Venice is a one-of-a-kind experience that takes you to a place where water and walking dominate. No room for cars on those narrow alleyways and bridges-pedestrians rule and believe me, there are a lot of tourists visiting this beautiful place no matter what time of year you go!
We left our ARBNB in Florence for a quick weekend trip to Venice in late September, taking a two-hour train ride through the lovely Italian countryside and arriving right on the Grand Canal at the Venice train station. Grab a Vaporetto, which is Venice’s water bus system, and ride around the canals to get to your hotel if you don’t want to walk or want a fun way to get acquainted with Venice.
You really only need two days in Venice unless you want to see it all-Doge Palace, museums and side trips to Burano (colorful houses and lace-making shops) and Murano (glass blowing) islands nearby. Our favorite thing to do in Venice, however, was just wandering around the less crowded back alleys and traversing the 150+ little bridges over the canals. Stunning views everywhere you look and charming shops to peer into as you walk by.
For us, Venice was all about walking here, there and everywhere. Luckily, though rain was forecast, it was lovely, and we were able to walk nine miles on Saturday and six miles the second day before boarding the train back to Florence. We went down alleyways and tried to stay away from the busy paths by the Grand Canal. Not knowing if the weather was going to turn on us, one of our first priorities was to experience a gondola ride so we found one with no wait just for the two of us (later we saw lines of people waiting later in the day). It’s a “must do” experience in Venice!
Hoping in near the Rialto Bridge, we quickly went under the bridge and got great pictures from mid-canal. Our gondolier wasn’t chatty but did point out a few sites like the Bridge of Sighs that we floated under. It is truly amazing how all the boats, whether a gondola, water taxi, speedboat, or water bus, share the canals without incident, at least none that we saw. I only saw one gondolier who was female. Hmm. How does one become a gondier? Family legacy or is there a school? Are they union or need a license? They definitely need some diversity.
Some of our best moments are stopping to look around and just appreciate where we are at the moment and take it all in. We look up at the buildings and Thom usually finds a local leaning out their window to capture in a photo. “Always look up!” is his motto and has led to many lovely memories of what we saw when we did. I always notice the animals as we walk around. Lots of dogs in Venice! I only saw one cat roaming. Speaking of cats, I bet there are quite a few hanging out at the Rialto Fish Market. We didn’t make it there, but I hear that it is quite the experience if you get up early enough to watch the fisherman bring in the catch of the day. Do try seafood at the cafes in Venice as it is fresh from the market and delicious.
Of course, you have to check out St. Mark’s Basilica with the elaborate Byzantine exterior. If you have time, go inside and check out it out. Very ornate and gold. Also note – the Basilica is closed to visitors until 2pm on Sundays while mass is taking place. You can still access the Basilica Museum from where you access the second floor terrace. As you can imagine the views are wonderful.
Aspirationally, I wanted to go to the Venice Jazz Club one night. When we walked to find it in the daylight so we were prepared, we happened to run into an employee who was coming in and he said they were sold out that night. I had emailed them (email or phoning them is only way to make a reservation) but he seemed sure I wasn’t on the list after I told him my name. Walking back to the hotel, we decided it was good that we weren’t going because getting around Venice in the dark and in the rain wasn’t a great idea at least for us. The club later emailed us and verified we did indeed have reservations after all but it was too late by then to go. We had settled into resting up at the hotel with bakery items after walking nine miles. If you do want to run around Venice at night, you might want to bring a small flashlight if you don’t want to use your phone flashlight and kill the battery. A paper map of Venice is a good idea to have too in case the phone GPS isn’t working well. Next time we visit, I’m definitely going to the jazz club!
Shopping in Venice, other than the tourist stands, is fun. Lots of art galleries, vintage shops and jewelry stores. We even ran across a local garage sale in a church courtyard when we were on a remote canal. Everything from real fur coats to glass items and vinyl. We only do carry-on so I had no room for large items and shipping internationally can be difficult, as I found out last year when I tried shipping wine home from Italy. It took months and some bottles didn’t make it. The winery actually no longer ships to the US because they have had too many issues. So back to Venice, we had fun browsing and I got a lovely very small Murano glass plate that can hold jewelry on my bureau back home. Of course, I have bought several jewelry items so far on our trip to add to my extensive collection including cute Murano glass earrings. So little time, so much jewelry!
As we enjoyed our last meal in Venice by the canal, we heard a sax playing and then saw a guy with his family in a gondola floating by us. The guy was just belting it out on his sax playing a free water concert for us. I wonder how far he travelled with his saxophone just to have this experience of a lifetime in Venice on a gondola. Definitely living his best life. Shouldn’t we all do that too? If you could do anything anywhere what would it be?
Top sites to see in Venice:
Doge’s Palace Palazzo Ducale | Doge’s Palace | Venice (visitmuve.it)
Basilica of San Marco St. Mark’s Basilica (basilicasanmarco.it)
Murano Island Murano – Wikipedia
Burano Island Burano – Wikipedia
DaVinci Museum Leonardo da Vinci Museum Venice – EN
Guggenheim Museum Peggy Guggenheim Collection | The Guggenheim Museums and Foundation
Rialto Fish Market Rialto Fish Market (Mercato di Rialto) – What To Know BEFORE You Go | Viator
Mask-Making Class: Venice Carnival Mask-Making Class 2023 (viator.com)
We usually wander and find a café to grab a bite. Try seafood, Venice’s specialty. Here are some highly rated places to try:
Staying in Venice:
We stayed at a Marriott propery, AC Hotel, which is new and not on a canal. However, it was reasonably priced by Venice standards, which are crazy expensive. I didn’t care about a canal view and we like a hotel with modern amenities like updated electrical from this century, comfy large beds and smart TVs. A roomy bathroom with a waterfall shower and great water pressure as well as an expansive breakfast buffet are always appreciated. So AC Hotel worked well for us and was two blocks from a canal, cafes and the train station. If you want that “historic” experience, look into one of the many little old hotels around Venice but make sure you understand how you will get there with luggage from wherever you land. Also, ask any hotels if they have elevators, as most don’t and you end up hauling your luggage up steep stone staircases. They don’t do it for you. Trust me.
GETTING AROUND VENICE
Vaporetto aka water bus
While walking is the easiest way to get around Venice, taking the water bus is inexpensive and efficient. Buy your ticket at the various water stations where the bus stops or at tabacchi/newstands around town-look for the ACTV logo. A 75 minute ticket costs under 10 euros but you can buy multiple day passes starting at one day for 20 euros. Make sure to “validate” your ticket by swiping or tapping them on machines located at the water bus boarding entrance or on the boat. If you don’t validate and a security person checks your ticket, you will get a hefty fine due on the spot. It happens-I’ve seen it! Hours for the water bus run from 5 am to midnight with a few running all night because Venice does like to party. At high tide when Venice floods (plan your trip accordingly), there can be restricted service. Key routes include: #1 on the Grand Canal-good for a tour around to see the sites. Route 12 will take you to Murano and Burano islands.
A “must do” in Venice, expect to pay 80 euros for a 30 minute Gondola ride, more in the evening. Take exact change in euros. You can get up to about 6 people in a Gondola to share the cost but we enjoyed our ride for two very much. Don’t expect your gondolier to speak English or sing to you, though it could happen. Our gondolier spoke a little English and said he would charge more to sing. We were cool with no singing and just wanted him to focus on navigating the narrow canals without incident. There are gondola stations all over Venice-if you see a line waiting just walk on by and find a gondolier that is ready to go.
Look for signs on the corners of buildings as you walk to get your bearings and get pointed in the right direction. These directional signs for the “big” sites like St. Mark’s Square are everywhere on main thoroughfares. On the smaller streets, you may wander down one way and dead end at a canal with no bridge and have to turn around-part of the experience. Be aware that there are very few benches on which to rest pretty much anywhere in Venice. In the larger squares, you just go to a cafe and pay for pricey drinks during off meal hours. If it is close to meal time, they won’t let you take up a table without ordering food too. The considerate way to get a seat at a café is to find a waiter or maitre d’ and ask to be seated. Sit down without permission at your own risk because you will get a good “talking to” by staff and perhaps even be asked to leave. Best to ask first and then, once they tell you it’s okay, order something and enjoy a rest.
Public bathrooms are scarce. Usually in almost any city I’m visiting, I walk into a hotel and use the lobby facilities as if I am a guest staying there but in Venice they are mostly tiny hotels so that was not an option as the lobbies are overseen closely by the front desk clerk. The train station is very centrally located so if you are nearby I’d use that as an option. It was very clean and cost 1 Euro coin. Or buy something at a café and use their facilities.
Accessibility is an after thought in Italy and especially Venice. We did see one bridge retrofited with ramps over the steps but all the rest had no ramps. Everywhere you go in Venice requires crossing one of the 150+ bridges over a canal. If you are physically challenged, plan ahead how to navigate Venice during your trip.
Seeing people struggle with their luggage all over Venice, plus navigating the many bridges and the dense crowds made me very happy that all we had was a light backpack for our weekend trip. If you arrive by train or air, you can take a water taxi which charges by the minute and is private so can take you right to your hotel if it’s on the canal. We also saw luggage porters you can hire who will take your luggage on a cart to your hotel. From what I have researched, this service can cost about 50 euros so it’s not cheap but if you need help, negotiate with the porters, which can usually be found outside the train station and major water bus landings waiting for clients with cash.
Getting to Venice
There is a Venice airport (you can take a water taxi from the airport to the city but it’s expensive) and, at least for now, the cruise ships stop there though there is talk that they might cut those back due to overcrowding issues. We took the train to Venice from Florence using the Trainline site to buy tickets: Trains in Italy | Buy Italy Train Tickets | Trainline (thetrainline.com). It’s just four hours from Rome to Venice by train. Of course, you can also catch a bus or drive a car but, if you drive, parking will have to be outside the city, so I don’t recommend it.