Venice Italy Travel Guide
This is another great guest post from Jim at WINEtineraries. If you enjoy it be sure to check out his other destination and travel guides linked at the end of the article. This Venice Italy travel guide will cover where to stay, as well as, what to see, eat and do on your upcoming trip to the floating city.
La Serenissima (“Most Serene”) Venice, Italy
We recently spent a week in Venice with another couple (who will appear with us in a photo below) we met on a cruise of Christmas markets along the Danube River. Traveling with friends adds both a layer of complexity (more preferences to balance) and enjoyment (familiar sites seen through others’ eyes become new again).
Venice was high on our bucket list because everyone with whom we spoke who had been there raved about their visit and longed to return. Venice lived up to its billing, but it also can be a bit “quirky” – e.g., there is absolutely no wheeled transportation beyond the train station. Also, the walk between points A and B is never a straight line. But, this is what gives Venice its unique charm and, as Rick Steves is fond of reminding those who travel here, part of the fun is getting lost!
A romantic way for getting into Venice from the airport
Where else can you walk out of an airport Arrivals Hall and hop into a boat that travels the length of one of the most iconic waterways in the world? Only in Venice! Since our lodging was a relatively short walk from the Rialto Bridge, we made reservations for the Alilaguna boat (you can tell them by their yellow hulls).
You can purchase a voucher online; 15,00€ for a one-way fare or roundtrip for 27,00€. You may also purchase tickets at either of the airport Alilaguna ticket offices (in the Arrivals Hall and at the pier from which the boats depart). Your ticket includes one suitcase and one piece of hand luggage; additional luggage costs 3,00€/bag.
To find the Alilaguna boat pier at the airport, turn left as you exit the Arrivals Hall, go up 1 level, and follow the signs to the (new in 2017) moving walkway which leads to the docks.
- Vouchers purchased online are not tickets; they must be exchanged for tickets at an Alilaguna ticket office before boarding the boat.
- The Alilaguna boats operate on a fixed schedule but are much less expensive (about 10% of the price!) than the more romantic water taxis that leave from adjoining piers.
- 3 Alilaguna routes depart the airport: red (temporarily suspended), blue and orange; choose carefully when buying tickets. Since we were meeting the host for our lodging near the Rialto Bridge, we took the orange line (linea orancio) which dropped us at the pier marked in the picture below after just 4 stops.
Venice Italy Travel Guide: Lodging
The Doge’s House…and a visit from emergency services.
Whenever staying more than a few days in one location, we try to “live like a local” by renting an apartment. Since we were traveling with another couple and were going to be in Venice for more than a week, we wanted something with 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a full kitchen, laundry and Wi-Fi. The “Doge’s House,” (108 reviews on VRBO with an average rating of 4.9, 67 reviews on Booking.com with an average rating of 9.7, and 38 reviews on Airbnb with an average rating of 4.83) hosted by Ilia Atzeni and her gondolier husband Silvio filled the bill for less than $115/night/couple – an absolute steal in Venice! Located on a side street between the Rialto bridge and St. Mark’s Square, the “Doge’s House” made an ideal home base – and it gave us an unexpected travel memory.
On the morning of our last full day in Venice, the pocket door to the en suite bathroom in our bedroom came off its track trapping me inside and causing us to miss our train to Ravenna. Ilia ended up needing to call emergency services who had to pull the door casing off the wall in order to extract me.
To make up for the disruption this caused in our travel plans, Silvio gave us a complimentary gondola ride! When life gives you lemons, make limoncello!
The Best Western Titian Inn
Because our departing flight left at 7:40am, we moved to the Best Western Titian Inn which offers a complimentary airport shuttle for our last night in Venice. Several restaurants are within easy walking distance; I can recommend Al Quadrante (see below).
Other Lodging Options
If you’re flush with Marriott points, two posh lodging options represent spectacular redemption values:
The Gritti Palace:
Conde Nast describes The Gritti Palace as “…luxury with a capital ‘L’”. Built in 1475 as the palazzo for Doge (Venetian Italian for “Duke”) Andrea Gritti, this property caused W. Somerset Maugham to muse, “There are few things in life more pleasant than to sit on the terrace of the Gritti when the sun about to set bathes in lovely color the [basilica Santa Maria della] Salute, which almost faces you.”
St. Regis Venice:
Monet painted 37 canvases of Venice in 1908, many of them from the balcony of his suite in the storied Grand Hotel Brittania. Following a two-year, multi-million-dollar renovation of this property, which spans multiple palazzi on the Grand Canal, it reopened in 2019 as the St. Regis Venice and features a private, Italianate garden courtyard and “impossibly romantic” canal views.
Venice Italy Travel Guide: Dining
It’s difficult to find a bad meal in Venice. The experiences listed below were some of the highlights of our trip.
Venice has its own version of tapas called cicchetti (derived from the Latin for “very small). Crossing into the San Polo sestiere (subdivision), we made an evening of visiting the following bacari (bars serving wine and cicchetti):
- All’ Arco (nearest the Rialto bridge)
- Cantina Do Mori (frequented, according to legend, by Casanova)
- Cantina Do Spade (cicchetti menu here)
- Ostaria Dai Zemei (which turned out to be our favorite)
- Vineria All’ Amarone (extensive wine list).
Tip: Using the Rialto bridge as your starting and ending point and visiting the above bacari in the order listed, you can make a circuit covering a total walking distance of about 2/3 mile.
Conca D’Oro (Campo Santi Filippo e Giacomo 4338) describes itself as “the very first pizzeria in Venice.” We discovered this place quite by accident while strolling from our lodging at The Doge’s House to St. Mark’s Square. We liked it so much, we returned for additional meals – and that’s saying a lot considering how many wonderful restaurants there are in Venice. Tip: If you make your reservation through “The Fork” far enough in advance, you can score a 20% discount!
From its waterside location on the Fondamenta Nuove in the Cannaregio sestiere to its Murano glass chandeliers, Algiubagio is equal parts romance and decadence. I just love the statement on its “Menu” page: “The best things in life are either unlawful, immoral…or make one fat.” Four-course “Classic” and “Traditional” prix-fixe menus are offered for 73,00€ but you can also order the same seafood entrée that anchors their “Traditional” menu for 32,00€ and the same seafood entrée that anchors their “Classis” menu for 34,00€.
Overlooking the Venice Lagoon just beyond St. Mark’s Square (exit St. Mark’s Square toward the lagoon, turn left and cross the small canal with a view of the Bridge of Sighs), Principessa (77% “excellent” or “very good” ratings on TripAdvisor) takes an approach to dining I appreciate – it offers a limited menu but the few items on it are executed extremely well. The restaurant’s name is an homage to the Byzantine Princess Maria Argyropoulaina who surprised banquet guests at the Doge’s Palace in 1004 (up until that occasion, utensils weren’t commonly used in Italy and most of Europe).
Birreria Forst (Calle de le Rasse, 4540 – a 1-minute walk from the Bridge of Sighs) is a brewery serving “black sandwiches” (using bread made with rye flour) may be unexpected in Venice. This “hole in the wall” makes an awesome lunch stop just around a corner from St. Mark’s Square. Sandwiches top out around 9,00€.
Trattoria al Gatto Nero
If you’re in Venice for more than a day or two you really should visit the outer lagoon islands of Murano (famous for glass blowing) and Burano (famous for Venetian lace). This canal-side restaurant on Burano was visited by Andrew Zimmern on the Travel Channel’s show, “Bizarre Foods.” Trattoria al Gatto Nero is best known for one of the starters on its menu – “risotto Burano style,” made with a broth flavored with a tiny cuttlefish harvested from the muddy lagoon bottom.
Their website promises “(a) riot of taste that, for a low price , will rekindle in every heart the ancient cult of ‘eating well’, preserving the timeless quality of our tradition and our local products.” A 2-minute walk from the Best Western Titian Inn. There’s something on the menu for almost any palate and the prices are quite reasonable.
Tip: If you are looking for dining deals, The Fork lists 58 restaurants in Venice which offer discounts up to 50% off the ala carte menu! Navigate to The Fork’s website, enter your desired date(s) and time(s), and then select the “Special Offers” filter.
Venice Italy Travel Guide: Some “must see” attractions
There’s no shortage of things to see and do but I highly recommend considering Venice proper as a base from which to launch excursions to neighboring islands and towns.
Venice Free Walking Tour
Because Venice is such a warren of maze-like pedestrian streets on more than 100 islands connected by more than 400 bridges, a good map is indispensable. With this tour company, one gets what we found to be the best map available (it even includes a directory of Wi-Fi hotspots!) along with a valuable orientation to Venice. They offer both morning and afternoon tours which depart from several locations (so one is almost always fairly near your lodging). The tours last about 3 hours and, ideally, should be done as early as possible during your stay.
St. Mark’s Square
While one certainly shouldn’t miss the sites clustered around St. Mark’s Square – especially on a first visit – this is also where the crowds congregate with their selfie sticks. Wander just a few blocks away from the square in any direction and the congestion thins dramatically.
If you stand in the Square with the Basilica at your back, the tower nearest you is the Campanile (bell tower). The Doge’s Palace (see below), the archaeological museum and library are to your left with the lagoon beyond. The Museo Correr (included in the price of admission to the Doge’s Palace), which focuses on the art and history of Venice, is ahead of you at the opposite end of the Square. Finally, in addition to featuring the first “digital” timepiece, the clock tower to your right is also the gateway to the Merceria, one of Venice’s main shopping streets that leads (albeit not in a straight line) to the Rialto bridge.
Tips: After getting your bearings, I suggest downloading Rick Steves’ free app and following his narrated St. Mark’s Square audio guide. Also, bands play throughout the day at cafes along either long side of the Square which happily sell rather pricey cups of espresso at their outside tables. But you can stand in the square and enjoy the same music for free.
St. Mark’s Basilica
The most prominent building on the square is the ornate St. Mark’s Basilica. If its façade (pictured here) looks familiar, it may be because it featured prominently in 2 James Bond films (Casino Royale and Moonraker) and more recently in Inferno, the movie adaptation of Dan Brown’s sequel to The Da Vinci Code.
Tips: Visit the Basilica either first thing in the morning or during the last hour of entry (hours of admission vary with the season). Reservations aren’t needed to enter the Basilica but will allow you to skip the often lengthy queue during peak travel season and visiting hours. The Basilica’s free guided tours are currently suspended, but you can download Rick Steves’ audioguide here for an enhanced experience.
The Doge’s Palace
The pink-hued Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace) adjacent to the Basilica and connected to the prison by the oh-so-photogenic “Bridge of Sighs” was home to the Doges (elected leaders of the city-state of Venice) and the seat of Venetian government.
Tip: Although you can visit the Doge’s Palace on your own, I highly recommend one of the “official” guided tours which must be booked in advance. The “Secret Itineraries” tour includes the interrogation room, detention cells and torture chambers. The “Hidden Treasures” tour focuses on the recent renovation of the Doge’s private rooms in the wing adjacent to the Basilica.
There Is So Much To Offer Outside Of Venice As Well
Here are a few of the options if you have a longer stay and want to venture outside the city limits too:
- Budget Grand Canal cruise: Board a Line #1 vaporetto at Piazzale Roma and listen to Rick Steves’ “Grand Canal” audioguide as you cruise the length of the Grand Canal for just 7,50 Euros.
- Day trips by boat: Murano (world famous for its exquisite glass) and Burano (perhaps just slightly less famous for its lace and rainbow-colored buildings).
- Day trips by train: Padova/Padua (Scrovegni Chapel – amazing!), Verona (Roman arena, Juliet’s balcony), Ravenna (incredible mosaics).
- The commissions charged to change money on St. Mark’s Square are excessive; walk just a few yards down the Merceria to withdraw up to 500 Euros/transaction from an ATM; use a debit card that reimburses ATM fees (Charles Schwab or Chase Private Client) or make as few withdrawals as possible. Also, don’t use any ATM if anything appears loose or damaged; this could indicate a device has been attached to “skim” your account information.
- Finally, although we did not encounter any of the following scams we were warned to be alert to them in Venice – as you now are: (a) “the imposter” where a would-be thief poses as authority — ask to call their supervisor, (b) “the cleanup” where the scammer innocuously squirts you with a thick white substance and then offers to help clean up the “bird droppings” in order to lift your valuables and (c) “the ticket helper” where the thief offers to “help” at an automated ticket machine and causes confusion in order to make off with some of your cash.
Venice Italy Travel Guide: Final Thoughts
A big thanks once again to Jim for putting together this amazing Venice Italy travel guide. There is so much delicious info in here, yes I am thinking about the food section right now, to sink your teeth into. I can’t wait to visit myself!
If you enjoyed this guide be sure to check out Jim’s other ones on the site as well:
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