Venice or ‘La Serenissima’, as it was known in Italian, dominated the Mediterranean for centuries. Even today just crossing the causeway from the mainland is like stepping into another world, steeped in history and unique in its maritime traditions. For once the superlatives of the guidebook ring true. Unlike workaday cities such as Rome or Milan, cars and traffic jams are unknown here. Yet despite being unlike anywhere else, quite a few tourists still come away with a negative impression. ‘Over-touristed’, ‘busy’, ‘expensive’, ‘dirty’ and ‘stinking’ are some of the charges laid against Venice. However, with some planning, a trip here can easily be made memorable for all the right reasons. Below are some tips for you to make the most of your first trip to Venice.
- Time your visit carefully. How many times have I met people who absolutely hated their visit to Venice? The truth is that many visit in the middle of the summer when Venice is at its hottest, most foul smelling and when it is absolutely thronged with tourists. Stories of garbage boats on the Grand Canal abound and these stories reflect the truth of the tourist juggernaut that is Venice in the busy summer months. Instead come between mid-October and mid-December when the winter sun hangs low in the sky and the city is reflected in its canals and waterways. Wander off the beaten track to have the city to yourself and experience the magic for yourself.
- Walk, walk and walk! If ever there was a city to invest in a good pair of walking shoes, this is surely it. Much of the charm of Venice is found when exploring its back alleys, quiet corners and little stone bridges. This is where you can dream and discover your own version of the ‘real Venice’.
- Get off the beaten track. Piazza San Marco is busy by day almost year round, so discover the quieter islands. Observe a glassmaker demonstrate his craft in a Murano workshop or admire the bright Mediterranean colours of the traditional Burano houses as their reflections dance in the surrounding waters.
- Eat off the beaten track. As noted earlier, tourists swarm around Piazza San Marco and the price of food and drink tends to rise and fall in direct relation to the number of tourists in the area. A close friend and I once had a delicious but reasonably priced meal just down the street from Venezia Santa Lucia train station.
- Be prepared. Bring everything that you need such as cameras, batteries, umbrellas etc. These are things that you can stock up on in advance and buying them in a tourist honey pot such as Venice makes no sense whatsoever.
- Walk when you can, but take a vaporetto down the Grand Canal when you first arrive. Venice is unique and you will be reminded of this every time your boat rounds a corner on your first journey on a vaporetto down to Piazza San Marco. As of January 2015, each one way ticket costs 7 euro, so it is better to buy the Tourist Travel tickets (20 euro for 24 hours, 30 euro for 48 hours, 30 euro for 72 hours and 60 euro for seven days).
- Dress appropriately. Venice can be steaming hot in summer, but also freezing cold in winter. Bear this in mind if you plan a long vaporetto ride to an outlying island. Forty-five minutes may be a short time on a boat, but each moment will seem an eternity if you are sitting in an ice cold draught.
- Watch your things. It may not quite be Roma Termini station, but Venice attracts large crowds of tourists. Think about it!
- Stay in Padua (Padova) if you want to spend a few days without breaking the bank. It is close, has a train connection and hotel prices are reported to be cheaper than in Venice.
- Budget your time. Unless you have a week there is a lot to see in Venice between old museums, palaces, churches and traditional islands. Do your research and choose the itinerary that best suits your interests. Bear in mind that queues to get into some of the main attractions are often long. Either book in advance and/or prioritize the sights that you really want to see.
Under a certain light Venice must be one of the most romantic places in the whole world.
Plan your trip well and the memories will stay with you forever.
In the meantime, take a look at the photos to find inspiration for your trip…
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