Your Comprehensive Travel Guide to Venice
Venice is a fairy-tale city filled with spectacular historic sights which makes visiting this floating city an exciting adventure. Here is our comprehensive travel guide to help you plan your trip!
Welcome to Venice, a 1,700-year-old floating city that was at the nexus of major European music, art and political developments for centuries. It was an instigator of the Renaissance and many believe it to be the world’s first financial center.
This fairy-tale city is the place where you will discover the pleasures of “la bea vita” (the beautiful life) that only the locals know. From the wake-up call of the gondoliers, a morning coffee in a sunny square, lunch in a crowded cafe and fushia-pink sunsets that have been sending artists mad for centuries.
Today it is one of Italy’s most important cities and a supremely romantic destination to travel, where you can wander alongside miles of winding canals. In fact, there are 159 canals with over 400 bridges that connect Venice’s 118 small islands in the Venetian Lagoon, many are filled with magnificent palazzos, squares, churches, museums, restaurants and beautiful shops.
- Recommended Reading: Your Ultimate Guide to Venice Carnival
What to Expect in Venice
Language: Italian! Some of the locals don’t even speak English, however most Venetians have become accustomed to English speaking tourists, so you will easily be able to communicate.
Climate: Venice has an extreme climate; the summers are very hot and with masses of tourists who add to the heat. In winter, it is very cold and rainy. Italy is on the same season cycle as the USA, so the seasons are the same.
Currency: Along with the majority of Europe, they use the Euro (€). Because it is such a big tourist destination credit cards are widely accepted.
Electricity: Electric Type C or Type F (two-prong plug)
Peak Season: The peak tourist season for Venice is June-August. Due to the huge influx of tourists during this period, it gets very expensive. You will pay more than anywhere else in Italy. If you want to avoid large crowds then spring and fall are the best seasons to visit. Also, it should be noted that Venice experiences large high-water flooding known as the acqua alta for around 60 days a year, from October through early January.
How to Get to Venice
Venice is situated on the northeast coast of Italy, in the Veneto region. It is protected from the Adriatic Sea by a strip of land called the Lido.
- By Plane: You can fly to Marco Polo Airport which sits about 10 km north of Venice. It is one of the biggest and busiest airports in northern Italy.
- By Bus: It is possible to get there by bus, but you must know that as motorized road transport in Venice is forbidden you can only get as far as Piazzale Roma, the main bus terminal. From there you need to transfer and take a vaporetto, which is a water bus to get deeper into Venice.
- By Train: All the rail connections in Venice will end at the Santa Lucia Train Station also known as the Ferrovia Venezia Santa Lucia, in Italian. This station is located within the lagoon and is the main terminal where most trains come from the rest of Europe and other cities in Europe. Another major train station is located in Mestre or Ferrovia Venezia Mestre as it’s known in Italian. This is located back on the mainland.
- By Car: As motorized car traffic in Venice is not allowed it defeats the purpose of arriving by car. Visitors must leave their car in one of the car parks located in Piazzale Roma. It’s important to note that parking is not free either.
How to get around in Venice
Venice is unique compared to other cities as you can easily get lost in its maze-like picturesque streets. The strength of Venice is its water way, Venice is completely surrounded by water. Venice consists of 121 islands that are connected by 435 bridges, separated from the Adriatic Sea by a lagoon and a series of islands.
Walking: You can actually get around Venice on foot, it’s a great way to discover the island and get lost amongst the beautiful buildings, alleys and squares. All you need is a good map and a good pair of shoes! Yellow signs on the side of buildings will always give directions to the main points of the city like San Marco etc.
Water bus: If you prefer not to walk then you can always catch the vaporetto, the water bus that is Venice’s public transport. You will find all the information about lines, fares and timetables on the ACTV website who manage the service. Also, you can pre-purchase your tickets through https://www.veneziaunica.it/ or through their app. You can also just purchase a ticket on board. You can download a map with all the Venice waterway routes here.
Gondola: Of course, there are ways to get around the city. An option is a gondola that goes from one bank to another. Gondola ferries are located in San Marcuola, San Samuele, Santa Maria del Giglio, Santa Sofia, Punta della Dogana and San Tomà. For tourists it costs about € 2.00.
The Districts of Venice
The old city center of Venice is divided into six districts also known as the sestieri which include:
- The San Marco District: This is the most famous district in Venice, which is home to many of the top tourist attractions including its namesake square and the basilica.
- The Cannaregio District: This is the most populated area, located near the station.
- The Castello District: This is the largest district of Venice,
- The Santa Croce District: This is the only district that has a bridge to the mainland and a small amount of car traffic.
- The San Polo District: This district is known for its famous eponymous church.
- The Dorsoduro District: is located on Venice’s hardest and most stable island which is across the canal from St. Mark’s.
What to do and see in Venice
Wander alongside miles of winding canals, ride on a gondola, enjoy delicious food and wine, this city offers something for every kind of traveler. Besides visiting some of Venice’s most famous attractions here are some of the most popular tours and things to do in Venice:
- Saint Mark’s Square (Piazza San Marco): is the main city square of Venice and is surrounded by fancy shops, historic buildings and chic sidewalk cafes. It is the center of Venice and home to some of its most famous icons. Suggested tour: Venice: City Walking Tour
- Saint Mark’s Basilica (Basilica di San Marco): consecrated in 832 AD is the most renowned and famous building in Venice. This beautiful church remains an architectural marvel piece and blends Western and Eastern architecture together. It remains one of the most important religious buildings in Northern Italy. Suggested tour: St. Mark’s Basilica: Tour with Terrace Access
- The Doge’s Palace (Palazzo Ducale): also in St. Mark’s Square is the most impressive building in Venice and totally worth the tour. It was the political and judicial hub of the Venetian Republic right up until its fall in 1797.The palace was connected to its prisons by the famous Bridge of Sighs. Suggested tour: Doge’s Palace Skip-the-Line Entry Ticket with Guide Book
- The Grand Canal (Canal Grande): is the main thoroughfare of Venice. It is lined with beautiful buildings, 50 palazzi and six churches and bustling with many types of boats. It may be cliché and super touristy activity, but honestly Venice would not be complete without exploring all the little canals on a gondola. Book online: Private Gondola Ride along Canal Grande
- The Bridge of Sighs: This is a small bridge, behind the Doge’s Palace is one of Venice’s most famous and iconic architectural jewels. Its name came from the fact that it was part of the Doge’s Palace Prison complex and convicts had to cross over it before they received their sentence. Venice. Suggested tour: St. Mark’s Square Private Tour with Bell Tower View
- The Campanile Bell Tower (Campanile Di San Marco): This is the famous Bell Tower that is located in San Marco. It is the tallest tower in Venice and was created as a water tower. Many replicas of this tower have been created around the world. You can climb to the top for amazing views over Venice.
- Rialto Bridge (Ponte di Rialto): This is the main bridge which crosses the Grand Canal in the heart of Venice and is over 400 years old. It is considered a main icon of the city and has an interesting history. There are lots of little shops along the bridge. Suggested tour: Gondola Ride to Rialto Bridge
- Galleria dell’Accademia (Fine Arts Museum): If you love art, then this is a must do! This is one of Italy’s most important art museums with over 800 paintings that include works from great artists such as Da Vinci, Carpaccio, Giorgione, Tintoretto and Canaletto to name a few. Suggested Tour: Private Accademia Gallery and Dorsoduro Tour.
- Venetian Ghetto: This was the world’s first ghetto and was home to the Venetian Jews, that had to live within this gated and walled area. The Shakespeare play the Merchant of Venice is based in this area. Suggested Tour: Venice: Jewish Ghetto 2-Hour Walking Tour
- Venice Carnival: If you can visit Venice during carnival, you will not regret it! Every year 3 million people descend upon Venice to admire the extravagant costumes and masks, attend luxurious balls and be part of an electric atmosphere. Read our Ultimate Guide to Venice Carnival here.
- Visit the Venice Islands: Visit one of the 118 islands on a day trip. The Three main and most popular islands are Burano, which is famous for its lace and colorful houses. Murando, which is famous for its handmade glass products. Torcello which is a relaxing place that has some of the oldest monuments in Venice. All three can easily be reached by boat and is worth visiting. Suggested Tour: Venice: Murano, Burano and Torcello Islands Full-Day Trip.
You may be interested: The Best Things to See and Do in Venice
Where to Stay in Venice?
Here is a guide to the best districts and accommodation – in which to stay in Venice, as chosen by our local expert.
San Marco – The best place to stay in Venice!
San Marco is easily the best place to stay in Venice because it is considered the beating heart of Venice. It is close to the most iconic and famous attractions in Venice, including its namesake attraction’s St Mark’s Square and St. Mark’s Basilica. It is always very busy and popular at any time, home to plenty of accommodation including some luxurious five-star hotels. Also has lots of boutique shops, galleries, cafes and restaurants.
Cannaregio – For those on a budget
The northern Cannaregio district is a buzzing hub and one of the most popular places to stay in Venice. This area offers great accommodation options that are much cheaper than most other areas in Venice, but it is only a 15-minute walk to San Marco. This area has a great nightlight, hip bars and excellent restaurants. Strada Nuova is a known shopping spot for tourists.
Dorsoduro – Great nightlife
Dorsoduro is a considered a hip, artsy and cool suburb in Venice thanks to its prominent student population. There is lots of cool bars, a great nightlife, cool eateries, and cafes. It tends to be a little less touristy and expensive than many of Venice’s other districts, but has some well-priced hotel option. It is home to some of the most interesting art galleries and museums including the Peggy Guggenheim Collection and the Gallerie dell’Accademia.
***** Hotels: Sina Centurion Palace.
Santa Croce & San Polo – Convenience
Santa Croce is one of the most convenient places to stay in Venice because it is the main transportation hub. In this district you have both the bus station (in Piazzale Roma) and train station (Santa Lucia), as well as all the vaporetto lines and water taxis. The area has lots of great local icons, excellent museums as well as a decent bar and restaurant scene. San Polo is a little bit quieter than Santa Croce. This area is well located and close to many attractions and landmarks. It offers plenty of nice small hotels, where travelers can immerse themselves in the ‘real’ Venice.
***** Hotels: Palazzo Venart Luxury Hotel.
Castello – Venice’s largest neighborhood
Castello stretches from the Palladio’s San Francesco della Vigna to Riva degli Schiavoni lagoon-side promenade, making it one of the largest neighborhoods in Venice. However, despite its size it is actually one of the more peaceful suburbs to stay in. This district has some great shows, restaurants and even nightlife.
Giudecca – Low key area
Giudecca is located opposite the Dorsoduro district, separated by a canal. This area is popular amongst young people. It is a great area for travelers who want a slower place, and a break from the crowds in San Marco. There are not as many accommodation options, be a few reputable ones. The ultra-luxurious Belmond Cipriani Hotel is here, but that is just in a league of its own.
***** Hotels: Belmond Hotel Cipriani.
*** Hotels: Hotel Giudecca Venezia
Lido – Beaches & Views
Lido is a small island in the Venetian Lagoon, that is famous for its beaches and stunning views over Venice. It is a blend of old and new, and considered quite a trendy area. It is a great option in the summer especially, and only a short boat ride into the center. It would suit families that want more space, and less crowds.
More information: Where to stay in Venice during Carnival?
What to Eat in Venice?
Lagoon aqua culture and the Garden Islands yield lots of amazing specialty produce and seafood that you won’t find anywhere else, and this is highlighted in the inventive Venice cuisine and its tantalizing traces of ancient spice routes.
Seafood is a big part of Venetian cuisine, along with polenta and rice. They are usually combined with exotic ingredients like raisins, pine nuts and pomegranates, which have been favorites since the city’s days as a port and merchant city. Cicchetti or little appetizers are served in the bars of Venice and often eaten prior to lunch or dinner and are similar to Spanish tapas.
Sweets and pastries are an area of Venetian expertise and you must try them when you are there. Also, the Veneto region has been very successful at developing wines. This city knows how to put on a royal spread, as France’s King Henry III once found out when faced with 200 bonbons and 1200 dishes.
What to Buy in Venice?
There are so many beautiful local artisanal products in Venice that it is hard to know where to begin. Gorgeous handmade carnival masks are an excellent gift or souvenir. Venetian glass is another awesome gift. You may also find some pretty Venetian lace or Venetian marbled paper. Also, you may want to purchase a beautiful watercolor painting of the city. And you can’t go wrong with Venetian Wine.
What is the best Time to Visit Venice?
In our opinion, there is no bad time to visit Venice. This is a city that will impress you all year round. The High Season in Venice is during Summer – June to August. During this time Venice is hot and crowded, so if you are not a fan of that then avoid going in summer. Venice is pretty cold during the winter months but less crowded.
The best time to visit is during the shoulder seasons. So, September – November and March – May. While it is still busy, it won’t be as crowded as summer time. If you are on a budget, then the best time to visit Venice is during the acqua alta, or “high water” months, which occur October – January. During this period, it is common for the city to flood.
Of course, we suggest heading to Venice during Carnival! This is the most magical time to be in Venice as you will be transported to a bygone period. Venice Carnival takes place in the two weeks preceding Ash Wednesday.
Tips For Venice Italy
Here are some quick tips to help you enjoy your trip to Venice!
- Venice is a pedestrian city: Public transportation is limited to the main waterways and footbridges that require climbing stairs, Venice can be difficult to get around if you have limited mobility or heavy luggage.
- Be prepared for crowds: Venice is a popular destination and unless you are visiting in off-season then you can expect around 60-80k people per day.
- Utilize skip-the-line tickets: Trust us and purchase these tickets because it will be well worth the time you save, waiting in line.
- Get up early and go out late: There is a huge influx of cruise ship passengers that descend upon Venice and you can plan your activities to avoid them.
- Don’t buy water: Save your money on bottled water as there are free water fountains in every public square around Venice! This water is fresh and you can just bring along a reusable bottle.
- Pack appropriately: It is hot in the summer, cold in the winter, so prepare for the weather. Additionally, Venice is one of the most stylish cities in the world. So, if you want, bring nice clothes.
- Tipping: Italians are big tippers but giving too little can be seen as rude, and too much can be seen as arrogant. Tipping should come from the heart as a sincere gesture of appreciation. Giving between €5 – €10 when the service is extra special, is impressive.
- Public Toilets are pricey: Use the bathroom when you eat in a café or restaurant because most public toilets charge a fee of €1.50.
- Avoid eating along the Grand Canal or Piazza San Marco: The restaurants that are in the tourist hot spots are very expensive and don’t offer the best food.
- Visit Artisan Workshops: Venice is home to lots of very talented local artisans who practice their work in private workshops. A lot of these works like the Venetian Masks are still made using the same techniques from hundreds of years ago. Going to a workshop or purchasing a souvenir really helps them sustain their livelihood.
Related Carnival Articles
- Your Ultimate Guide to Venice Carnival
- Where to stay in Venice during Carnival?
- Venice Carnival Costumes
- Everything you need to know about Venetian Masks!
- What is the history of Venice Carnival?
- Venice Carnival Deserts