Venice is one of those places I have been a bit ambivalent about, mostly due the sheer number of tourists. Any place that has a giant cruise ship dump is going to be hella full during the daytime hours. Venice is also not the easiest/cheapest place to get around, being a floating city on a giant lagoon. However, my sister was coming to visit us in Prague and she and I wanted to add in a little side excursion. Cheap tickets made it look like a pretty good fit. I’m so glad we chose Venice! It’s really nice for a short trip that doesn’t require a ton of planning. Admittedly, we didn’t venture into any of the museums or major basilicas. The beautiful weather kept us outdoors for the most part. The public transport turned out to be a really lovely way to see (and photograph) Venice, and was an especially nice way to keep exploring when we grew tired of walking.
There is no doubt the city is breathtakingly beautiful. The water is a lovely aqua green and the architecture coupled with old winding streets provide an endless amount of charm. We arrived in early May, just before the big tourist season, so the amount of people was manageable once we ventured away from major sites like Piazza San Marco, Rialto Bridge, and The Bridge of Sighs. Those sites are worth fighting the crowd to see once and then I recommend moving along and getting lost in the seemingly endless, wonderfully car free back streets.
On our third day we decided to take a journey to the outlying island of Burano. We both love photography so it was a natural choice for a bit of a jaunt with it’s amazing colorful houses and lace artisans. Murano is another popular choice, known for it’s glass blowing houses. We ran out of time and couldn’t fit it in our itinerary, but even from a distance it looked like a nice place to spend an afternoon.
I have included some travel notes/specifics below the images in case a trip to Venice is in your near future!
Getting There: Marco Polo is the main international airport and it is super easy to navigate. Once you arrive, head toward the info desk and they will point you in the direction of a shuttle bus from the airport to the bus station, Piazzale Roma. There are a few options for buses. The info desk happened to sell us tickets to a private coach so we took it. Roundtrip was 15 Euro or you can buy a one way ticket for 8 Euro, just make note of your bus company name so you can queue for the right bus back to the airport. You can also pick up your ticket for the public transport, ACTV/ Vaporetti, at the airport info desk. I believe you can buy passes at Piazzale Roma as well, but it’s easier to just knock it out in one go. Transport around Venice is pricey. A single ticket good for 60min is 7 Euro so plan ahead and buy a pass or a combination of passes that will cover your stay and hang on tight. We bought a 72 hour ticket for around 40 Euro. In a dire pinch, you can buy a ticket on the boat as long as you ask immediately upon boarding. I don’t recommend this at all. The boats are typically crowded and the workers are understandably not to pleased to have to do the extra work of selling tickets while they are busy catching docks and making sure everyone makes it on.
Getting Around: The Vaporetti are easy to use but the routes are a little complicated so make sure to get a map with the routes and time tables so you can make sure you aren’t surprised by a route being cut short and have to pay 50 Euro for a private taxi boat back to your stop. Totally didn’t happen to me. Just a for instance (hides face in shame). At major stops like Roma, Rialto, and San Marco there are several pontoon docks for boats going different directions or routes. Make sure you are standing on the dock that corresponds to the boat you want. If you need help, ask. If they aren’t helpful don’t be afraid to be persistent.
The 1 and 2 are the main routes going most places a tourist might be interested in visiting. They Run the length of the Grand Canal and hit the main sites like San Marco and the Rialto bridge among others. The 1 makes more stops than the 2 so make sure you check the map before hopping on the 2. The 3 hits some of the more outlying areas of the main part of Venice. The Water buses 4.1 and 4.2 head out to the other islands like Lido, Murano and and other popular sites. There is a night service! Nocturnal boat service routes are the N routes (this took me a surprisingly long time to figure out). There are several other numbered routes that service other parts of Venice, but these are the main lines. A quick google search or a look at the map can give you a good starting point for planning your journey.
Make sure you punch your ticket at each station as you enter the dock so you don’t get hit with a super pricey fine. Also check the ACTV website for information on strikes (sciopero) during your travel dates so you can be aware and plan accordingly.
Where to Stay: I can’t really speak to the hotel choices. I am a big fan of Airbnb and we planned our trip a little last minute for Venice, so we chose an apartment in the residential neighborhood of Redentore on Giudecca (Another island across the canal from the main island). We were really pleased with our choice. It was lovely and uncrowded and a quick (relative to Venice) boat trip across to San Marco, so a good starting point for wandering. Also, the sunset views from Redentore were unbelievable.
What to Eat: Compared to the rest of Italy, food is more expensive and, if I’m being honest, not as good. Seeing as how absolutely everything must be delivered to shops and restaurants on small boats and hand carts, the price makes sense. The wood fire ovens that make pizza throughout Italy so memorable are outlawed in Venice (with the exception of one or two restaurants that were grandfathered in) so pizza is okay, but not great. If you want to see where Venice excels in its culinary pursuits, order the seafood.
Because we were trying not to spend ALL our money, we went to the grocery and ate some of our meals at the apartment and carried snacks. To keep things simple and more affordable we often opted for meals comprised various cicchetti (small tapas-like dishes) in the bars. Favorites were Pasticceria Alla Bragora for coffee and pastries, Osteria da Baco and Bar Verde for cicchetti and an Aperol Spritz, and Ristorante Al Redentore for a plate of fried mixed sea food with a lovely sunset view.
NOTE: If you have traveled in Italy you, no doubt, have become acquainted with the coperto. This is a service charge common in Italian restaurants. It can span quite a range in Venice. The more appealing the view or the closer to a major landmark you are, the higher the service charge. The fee is charged per person so be aware if you see a 10 Euro coperto listed on the menu and you have four people, that bill is going to come back with an extra 40 Euro tagged on. Typically it’s something small like 1,50 or 2 Euro, but read and ask. Better to be safe than sorry, yes?
Things to Do: For this trip we chose a laid back approach and just wandered. We picked a few sites to stop by, but then we just slowly walked through the streets checking out shops and stopping for some gelato or a little snack as the mood struck. One of my favorite experiences was riding the number 1 through the Grand Canal. We boarded at the initial stop in order to get good seats outside and along the front of the boat and stayed on for the entirety of it’s route. We timed our ride with golden hour which made it especially lovely. I also loved our trip to Burano to see the colorful houses and I would definitely recommend a visit if your itinerary allows. We skipped the pricey Gondola ride and opted for a splurge on a 50 Euro James Bond-esque taxi when we found ourselves stranded after not double checking the route change times for the number 2 boat. Whoops! I know, I know, gondolas are so quintessentially Venice! But honestly 100 Euros is just a lot of money and the grand canal is a busy thoroughfare. Maybe if I were visiting with kids I would loosen the purse strings and go for it, but for this trip with two well traveled adults, we opted out.
Camera Gear: Nikon D700, Nikkor 50 1.4, Tamron 24-70 2.8