Gillian Knows Best travel tips for first time visitors to Venice
Resources for enjoying your trip to this famously exasperating place
I say it over and over and over again. Nothing about Venice makes sense. It is that exact quality that made me fall in love. A lot of people tell me they don’t like Venice. I get it. Venice is confusing and exasperating and difficult. Whether it is your very first time or you are giving La Serenissima another chance. I have a few tips to make it easier for you.
My most important advice is to build in more time than you think you will ever need. The biggest key to enjoying your time here is to slow down. You are not going to do anything quickly. Relax, get lost, find somewhere to sit down and order a spritz.
Don’t bring a lot of luggage. Lots of places don’t have water access so you will have to pull your luggage off a boat and over a bridge, or two or three. Even if you take a water taxi directly to your hotel it’s still a pain to have big heavy suitcases here in Venice.
Flying into Venice
If you are flying into Marco Polo airport, book a seat on the right side of the plane. You will almost always get an amazing view of the lagoon and the city below. It is a 10-minute walk from where you exit baggage claim to where you meet your taxi/where the Alilaguna boats are.
A water taxi from the airport is expensive. It is also fast and pretty fabulous. I use Taxi 314. You can book and pay a deposit ahead of time. When you land, you send them a message and your boat will be waiting for you by the time you collect your luggage and walk to the boat launch.
The Alilaguna is a dedicated waterboat that connects Venice to Marco Polo Airport. There are 3 lines. It takes about an hour to get to San Marco and there might be a wait for a boat if it is a busy time of year. An Alilaguna ticket is €15 one-way or €27 round trip. I buy my ticket after I land from one of the ticket desks after baggage claim.
Another option is to take a bus or land taxi to Piazzale Roma which will save you that LONG walk to the Alilaguna/water taxi launch. A water taxi from Piazzale Roma to San Marco is €60, but honestly, this option will take just as much time as the Alilaguna.
The transport section on the airport website has all the useful information you need in one place.
How to move around in Venice: Buy a Vaporetto pass
You are going to walk a lot in Venice. Taking the vaporetto1 is rarely faster but it is (crowds allowing) kind of amazing to slowly snake your way along the Grand Canal, especially at night or after a long day. A single ticket is €9.50. My advice is to buy a 24/48/72 hour or week-long pass. Then you can hop on and off as many times as you like and you can go to Lido and to the islands like Burano and Torcello. It’s easy to get a Venezia Unica pass online before you arrive. The part that is a little tricky (and annoying) is that you must validate it at a desk or machine before you can use it. You can buy the pass when you arrive but there is often a long line for the kiosks outside the train station and at Rialto. Remember, you must tap in each time you board the boat.
If you want to just take one or two rides you have a few options. Many newsstands and Tabacchi also sell vaporetti tickets and passes. We buy ours for guests at the newsstand on via Garibaldi or from the kiosk in front of the Gabrielli Hotel near the Arsenale stop. There is an app where you can buy a ticket online and get a QR code that works to open the gates. If you can’t find a ticket machine or kiosk, you might have to go underneath the barriers and then as soon as your board tell the marinaio you need a ticket you can buy it on the boat for a surcharge of €1.
Venice is not a late-night town. Almost everything is closed or very quiet by 11pm, (maybe midnight in July and August.) The little bit of nightlife that there is happens in Canareggio and in Campo Santa Margherita. The vaporetto schedules change around 11:30 (some lines end even earlier, so double check if you are going to dinner or drinks somewhere far away from your hotel or plan on a long walk home.) and there is one slow circular line (Line N) that goes between the train station and Lido. There is also hourly-ish service between Venice to Murano (Line NLU) and Burano (Line NLN)
Che Bateo is an app that Venetians use to figure out what vaporetto to take.
Book some of your museum visits ahead
You don’t need to book for places like the Museo Fortuny or the Palazzo Grimani or the Pinault collection. You do need to book things like the Peggy Guggenheim, the Doges Palace and the bell tower at San Marco. (I like to go just at the tail end of sunset to catch blue hour) Double check here for special closures of the Basilica.
Take a tour
It is satisfying to wander and to get lost and to make your own Venetian discoveries. It is also rewarding to let an expert take charge and show you around. Walks of Italy has good small-group tours.
Take a gondola ride
I know. It’s touristy. Yes you can take a traghetto for €2 (also very fun) But taking a gondola is a special thing. The city only issues 440 licenses and there are less than 300 gondolas. Gondolas are handcrafted from 280 pieces of 8 different types of wood. It never looks like fun to me when I see people flopping around the Guidecca or Grand Canals with the vaporettos and taxis whizzing past leaving their large wakes behind them. Find a quieter spot for a more peaceful ride. There are usually gondoliers near Campo Santa Maria in Formosa, Ponte dei Greci2 and sometimes near Campo San Martin. Here is the list of official gondolier stations. I like the spot near Santa Maria dei Miracoli. This Instagram account is full of interesting gondola facts. Gondolas can take up to 5 people and usually start and stop at the same place. You can ask to get dropped off somewhere else, but gondoliers have specific routes and won’t go out of their way.
The price is fixed: 30 minutes is €90 euro and it goes up to €110 from sunset.
Have a drink in Piazza San Marco
Again, this is touristy but you know what. You are a tourist and that’s great! This is not the time for a quick drink and moving on to the next activity. This is the activity. Settle in and enjoy your spritz or hot chocolate or cappuccino. Listen to the orchestra and watch the action in what Napoleon called drawing room of Europe. I love Caffe Florian, but so does everyone else. It can be a challenge to get a seat inside on a cold day and the service can be a little slow. They are usually closed for a few weeks after January 6. The other place I go is Grancaffè Quadri 3on the other side of the Piazza. Here I usually get the signature spritz Alajmo, made with Barbaresco chinato Punset and Fever Tree Indian tonic or sometimes a crisp gin martini. This cafe is run by the family empire that includes Michelin star restaurants (one is upstairs with a view of the Piazza San Marco) and cafes all over the north of Italy.
Make lunch and dinner reservations
I find eating well in Venice a tad challenging. There is a lot of mediocre expensive food here. It has taken years of wandering around hungry and irritable and giving in and just getting a spritz and potato chips for me to create the lists of places of where to eat in Venice. Do your research and make a few reservations ahead of time.
I hope that I have convinced you to come visit. I can give you personalized hotel, dining, and shopping recommendations. I know some great private guides and fun boat tours. Another thing you can do in Venice is have a spritz or take a walk with me! Send an email to email@example.com for my rates and availability.
The prices on this post are out of date, but the practical how to info is great.
Sometimes the boats available here are what is called a Sandolo. It looks a lot like a gondola but it is not quite the same. A sandalo is slightly smaller, symmetrical, and less decorated.
Note that if you are coming in January, Quadri will be closed from Monday, January 8th, to Tuesday, January 30th and will reopen on Wednesday, January 31st, at 12pm, for lunch. Florian usually closes for a few weeks in January