Venice. The destination of 22 million visitors per year and at the top of most people’s dream trip list. I’ve had the privilege of visiting twice in the last few years.
Getting There: You can ride the train from Milan in about 2.5 hours or Rome in 3.5 hours. Once you arrive at the main train station on the island, there are no cars so be prepared to pull that suitcase over cobbled streets. Pack Light!
Where to Stay: I highly recommend staying as close to the train station as you can and on the same side of the Grand Canal as the train station if possible. You have two options for transportation in Venice: your feet and a watercraft of some sort. Taxis are ridiculously expensive.
My hotel was directly across the canal from the train station but required going over the Ponte degli Scalzi (see photo above) and another bridge with a large suitcase. I inquired about a taxi…70 Euros minimum. The ride would have taken less than a minute. I dragged that suitcase over those bridges like a boss.
Vaparetto are the public water buses of Venice. A one-way trip will cost you about $8 (depending on the exchange rate). You can also buy a one-day or multi-day pass but I’ve never found them to be worth it. My favorite way to explore Venice is to catch the vaparetto at the train station stop and ride down the Grand Canal to St. Mark’s Square. Then I put my feet to work exploring all of the little side streets and smaller canal bridges as I make my way back to my hotel at the end of the day.
Gondolas are synonymous with Venice. Gondolas are also crazy expensive. Typically you’ll spend $100-$140 for 2 people. Rates vary due to the time of year and time of day. You’ll just need to decide ahead of time if that is something important enough to you to commit to spending that amount of money. And that Hollywood image of the gondolier serenading you as you float down the canal? Totally false, unless you make arrangements ahead of time.
I’ve never been able to justify the expense in my mind so I haven’t splurged on the experience. There is another option that will provide you with a short ride in a large gondola with 10 of your newest friends for about $2, called traghettis. There are several crossings on the Grand Canal. Just watch for the signs as you’re exploring that will point the way or ask the locals, “Dove traghetti?”
St. Mark’s Basilica where you can see the burial place/altar for Mark the Apostle. During tourist season, April to October, you’ll want to make a reservation. Visiting is free but the reservation fee is $2.
Palazzo Ducale (The Doge’s Palace) is beautiful, ginormous, and will give you great insight into the history of Venice. It’s a little pricey for entry but well worth it. Venice offers a museum pass that is a good deal if you’re going to see the palace and any other museum. You’ll also skip the ticket lines if you purchase the pass.
Venice is filled with many palaces turned museums and gorgeous churches. With your museum pass, you can pop in and explore most of them without having to pay each time.
To me, the best part of Venice is wandering aimlessly, eating gelato, and perusing the souvenir shops. Know that you’re going to get lost at least once, most likely multiple times. Don’t rely on Google maps to navigate or find your hotel, trust me!
What about Carnivale?
Carnivale is the Italian equivalent of Mardi Gras and has been around since the 11th century. It typically occurs sometime in February each year and is a level of crazy I’m not entirely comfortable with. Having experienced Venice during Carnivale and not, I choose not. The crowds are intense around St. Mark’s Square especially. I found myself being overly nervous about pickpockets and didn’t feel like I could relax. But, that’s who I am, introvert extraordinaire.
A few more tips:
Stay at least one night in Venice. There are just no words for how beautiful it is at night with the lights reflecting off the water. This also helps the local economy which has been hurt by cruise ship day tourists in recent years.
The best restaurants will be on the smaller streets away from the main tourist attractions. Never eat anywhere that offers a “tourist menu”.
Venice is an American word. The name of the city is actually Venezia and that is what you’ll find on all of the souvenirs and maps.
Internet. Your hotel might advertise that they have internet/wifi but they’re probably lying. Not really, but the only place we found wifi that worked was at the McDonald’s just down the street from the train station. I kid you not, there’s a McDonald’s in Venice.
Questions? Leave a comment.