I recently returned from 2 weeks in Italy and will share posts on each of the places we visited – First stop: Venice!
I was fully prepared to hate Venice. Leading up to our trip, anyone who had been to Venice gave me a very skeptical look followed by a question of how many days I would be in Venice. When I answered “Oh, just two nights. It will be quick” they seemed reassured. I would not be wasting too much time on Venice, I would be getting out of there quickly.
Even one of my travel companions wasn’t joining us for the first stop on our trip. She had been to Venice several times and hated it. She saw no need in joining us. I started to get nervous, like we were wasting two valuable days of travel on this city no one wanted us to visit.
But it looks so beautiful in photos, I thought. And the last time I was in Italy, we skipped Venice in favor of other cities. And there’s a good chance it will be underwater at some point soon, completely uninhabitable and then I would have just missed my chance to ever see it.
If I’ve learned anything from traveling, especially from seeking and giving travel recommendations, it’s that everyone has different places that they love and hate. Thus, I would take all of these anti-Venice sentiments with a grain of salt and experience it for myself.
Spoiler: I really, really liked Venice. Yes, it is crowded with tourists. But so are MANY OTHER CITIES! I didn’t think it was any worse than a city like Dubrovnik where loads of cruising tourists get dumped every morning. If you can work your itinerary around the crowds, you will definitely have a better time. So here are my recommendations on how to enjoy the city (hopefully, unless you really hate it and I can’t do anything about that):
Getting There: This part is critical. Often the journey to the place has a direct impact on how much I like it. We were able to fly direct from New York to Venice, making it super easy. Delta flies direct from JFK to VCE during the summer (as well as from Atlanta and LA). Once you arrive in Venice, you will have the option of taking a few modes of transport to get into the city. Your choice will likely depend on where you are staying, how much luggage you have, and how much you are willing to spend. Before going, my friend Sarah did a bunch of research on the transport options which I’ve included below.
Bus – You can take a bus into the city (Piazzale Roma) and then travel from there. More on the buses here
Vaporetto – These are the public boats in Venice which make it easy to get around the city (Tip: Buy a 24-hour pass if you are going to use them frequently, single rides cost 8 euro vs 24 hour pass costing 20 euro). These are a good option if you are staying near a vaporetto stop and don’t want to spend a lot of money. But be warned that they are going to be crowded and probably hot. These run every 30 minutes, look for the Aliguna Ticket Office when you reach the dock area (there are plenty of signs and other folks going in this direction).
Private water taxi – If you can afford it, this is definitely the best way to arrive into the city. For about 120 euro each way, you can take a private water taxi from the airport to your hotel. These boats are relatively large and could probably fit up to 6 or 8 people. This is the option we chose and were very happy that we did! We were able to schedule our return trip/pickup from our hotel at the airport and saved 10 euro that way. The taxi was speedy, pleasant, spacious, and dropped us directly in front of our hotel. We didn’t have to lug our bags around the streets among the tourists crowds and we had a truly pleasant experience arriving into Venice (and it was quick!). You can schedule these in advance or pay at the airport (generally cheaper to at the airport, though they will likely require you to pay in cash). Suggest checking with your hotel if they have a preferred taxi company to help narrow your options, also make sure you have the name and address of your hotel printed out for the driver.
Where to Stay:
We did a lot of research around hotels in Venice trying to find the most perfect place in the best neighborhood. Location was important since we didn’t have a lot of time in Venice and wanted something convenient, making it easy to get around. We also prioritized air conditioning, which is not always available in Italy, since we knew it would be hot in late June. The good thing is, Venice is not huge and it is pretty easy to get around to most areas of the city either on foot or via vaporetto. We really loved where we stayed, Locanda Leon Bianco, and I would definitely recommend to others. It was perfectly located on the Grand Canal, and our room had incredible views on the canal. We couldn’t get enough! It’s easy to get around from the hotel, close to main sights and not necessary to rely solely on vaporettos to get around (though close to the Rialto stop). Hotel staff was friendly, very good breakfast included, and the AC was awesome (which was very important as it was super hot while we were in Venice).
Things to Do:
Get up and early and check out the sights – Like I’ve found in other cities, it is definitely worth it to get up early and do some sightseeing before the crowds arrive. Also lovely for taking photos when you can avoid having lots of people wander into your pictures. We woke up our first morning around 6am (thanks jet lag!) and went out to the Rialto Bridge and San Marco Plaza before most people were out. Not only does it make for nice photos, it’s also a pleasant time for walking around the city.
Wander around and marvel at this beautiful city – It’s truly lovely, every corner we turned felt like another brilliant photo waiting to be taken. It’s especially charming if you can ignore/avoid the crowds (early in the morning!). We spent our first day on foot when exploring and used the vaporettos the second day. I am really glad we did this as we got to see so much more of the city on foot!
Check out the art @ Peggy Guggenheim Collection – Fantastic collection of contemporary art in a really cool, beautiful setting. Worth walking around and taking in the art and the views.
See if there are other museums or galleries hosting events – If you are there during the Biennale, there are likely many things to see. After going to the Peggy Guggenheim, we went to the Palazzo Grassi which was hosting one of two Damien Hirst exhibitions (Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable) and it was truly incredible (both the exhibition and the space). The other exhibition is located at Punta Della Dogana, though we didn’t make it there. These are running through 12/3/17!
Take a gondola ride – Yes, this is super cheesy. This felt like something we HAD to do in Venice, though it also felt like quite the ripoff. And it is. But if you are willing to overlook that for the experience (and the photos), then you will maybe enjoy it! Our ride cost 100 euro because it was in the evening (after 7pm), usually they are 80 euro during the day. The ride is about 30 minutes and went very quickly. We played our own Italian music from my iPhone – otherwise it felt super awkward.
Visit Murano and Burano – Take a vaporetto to Murano and Burano, it’s worth walking around and experiencing both islands. To get there, you’ll need to catch the number 12 vaporetto from Fondamente Nove. Burano is a bit further from Venice than Murano and takes longer to get there (about 45 minutes from Venice). If you are so inclined, hop off the boat at Mazzorbo before arriving at Burano. You can wander around this small island and then cross a bridge into Burano. Murano is full of glass factories and shops, and you can find some beautiful glassware and jewelry here. Burano is known for its very colorful buildings (and loads of people taking Instagram photos). We took an early vaporetto to Murano (around 9:15am) so we arrived before it was too crowded there. If you have time to eat on Burano, go to Trattoria al Gatto Nero for seafood or Ristorante Al Campiero Principe for pizza/salads.
Guidecca – This had been recommended to one of my friends as a must-visit, but I think you can skip it. Wasn’t much to see here and didn’t really seem all that different from other parts of Venice, though it was MUCH emptier. Has nice views of Venice so worth it for the photo opp.
Other things worth checking out: Basilica San Marco (the free part), San Georgio Maggiore Church (climb the tower for the views), The Frari Church (for the artwork), Scuola Grande di San Rocco (also for art)
Skip It: Doge’s Palace, Guidecca (as mentioned above)
Eating & Drinking (the best thing about Italy):
You’re going to need to eat cicchetti in Venice. This is basically finger foods/tapas/snacks and it is delightful. I really love the idea of small plates and snacks served with cocktails as a meal replacement. Or even as a snack between meals. Venice does this well. Many places sell these little snacks where you can pick and choose a few at the counter. Think fresh seafood, meats and cheeses on bread or polenta, pickled veggies. Order a glass of wine or Aperol spritz to go with the meal. Some recommendations: Cantina do Spade, Vino Vero, Al Bottegon (aka Cantine del Vino Gia Schiavi), Osteria alla Ciurma, Cantina Do Mori, All’Arco, Ostaria Ai Storti, Al Merca.
You will want to drink Aperol Spritzes in Venice. Give in to this desire and drink them all the time. You can even get them for take-away at some places! I love the Venetian Spritz because it comes with an olive.
Dinner seems to come early in Venice, unlike in other cities in Italy. The city feels quite shut down after 10pm which was unexpected.
Antiche Carampane – This came highly recommended by a number of people so we knew we had to check it out. Definitely make a reservation as it is small and quite popular. Cute place tucked away at the end of a street, feels like there are a lot of locals there (which is surprising). One of my favorite meals in Italy. We had a bottle of the Venetian rose (La Fraghe), spaghetti with onion & anchovy (This was incredible!), soft shell crab and the fresh fish was also fantastic.
Hosteria al Vecio Bragosso – Tasty meal here, though it looked very touristy when we strolled up. Was close to our hotel and had been recommended, we were very tired from a long day of traveling so wanted something easy. Had a good meal here: mixed seafood carpaccio, salad, and squid ink spaghetti (very good). Tiramisu was excellent
Other recommendations for lunch/dinner from an Italian friend of mine:
- Da Rioba (Cannaregio)
- Riviera (alle Zattera)
- Alle Testiere
- Da ignazio
- Alla Zucca (Tried to get a reservation here, but couldn’t get in)
- Alguibagio (Carotto)
- Met (Stellato e caro caro)
- Il Ridotto (Anche)
Coffee, Cocktails & Sweets: I didn’t have any favorite spots while I was in Venice, though a friend recommended the places below. We did stop for a frappe en route to the Peggy Guggenheim and it was delicious 🙂
- Torrefazione Cannaregio – Go early for caffe and cornetto
- Pasticceria Rizzardini – fantastic little Italian bakery. Get amaretto cookies and whatever looks good
- Drinks: Check out the Piazza Santa Margherita area – Margaret Duchamp, Orange, and Caffe Rosso
- Gelato: SuSo.