Venice, Italy, is a bucket list destination for many people. And rightly so; I've been to a lot of cities around the world, and no other city is quite like Venice.
But Venice has been in the news in the last couple years for some not-so-great reasons. From overtourism caused by an increase in cruise ship visits to proposed new tourist taxes to record tides causing flooding damage, Venice hasn't had an easy go of it recently.
Some people will tell you to skip Venice entirely, and focus on other parts of Italy instead. And while I do think Italy has plenty of underrated spots that could use more tourism love, I'm not one of the people who's going to tell you not to go to Venice.
Why? Well, first of all because it's not up to me to tell people where they can and can't travel; I've been to Venice twice, and I have no right to tell people they shouldn't (or, worse, can't) go. And secondly because… well, Venice is pretty great and I still think it's worth visiting.
But in order to truly love your first trip to Venice, I do think it's important to go to the city with some knowledge and a plan. Read on to learn all my tips for how to be a “good” tourist there and make the most out of your trip to Venice.
Note: I visited Venice for the second time on a project with Monograms Travel. This post was brought to you as a result of the Monograms trip, a project between Monograms and iambassador. As always, all opinions are completely my own – I maintain full editorial control of the content published on this site.
10 tips for visiting Venice
1. Stay overnight
Sure, you can do a day trip to Venice and see most of it since it's not very big (the main part of the city only covers about 6 square miles). But part of the reason Venice has been hit so hard recently by overtourism is because so many people (especially those visiting off cruise ships) come for the day and leave without really leaving behind any economic benefit.
If you want your tourism dollars to do some good, stay at least one night in Venice. Stay at a local hotel (I liked Hotel Bonvecchiati on my most recent visit), eat at a local restaurant, and maybe even do some shopping. (I actually recommend at least 3 nights in Venice!)
Plus, staying overnight means you'll get to experience Venice at night after the day trippers have left and in the early morning hours before they arrive. These are arguably the best times to be in the city.
2. Stay on the island, not the mainland
Venice technically covers roughly 160 square miles, but most of that is the lagoon. The city of Venice itself sits on an “island” (the island is actually made up of a bunch of small islands, canals, and bridges) that's connected to the mainland (Mestre) by a 2.5-mile-long causeway.
You might be tempted to stay in Mestre as hotels are cheaper there, but I'd recommend spending a bit extra to be able to stay in the historic center instead. On my first trip to Venice, I stayed on the mainland and commuted to the main island each day. It's possible to do, of course, using bus, taxi, train, or water taxi, but it takes some time and costs extra money.
Staying on the island means you can pop back to your hotel for a break in the afternoon (or if you've accumulated a bit of shopping), and you won't ever have to worry about being too far away from things.
3. Visit during shoulder season
Venice's “off-season” grows shorter and shorter each year, but is generally during the winter months (November-March) when it's colder and wetter (and more prone to flooding due to high tides).
The shoulder season is the months around this: October/November and March/April. These months are generally going to be a little less busy, but still have relatively decent weather.
Definitely avoid the height of summer, when it's both really busy and also really hot.
4. Get up early and go out late
The cruise season seems to get longer every year in Venice (hence the off-season getting shorter), but really starts in earnest in April and runs through October. Chances are, there will be cruise ships in Venice during your time there.
In order to avoid the worst of the crowds, check to see which days ships will be in port, and then avoid the touristy spots (like Piazza San Marco and the Rialto Bridge) between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. on these days. Those will be the busiest hours in the city.
Hit the top spots earlier in the morning, or later at night to actually enjoy them. For example, I booked an evening tour of the Doge's Palace and St. Mark's Basilica with Walks, a company that specializes in unique curated tours. We visited the Doge's Palace during one of the last entry times in the evening, and then had exclusive after-hours access to St. Mark's Basilica.
It was an AMAZING tour, and the experience was completely different to visiting those popular places during the day. For example, we got to visit parts of St. Mark's that you don't get to see during the day, and didn't have to elbow our way past a thousand other tourists.
Check out this after-hours tour here!
If you still want to be out and about during those busy hours in Venice, explore the rest of the city; St. Mark's Square and the Rialto Bridge/Grand Canal will be crowded, but the rest of the city can be pretty quiet.
5. Don't eat along Piazza San Marco or the Grand Canal
Similar to avoiding these hot spots during the middle of the day, I don't particularly recommend any of the restaurants or cafes in St. Mark's Square or along the Grand Canal near the Rialto Bridge.
The restaurants with photo-filled menus and waiters standing outside trying to usher you in generally don't offer the best food or the best prices. (In fact, many of these places will charge you extra just for sitting down.)
Go down small streets for better, local food. Sometimes you just have to go one or two canals over from the main hot spots to find less-touristy spots.
I had fun trying different cicchetti bars (places serving up small bites and spritzes) in Venice. My favorite was Al Mercà, which had a nice mix of locals and tourists lined up outside at lunchtime.
If you DO want to grab a table for an espresso or drink at one of the places in Piazza San Marco (especially at night, when they have live music), just be prepared to pay a substantial amount more just for being able to sit there. I wouldn't recommend having a full meal there – a drink or coffee is enough.
6. Utilize skip-the-line tickets
Several of the main sites in Venice offer skip-the-line tickets. It might seem silly to pay extra for this (especially at sites like St. Mark's Basilica that are free to enter), but it can sometimes save you hours of standing in lines.
I utilized a skip-the-line ticket to go up the St. Mark's Campanile (bell tower), and didn't wait at all to go up just before sunset. (Get skip-the-line tickets here April through November.)
You can also get skip-the-line tickets for St. Mark's Basilica, many of which come packaged with a guided tour of the historic basilica. This would be a really good option, as you'd get a lot more out of the experience. (Book a guided tour here.)
You can also get skip-the-line tickets to the following sites in Venice:
7. Be prepared to get lost
Venice is a maze of canals, bridges, and narrow streets and alleys. Even if you have phone service in the city, Google Maps will only be able to accurately pinpoint where you are about half the time. Be prepared to set the maps and apps aside and just get a little lost in Venice!
And if you have any timed tours or reservations anywhere, make sure to leave a little early, because chances are you'll run into a dead end at least once on the way.
You'll also need to be prepared to use your feet a lot in Venice. The streets and canals make it impossible for cars to get around in the city center, so all transport is either done by boat or on foot.
8. Do you need to ride a gondola?
Gondolas have become a symbol of Venice, and the art of making and rowing these flat-bottomed wooden boats is an important tradition that often gets passed down through families.
BUT, just because gondolas are a symbol of Venice doesn't mean you need to take a ride in one.
Gondola rides in Venice come at a fixed price (usually €80 for 40 minutes, with prices going up in the evenings), and the main canals can be extremely crowded with these boats during the busiest hours of the day.
The experience isn't always as romantic as it might seem in your head, either. Gondoliers have a required uniform (think striped shirts and straw hats), but are NOT required to sing, serenade, or otherwise narrate your ride at all. Your experience might vary depending on your gondolier.
Plus, be prepared for every other tourist in Venice to take photos of you during your ride.
If the price or potential canal traffic jams put you off, remember that you don't HAVE to ride a gondola in Venice.
If you want to ride in a historic wooden boat for a fraction of the price, hop into a traghetto instead. These gondolas act as ferries to help people cross the Grand Canal at 6 different spots. The best part? Riding in these gondolas only costs €2 per person!
9. Visit some other islands, too
I've written about this before, but Venice isn't the only island in the Venetian Lagoon! In fact, there are a lot of others you can visit if you fancy taking a day trip somewhere else.
The most popular other islands to visit from Venice are Murano (known for its glass blowing) and Burano (known for its lace and colorful houses).
You can visit islands like these on a guided or semi-guided tour (like this one), or you can take the public vaporetto (water bus/ferry) and just explore on your own. These islands have gotten busier in the last few years, but are still considerably less crowded than Venice.
Just remember that places like Murano and Burano are islands where normal people still live, so be respectful when taking photos of homes. (And by “be respectful,” I mean don't go climbing steps or walking through doorways you're not invited to walk through.)
You can also visit Lido di Venezia (“the Lido”), which is home to Venice's beach; Torcello, where you can see Byzantine mosaics; and San Michelle, Venice's cemetery island.
10. Get an insider look
As in all popular cities, you're most likely to enjoy your visit if you can get a local, insider's look at Venice that goes beyond the tourist hot spots.
On my second trip to Venice, I had a Monograms Local Host at my disposal when I had questions about where to eat, where to walk, and what sites to see beyond the “usual” ones. (This is something that makes Monograms stand out as a travel company – read more about Monograms here.)
But even without a Local Host on hand, there are still ways to dig deeper into Venice. Some of these tours let you delve a little deeper and see parts of Venice you might otherwise miss:
- Venice Food Tour: Rialto Market, Cannaregio, Gondola, Food & Wine
- Hidden Venice: Unusual Walking Tour
- Venice Boat Tour With Grand Canal And Tower Climb
At the end of the day, there are three ways to ensure you fall in love with Venice like I have:
- Go in with realistic expectations; know that it likely WILL be busy and touristy at times.
- Be willing to get up early and stay out late to avoid the worst of the crowds.
- Make an effort to explore the city beyond the major tourist hotspots.
Venice is a special place, and I hope that anyone who still wants to experience it can do so a little more easily with these tips!
Have you been to Venice? If not, is it a city you'd like to visit?
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Hopefully my tips can help others enjoy Venice just as much!