Enchanting, fascinating, and (frankly) drop-dead gorgeous, Venice remains one of the most-visited places in Italy. That said? No matter how much you’ve read up on the city, some things about it can, well, be surprising! Here, the top six things we wish we’d known about Venice on our travels there.
1. You will get lost in Venice, often—even with the world’s best maps
When we visited Venice in January, we had it all: lots of previous experience in the city, fluent Italian, and an iPad with GPS-style Google maps. We still got lost. Constantly. Basically, imagine the confusing, winding, medieval streets of the centro storico in Rome or Florence and add the frequent obstacle of a canal blocking your path.
Of course, that’s part of Venice’s charm. There’s nothing better than being lost in such an eerily beautiful city. Unless, that is, you want to get to places and see sites in a limited amount of time.
This made one thing in particular strike home for us: While it’s always virtually
impossible to really “see” or “do” a whole city in just one day, it’s even harder in Venice. So, if you’re looking to check things off the list in a limited amount of time, then either consider extending that amount of time a bit more than you might have originally thought necessary — or consider taking a tour. Because we’ve realized that, while a guide is fantastic for bringing sites alive with stories, or giving insider’s tips to a city, in Venice, a guide is also just crucial for getting you from point A to point B. Seriously. (And if you decide that makes sense, check out our “Welcome to Venice” highlights tour, complete with gondola ride!).
2. All those ferries are expensive
In general, the cheapest way to get around Venice is, simply, to walk. But sometimes, your feet just can’t take it anymore. Not to mention that part of the fun of Venice is the way in which it’s just like a normal city… except that instead of streets, there are canals, and instead of buses and trains, there are boats!
The problem? These boats can be pricey. And we don’t even mean the water taxis. A ticket that lets you travel on the boats for 60 minutes, including switches, costs €6.50. To take a traghetto across the Grand Canal for just one trip, it’s €3.
If you plan to use the boat as much as you would, say, the metro in Rome, therefore, that can add up quickly. But one thing we’ve realized: Most people won’t use the boats in Venice as much as they would use the bus elsewhere. That’s largely because so much of the beauty of Venice (as well as where many hotels and restaurants are!) is in its back streets and piazzas—places that, often times, the boats just can’t get to.
In some cases, though, you might plan to take the boats more than a handful of times. So if walking abilities are limited in your group, or if your hotel is conveniently located right near one of the ferry stops, then consider getting one of Venice’s all-inclusive transport passes, good for 12, 24, 36, 48, or 72 hours, or 7 days. To really get bang for your buck, don’t wait until you’re in Venice to buy these: in the “middle/high season” we’re in right now, a 72-hour pass costs €33 on the spot, or €28.05 if you book it through the website Venice Connected. (To get the online discounted rate, you must book at least 7 days in advance). Again, though, remember: To make this particular pass, for example, “worth it,” you’d have to take the €6.50 boats five times or more to merit getting a pass, rather than paying per go. And if you’re like most people, you probably wouldn’t take the boats that often.
A couple of other things to keep in mind on the transport front. First, kids under 5 travel free. Second, although there aren’t any reductions for children aged 6 to 14 (they get the adult rate), there is, oddly enough, an option for a reduced fare for youths aged 14 to 29. To take advantage, buy the Rolling Venice card at a variety of points around the city. It costs €4, and with that card, the 3-day pass is just €18. It also gives discounts to various sites around the city.
3. You can legally board Venice’s public transport without a ticket…
…as long as you immediately notify the boat personnel and buy a ticket on the spot. Otherwise, if the boat is “spot-checked” for tickets, you can be told you’ll have to pay hundreds of euros in fines. Make sure, too, that you always validate your tickets by running them through the small, yellow or white machines near the entrance.
4. If you want to eat like a Venetian, it’s worth having some restaurants in mind ahead of time
It’s no secret that Venice is touristy. In fact, tourists vastly outnumber Venetians — by some 15 million to 60,000. And whenever you get that kind of imbalance, the same, unfortunate trend tends to happen: Local, cheap, authentic eating establishments are edged out… and replaced by expensive, at-best-mediocre restaurants that hawk things like “tourist menus” and “happy hours” (neither of which you’d see at Italy’s most authentic trattorias!).
If part of the fun of the trip for Italy for you is the food, then have a plan for Venice — or at least a few places jotted down. We recently had clients who said they didn’t do this… and wound up spending €40 per person or more on food so bad, they said it was inedible. The other option? If you’re taking a tour with us in Venice then, of course, ask your tour guide where you can go that’s authentic and inexpensive. (And if you really want to eat the best food Venice has to offer, don’t miss our Venice food experience, complete with tastings!).
5. Not all free boat rides to Murano are free
Often, tourists will be offered a “free” ride to Murano to visit the glass factories. Usually, these are, in fact, free—but trouble can come if you don’t wind up buying any of the (generally very expensive) glass.
That “free” ride? Turns out, it might not be round-trip. Instead, you might be given a ticket to get on a normal boat… or nothing at all. If you want to avoid awkwardness (and frustration), consider either booking your own transfer to the island, or going by water bus, shelling out that €6.50 for the number 41, 42, or, in season, number 5 water buses. Your stop is Colonna or Faro, for glass factories, or Museo, for the Glass Museum. (We also offer a private boat excursion to Murano, Burano and Torcello).
(Don’t miss our video on life on the Venetian lagoon, below!).
6. Sitting down at a cafe in Venice costs more than anywhere else in Italy
You may have heard this before: Anywhere in Italy, when you sit down with that coffee at a cafe or bar, the price goes up. If you drink the same coffee, and eat the same cornetto, standing at the counter, the price is lower. (That’s why you’ll see so many Italians eating at the counter).
In Venice, though, the price difference is even bigger than elsewhere. Take a seat with that cappuccino, and you can expect to pay three, four times what you would standing. Decide to take a seat at a cafe on, say, the Piazza San Marco? Kiss that wad of euros goodbye.
Some cafes also tack a huge surcharge onto the bill—and, annoyingly, that surcharge isn’t for servizio, it isn’t for pane e coperto… it’s for “listening to the band” that they have playing at the tables. To avoid those kinds of surcharges, or the stress of worrying about them, stay away from eating at major tourist sites—and always take your coffee at the counter.
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