5 Essential Venice Survival Tips

mainpicFor whatever reason, I’m getting a lot of questions lately about Venice. I’m pleased by this, because I hold the city very close to my heart and am always eager to spread the Venice gospel to anyone who’ll listen, but I’m also concerned. Because it’s so very easy to have a bad time in Venice. The line between “magical” and “depressing” is so fine in this city that it doesn’t take much to come away with only bad feelings toward Venice. And this makes me sad.

So after typing out a mini-novella of an email to one such questioner earlier, I decided I’d put my thoughts down in a post so I could just refer people here in the future. And, I reasoned, if a few people have asked about Venice already, that probably means that exponentially more are thinking of the same questions.

Here, then, are what I’m calling my Venice survival tips.

When I wrote my Rome survival tips for the first-time visitor, they were more geared toward helping you not feel so completely overwhelmed by Rome (as I was on my first visit) and keep you from getting exhausted too quickly. For this list of suvival tips for Venice, the goal is going to be different. Mainly, they’re geared toward helping Venice survive your first impressions of her.

I know that some people out there really don’t care for Venice, and even I’ll admit that they’ve got valid reasons for that. It is often too crowded, there are too few Venetians who live there anymore, the food is actually quite bad in many of the touristy restaurants, the weather can suck, the cruise ship day-trippers can be annoying… But Venice is absolutely magical, if you give her half a chance.

To me, giving Venice a chance to show off for you means you must do the following things.

  1. You must stay the night – and you must stay in Venice proper.

    signsThat means no Mestre, no mainland, no Lido – and, if I’m being really picky, not even the Giudecca. I’m perfectly willing to say that after a first visit people can stay wherever the heck they like, but for a first trip to Venice you’ve got to give the city every chance to demonstrate why she’s worth the effort. And she can’t very well do that if you aren’t there at the right times and in the right places.

    So stay overnight on the main islands, for at least one night and ideally for two. If your budget won’t allow staying there for the whole time you’re there, or you’re just interested in trying something different after a couple nights, then switch to a Mestre hotel or some place off the main islands. But only after 1-2 nights actually in Venice.

    And if you need help with a place to stay, I’ve got some suggestions on finding a hotel in Venice – including some around the train station for getting in and out with ease, and some near St. Mark’s Square as well.



  3. You must get away from the tourist areas.

    quietstreetYou’ll need to spend some time in tourist central (AKA St. Mark’s Square) because it is the sight in the city, but you’ll want to get more than a few blocks away from that and the other tourist magnets for most of your stay. Wander. Get lost. No, really – get absolutely and completely lost. What’s the worst that can happen? You are on islands, you cannot wander so far that you’ll never get back again, and you will stumble upon the most interesting parts of the city this way.

    When you’re through wandering aimlessly, just ask someone how to get back to St. Mark’s, or the Rialto Bridge, or the train station, or whatever major landmark is close to your hotel and from which you can navigate back to familiar ground. Keep asking the same directions from people you pass until you get where you want to go. You’ll get lost again doing this, because there’s more than one way back to where you came from, but you’ll get there. Just be patient. Which brings me to…

  4. You must be patient.

    lostVenice requires time. Don’t have a set agenda. In fact, you’ll need to have as much unstructured time as possible, because you’ll get lost even when you’re already lost. And getting frustrated that you’re getting lost doesn’t help you enjoy your vacation or think kindly of the city in which you’re fumbling. The key is to enjoy the getting lost part – which is infinitely easier to do if you aren’t trying to get somewhere or keep to a schedule.

    It’s good to note the Venetian addresses are seriously unhelpful if you’re “not from around these parts” and don’t know the city like the back of your hand. They’re basically the name of the district (i.e. Canareggio) and the number on the building – but usually don’t include a street name of any kind. For hunting down exact locations, I’ve found this website to be extraordinarily helpful (it’s the same one used by the Venice tourism office!) – just mark the spot on a good map (I mean really good, very detailed – the tourism office sells excellent city maps for a euro or two) and you’re off.

    If you’ve made dinner reservations in a spot that’s difficult to find, leave a little extra time when you set out to re-find it. If you’re trying to catch your train out of the city, take the easy route and hop on a vaporetto that’ll drop you off right in front of the station rather than trying to negotiate the winding back-alleys. And, above all, don’t blame Venice if you get lost. She’s been the same confusingly-laid-out city for centuries, she didn’t do this just to piss you off.

  5. You must see Venice at her best.

    loversIn addition to getting well away from the day-tripper hordes, this means that you’ve got to either get up early or stay out later in order to see the city when she is – in a sense – naked to the world. It’s at these times when Venice is peaceful, before the cruise ships have docked in the morning or after they’ve left for the day, when the crowds aren’t drowning out all the natural noises of the city.

    I prefer the mornings, when the only people out are the workers who are sweeping away yesterday’s refuse or the vendors setting up their market stalls… But nights are nice in a different way – when the last pairs of lovers are making their way back from dinner to their hotel, a few gondolas are giving the last evening rides of the day, and the fog rolls in to shroud everything in a not-so-cozy (but oh-so-beautiful) blanket. If you can’t hear the sound of the quiet canals lapping at the walls of crumbling homes over the din of people, then you’re missing out.


  6. You must steer clear of awful food.

    seafoodThis is harder to do than the other points on this list, because how do you know if you haven’t tasted it yet? But there are things you can do to help minimize the chances of getting stuck with bad food in Venice.

    • If the restaurant’s menu is translated into several languages, this is a yellow flag.
    • If the restaurant is in a very touristy area, this is a yellow flag.
    • If the place advertises quintessentially Italian (but decidedly not Venetian) dishes like pizza, this is a yellow flag.
    • If the restaurant has a waiter out front luring in patrons, this is a yellow flag.
    • If the only patrons are tourists, this is a very serious red flag.

    Find places that are on weird back streets and which seem to be full of locals. Find places serving up local dishes (seafood, risotto, etc.). Carry a copy of “The Hungry Traveler: Italy” with you and learn what to look for on a Venetian menu. Will you be guaranteed a great meal? No. But you’ll stand a much better chance with these tips than without them.

Hopefully these tips will help you help Venice prove that your efforts are worth the trouble. And for a few more Venice tidbits, here are some other posts to read:

original photos, top to bottom, by: usr.c, penner42, Kevin H., FTS-Ro, pikchergirl, Kaeru

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41 thoughts on “5 Essential Venice Survival Tips

  • Jason

    I agree with all your tips! Venice is one town you must stay at least couple of nights. Just get a waterbus pass and enjoy getting lost! Actually, you can’t really get lost…you’re on an island.

  • Lauren

    I cannot tell you how incredibly fabulous this website has been to my research of traveling to Italy. The site has been up on my browser for a week now and I spend hours reading each article and growing increasingly PSYCHED for our trip this fall. My husband and I would be utterly lost and extremely frustrated without your helpful tips!

    We’ll be one of those “annoying cruise day-trippers” you reference above, but as first-time European visitors, are okay with that tag for now 🙂 I did have a question regarding Venice in November, however. Does the city take a siesta for a week or so due to off-season? I noticed the Doge Palace does not offer entry information during the dates we will be there.

    Your help is greatly appreciated!

  • Jessica Post author

    Hi, Lauren:

    Heh… I suppose I shouldn’t refer to my readers as “annoying,” should I? Oops… Well, I think you’re definitely doing the right thing by trying to get off the beaten path as much as possible, even if you’ll only be there for a day. I adore Venice like no other city, so I think even a few hours there is better than nothing… Heck, I’ve been a day-tripper in Venice myself!

    At any rate, on the Doge’s Palace website it says the only days its closed are December 25 and January 1, so it should be open in November when you’re there. Not sure where you were seeing that it didn’t have information for the dates you’ll be there? The hours are shorter in November than October (it’s open 9am-5pm starting November 2, with the ticket office being open 9am-4pm).

    Hope that helps, and please send me any other questions you’ve got!


  • Lauren

    Thanks SO much Jessica! That is certainly a big help, since whatever I saw regarding off-season hours must have either been incorrect or OLD. In any event, did I mention how fabulous you are? I can truly appreciate your writing candor and have learned SO much from each article – truly! 🙂

    Okay enough gushing. I seriously get a lump in my throat when I read about Italy, specifically Venice. It’s one of those cities I KNOW I will fall in love with, even from a distance on ship.

    In your honest opinion (since we’re also stopping in Naples/Capri) are we wasting our time to go and venture the Blue Grotto versus Amalfi Coast? We’re not able to do both and are having a hard time choosing btw the two!

  • Jessica Post author

    I’m glad my site has been helpful to you; that’s always my goal! And when you plan your next Italy trip (because you’ll be back, I’m sure of it), let me know… I’ll get you off the cruise ship. 😉

    Oh, and I’ll be very curious to know what you think of Venice when you get back. I hope you love it as much as I do, as much as you expect to. It’s truly magical.

    Regarding Blue Grotto vs. Amalfi – I’ve not been to either, so I’m not really able to give you my personal preference. It kind of depends on what you’re looking for, though. If it’s sunny coastline & pretty buildings you want, but you don’t really care where you are, then I’d think Capri would be your better bet (because it *also* has the Blue Grotto, which the rest of the Amalfi doesn’t). But if you’ve read about a particular town on the Amalfi that you really want to see, then that changes things.

    Laura of Ciao Amalfi is great with tips/info about the Amalfi Coast – her site is http://ciaoamalfi.blogspot.com/ – drop her a note & tell her I sent you. 🙂

  • Carla

    What a fabulous site. Have only got three nights in venice. I am going to mainly buy murano beads as I make jewellery. Can anyone advise me on a place to buy without being ripped off?

    So excited to go anyway as I have always wanted to go to venice. Flying to Rome then on to venice

  • Carla

    hi Jessica,

    Can you suggest any good hotels to stay at in Venice? We are on a budget and there are 2 adults and a teenager.
    Thanks. Your website is so helpful.

  • Olga Lucía

    Hi, Jessica…my family and me will estay in Italy from December 25 to January 6, we want to start in Venice and end our trip in Rome.
    I have 2 teenagers and a kid 6 years old.
    Do you think is it possible to travel in gondola or do many activitys in those days????

    Thank you so so much for all your information.

    I mentioned that your page is really amazing???

  • Jessica Post author

    Hi, Olga:

    Thanks for your message, I’m glad you like my site!

    Yes, it’s possible to do a gondola ride when you’ll be in Venice, you’ll just need to be dressed appropriately – it will be cold at that time of year, and likely damp/foggy, so sitting in a gondola for a 30-45 minute ride could be quite cold.

    Many other activities in Venice are outdoors, too, so just remember to pack warm clothes and you’ll be fine. In Rome, you’ll probably be spending more time indoors in churches and museums, so although you will still want warm clothes you’ll at least be indoors more often.

    Have a wonderful trip!

  • Lilyan Wolberg

    I’m a senior female flying into Venice on Oct. 8, 2010 and arriving about 2:30 PM. I have to get my luggage to a Princess ship since that will be my hotel for the night of Oct. 8th. The ship leaves Venice about 1 PM on Oct. 9th so it doesn’t give me too much time. Of course I want to see Piazza Marco, sit and have a drink people watching. Also the Bridge of Sighs if you think it’s worth seeing. I have no idea how I will get from the airport to the ship…some water transportation no doubt, but it will mean a good deal of of going back and forth.
    Any suggestions? I want to love Venice!!!

  • Jessica Post author

    Hi, Lilyan:

    Do you know where in Venice the ship leaves from? I know ships routinely come into Venice as a port of call, and I’ve seen them from the Grand Canal near St. Mark’s Square, but I don’t know if that’s where they also depart from when Venice is the starting point. If you have more information on where the ship leaves from, that would help.

    Generally speaking, if the ship is anywhere near the islands, you can take a water bus from the airport to the islands, or take a private water taxi. The latter will be significantly more expensive, but has the benefit of getting you exactly where you need to go (or at least very close) as opposed to the water buses which are on a set route. You can reserve a water taxi in advance, which reduces the cost, but again you’ll need to know exactly where the ship departs from to see if that pre-booking service covers the area where the cruise ship is.

    This article may help you with options for getting from the Venice airport into Venice:

    And here’s an article on the things you should know about Venice:

    I adore the city, so I’ve written about it quite a bit… You’ll see links to other Venice articles on the right-hand side of both of the articles I’ve linked to here.


  • David

    My wife and I are planning a trip to Venice in the fall – We have reserved a room at Casa Eden on Guidecca – I’m wondering why you say that Guidecca isn’t a good place to stay?
    Thanks for your answer.

  • Jessica Post author

    Hi, David:

    There’s nothing wrong with staying on Giudecca – and that’s definitely better than staying on the mainland – but it’s a long enough vaporetto ride from the main collection of islands (and not connected to the islands by a bridge at all) that you’re a bit more limited in terms of where you can wander and how long you can wander late at night. You don’t want to get stuck on the main islands after the vaporetti have stopped running!

    But if you won’t be out late at night anyway, it’s probably not a big deal. I just prefer staying on the main islands so I don’t have to worry about the vaporetto schedules and can wander at will, early and late, always sure I can get back to my hotel on my own two feet.


  • Monica C

    Hello Jessica,
    All I can say is, thank you for such an awesome website!! I was getting butterflies as I was reading this website, and getting visuals of getting lost in Venice in the evening, and hearing the water hit nearby buildings. If I ever had doubts of not visiting Venice, your information instantly rectified that!. We are planning 3 nights in Venice next year in August (and hopefully seeing Trieste on one of these days as our family comes from there), which will leave us 2 days. My only concern is that we will be traveling with our 2 children- a 3 1/2 yr old and 1yr3mth old. I was initially excited by our trip, but then got anxious at the thought of water being everywhere and my children!! So my question, is Venice a child friendly place to visit? Will it be difficult/dangerous with a stroller and our 3 yr old walking beside us? I hope this doesn’t sound too silly, and I hope you can enlighten me!I just want to ensure our children will be safe before we go ahead and book our most probably,once in a lifetime Europe trip with our 2 little boys.
    If you do believe it to be safe, do you suggest any other things for us to do/ see with our children that you haven’t mentioned in your 2 day itinerary?
    Many thanks,

    • Jessica Post author

      Hi, Monica:

      I see people with kids in Venice all the time – but I’d highly recommend bringing something other than a stroller to get around. It’s impossible to walk anywhere without running into bridges over the canals, and those bridges always have stairs (not ramps) – so you’d constantly be picking up the whole stroller and carrying it up and down staircases and bridges. If you have a backpack for the younger child, I think that would be easier overall.

      I’m not a parent, so I’m not sure what to say about safety issues with the water or child-specific things to do or see in Venice. If your younger child is in a backpack, then it’s the older one you’d have to keep an eye on around the canals (and of course you know best whether he’s the kind of kid who’d stay close to you or not!).

      I hope that helps!

  • Rizwan S.

    Hi Jessica,

    My wife and I are planning a trip to Rome and Venice in the end of Aug 2011. Some say its not the best time to visit these places – pls advise.We are on a budget travel,could you suggest an economical B & B place to stay ?


    • Jessica Post author

      On the right-hand menus of both the Rome guide and Venice guide sections of this site, you’ll find links to articles about hotels and hostels in each city. The hotel link will lead you to all the articles I’ve done about hotels in the city, including budget-friendly places. Look for the articles called “Hotels in Rome” (or Venice) and “Hostels in Rome” (or Venice).


      August can be a strange month to be in Italy, because it’s when most Italians go on their monthly holiday, but in big tourist cities like Rome and Venice you’ll still find lots of people – locals and tourists – and the main attractions will be open. You can read more about the weather in Italy in August, as well as what it’s like to visit in August, from the “Italy in August” link on this page:


  • Annie

    I enjoyed reading your notes on Venice very much. We will take your advice and wander (somewhat) aimlessly stumbling upon as many of the must-sees you mentioned. We (my husband, myself and 2 adult children) will be in Venice for one day next month. We plan to arrive as early as the train allows from Milan and to stay as late as we can catch a train back. I love your idea of the water taxi tour of the grand canal. We are seasoned travelers and often use the Hop on/off city buses to get the big picture before tackling a new city. I hope it is available in the off season. Since we are foodies we hope to hit the market to load up on goodies to devour on the train ride back. Do you think that there will be many tourists in mid-February? We are familiar with the weather there and expect to dress for cold & damp conditions. We are hoping to find it relatively quiet. Do you have any additional suggestions for the off-season day tripper? We welcome your advice. Thank you.

    • Jessica Post author

      I did a day trip from Milan to Venice a couple years ago, and although it was only 7 hours in the city I’d do it again. Of course, I do think it’s better if you can spend a night, but if it’s 7 hours or nothing – go with the 7 hours. 🙂

      Here’s the information about how to get from Milan to Venice:

      It’s actually a water bus tour of the Grand Canal that I recommend – that way it’s much cheaper, even if you’re sharing the bus (vaporetto) with all the other passengers. The vaporetti run year-round, so you won’t have any trouble doing that even in mid-February.

      Speaking of February, I visited Venice for a few days in February several years ago – and it was packed with tourists. It wasn’t even during Carnevale (although you’ll want to double check that you won’t be visiting during the big festival, as it’ll be a pain to get around), and it’s definitely less crowded in February than in June, but it’s busier than you’d expect for being technically the off-season.

  • Mark S

    It is sad to have seen on the internet that people normally go to Venice for 1 day. The time I was there we were there for 4 days and it didn’t seem long enough. My advise to the first timer to Venice is if at all possible to stay for at least 5 days and plan out your days. One mistake many people make is in trying to see so much each day that they feel rushed and I know when you have limited time people will do that. I know I have crammed many things into a few days because I didn’t want to miss anything. It was hectic and I enjoyed it, but now I wish I could have had one more day because it would have been more enjoyable. Also if you do have some time try walking to some of the sites you want to see the walk is amazing, sure it will take a little longer then taking the water bus but the sites are worth it. My advice is planning is always the key to a great vacation so don’t cut short your planning.

    • Jessica Post author

      While 5 days in Venice is a great suggestion, Mark, it’s such an expensive city to visit that I completely understand why people do it as a day-trip – or at least try to move on as soon as they can. This is why I recommend at least one night, so you get a couple of days in the city. If you can afford more, that’s great – but if not, at least you’ll have seen Venice for more than just a few hours when it’s most crowded.

  • Tricia Field

    I will be in Venice on the 6th of July arriving by train at the Venezia Lucia station. I will be staying at the Continental Hotel, Lista di Spagna, Cannaregio 166 – 30110 Venice. Can you tell the best and most economical way to get from the train station to the hotel?
    And thanks a bunch for all the information you have posted – I’ve printed it all to take with me your’s is definetly one of the more informational sites. I like your ideas on No gondola and the whole getting lost premise. We’ll be taking your advice on that one.

  • Fiona Wong

    Hi Jessica,

    My family of four ( 2 adults and 2 children aged 10 and 11) will be visiting Venice for 3 nights arriving 26th Dec. It looks like the train we will catch ( coming from Austria) will get us to Venice at about 6.10pm. We are staying in the Cannaregio area and plan to walk from the station. I am just wondering how dark Venice will be in the evening at this time of year, and are the streets well lit enough to find our way? The directions from the apartment seem fairly simple on paper.

    Thankyou for your thoughts

    • Jessica Post author

      I don’t think you’ll have any problems walking to your hotel from the train station – it will be dark, but there are usually enough street lights at strategic places to make it easy to walk without feeling like you’re walking blind. Just remember that there aren’t always railings alongside the canals, so if you’re *really* concerned about taking a wrong turn you might want to ask someone at the hotel if the walk is well-lit or bring a small flashlight just in case!

  • Fiona Wong

    Thankyou very much Jessica, that is reassuring! We are really excited about our trip.

    Kind regards


  • sachin

    I am from India and an hardcore AC Milan fan. I got up this morning and made up my mind hat i am sick of my work and decided to plan a trip to Milan- Venice some time next year before i start my MBA. And then i stumbled upon this website of yours. My god it feels like i am already in venice… I love the way you have given detailed description of every possible thing one should or should not do.
    Rest assured that when i take that decision to book a flight from new delhi to milan next year (fingers crossed); your website will be one big reason behind me maing this decision…


    • Jessica Post author

      Oh, what a kind comment! Let me know if you have any questions when you’re actually planning your trip – I’m also an AC Milan fan, so I’m even more happy to help. 😉

  • Nicole

    can someone please help me out with this? i will land at Treviso airport but I have no idea how I can get to Venice. thanks guys

  • Debbie

    Jessica hi,,

    So glad i found this site, i need some help 😕 I am traveling to Italy for a short trip on my way home to Australia, so have decided to fly into Milan then catch the train to Venice but i speak no Italian at all and need to know how do i get from the Milan International airport to catch the train to Venice please? Is it very far? and roughly how much would a cab cost and how long does it take from the airport to the train station? Then from Venice i intend to catch the train down to Rome, so will need to know from where, my accommodation in Rome is relatively close to the termini.

    Many thanks Jessica, really appreciate your assistance, I could not go to Europe without going to Italy so really had to squeeze it in,, and couldnt go to Italy without going to Venice, so am going,, : )
    Thanks Jessica

  • Jamie

    You seem like the person to ask questions to and even though it looks like you don’t suggest it we would like to stop at a few towns along the way from Milan to Venice. So we are trying to figure out if there is a hop on hop off train as such so we are not restricted to times of departure. Another deciding factor will be if the train station in the area we are stopping has luggage storage. IF it does NOT we will not stop there. We are not going to drag our luggage around. So it looks like Verona might be a stop for us (although I wasn’t initially that interested in that stop. But I can’t find info on Vicenza, Lake Garda, Padua etc. Can you help. Please. We do not want to take a bus as they are too slow and we only have one night to spare between Milan and Venice. We have rooms booked in Venice for 3 nights prior to our cruise (day trippers) but we are going in early to enjoy and not be a part of that particular crowd. So to speak.
    Would appreciate your advice on which spots to see and or stay for one night between Milan and Venice. Not necessarily interested in the tourist stuff. Prefer local living such as your talk above.
    Our 10 days in spain at the end of our trip will be staying in rooms and apartments of locals. No motels.
    Also having a struggle booking our scenic train from Barcelona to Madrid. Site keeps going back to spanish when I click on Purchase. Ugg.
    Thanks Jamie k

  • amber

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  • John

    If you are in Venice you must eat at Sabrina Restaurant Venice near Rialto Bridge!

    Happened upon this place on the walk back from St.Marks one evening. After contemplating the menu for a while the waiter came over and explained their specials, but did not push it at all (which always puts me off), we were enticed by the €14 set menu. I was with a vegetarian and they were very flexible in altering the set menu accordingly. The food was delicious and the atmosphere was great. The waiter was friendly and entertaining, never short of advice on the best dishes or wines (incidentally, the chianti is very good). On the whole great food at a great price. Would definitely recommend.

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