One of the highlights for many travelers to Northern Italy is visiting the historic city of Venice. But there is no denying that Venice, with its many canals and winding streets, can be an incredibly overwhelming place.
After a couple of visits, I finally figured out some of the best ways to take it all in and make the most out of Venice. Here are my tips for you.
Before you do anything, take a walking tour. You may not be someone who goes on tours very much. Walking around with a group of tourists may not be your thing. But even if you don’t do it anywhere else, I highly recommend you take a walking tour in Venice.
Viewfinder Tip: “Acqua Alta,” or high waters, is the term that refers to the flooding season in Venice, often in the fall from November to January and sometimes in the spring, so make sure to pack your rain boots!
My family and I took two, with two very different focuses, in one single day. Dedicating one day with a guide helped us understand the streets better and even how to best navigate them—especially during weekday mornings when you want to avoid the market vendors and residents who want to speed past you to get to work and the government workers closing and tearing up the streets. Plus, you get a deeper insight into the region, its people, and its unique culture. I developed an affection for Venice that I hadn’t before I finally decided to explore with a local who could help me see and navigate it better.
Make time to visit the other lagoon islands. Though Venice, Murano, and Burano are the most popular among visitors, there are a series of other islands surrounding the Venice lagoon worth exploring. For those seeking to to know more about the history and architecture of the region, a boat ride to Torcello, San Francesco del Deserto, and San Lazaro degli Armeni are great spots to head to, especially for those looking to escape the crowds.
Splurge, a little. You might find yourself splurging a lot in Venice, as it is a pretty expensive city. One local tip I was given is to keep an eye out for those eateries off the beaten path. They won’t have the amazing water views, or have tables set up outside for dining al fresco, but they are less expensive and the food is often a lot better. You can also get around walking, which in itself will open your eyes to the beauty of the city. My favorite was discovering the early morning market and small cafe where we enjoyed our breakfast and watching the locals start their day.
You can also take the public ferry, which is not as chaotic an experience during the off season and is pretty inexpensive. You can even save money on a gondola ride if you are willing to share it with other travelers, and if you are OK with it not being at night.
But do splurge a little. Take a private water taxi ride around the canals at sunset. It’s amazing, and less expensive than a private gondola ride at the same hour. Or stay at a hotel overlooking the canal. I stayed at the gorgeous Pallazzetto Pisani. We really splurged here for a penthouse suite overlooking the canal and roof tops of Venice from our private roof top deck, and it was worth every single penny spent. Or enjoy tea time at Caffe Florian, Venice’s oldest cafes.
Visit during off-season and you might find that not every single business is open, but the hotel rooms are less expensive and the experience of walking along more quiet streets, in weather that isn’t has humid as during the summer months and taking in Venice at your own pace makes up for all of it.