Quaint, romantic, alluring like no other, Venice is a magical destination overlooking the Adriatic Sea, on the northeastern coast of the Italian peninsula. Owner of a long and rich history, the once-powerful Republic of Venice dominated the commercial routes of the Mediterranean, earning a variety of different titles that used to highlight its hundreds of faces.
Along the centuries, Venice was called the Queen of the Adriatic, but also the City of Bridges and the City of Water, an obvious reference to its main geographical trait.
But it was also known as the City of Masks, thanks to its legendary carnival, a celebration that, still today, casts a veil of glamour and mystery over Venice.
If you’re thinking about traveling to this unique Italian city, you’ve arrived at just the right place.
This guide to Venice will walk you through some sound advice on planning the trip (especially if you’re traveling solo). It will describe the top things you shouldn’t miss and offer you a few ideas for places to stay too. Get ready for some unique, memorable experiences that only Venice can surprise you with.
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Important Things to Know about Venice
Built upon 118 small islands that are divided by channels and linked together by bridges, Venice is a floating city located in the northern area of Italy.
It is also the capital of the Veneto region, spreading along the rivers Padua and Piave.
The city is a super touristic destination, receiving thousands of visitors every month of the year, a number that tends to increase during the months of summer and in Carnival (usually in February).
Keep those dates in mind if you want to visit Venice during less crowded times or if, instead, visiting Venice during Carnival has always been an item in your travel wish list.
How to Get to Venice
Venice International Airport (Marco Polo Airport) receives domestic flights from all over Italy (local and international low-cost companies), and from several European countries.
If you’re traveling from the States, you’ll be glad to read that several US airlines fly directly to Venice, however, these are mostly seasonal flights (spring, summer, and part of autumn). There are non-stop flights to Venice from JFK Airport in New York.
The city is also home to an important train hub, Venezia Santa Lucia train station, which receives trains from every important Italian city and the rest of Europe. It is often necessary to change trains at the previous station (Venezia Mestre) to reach the Venezia Santa Lucia train station.
If you’re coming to Venice by train from other Italian centers, keep these travel times in mind when planning your visit:
- Rome – Venice: 4.5 hours
- Milan – Venice: 2.5-3 hours
- Florence – Venice: 3-4 hours
- Naples – Venice: 5-6 hours
Where to Stay in Venice
There are different areas where you can stay in Venice to live like a local and experience the best of the city.
The first thing you need to know is that Venice is divided into 6 different districts, known in town as sestieri. The six areas of Venice are:
- San Marco
- San Polo
- Santa Croce
Each of them with a character of its own, they all offer an amazing array of things to do and experience.
This is the most important and touristic neighborhood in Venice, where you will find a concentration of local landmarks, including Venice’s Cathedral and Bell Tower, as well as the world-famous Saint Mark’s Square.
This central area is a great place to stay for amazing vistas, besides its strategic location puts you just minutes away (on foot or by Vaporetto) from virtually every corner in Venice.
Hotel San Salvador: This is a cute little hotel, perfect for a solo traveler, with hospitable and friendly staff. It is located only minutes away from the center of San Marco, a 2-minute walk from Rialto Bridge.
Check prices and availability Hotel San Salvador
Dorsoduro is an ideal district for solo travelers, especially younger ones as Dorsoduro is where you find the university district, therefore there are plenty of affordable bars and restaurants, plus an interesting and very lively night scene.
Casa Accademia: This is an excellent budget-friendly accommodation, located only minutes from the imposing church of Santa Maria Della Salute, which faces the Grand Canal and Saint Mark’s Square.
This is a simple but modern property, ideal for solo travelers, with a relaxed vibe, colorful spaces, and a terrace with terrific views of the area.
Find the latest deals for Casa Accademia
Another great area to stay in Venice is the neighborhood of San Polo, great for older solo travelers as well as couples.
Here, there are interesting gastronomic experiences, great restaurants, the local farmer’s market, and traditional Italian eateries.
Ca’ San Polo: A gorgeous guest house in the heart of historic Venice, set in a fifteenth-century mansion refurbished respecting the traditional Venetian style. One of the highlights is the panoramic roof terrace with a breakfast room with spectacular views of the San Polo district.
Check prices and book a room at Ca’ San Polo Hotel
Best Places to See and Things to Do in Venice
The Grand Canal
If there is an area where you want to start exploring the city, that’s the Grand Canal or Canale Grande.
Making the canal the starting point of your visit will put Venice into perspective and will help you get a clear idea of how to walk your way around the city.
If you’re visiting during summer, when Venice tends to receive the highest number of tourists, it is better to get here early in the morning to avoid the crowds.
Board a Line 1 Vaporetto which rides the entire length of the canal passing in front of gorgeous palaces and mansions.
And if you’re looking for a more special atmosphere, do this after sunset, when all the houses are lit up, and the waters of the canal sparkle with their reflections.
There are over 400 different bridges crossing the canals in Venice, and they are all worth a stop, however, the iconic Ponte di Rialto is a stone arch bridge, high enough to offer a unique viewpoint for a postcard-perfect picture of beautiful Venice.
It crosses over the narrowest point of the Grand Canal in one of the most picturesque areas of Venice.
This bridge, which was built to replace an old wooden bridge standing in the same position, is the oldest bridge across the canal and is renowned as an architectural gem from the Renaissance.
Saint Mark’s Basilica
The most important church in town and cathedral of Venice is the Byzantine building of Saint Marks, built back in 1092.
This building is arguably the most remarkable example of Byzantine architecture in the country and is completely different from any other church you can visit in Italy, such as Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence.
Saint Mark’s Cathedral is located in Piazza San Marco (Saint Mark’s Square), only steps from the Grand Canal, opposite the Santa Maria Della Salute Church.
The Basilica’s intricate facades rich in ornaments and refined artwork, the exterior and interior sculptures, the mosaics, the frescoes, and domed ceilings are a clear expression of how important, powerful, and rich the Venice Republic was in the past.
Don’t overlook a visit to the Basilica when in Venice, it is the most remarkable building in the city.
Keep in mind that there are often very long queues to access the building, so booking a tour in advance, especially a skip-the-line tour will save you tons of time.
Saint Mark’s Square
Locally known as Piazza San Marco, the city’s meeting point is right next to the Basilica and the most important public square in the city and one of the biggest squares in the country.
It features severe architecture, with ornate buildings and arches where you can find some of the most traditional cafeterias and elegant jewelry shops and boutiques.
The square hosts other important buildings, including the Basilica’s Campanile (Bell Tower) and the Clock Tower (Torre dell’Orologio).
Locals love to gather in the square where they walk and chat while dozens of kids enjoy feeding the thousands of pigeons that are often in the area.
Saint Mark’s Bell Tower
If you’re looking for the perfect place to soak in magnificent aerial views of Venice, then stay in Sant Mark’s Square to climb up (well, in fact, there is an elevator that makes the task much easier) to the tallest building in town, the 323-feet tall Campanile di San Marco (Saint Mark’s Bell Tower).
The present tower is not the original one, which collapsed back in the early 1900s, but a reconstructed tower completed in 1912.
Access to the Campanile is separate from the visit to the church, so you will find a long queue to visit.
However, you can better avoid massive crowds by visiting late in the afternoon, when most people are busy enjoying the traditional Italian aperitivo. Plus the sights from the tower at sunset are priceless.
Since you’re already visiting the Saint Mark area, then don’t miss the magnificent Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace), just steps from the Basilica, especially if you’re interested in learning more about the history of Venice.
This unique architectural gem, which is now an important museum, dates back to the eleventh century.
It was originally built to fulfill the role of a fort. Although, a century later, it was transformed into a palace which was not only the seat of the local court but also the private and official residence of the Doge in office at the time.
The highlight feature of the palace is the imposing facade completely made from pink Verona marble, with stunning white arches, intricate columns, and characteristic windows.
Inside, you will be amazed at the richness in style and decor of the different official chambers as well as at the lavish Doge’s rooms.
A visit to the palace often includes a tour of the medieval cells and the Ponte dei Sospiri (Bridge of Sighs), named after the sorrowful sighs of prisoners that crossed the closed bridge when headed to the prison after being sentenced in the court.
You’ve probably seen, or maybe just heard about the impressive glasswork that Venetians are known for.
During the Middle Ages, Venice was a leading producer of glass in Europe and the center of glass production was the small island of Murano.
Today, it is possible to visit, learn everything about the thriving glass industry, and even purchase some unique pieces or even small glass souvenirs to take back home with you.
Murano is located about one mile north of Venice and one of the top places to visit on the island is, of course, the Murano Glass Museum.
You can either get there with an organized tour or simply ride a local ferry (Vaporetto).
Another interesting thing to do is to pay a visit to one of the local glass factories open to the public where you will have the opportunity to see how glass was made in the past and how unique, intricate glass pieces are shaped.
Keep in mind that glass is made in very hot environments and with an open furnace right in front of you. This is a perfect visit for winter (it will keep you warm for a long while), while we recommend keeping these visits shorts if you’re checking out a glass factory in the summer.
Getting to Murano
The best way to reach Murano is by Vaporetto (Lines 4.1, 4.2, and 12). The boat ride is about 20 minutes.
Alternatively, you can hire a private water taxi or ask for information at your hotel since many of them offer free boat rides to both Murano and Burano.
Burano is another small island in the Venetian Lagoon, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, located just a short boat ride from Venice.
The picturesque Burano is better known for its brightly-colored houses and its long-standing tradition in lace-making. This last unique craft finds its roots back in the sixteenth century.
When in Burano, pay a visit to the Piazza Galuppi for a great view of the colorful houses.
Also, if you are a fan of seafood, don’t miss some of the local dishes. There are several good restaurants all over the island to try anchovies, sardines, and pasta with seafood.
Finally, lace is a typical craft that has been practiced on the island for hundreds of years.
There are several lace workshops that you can visit on the island and where you can also buy some delicate handmade souvenirs as a memento from your visit.
If lace is something that interests you, then pay a visit to the Lace Museum where you can admire some beautiful expressions of Burano’s unique folk tradition.
Getting to Burano
You can get to Burano with a private boat or simply ride the Line 12 Vaporetto from Venice, the trip is about 40 minutes.
The former Jewish district, locally known as the Ghetto Ebraico is a very interesting place to visit in Venice.
Dating back to 1516, this is deemed to be one of the oldest neighborhoods in the world.
It is part of the Cannaregio Sestieri and hosts a fantastic Jewish Museum, as well as different synagogues, institutional buildings, and several memorials to victims of the Holocaust.
Two different bridges connected the ghetto to the rest of the city, they were only open during the day and locked in the evening. The gates of the ghetto were permanently surveilled, and high penalties were imposed on the Jewish residents caught in other areas of town out of the legal hours.
The ghetto hosted separate synagogues (known as Scuola) for every different community, including German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, as well as the Sephardi and the Ashkenazic communities.
Today, only three of them are open for religious services while the rest are only open for touristic purposes.
Practical things to know about transport in Venice
If you are planning your Venice adventure, then keep this information at hand as it might be useful during your trip:
A gondola ride can be somewhat expensive if compared to a Vaporetto, but it is important to remember that we ride a Vaporetto and a gondola for different reasons.
While the Vaporetto will take us easily, and efficiently from one point to the other of Venice, a gondola is more of a pleasure ride to take in the beautiful views, and enjoy the vistas, the bridges, and the local atmosphere.
A gondola ride in Venice lasts about 30 minutes and the price goes from 80 to 100 euros during the day, rising to 120-150 euros for a night gondola ride.
To take a water taxi in Venice, it is necessary to phone the local water taxi company (Consorzio Motoscafi Venezia) 041 522 2303.
The service is available all day long, and it is always a good idea to ask for the price of the ride in advance.
This is the cheapest and most efficient way to discover Venice without breaking the bank.
The most important Vaporetto lines operate from 5 am to midnight.
There are also three nighttime routes (from 11:30 pm to 5:00 am) operating on the Grand Canal with a lower frequency.
Prices vary according to the ticket you purchase, getting a 24-hour or 48-hour card is more cost-efficient than buying a single ticket.
Remember that after purchasing the ticket, it is necessary to validate it before boarding the ferry.
There is more useful information and current prices published on the official Vaporetto website, for a complete description of the service, check the section dedicated to Venice visitors, it allows you to purchase tickets online and has a special area for you to learn how to validate the ticket.
Remember to bookmark this page so that you have all the information you need while planning your trip to Venice.
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About the Author
Gabi Ancarola is a translator and travel journalist living in Crete. She regularly writes about Europe for several magazines about travel, gastronomy, and hospitality. She has published several travel guides about Greece and plans customized trips to the Greek islands. She loves cooking local dishes, taking photos, and driving on the mountain roads of Crete.