Who would not want to go to Venice – a place where East meets West, where scandalous love affairs were rife thanks to Casanova, where poets like Lord Byron cavorted at the carnival behind elaborate waxed masks, where gondolas snake their way along the waterways and where it is possible to utterly lose yourself among the twisting streets and wish never to return home.
Travel in Venice is not always as straightforward as in other cities – transport is by water or train, but water is best, whether you are coasting across the Venetian Lagoon at speed, or drifting along the Venetian waterways in a gondola.
To help you make the most of your stay in Venice, here are five top travel tips:
- Transfers from Marco Polo Airport can be in the form of bus, train, water taxi (shared or private), the ferry, or via the transfer service Alilaguna. The Alilaguna boat transfer service costs 15 euros one way and 27 euros return and consists of a comfortable boat that allows you to view the lagoon close up and personal without being jostled on the ferry. The service leaves directly from the airport – so no bus needed to catch the ferry at Piazzale Roma. The Alilaguna boat leaves from its own terminal at Marco Polo around 15 minutes from the arrivals lounge at the airport. If you are lucky, as I was on one occasion, you might even get a boat to yourself for part of the journey! The crew will help you with your luggage and will soon have you speeding towards the Grand Canal in style. Journey time around 55 minutes from Marco Polo to Rialto. Book online at Alilaguna.
2. Eating: Venice has a reputation for being expensive and a tourist trap, with horror stories of being massively overcharged for meals. However, there are plenty of well priced eateries all over the city – and there are cafes and bars selling pizza slices, toasted sandwiches and other food-on-the-go without having to seek out a McDonalds. Expect to pay around 4-5 euros for a pizza slice or snack around the area of San Marco. For evening meals, it is tempting to take a seat at one of the restaurants lining St Mark’s Basin. Main courses at restaurants there start at around 11-15 euros – but beware, you could be charged a cover charge of around 3 euros, plus a small fortune for drinks or even coffee – a macchiato can cost around 8 euros on the promenade, pushing up your bill considerably.
If you want to eat well at a reasonable price overlooking the canal basin, walk as far as Riva S. Biasio, where you will find Bar Angio, where locals enjoy home-cooked food under cream umbrellas overlooking the canal and the smaller yachts moored there. The food is freshly prepared and you can enjoy a main course like pizza or lasagne and a drink for around 10-11 euros, so it is perfect for families or those on a budget. Hotel Bucintoro nearby also has a terrace dining area on Riva S. Biasio if you want to dine more formally. This area of the canal basin promenade is quieter, so you can escape the crowds and relax while you eat.
Next door to Bar Angio is the Gelateria Il Pinguino, where two scoops of the most delicious gelato in Venice cost just 3 euros. Riva S. Biasio is just around the corner from the Arsenal in Venice so if you eat lunch at Bar Angio, you can visit the Arsenal, too.
3. Sights: Tickets for sights like St Mark’s Basilica can easily be bought online before you go, but tours are time limited – usually half-an-hour or an hour – and the Basilica and Doge’s Palace are usually crowded, especially in the high season.
If you want to spend more time in St Mark’s, by all means buy your ticket online in advance, but tell your tour guide that you wish to visit the Treasury inside St. Mark’s and the Museum. This means you can remain inside when the tour ends rather than leave with your tour group. The Treasury costs 3 euros and displays the relic of the hand of St. Mark, whose body is also interred in the Basilica. The Museum at the top of the Basilica leads to the upper external roof terraces of the Basilica, which overlook Piazza San Marco from two aspects and also enable you to see the exterior mosaics at close hand, so it is well worth the visit. The Museum also offers a spectacular view of the interior of the Basilica. Officially you cannot take photos inside the Basilica because the money made from books and postcards pays for its upkeep.
4. Gondolas are a must-do in Venice and again, it is easy to book online – a gondola trip lasting around half-an-hour costs about 30 euros. For this, you will have to share your gondola with others – and each gondola takes six passengers. For a more romantic trip, you can hire an entire gondola for 100 euros or 80 euros for 20 minutes. If you want a singing gondolier, you will pay extra for this. Sharing a gondola with other tourists can be great fun – but chatting to new friends may also mean you miss out on some of the sights as you travel along the narrow waterways. Plan your gondola trip carefully to make sure you make the most of it – the trip soon comes to an end, but turning out of a narrow waterway into the splendour of the Grand Canal is not to be missed, so enjoy every minute of it. Note – gondolas can be quite buoyant in the water and also can list to one side if you move around, so keep hold of little ones. How Casanova managed to have an affair in them is impressive in itself!
5. Health: Heat and mosquitoes are two holiday hazards to be wary of – the canals tend to be breeding grounds for the little pests, so go well prepared with insect repellant and cream to treat any bites. There are pharmacies (Farmacia) everywhere, but wear a sunhat or take a sun umbrella and keep in the shade as much as possible – especially make sure infants and children are covered in sun cream and wear hats, and elderly family members do not over-exert themselves in the heat. Water and drinks are readily available and not expensive, so keep you and your family well hydrated.
Public lavatories are plentiful and well signposted in Venice, so it is one holiday that will not have to focus on your next comfort break!
A word of warning about the canal water – it is tempting to dangle your feet into the water and Piazza San Marco is also partly flooded at night, prompting tourists to paddle and splash about it in. However, the canal water is polluted with sewage, so take care and wash feet thoroughly and do not ingest the water. You will sometimes catch a whiff of it as you walk round Venice or on a gondola ride – once you catch the smell of the Grand Canal, all thoughts of paddling in it will evaporate!
If you use a wheelchair or have a pushchair, there are ramps all along the promenade of the canal basin – getting round the streets might be more difficult for wheelchair users, however, especially where there are bridges that cross the canals. Read the Tripadvisor guide to getting round Venice if you have mobility issues.
All images copyright A. Meredith 2018
Want to go to Venice too?
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All books contain adult themes, dark humour and sexual content.
I stood in Venice on the Bridge of Sighs,
A palace and a prison on each hand;
I saw from out the wave her structures rise
As from the stroke of the enchanter’s wand:
A thousand years their cloudy wings expand
Around me, and a dying Glory smiles
O’er the far times, when many a subject land
Look’d to the wingèd Lion’s marble piles,
Where Venice sate in state, throned on her hundred isles!
Childe Harold (IV.1), Lord Byron