A First Time Guide to Venice
When I first laid eyes on Venice, it felt as though I had stepped into a vibrant dream at once everything was familiar yet surreal. I had seen Venice countless times before in film, photos and television; the city is memorialized in media so often that Venice is seared into our minds as we come to expect the charming sunken homes, candy striped poles and striped shirt wearing men pushing gondolas down narrow canals. You think you know Venice until you find yourself navigating its winding passageways, falling in love with its picturesque views and realizing that you’ve only ever scratched the surface of this iconic city.
Leading up to my visit to Venice I had received mixed reviews from travelers who has been there. Some swore that Venice was more romantic and memorable than Paris while others advised that everything Venice offers can be seen in a day.
Whether heading to Venice for a quick trip or a long visit, this quick guide shares some ideas of what to do and see there:
What to Do in Venice
People Watching at Piazza San Marco
Piazza San Marco is the main square in Venice and is known as the best spot to sit at one of the many cafes lining the square and people watch. Be fair warned, cafes are expensive along San Marco!
Take a Ride Down the Grand Canal
The Grand Canal is Venice’s main “street” where visitors hop on and off the public Vaporettos and water taxis. The Grand Canal is beautiful and some of the grandest buildings and hotels in Venice line its waters.
The Rialto Market & Bridge
The Rialto Bridge is one of Venice’s oldest and grandest bridges and separates the neighborhoods of San Marco and San Polo. Cross the bridge and head to the Rialto Market (Daily, 7am-2pm) for a snapshot of daily Venetian life. The Rialto Market sells everything from fresh asparagus, seafood and fruit.
Saint Mark’s Basilica
Perhaps one of the main attractions of Venice is the beautiful Saint Mark’s Basilica, which is virtually impossible to miss. Every turn you take seems to reveal the towering dome of the Basilica hovering high above the rest of Venice. The Saint Mark’s Basilica is the cathedral church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Venice.
The Cannaregio Neighborhood
The Cannaregio neighborhood is where the historic Jewish Ghetto of Venice is found. Most Venetian residents tend to live in this neighborhood so a visit offers a authentic glimpse into their lives. The word “ghetto” actually originates from the Italian word “ghèto”, used to describe the first Jewish Ghetto in Venice, where Jews were compelled to live under the Venetian Republic.
Quick Day Trips from Venice
A Visit to Murano
A short trip from Venice is the charming island of Murano, which is best known as “the Glass Island of Venice.” Murano is a collection of 7 islands linked by bridges and is known for its glass blowing and craftsmanship. To get to Murano, take the Vaporetto (Venice’s public ferries). Murano is home to glass factories, churches, museums and tons of little shops selling expertly crafted glass figurines and bracelets.
A Visit to Burano
If headed to Murano, you can take a ferry and continue on to neighboring Burano. If Murano is known worldwide for its glass, then Burano is known for its lace. Burano is an active fisherman island with colorful homes that legend says are painted brightly so fisherman could spot Burano from the sea. Today, Burano is the cheerier, more affordable, less touristic cousin to Venice and is a welcome change of pace.
TRAVEL TIP: A trip to Burano is supposed to take about an hour and half but during my visit the ferry lines and crowds made the trip 3 hours long! If headed to Burano, leave early and beat the crowds.
The Scoop on Venice Transportation
Gondolas are what people picture when they think of Venice romantic, colorful, musical and oh, so expensive. It is a once in a lifetime experience to ride down a canal in Venice in a Gondola, but keep in mind that Gondola rides will set you back more than 40 euros a ride.
Water Taxi (Moderate)
Water taxis are available to take around Venice at a higher price point than the public transport Vaporetto. The bonus of course with water taxis is the flexibility to go where you need to go without waiting in line for the Vaporetto or making unnecessary stops along the way. Water taxis are also available to take you to Burano and Murano if you prefer to skip the ferry and get there quicker.
The most cost effective way to get around Venice (beyond simply walking around) is the public transportation Vaporetto. The Vaporetto is still pricey (more than 7 euros one way) but is convenient, located around the city and is a great way to take a ride down the Grand Canal and see Venice from the water.
Final Thoughts on Venice
As a budget traveler, Venice was a shock with how expensive absolutely everything was from the public transportation to the most mediocre of meals to “budget” hotels. While Venice is absolutely worth a visit, be prepared for steep prices!