Sockii's Venice: My Guide to the City of Water

by sockii

Venice, Italy is one of the most recognizable and unique places in the entire world. Let me share some of my tips for how to enjoy your visit.

Venice, Italy - the magnificent and almost unimaginable city built upon water.

Once one of the world's most powerful and richest Republics, today Venice is one of our greatest tourist destinations and attractions. An estimated 50,000 visitors flood Venice every single day, not surprising given there are so many different reasons to visit this beautiful city: marvel at its unique architecture and engineering marvels visit its many important museums and collections of artwork sample unique Venetian cuisine and explore the different islands of the Venetian lagoon experience history by riding a gondola or visiting the Doge's Palace shop for exquisite goods such as Murano glass and Burano lace simply enjoy a romantic getaway in one of the most beautiful places on Earth!

Gondola and reflections in the water

All images on this page are by the author, sockii, unless provided by Amazon.

To share all of Venice's lengthy history and reasons to visit would take many volumes of written text (and indeed, countless books have been written on the subject.) I have personally visited Venice four times over the past now 11 years, each trip ranging from a week to over two weeks (I was actually "stranded" in Venice during Hurricane Sandy in 2012...not much of a hardship!) As such I have a fair amount of experience navigating through the city, enjoying its sights and attractions, and never failing to find new unexpected delights and treasures to make each trip a special experience.

This page, and my goal here, is to share some of my recommendations and advice on how to make the most of your own Venetian holiday. I'll share some basic facts on top attractions, and link you to my more detailed articles on specific topics such as transportation, lodging and dining, and the other islands in the Venetian lagoon you should be sure to explore as well, should you have the time.

Venice in the morning light

Have you been to Venice, Italy before?

Venice,Italy: A Few Basic Facts to Know

Venice is a city in Northeastern Italy, the capital of the Veneto region. It is not, in fact, just a single island but actually a collection of 118 islands linked by bridges and canals. These islands are located in the shallow waters of the Venetian lagoon, originally settled by refugees of Roman cities fleeing the mainland and Germanic and Hun invasions.

Venice's isolated location led to its growing autonomy from the mainland—and importance as a developing trade center between the East and the West. In fact by the late 13th century, Venice was the most prosperous city in all of Europe! Venice had developed its own government system not too dissimilar from the ancient Romans, with an elected "Doge" and an assembly of nobles acting much like a senate. Venice also operated with as much freedom as they could manage from the rule of the Papacy; you can see a great deal of Arabic influence in its architecture, and the first Jewish "ghetto" in the world can be found in Venice.

St. Mark's Square
St. Mark's Square

Venice's power began to decline in the 15th century, after the opening of new trade routes destroyed their "monopoly". The plague also devastated the city's population, not once but twice. In 1797 the Venetian Republic was conquered by Napoleon, ending centuries of independent rule. In 1866 it became part of the Kingdom of Italy.

The city fortunately, largely escaped damage during World War II, but today many worry that over-tourism may lead to irreparable damage to the city's cultural and historical treasures. The #EnjoyRespectVenezia campaign has been launched to encourage sustainable tourism while respecting the city and ensuring it can be appreciated for many generations to come.

Recommended Tour Guidebooks and Maps for Venice

Don't plan your trip to Venice without the best tourist guides in hand!

Tour books in this modern day and age? Absolutely! While there may be a wealth of information online (including my own travel guides!) I still strongly recommend investing in a few good tour books before you leave for Venice. You might not always have access to your smart phones or the internet while traveling about, and these can help you plan things you want to see and do in advance as well as provide suggested itineraries, floor plans for museums and churches, walking maps and much more.

Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute
Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute

After four trips to Venice over the past 11 years, I've picked my favorite guide books and spotlight them in the below linked article:

If you're planning a trip to Venice, Italy, you should definitely do your research first to get the most from your vacation. These 5 books will certainly help!

You might also find a good map useful as well, and in my experience none is better than "Streetwise Venice". This sturdy, laminated map shows you all the detail of Venice's often confusing streets, canals and alleys, and also includes a map of the vaporetto waterbus system.

Admittedly on my most recent trip to Venice, in 2018, I used my smart phone and Google maps to get around more than a paper map. But I would always recommend keeping a physical map on hand even if you navigate by phone like I do. You could run out of battery power, end up in a "dead zone" with no cell service, or be caught in a nasty rain storm! So don't always count on technology to get you around—and Venice can be quite confusing for the first time and repeat visitors alike until you get your bearings.

Gondolas, motor boats and vaporetto water buses crowding the Grand Canal
Gondolas, motor boats and vaporetto water buses crowding the Grand Canal

Getting Around Venice

Transportation Around Venice and the Venetian Lagoon

There are numerous ways to explore Venice by foot or by water. It is actually quite a walkable city, with numerous bridges crossing the canals, narrow walkways along the canals and streets or "calles" in between the waterways. In fact, you'd better get used to walking because there are no cars to be found on the lagoon islands of Venice, except on Lido island!

Although signage can sometimes be confusing and it is easy to lose your sense of direction, there is only so far you can go in Venice before hitting a major waterway or attraction, so it is simple to get back on track quickly enough.

Navigating Venice can be confusing
Navigating Venice can be confusing

To explore the other islands of the Venetian lagoon such as Murano, Burano and Torcello, one can use the Vaporetto ferry system. Various lines serve different destinations, and the vaporetto can also make for an inexpensive way to tour the Grand Canal and sight-see from the water. You can learn more about riding the vaporetti around Venice on my page all about the water bus system:

The vaporetto water bus system is the main way to get around Venice, Italy - besides walking! Learn how to use the system as a great way to explore the entire Venetian lagoon.
Gondoliers in Venice
Gondoliers in Venice

A gondola ride is of course incredibly romantic and a traditional way to get around Venice. However, today it is an extremely expensive option - think 80 Euros or more - and primarily meant only for tourists.

For a similar yet inexpensive alternative, take a traghetto across the Grand Canal as the Venetians do. These gondola ferries cost only 2 Euros (for tourists, 50 cents for residents) and operate 7 different routes along the Canal. By tradition men stand and women sit on the traghettos, but tourists rarely follow these rules (it takes practice!)

People riding on a traghetto
People riding on a traghetto

Venice is connected to the mainland of Italy via the Santa Lucia train station, as well as buses that stop at Piazzale Roma.

From the airport, the Alilaguna ferry boat is an easy and inexpensive way to get to the major locations around the lagoon (book online before your trip and save some cash as well.)

Lastly there are the Venetian water taxis for those in a rush - and willing to spend some serious cash. The water taxis are strictly regulated in Venice and you can secure a booking either by telephone or via the water taxi website. It certainly is an elegant way to travel but be prepared to pay a hefty price for the luxury (a ride to or from the airport is about 120 Euros.) However, if you have a very early morning flight or other difficult connection to make, the water taxi can come very much in handy.

Take a ride on a water taxi and feel like a celebrity traveling in style...
Take a ride on a water taxi and feel like a celebrity traveling in style...

Venice on a Budget

Make no mistake - Venice is not a cheap city to visit! Food, hotels, and transportation all tends to run higher in price than you'll find elsewhere throughout Italy.

However that doesn't mean you have to break the bank to enjoy this special place. There are lots of ways to save money, from seeking out alternatives to hotel lodging, purchasing discount travel and tourist cards, and looking for places off the beaten path to enjoy a meal

For my top 5 tips on how to Enjoy Venice on a Budget, check out the following article:

Venice is a popular tourist destination, but it can also be an extremely expensive one. Learn some tips on how to enjoy the best of Venice without spending a fortune.

Acqua Alta

Dealing with high waters in Venice
Visitors standing in line to get in Saint Mark's Basicila during Acqua Alta
Visitors standing in line to get in Saint Mark's Basicila during Acqua Alta

You've probably heard that "Venice is sinking"—and seen pictures of the city seemingly half under water. Well, it's not so much sinking as suffering from seasonal high tides known as the "Acqua Alta". Some say it is due to global warming and atmospheric changes; others say it is the oil refineries built not far away which are to blame. Whatever the cause, Acqua Alta can occur at any time but is typically most prevalent from late September to April, and particularly in the months of November, December, and October, in that order.

Bring your boots...wet feet during Acqua Alta is no fun!
Bring your boots...wet feet during Acqua Alta is no fun!

I have been in Venice during Acqua Alta and it can definitely put a damper on your vacation, if you are not prepared for the experience! Elevated walkways will help get you around some of the most commonly flooded, lowest-level parts of the city, but you will have to be prepared to get your feet wet to some degree.

I recommend packing a pair of lightweight collapsible boots or shoe covers for your trip, "just in case" (and for sure if traveling during the most common months for Acqua Alta.) Some extra plastic ziplock bags or vacuum storage/packing bags would be wise as well, just in case you might have to carry luggage around in flooded areas and have items to protect from moisture.

These shoe-covers are a great choice, and the ones I bought myself before my most recent trip to Venice. They come in a variety of sizes and pack down flat, making them easy to pack. And they're super light-weight, too!

Experiencing Venice

Art, culture and dining in Venice
Tintoretto's "Paradise" in the Ducale Palace...the largest painting on canvas in the world
Tintoretto's "Paradise" in the Ducale Palace...the largest painting on canvas in the world

Many artists have come to Venice through the centuries, enchanted by her art and beauty. Three artists who in many ways defined art in Renaissance Venice were Jacopo Tintoretto, Paolo Veronese and perhaps most notably Titian. Their work is varied yet some called them great "Rivals" at the time, competing for the best commissions in Venice and inspiring/being inspired by the others.

One notable aspect of much of Venetian artwork of the Renaissance is its immense size. While other Italian cities used fresco painting to decorate ceilings and walls in great palaces and churches, the moisture of the air in Venice made that approach less desirable. Instead, Venice's great shipping industry provided a better alternative: canvas, as used for sailing ships.

Magnificent, huge canvas paintings can still be found all around Venice such as in The Scuola Grande di San Rocco, perhaps the greatest showcase of Tintoretto's work in the world and an absolute must-visit while in Venice.

Tintoretto's stunning "Miracle of the Slave" on display at the Accademia
Tintoretto's stunning "Miracle of the Slave" on display at the Accademia

Top Museums in Venice, Italy

Destinations in Venice to Learn about Art, History and Culture
  • Palazzo Ducale

    Visit the great halls that housed Venice's great government, as well as the house of The Doge, Venice's leader. You'll see incredible artwork by Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese and many more in its splendid halls and rooms along with learning about Venice's history, government and military. Be sure to get tickets to the "Secret Itineraries" Tour, to get a full behind-the-scenes look at the palace and the rooms not visited by most.

  • Venice Correr Museum

    After visiting the Doge's Palace, spend some time at the Museo Correr checking out the historical artifacts and armor. There is also sculpture by Canova and artwork by the Bellini family and more worth seeing.

  • Gallerie dell'Accademia

    Without question the finest art museum in Venice. Home to masterworks by Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese, Canaletto, Tiepolo and many more Venetian Renaissance artists. It's a definite must-visit for art lovers.

  • The Peggy Guggenheim Collection

    Lovers of modern art should be sure to visit the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, located in her former home, Palazzo Venier dei Leoni on the Grand Canal. The museum contains one of the most important collections of early 20th Century Modern Art with works by De Chirico, Dali, Miro, Picasso, Magritte and Klee to name a few.

A view of St. Mark's Square and the Ducale Palace from the water
A view of St. Mark's Square and the Ducale Palace from the water

Other Museums of Interest

  • Venice Glass Museum

    This museum traces the history of glass-making, the art for which the island of Murano (where the museum is located) is famous.

  • Burano Lace Museum
    Learn about the history of lace making and artistry on the island of Burano in the Venetian lagoon.
  • Ca' Rezzonico
    This 18th century palace on the Grand Canal is an important example of baroque architecture and houses works my important artists of the time, including Francesco Guardi and Giambattista Tiepolo.
  • Mocenigo Palace Museum
    This unique museum explores textiles and costumes of the past, and has an entire section devoted to the history of perfume making!
  • Ca' D'Oro
    One of the oldest palazzos on the Grand Canal, here you can view the collection of Giorgio Franchetti featuring many bronzes and sculptures, along with Venetian and Flemish paintings.
Panoramic view inside the Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari
Panoramic view inside the Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari

The churches in Venice are magnificent, and many are worth visiting for their art, artifacts, mosaics and history. However please take note of the etiquette you should observe while touring these beautiful churches:

The churches of Italy are some of the most beautiful artistic and architectural treasures in the country. But be mindful of proper etiquette and decorum!

Dining Out in Venice

Specialties of Venetian Cuisine
A raw seafood antipasti plate in Venice
A raw seafood antipasti plate in Venice

It's somewhat disappointing—and misleading, in my opinion—that Venice does not have a great reputation when it comes to food as compared to other destinations in Italy. Many seem to believe or assume it is an overpriced "tourist trap" of a city, full of inferior restaurants serving sub-standard expensive food.

It is true that in the most touristy areas of Venice (specifically the San Marco Sestiere, and the areas around the Rialto bridge and Santa Lucia train station), you will find sub-par establishments overcharging you to eat frozen pizza and watery pasta. But a savvy tourist will get away from the crowds and in doing so find wonderful establishments serving authentic, well-made Venetian cuisine. Venetian food is quite unique, drawing upon spices and flavors of the Middle East and combining them with the region's bounty of seafood. There are also hearty meat dishes to try, like Venetian Liver and Onions, or Beef Carpaccio—invented here at the famous Harry's Bar.

My first article linked below points out some of the seafood specialties of Venice you should try in the city's restaurants, and the second some general guidelines for dining out in Italy, in general:

Venice, Italy is heaven for seafood lovers. Here you'll find some of the specialties of Venice described as well as restaurants where you can sample them for yourself.
Italy has some of the most delicious food in the entire world. However, travelers to Italy often find themselves victims of restaurants out to scam tourists with bad food and infla
Sardines in sour sauce and salt cod Venetian style, served with polenta.
Sardines in sour sauce and salt cod Venetian style, served with polenta.

If you're planning a trip, you might also wish to check out my Venice restaurant reviews at my food blog, South Jersey Foodie. You'll find lots of detailed information on what I enjoyed ordering - and eating - throughout the city as well as some of the other islands around the lagoon including Burano, Murano and Torcello.

Venice: Beautiful city, beautiful food!
Venice: Beautiful city, beautiful food!

Another special aspect of Venetian cuisine you should experience is cicchetti. Cicchetti is the Venetian equivalent of Spanish tapas, or small plates, enjoyed by locals in small bars and osterias typically in the late afternoon and early evening. You can even make an entire, fun evening meal out of traveling around to different Cicchetti bars, sampling rice balls, marinated vegetables, seafood bites and tiny sandwiches of house-cured meats - all washed down with delicious wine or Venetian "Spritz" cocktails.

Nothing beats enjoying a classic Spritz cocktail while sitting along the water in Venice...
Nothing beats enjoying a classic Spritz cocktail while sitting along the water in Venice
Cicchetti is a type of "small plates" food served in the bars and osterias of Venice, Italy. Learn more about this traditional regional cuisine.

Beyond Venice

Day trips and attractions around the lagoon and the Veneto
Colorful Burano: One of the prettiest islands in the Venetian lagoon
Colorful Burano: One of the prettiest islands in the Venetian lagoon

Although there is plenty to see right in the heart of Venice, the adventurous tourist may wish to travel a bit off the beaten track for a change of pace. There are many other islands in the lagoon worth visiting, from the glass-making mecca of Murano to Torcello, the island where settlement of the lagoon first began.

You might even wish to take a day trip to Padua, Vicenza or Verona by train to see magnificent palazzos, wonderful architecture and other historic attractions of the region. Even Bologna is just a little over an hour away from Venice by the high speed train! Learn more about some of these different destinations in the following articles I've written, on Wizzley and elsewhere, based on my travel adventures through the years:

This small, quiet island in the Northern lagoon is a delight for the eyes and well worth a visit when spending time in Venice.
Il Burchiello offers a day-long river excursion between Venice and Padua, stopping at several noteworthy Venetian villas along the way.
Why visit Bologna? Because the city is rich in academic, artistic and culinary history. Spend a few days in Bologna to get a taste of Italy you can't find elsewhere.
Visiting Venice, and want to bring home a beautiful piece of Venetian glass? Then read my experience of buying a unique chandelier handmade on the island of Murano.
Isola del Lazzaretto Nuovo: Quarantine Island of the Venetian Lagoon

View from atop the perimeter wall on Lazzaretto Nuovo.Are you a traveler who likes to explore unusual and offtrack places while on vacation? Planning a trip to Venice in the future? Then one place I recommend visiting while staying in Venice is the island of Lazzaretto Nuovo…

Torcello – The First Venice

TorcelloOne of my absolute favorite places to visit while in Venice, Italy is the quiet, rural island of Torcello. Many tourists bypass Torcello or perhaps only spend an hour or so there, instead focusing on nearby Murano and Burano in the northern Venetian lagoon…

Useful Venice Links

Where to go to learn more about Venice, Italy and for planning a vacation trip there.
  • City of Venice

    Official website of the city of Venice, with tourism information and much more.

  • Venice ticket booking and reservations

    Buy museum passes, tickets for the Secret Itineraries Tour, and much more through this website.

  • Venice for Visitors

    A wonderful resource for practical information on traveling to Venice. Learn how to get around, get discounts, free sights and attractions, and transportation details.

Enjoy Venice - but watch out for the pigeons!

I hope you enjoyed this travel guide. Feel free to leave any comments below!
Pigeons in St. Marks Square
Updated: 11/04/2018, sockii
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