Marco square and you can go for a very budget friendly meal here. We had some appetizers and drinks here, and loved it.
Whilst I didn’t really focus on shopping during this trip, I wouldn’t want to hold back on these two addresses that are really part of the quintessential Venice experience. Make sure to stop by at book store Acqua Alta – it’s a really cute place to get yourself some souvenirs and browse the beautiful cards and books they have here. If you’re interested in buying a carnival mask, I’d recommend the shop Ca’Macana atelier in the Carneggio area. I didn’t do the full blown-research on this, but this one felt more authentic and not too expensive compared to many of the other stores we saw. Plus, you can actually try on the masks here!
In conclusion: let Venice sweep you off your feet, get lost in all the beautiful little streets and start dreaming about your next visit already…