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Let’s be very blunt here! Tens of thousands of people flock to Venice every day packing the place up like out-of-control sardines crammed in a very narrow place. Add to that a 1000 years old city that was entirely built on water to house less than a hundred thousand, filled with canals that are crossed here and there by narrow bridges. The long-awaited dream trip to Venice can very quickly turn into a nightmare of frustrations. So here are our top DOs and DON’Ts for actually enjoying this amazing city and making the most of your Venetian holiday. Enjoy the reading and hopefully it will spare you some of the nuisances and irritations we’ve endured 🙂
1. DO ... try to get an accommodation in Venice rather than on the mainland.
We know the prices for getting a room in the historic city are really high but there are several reasons why you should try to stay in the heart of it all. Venice is much more than just a compilation of touristic objectives, floating gondolas and mask shops. It is an unique experience in itself, best savored walking its streets and discovering the city on your own pace, at different moments of the day. You will feel one Venice in the morning and a completely changed one at dusk; but the feeling of being there, surrounded by all of this, is greatly lost if everyday you would need to catch the train, the bus or the vaporetto to get home (plus that you might be bound by the public transportation schedules) so you won’t have the leisure of feeling like a real part of it.
In the same way we highly recommend you spend at least a night or two in Venice. There is an expanding trend now where many people come here for a couple of hours. We never really understood that as for us, Venice is clearly not a day-trip destination.
2. DO … leave St. Mark’s Square and the San Marco neighbourhood
We know how awesome the central square of Venice and its immediate canals are but, even if you are in Venice for a little while, its really worth venturing further out to Cannaregio or even cross the Grand Canal and into Dorsodouro. Fleeing from the hordes of tourists, many Venetians are now living in Giudecca, so for a less touristy and more local flavor you can also grab the “vaporetto” and try it out. Also, getting out of central Venice, you will have higher chances of enjoying better meals and leaving the masses of people behind.
3. DO … plan ahead.
Whether you have a couple of days to spend here, or much less than that, knowing your way around the city and how to get to all the objectives you are interested in is very important. There are many things that can be of interest – maybe the palazzos, or the amazing churches, the museums or maybe trips to Murano and Burano or even all of the above – but whatever you do, try to set-up an itinerary, look-up opening times, prices and so on. If you add the constant havoc of the tourists, the high price of public transport and the fact that Venice is not the easiest city to handle when in a rush, having a structure to follow based on proximity of objectives will save you lots of time and irritations.
4. DO … try the carnevale.
Every year, before the Catholic Lent, Venice hosts its most famous celebration – “Il Carnevale”. It’s a great occasion to see the city dressed in its most elaborate costumes and flaunting a myriad of mysterious masks. Some are simpler and some border on haute-couture but altogether the atmosphere is so colorful and happy that it makes for a really special experience. Obviously attending such a popular and renowned event has its ups and downs, so if you want to know more about Venice during the Carnival, check out here our own experience during these special festivities.
5. DO … pay attention to tourist traps.
Long gone are the days when Venice was the power-house of Mediterranean commerce and nowadays the cities relies almost exclusively on tourism. With all the facilities that this brings, so do the tourist traps and the less-savory behaviors aimed at taking advantage of the visitors. While Venice is touristy almost all around, try to avoid eating around the main attractions and very crowded places such as St. Mark’s square, Rialto Bridge and Academia Museum. Our rule of thumb is to be at least 10 minutes away from any major objective and if a restaurant has a menu with many meal options and in many languages we stay out of it. Also, all of these crowded places (including on the water buses and their stations) are a haven for pickpockets (which are unfortunately a part of Venice), so always keep an eye out to your surroundings even while you are basking in the splendor of local architecture.
Last but not least remember that many “traditional” souvenirs are not actually made in Italy and the majority of Murano jewelry is mass produced far away from that small island and let’s not start with those “authentic” Venetian masks made out of … plastic. So if you are looking for real craftsmanship inquire in details with the vendors (and be ready to pay a substantially higher price, of course).
1. DON’T forget Venice is not an amusement park.
We really don’t want to offend anyone with this, nor do we want to question anyone’s upbringing but if you read the forums and blogs written by local people you can’t help but feel ashamed by the behaviors of some of our fellow travelers. Lost among the waves of tourists, it is easy to forget that while for many of us Venice is a dream holiday, there are around 50.000 people that call Venice home every day and their city needs to remain livable. People bathing in canals and fountains, litter and bottles left on the street and an attitude of carelessness literally destroy this place. It is our responsibility, as conscious visitors to respect the livelihood of the locals while enjoying the marvels of the city. Remember that Venice is an old, and in some respects a frail city, that is anyway invaded by many more visitors than it was created to sustain. Although the city needs tourism to continue to thrive, there is a fine balance that should not be broken. We all need to play our part in ensuring that hundreds of years from now, the Winged Lion of Venice will still proudly stand strong for the inhabitants that preserve its soul and for generations of visitors to come.
2. DON’T leave home without a good map
Venice is a city built on water … everybody knows that! What people that have never visited it can’t really imagine is how much discomfort that can cause for a visitor who is not accustomed to the city’s layout and is not really prepared. Amusingly, we always say that Venice causes what we call the “So near and yet so far” syndrome. For most of us living in traditional cities, reaching the other side is easy. Find the nearest crossing and there you are. Well, in Venice things are not exactly like that. You may be just a stone throw away from a little square or a palace you want to visit but actually reaching it is not always immediately obvious. You might need to go back to another street and then on to another and somewhere behind your actual destination there is (probably) a bridge you can use. (One time it took us about 15 minutes of zig-zagging through little streets and small bridges to reach a church we saw on the other side … very convenient…). So, having a really accurate map that shows every little crossing and even the narrowest of streets is essential. Truth be told, you can’t really get lost in Venice (eventually you will reach Grand Canal or St. Mark’s square or somewhere with a water bus station) but you can waste a lot of time and miss your objective … which is probably not ideal 🙂 Furthermore, it is also very complicated to ask for directions. First and foremost the majority of people you meet on the street are also tourists (so not really reliable) and even if you do ask a shopkeeper, it’s tricky for them to explain through words how to manage that labyrinth of canals. At the end of the day … a really good map is worth its value in gold!
3. DON’T rely too much on the vaporetto
The Venetian version of public transportation is the water bus, locally called “il vaporetto”. While effective in taking you from point A to point B we find that relying on them too much is not ideal. First of all the tickets are expensive. (Exact prices you can find here) and they can quickly drain your budget. Secondly, especially during carnival time and summer months, they can get really suffocatingly crammed, with all the discomforts and sometimes bodily odors that come with that (so forget your scenic journey down Grand Canal), not to mention that ques can get very long and sometimes you have to wait for the next one to arrive as there is no more room. Thirdly, they are kind of slow. In order not to create too much wave motion and disturb the delicate balance of the lagoon there are all sorts of speed limitations imposed for water circulation. And, although justified and important, this means that water buses can only go on the channels with a speed between 7km/h to 11 km/h. If you add to that the numerous stops along the way, the time spent on the boat may be quite long. And, last but clearly not least, Venice is hands down a place best explored walking. Even if you want to reach an objective on the other side of the island, let’s be honest, the city is not that big and in-between sights you actually get to see plenty of beautiful things. Many cities have churches, palaces and museums but Venice is Venice for its streets and canals, and only walking them you get to really feel what it is all about. So, if you don’t have any impairment, you don’t have luggage and you’re not exhausted after a day of exploration, drop the vaporetto and enjoy the place the way it was meant to. It probably takes just as long but it’s clearly cheaper and much more pleasant.
4. DON’T be afraid of the weather
The last time one of our friends went on a city-break to Venice we wished him a good time and some rain! You can imagine his intrigued (slightly irritated) reaction to that J. But in all honesty, rain in Venice can be a blessing. One of our most wonderful experiences (anywhere not just in Venice) was on a rainy February day. As people tend to hide from the rain, we had the streets all to ourselves. Equipped with sturdy umbrellas we aimlessly strolled the streets for hours, while an almost voided of people Venice showed us a side of herself that was amazing to behold. Here is our post on that wonderful rainy day!
5. DON’T go by without stopping
While many people want to tick on their “Things to see list” places such as Piazza San Marco, the Rialto Bridge or different museums, a lot of visitors forget to stop and look at the details. Just take a step back from all the craziness around you and give yourself a couple of minutes just to admire those romantically decaying facades or the winding course of a small canal. Have an ice-cream or a coffee in a small square and whatever you do, do it leisurely. If you find yourself near a church (even if it is not one of the famous ones like Basilica San Marco or Santa Maria della Salute)
do step in.
Venice, like many other Italian historic cities is dotted with amazing churches full of artistic grandeur and beautiful architecture. Once inside, you will be amazed at how large and richly decorated they are – just don’t forget that they are sacred places not museums, so a certain solemnity must be kept inside at all times.
Venice has no cars, which gives her a completely different pace. Attune yourself with that laid-back rhythm and do see the famous objectives but don’t forget about the little details that will remind you that you have actually seen La Serenissima.
What do you think? Are there other very important things first-time visitors to Venice should pay attention to? We would love to know your opinions, ideas and experiences of this amazing city, so please leave a reply.
We hope you liked our DOs and DON’Ts of Venice and until next time: Happy Lives and Joyful Journeys everyone!