Venice is a bucket-list destination for travelers all over the world. Filled with beauty, old world charm, history and delicious food, it’s consistently one of the top-ranked places to visit in Italy. Here are a few things to know before you go:
Venice has something for everyone, but keep in mind that accommodations on the island will be more expensive than those on the mainland, as will the ones closer to St. Mark’s Square, which is the most popular tourist area.
If you’re looking to save some money, consider staying on the mainland, in the town of Mestre. You’ll have to take a train into Venice each day, but the trains run from early in the morning until late at night. Or, look for Venice hotels that are further away from tourist hotspots. My favorite hotel in all of Venice is Locanda la Corte which is located in the Castello region of Venice, slightly off the beaten (tourist) path. Depending on what size room you need, prices range from €50 – €300 (the higher prices are actually apartments that the hotel owns and include kitchens and enough space for larger families).
The most expensive hotels are the ones right on the canal. If you’re dying for a canal view, consider renting an airbnb apartment as they can often be less expensive than the hotels (many are under $100 per night).
Also keep in mind that Venice can be very crowded and expensive during the summer months and in September, as well as in February during the festival of Carnivale. Hotels will be more expensive during these months, and you’ll have to book farther in advance.
Venice is known for its seafood. Specialties include baccala, (salt cod; traditionally in Venice it’s served as a creamy fish dish over polenta), pasta or risotto dishes with squid ink (nero di seppia), spaghetti with clams (spaghetti con vongole), and Branzino (a white fish, usually baked whole).
Cicchetti (bite-size appetizers) are also hugely popular in Venice during aperitivo which is usually between 5 and 8 pm. Most wine bars in Venice offer choices of cicchetti, which can include arancini (fried rice balls), crostini, marinated vegetables, meats and cheeses, small bites of pizza or quiche or little pieces of calamari. One piece is usually about €1 and it’s fun to put a plate together with a few different things. One of the best (and oldest!) places for cicchetti is Do Mori; they also have a large selection of wine to go with your plate, with prices ranging from €3 to €15.
Bancogiro is another great wine bar and it’s right on the canal so you can watch the boats go by as you have a glass of wine. For classic Venice experiences, try Harry’s Bar (where Ernest Hemmingway used to write) and Caffe Florian (right in the center of St. Mark’s Square) – but be prepared to spend! The signature drink at Harry’s Bar, the Bellini, is about €18 euro.
A few favorite restaurants in Venice: Trattoria da Bepi which has great pasta dishes filled with seafood; Osteria il Milion for their shrimp and zucchini risotto which comes out in the pot in which it was cooked; Ai Tre Spiedi which has a great seafood antipasti plate to start with; and Osteria al Portego for a few cicchetti followed by a plate of shrimp scampi.
Most restaurants in Venice don’t open until 7:00 or 7:30 pm and local diners tend to eat around 8:30 pm. Typically, first courses (usually pasta or risotto) range from €8 – €15 and second courses (meat or fish) range from €15 – €30 depending on the restaurant.
If you are in Venice in February, during Carnivale, be sure to try a fritelle which is a traditional snack of fried dough with raisins or pine nuts, coated in sugar (and sometimes filled with cream!).
The signature drink of Venice is the Spritz Aperol which is made with Prosecco, Aperol (an orange liquor) and soda water; these should cost you only about €3 per glass.
One of the best things about Venice is that there are no cars and no traffic – only foot traffic! Walking is the most popular and easiest way to get around. Make sure to carry a good map with you though, as it’s so easy to get lost in the tiny, winding alleyways. The maps that are given out at hotels are much more detailed and accurate than guidebook maps, so make sure you pick one up at the front desk before you head out to explore. Also make sure to pack good walking shoes; the cobblestones are often uneven and there are steps to climb as you cross over the various bridges – you’ll want to be comfortable!
You can also take a Vaporetto which is a water bus. There are many routes and many stops so it’s easy to find one that can get you close to where you want to go. In 2015, a one-trip ticket was €7, but you can also buy tickets that are good for 24 hours, 48 hours, and so on. You must validate the tickets after you buy them – this can be done on the dock as you are boarding the boat.
My favorite thing to do in Venice is to walk around exploring the different neighborhoods, getting lost in the alleyways and popping in to tiny wine bars along the way. But, if you’re in the mood for a museum, the Doge’s Palace (Palazzo Ducale) in St. Mark’s Square is great; the Doge was the ruler of Venice and this is where he lived – the tour includes the famous Bridge of Sighs as well.
St. Mark’s Basilica is the famous church in St. Mark’s Square and is definitely worth a look. For modern art, check out the Peggy Guggenheim Museum. She was an American expat who lived in Venice and the collection is housed in her palazzo on the canal.
The best way to see Venice is from the water, so make sure you take some sort of boat ride while you’re there (I suggest Vaporetto). You can also take a boat out to the surrounding islands of Murano and Burano to visit the towns which are famous for their glass (Murano) and lace (Burano).
Also – here are our Venice favorites!