Venice is a unique destination. This city in northern Italy is built in a lagoon — the Venetian lagoon. The water transportation, the enchanting gondola rides coupled with serenades, and the architectural marvels of the place make it a place like no other. Read on for my full Venice travel guide.
Venice is believed to have gotten its name from Veneto, the region where it stands and the region, in turn, must have gotten it from Veniti, the people who were native to the area.
But Venice’s history is not as uncomplicated as its name. It’s said to have started out as a place where peace-loving people fled to, became a fishing village, and then turned into a trading community that grew wealthier and more powerful.
It’s been a maritime leader and a collector of art. Signs of its power, affluence and love for art have survived along with its city blocks that were interestingly built on wooden foundations. With its history, its architecture, beautiful waterways and art, it turned into a much-sought-after vacation spot. And tourism became Venice’s biggest industry, making this Venice travel guide necessary.
What to see and do
Seeing this Italian city from its canals is something you just cannot miss doing while in Venice. If you can ride a traditional gondola through those canals, that would be ideal. After all, the gondolas and the grand canal are almost synonymous with Venice.
The ride comes with views of several palazzos, or what used to be the opulent homes of the wealthy Venetian merchants several centuries ago.
The most famous sights of Venice are around St. Mark’s Square, where you get to see St. Mark’s Basilica, St. Mark’s Campanile, Doge’s Palace and the clock tower. Other sights to see at that end of Venice are the Arsenal where Venice built its ships, and The Venice Giardini where Venice’s biennale art festival is held. Rialto Bridge towards the middle of Venice is another not-to-be-missed attraction.
On the other end of Venice is the Jewish Ghetto, said to be one the oldest ones. There are charming churches all over and a few museums, all of them showcasing some magnificent art. Other things you could do here include doing side-trips to the other islands in the lagoon.
Read my article on the Top 10 things to do in Venice for even more!
Seafood has a very important place in Venetian cuisine because of Venice’s location. Being in the lagoon and beside the Adriatic means easy availability of different kinds of fish, squid, and crab. Other things to eat in Venice are polenta and different types of pasta & risotto.
Generally speaking, restaurants in Venice are on the pricier side. If and when you are looking for pocket-friendly food, try out Venice’s special cicchetti, which are akin to bar-snacks, mostly served on pieces of bread. These crostini come with a wide variety of toppings like anchovies, sardines, salami, tomatoes, and different kinds of cheeses. They are available all throughout the day.
And don’t forget, when in Italy, it’s ok — or should I say it’s a must — to indulge in some tiramisu and panna cotta gelato.
Check out my list of the Best Restaurants in Venice for more food tips.
Souvenirs are a must for this Venice travel guide! Masquerade masks have been a part of Venice since the early days. In modern-day Venice, they make annual comebacks when the city celebrates its carnival just before lent. As such, masks make great souvenirs from Venice. Other signature gifts to bring back include models of gondolas and vaporettos, gondolier hats & gondolier slippers.
Other things to shop while you’re in Venice include Murano glass (figures, vases, bowls, jewelry), Burano lacework, and bottles of Bellini, the cocktail that originated in Venice.
Venice is an archipelago of 118 canals connected by a network of canals that play the role of roads. These islands are situated in the middle of the Venetian Lagoon between the Adriatic Sea and the Italian Mainland.
From high-end hotels housed in palazzos to the not-so-expensive hotels around town, from modest B&Bs to budget-friendly hostels, Venice has all kinds of accommodations.
Staying in the historical areas means you get to be close to the tourist hub and it’s not a bad idea at all. Otherwise, you can choose to stay near the Rialto where there are a lot of shops, bars & restaurants or at the northwestern part where the station and the Jewish Ghetto are.
If you have to visit when Venice’s rooms seem to be all sold out, you could even stay on the mainland and trip to Venice on a daily basis for the number of days you have marked out for this city on water.
Venice, as you know, is a city of canals and the way around it is by boat. A must for a Venice travel guide is to explain how you get around! There are the vaporettos that serve as water buses, playing the main mode of local transport in the city.
Then there are the gondolas, almost a symbol of Venice and a must-do for most visitors to the Queen of the Adriatic. However, be warned that it’s on the expensive ride. But for the experience, I’d say you should try it out and the better way to do it is to let one of those traditional flat bottomed boats take you through the less crowded side-canals of Venice rather than the Grand Canal (for that, stick to the vaporetto).
Second only to the waterway transportation, is the experience of walking the narrow lanes of Venice and crossing a few bridges along the famous canals of the city. This city is very walkable and you’ll see that that’s the way to see it as cars & bikes are non-existent on the main islands and tourist areas.
Now to get to the Floating City, you could take the train from the mainland to the station on the northwestern part of the island. And from there, take a water bus to the historical parts or your accommodation.
If you’ve been driving around Italy, you are going to have to park your car either on the mainland or the parking lots by the train station. And if you are flying into Italy, the closest airport is Marco Polo airport. Farther away (and farther into the mainland) is the Treviso Airport.
Best time to visit
Venice’s tourist season is from April to June when the weather is warm. After that, it gets hotter & drier. But take note: the canals and the side streets can be very crowded around this time of the year. Take into consideration the fact that Venice has been going through ‘over-tourism’ and you might want to opt for the off-season months in the fall or winter.
Around this time you’ll even find better rates in terms of hotel rooms. Just make sure you keep track of the weather forecasts and dress in layers. Towards winter, expect some heavy downpours, some icy winds & chances of floods.
If you’d like to visit when Venice is in celebration mode, you might want to look up the dates for the carnival, Venice Film Festival or the Art Biennale.
If you’ve ticked off the major attractions by the Grand Canal and explored the bylanes of the city of Venice, you might want to explore the outlying areas, especially the islands of Burano, Murano & Torcello.
Burano is known for its lacemaking while Murano is famous for its blown-glass production. Both islands are colorful and Instagram-perfect sights. Torcello is older and quieter, should you need to take a break and be far from the tourist action of the main islands. For some beach time and/or to see the Venice Film Festival when it’s underway, head to the island of Lido.
And if you still have more time to spend in the area, you could go further out and visit the charming cities of Padua, Ravenna or Verona.