I have been to Italy on six separate occasions, and each time I wondered, “is Venice worth visiting”? The first two jaunts I avoided Venice like the plague. I had heard from travelers and Italians alike that Venice is way overrated. The city of canals was supposedly smelly, crowded, and expensive.
On my third trip to Italy, I just could not avoid it any longer. I had to see what all this fuss was about for myself. So, in the middle of February, we took a nine-hour bus across the country to get to the city. We didn’t know what to expect. As our train pulled in, I knew we were either going to love or hate Venice and soon would know if Venice was worth visiting. Here’s what we found in Venice, things to do, and a few of my top Venice travel tips so you can fall in love as we did.
Is Venice Worth Visiting?
Before I go into too much detail, the answer is yes. Venice is worth visiting. When I first went to Amsterdam, the Dutch were boasting that they had more canals than Venice. I’m sorry Dutchmen; as impressive as Amsterdam is, it is no Venice.
“Wow, this is exquisite,” was the first thought that popped into my head when I saw the Grand Canal for the first time. However, this thought never went away during our whole stay in Venice. The beauty of the canals never got old; it truly is something out of this world. If someone were to ask me now if they should visit Venice, I would say absolutely, Venice is worth visiting. But then I would ask them:
“When are you planning to visit Venice?”
I mentioned at the beginning of this post that Venice is said to be crowded and expensive. After speaking to the locals and touring Venice first hand I would say that the time of year you plan to visit Venice crucial.
We unexpectedly went there in the middle of February and hit it right with prices and with crowds. However a simple Google search of “Venice crowds” yields photos of the mass amount of tourists that flock to Venice every summer. Having the city to yourself is one of the many advantages of traveling during the offseason. We also found great deals on accommodation in the shoulder season.
Things to do in Venice
Now that you’ve decided when to visit Venice it’s time to make the most of your trip. Venice is made up of 117 small islands that are all linked by bridges. One of the best things to do in Venice is to wander around and get lost. The best way to get around Venice is by foot. There are no cars on these islands. So no road rage maniacs or loud motors ruining the peace. The sounds of the Venice streets are completely blissful.
There are many things to do in Venice besides take a gondola ride. The whole pensolon (municipality) of Venice is divided into 6 boroughs: Cannaregio, Castello, Dorsoduro, San Marco, San Polo, and Santa Croce. All have charming places to visit and delicious eats and drinks. Here are some attractions and activities that make Venice worth visiting.
1. Liberia Acqua Alta in the Castello district
This hidden bookshop/library was a unique find for us. It is off the beaten tourist path and tucked away in the Castello District. Many hours can easily be spent finding new and used books.
2. Ca’Macana in the Dorsoduro district
Mask shops pretty much rule the streets of Venice, but most of these are cheap imported masks marketing to tourist. Ca’Macana is a fabulous genuine mask shop in Venice that actually make all their own products. You can even find masks used in Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut here, as this is where they were made. The nice shop owners allowed us to have a lot of fun by letting us try all the masks on.
3. St Mark’s Square in San Marco district
No trip to Venice is complete without a visit to St. Marks Square in the San Marco district. This is the main public square in Venice and boasts stunning architecture from the Byzantine era. Here in St. Marks Square you can also find Cafe Florien; the oldest cafe in the world.Wondering how to order an espresso? Read our coffee guide to Italy.
4. Rialto Bridge in San Polo district
It’s hard to miss the bridge that connects the districts of San Marco and San Polo. Take a walk on it, it is the first dry crossing of the Grand Canal.
Where to Eat in Venice
Venice gets a bad rap for Italian food. Eating pizza in Venice is discouraged, as wood-fired ovens are banned from the island. However, we did find great and inexpensive local fare. Here are a couple noteworthy Venice eats.
1. Bacareto Da Lele
Perfect local wine and cicchetti shop. The place is tiny and there are no seats inside but the wine is flavorful (and cheap) and cicchetti makes for a midday snack.
2. Osteria Al Squero
Another great option for cicchetti. You can mix and match here as the different cicchetti options are endless. Small shop but there is enough room to sit inside or at the bar.
3. Gelateria Nico
A perfect option for mouthwatering Gelato with a great view. Located around the corner from Osteria Al Squero.
4. Tre Mercanti
For the best tiramisu in the city head to Tre Mercanti. A lovely specialty shop with a decadent collection of original tiramisus, macaroons, and wine. Standing room only so doesn’t come with sore feet.
5. Have yourself a Spritz
A Spritz Veneziano is a wine-based cocktail served as an aperitif in Northeast Italy. You can’t miss the endless signs for them around Venice. Our favorite Spritz was located at Bacareto Da Lele for a mere €1.50.
Venice Travel Tips
Get up early or stay up late
When you’re wondering is Venice worth visiting because of the crowds, remember that mid day is the worst time for cowds. Venice is her best before the crowds. Personally, I love getting up and seeing Italian cities come to life as the sun rises. It will start to get busy through the Venice streets by 10, and those crowds will stick around till after nightfall.
Don’t be fooled by restaurants
There. are. so. many. bad. restaurants. in Venice. Full stop. Venice has never been part of the “amazing world-renowned food” clump that the rest of Italy is in. That’s not to say you can’t get good food out in Venice, just recognize the signs of bad touristy places. Is an employee waiting outside the restaurant calling people in? Avoid. Is the menu in 20 different languages? Avoid.
Do your research, ask around, and look at reviews before choosing a place to eat. I also like to look at menus before I commit to sitting down so I know the prices, as Venice can get very expensive.
Re-consider the gondola ride
Riding in a gondola while a gentle Italian sings you sweet nothings through the Venice canals is definitely a bucket list item. Just be aware that gondola rides cost €80 – per half hour! That singing man? Well he cost extra as well. If you do decide to enjoy a gondola ride in Venice, just be sure you actually enjoying it. About 80% of the people I see the gondolas are on their phones either Instagramming, taking countless photos, or just browsing? Kinda pointless in my opinion.
You’ll get lost
It’s not a matter of if, but when you will get lost through the streets of Venice. Just accept it and marvel in the rich history and beauty of this Italian city. There really is nowhere like it on earth!
Buy glass in Murano
Murano glass is world famous. It is special, unique, and very expensive and one should travel to the island of Murano if they are interested in this glass. Watch out for the imitations all over Venice. If it’s cheap, then it’s fake.
Wear good walking shoes
If you plan on exploring in Venice, you’ll be walking almost everywhere. Make sure you are wearing comfortable walking shoes for your days out.
There are grocery stores
When wondering is Venice worth visiting because of the cost of things like food and accommodation remember you can always buy your food from the grocery store to save money! Venice is filled with local vendors, cheese shops, meat markets, and produce vendors. If you are in need of a supermarket to do some more heavy duty shopping, Venice has those as well. Co-op and Conad are two of the big ones.
So, is Venice Worth Visiting?
Between walking the endless bridges, gorging on Cicchetti, and drinking ourselves “spritzy,” we could have easily spent more than a week visiting Venice. Venice is certainly a floating city stuck in time and she is worth every second you can give. So is Venice worth visiting? I will always say yes and of course and can’t wait to return one day!
Transport To and Around Italy
Getting to Italy has never been cheaper with budget airlines such as RyanAir operating out of many Italian cities. If you are flying from a different continent the main hubs are Rome, Florence, and Milan.
Once in Italy, the best way to get around is via train. For long-distance routes, it’s best to book beforehand with Trenitalia and reserve a seat. If you are traveling shorter distances it’s also possible to show up at the train station a buy a ticket there. Or get around Europe with a Eurail.
We’ve rented a car numerous times in Italy and it’s a great way to get around on your own schedule. An automatic rental car can go for as low €15 a day in the low season up to €45 a day in the higher seasons and will ensure you get to all the best places in Italy. Knowing how to drive a manual car will often get you cheaper rates in Europe. If you’re traveling as a group it is worth your while to hire a car for your trip.
We traveled around Italy for one week and paid about $300 for a car rental in Italy, which was a pretty decent deal in my opinion! I generally like to check comparison sites so I can get the best prices.
My favorites to look at are:
- RentalCars.com: Provides comparisons for car rentals in Europe.
- AutoEurope: I can often find deals here for car rentals in Europe.
- Discover Car Hire: Searches rental car prices around the globe.
Where to Stay in Venice
Every time we visit Italy we stay in at least one Airbnb. Most apartment rentals in Italy feel very Italian and staying in someone’s home can enhance your travel experiences. To feel more at home, we use Airbnb you can check out some tips and read more about getting an Airbnb coupon code here. Or take this coupon for your first stay!
The Gritti Palace, Venice
This hotel is arguably the best hotel in all of Italy. It is an institution and occupies one of the best spots on the Grand Canal in Venice. The palace is situated directly across from Santa Maria Della Salute one of Venice’s greatest churches and an incredible sight. Via private jetty, guests can avoid the tourist crowds on their way to the hotel.
Visitors will have a hard time finding what to draw their attention to in the sumptuous palace because even the frescoed floors are masterful works of art. Once you’re able to lift your eye off the floor you’ll find marble-clad walls, priceless paintings, and original antiques from the palace of a former Doge of Venice. There is hardly a better or more fitting place to experience Venice than from The Gritti Palace. Our first time in Venice we even tracked down the hotel to see the famous interior.
Hilton Molino Stucky Venice
The Hilton is one of the best properties to stay at in Venice. It’s set along the banks of Giudecca Island and was once a former flour mill. Now it is a beautiful Venetian masterpiece with the largest spa in town.
Other Places to Stay in Venice
Hotel Antico Doga: This is a 12th century property just 300 meters from Rialto Bridge. It’s not as fancy or expensive as Gritti Palace, but it’s still one of the best and highest rated properties in the city at an affordable price.
B&B Art Dreams Venezia: This is the first place we stayed on our first trip to Venice. It was affordable, comfortable, and had a fantastic location. Great for those on a budget.
Plan and Pack for Italy
Book a tour!
Sometimes it’s nice to not have to do the travel planning and thinking!
Sometimes it’s nice just to have a real book in your hands when traveling. We recommend picking up a Lonely Planet to get you through the wireless nights.
You’re going to need something to carry your belongings in while you’re traveling around Italy. Even if you’re not doing extensive hikes you need at least something small for day trips. My favorite daypacks are from Camelbak.
Remember that Italy uses both the “Type L ” Italian adapter and the Europlug. Many adapters are interchangeable, so make sure you find a good one like the one I have to keep you charged.