Beautiful architecture, romantic cobbled streets, gondolas gliding through canal waterways, you’ll never forget your first visit to Venice, the enchanting city of canals. This miraculous floating city is a dazzling patchwork of over 100 small islands, linked by pretty bridges with picturesque canals flowing through. If you are considering a trip to Venice, read my Venice travel guide to learn more about what to see and do in the City of Canals.Beautiful architecture, romantic cobbled streets, gondolas gliding through canal waterways, you'll never forget your first visit to Venice, the enchanting city of canals. Click To Tweet
Take a Gondola ride through the waterways
The most cliché activity in Venice is also one of the loveliest ways of seeing the city. It can be a pretty pricey endeavour though, as the city of Venice sets official rates for gondola rides, starting at €80 for 40 minutes. If you want to romance your beloved in Venice, you are going to have to cough up darlings.
A good way of reducing the cost is by sharing a gondola with others. Up to six people can share a gondola and as the price is per boat, not per person, so you can reduce the cost significantly by boarding a full boat. Get your Guide has 30-Minute shared Gondola Ride that costs £27 per person, ideal if you are travelling alone or as a couple. If you are travelling in a group, you can all jump into a gondola together and split the cost.
It was lovely to effortlessly glide through the beautiful Grand Canal, as well as explore the minor canals around San Marco square and Rialto. It is rather lovely to look up and to see gorgeous Venice from the perspective of the canals.
You may well board your boat with pre-conceived ideas of how your gondola ride will pan out. The iconic 1980’s ‘Cornetto advert’ may have you convinced that boatmen will serenade you by crooning Italian ballads as float through the city. The reality is that our boatman spent the entire duration of the ride talking loudly on his iPhone, occasionally wildly gesturing to other boatmen that he would call them later, whilst still on the phone, presumably to another boatman? Nothing says ‘romantic boat ride’ quite like an Italian man shouting down the phone.
Despite the lack of singing it is still a rather fabulous way to see Venice and the get those #GondolaSelfie photos for Instagram, pics or it didn’t happen right? Another way of saving money on Gondola rides is to book a tour that includes a gondola ride, the Hidden Venice Express Tour by tour company The Roman Guy includes a gondola ride as part of their express sightseeing tour. Or you can find a traghetto stop along the Grand Canal and cross the canal on a very basic gondola for €2 one-way.
Go on a food tour of Venice
Do you love eating your way around a new city? Aspiring foodies should definitely book a foodie tour of Venice with The Roman Guy to learn more about foodie finds in the floating city. Led by an expert guide you will discover a unique insight into where Venetians like to dine.
I tagged along on the Hidden Venice Food Tour to sample some tasty local treats and learn more about Venetian food and specialities. We started off with some local bubbly wine for breakfast, [my favourite kind of breakfast drink], at local wine bar ‘bacarando in corte dell’orso’ and also feasted on Venetian ‘Cicchetti’. The Venetian word ‘Cicchetti’ translates as ‘small savoury snack’ and are cheap snacks served in local wine bars known as ‘Bacari’.
After our glasses of fizz and delectable snacks, we headed to the Rialto fish market, a historic market where local fishermen sell locally caught fish from the Venetian Laguna to locals.
Here we learnt more about the history of the market, including the century’s old pricing and sizing system that can still be seen on a stone slab above the market. Venice began regulating the sale of fish since 1173 and vendors caught selling undersized fish were severely punished. As you wander around you will see squid, clams, crabs, tuna, swordfish and eels laid out over ice. It’s quite the experience to wander around absorbing the sights and indeed smells, of this bustling market.
We then stopped off at another Bacari called ‘Al Merca’, located on Campo Bella Vienna, to sample more Cicchetti and to drink a Spritz, the popular Italian aperitif. Spritz is one of the most iconic drinks in Northern Italy and Venice is no exception. It’s a fizzy mix of white wine, Aperol, or Bitter Campari and a cheeky dash of sparkling water. It is definitely a refreshing drink to sip on a balmy day in Venice and is my favourite beverage when on holiday in Europe, especially in my other favourite Italian city, Rome.
Our next stop was for an ‘Ombra’, a sort of Venetian slang meaning wine, along with a delicious plate of creamy Gnocchi. We ate in a snug, backstreet restaurant that was heaving with locals, always a good sign when dining in a tourist-heavy city. Over lunch, we learnt about various Venice specialities including ‘Spaghetti in nero di seppia’ [spaghetti with squid ink], and ‘Baccala mantecato’ [dried cod fish].
Finally, we stopped for a cooling gelato from a window Gelaterie [gelato parlour]. We learnt that authentic Italian gelato does not contain any preservatives or artificial flavourings and is denser than ice cream, due to a slower churning rate. I would definitely recommend a food tour as a way of learning more about local delicacies, the best places to eat and how to avoid tourist traps. Fair warning though, come hungry, you are going to be eating a lot of food, maybe wear some loose trousers eh?
Browse a bookshop filled with cats
Possibly one of the most Instagrammable and charming stores in Venice, the Libreria Acqua Alta bookshop is overflowing with books as well as the odd feline stretched out lazily over some Italian paperbacks. Located in Calle Longa, S. Maria Formosa it is a lovely little shop to visit.
It’s a book lovers paradise, with wall to wall books, maps, magazines and comics spilling out over shelves and even stuffed inside a gondola in the middle of the store. Apparently, this is not just mere decoration but to save the books from flood damage, when the rising waters of Venice creep into its alleyways and buildings.
The bookstore also has a lovely little seating area at the back where you can sink into a large chair that overlooks a canal and watch the boats glide by. It’s definitely a rather whimsical way of spending an afternoon when the crowds get too much.
Watch a glass blowing demonstration in Murano
Board a boat to the Venetian island of Murano, located 1.5km away from Venice and take sneak peek inside a local glass factory. There are many local vendors selling boat trips and tours of Murano and many of these tours include a glass blowing demonstration. Or you can jump on a ferry boat yourself, or if you are feeling flash, book a water taxi. I went on a ‘Glass Blowing demonstration’ Murano tour with ‘Free Venice walking tours‘, who transported us by private water taxi one way to Murano for a mere €10. Trust me, whizzing across the Venetian Lagoon in a private boat is totally worth the money, I felt like a sea QUEEN!
Now I know what you’re thinking, I bet it’s along the lines of ‘ Pip, are you seriously suggesting I spend my time in Venice watching an old Italian man make a vase?’ I was right there with you on the cynicism front at first, but I had a case of wine-induced YOLO one afternoon, so decided to give it a whirl. It turns out that watching Italians shape molten glass is strangely fascinating. It is almost mildly hypnotic watching them spin and shape the glass with such skill.
After watching a master craftsman shaping glass whilst a guide describes the various processes and history you are then cordially invited to exit via the factory shop, well played Venice, well played.
Fear not, you aren’t really given the hard sell, in fact, our guide was pleasant enough to answer questions on the area and advise how to get the nearby island of Burano rather than pushing us to purchase an ostentatious glass necklace. If coloured glass is your bag, then at least by buying directly from the factory, you know that you are going to at least be acquiring an authentic, gaudy glass lampshade.
Murano is still a big exporter of traditional glass products like mirrors and coloured glassware and has inspired many cheap knockoffs in the area. By buying on the island of Murano, at least you will get the real thing and be supporting locals. The Island of Murano is actually really nice and worth spending a few hours exploring and stopping off for a cheeky Spritz or three.
Get lost in the backstreets of Venice
To lose yourself in Venice is the surest way to fall in love with it. Throw away the map, switch off the GPS and start wandering away from the tourist areas. Venice is divided into six unique neighbourhoods, Dorsoduro, San Marco, San Polo, Santa Croce, Cannaregio, and Castello. All with different attributes and features, just waiting to be explored.
Try and find hidden alleyways and residential areas where you can see Venetians go about their daily lives. You’ll find the food and drink options also become more reasonably priced the further you get away from the tourist hot spots. Spend time really looking at the gorgeous architecture, the colours of the canals and lines of laundry billowing in the breeze.
If you wish to revert back to using a map then I would recommend walking towards Venice Giardini to discover a pretty parkland that has fewer crowds and relaxing places to sit and regroup. As far as public gardens go, it’s not exactly spectacular but it does provide some calm respite from the heat and the crowds. The path by the water also gives great views across the lagoon.
Near this area, you will also find Serra dei Giardini, a beautiful Greenhouse that was built in 1894 and now serves as a highly Instagrammable flower shop and cafe. It was really quiet and peaceful when I visited and spent a few hours sipping a coffee and relaxing in pretty surroundings.
Spend a little time walking the around areas like Arsenale, the ancient shipbuilding quarter, or wander around the Jewish ghetto in Cannaregio. Take a walk around Castello and discover beautiful squares and churches. If hanging with cruise ship crowds is not your travel style, then I would definitely recommend getting off the beaten path and discover Venice’s hidden beauty for yourself.
Photograph the colourful houses of Burano
Picturesque Burano is best known for its colourful fishermen’s houses and fabulous seafood dishes. You can book an organised tour to Burano or use the Water Bus, you can take line number 12, which leaves from Fondamente Nove to get there. I caught the waterbus from Murano and had a very lovely journey over, looking out over the pretty Venetian Lagoon.
The Island of Burano feels like a world away from the bustling crowds of St Mark’s Square, there are locals running small restaurants, local fishing boats coming in and residents looking out from their windows at the wandering tourists.
It really is a photographer’s paradise here and you can spend many hours taking snaps, or perhaps people watching on one of their pavement cafes. I would recommend Trattoria da Primo e Paolo, Ristorante Pizzeria Principe or Panificio Pasticceria Garbo for a bite to eat. Make sure you try Burano biscuits called “Essi”, they can be bought in most shops and are rather lovely cookies.
The island is also known for lace making and Museo del Merletto has exhibits on the development of lace-making in the area. You can also purchase a range of lace products from the shops on the island.
It’s easy to lose track of time when on Burano, it’s not a large island but there are so many Instagrammable houses that you can get carried away taking photographs. I started the photograph as the sun going down and was reflecting on how it was nice that there weren’t too many people in my shots. ‘Where are all the people?’ I suddenly thought to myself. This thought was quickly followed by, ‘Ummm, I wonder what time the last boat back is?’
As I looked around I noticed that there were no tourists in sight and shops had already started to shut up, the island was winding down for the night and I had no idea how late the boats back to Venice ran? It then occurred to me that there are no hotels on the island of Burano and my flight home was in the morning. Of course.
As I sprinted to the ferry stop I saw the boat pulling away from the dock, there appeared to be no further boats mentioned on the timetable. The captain spotted me and then seemed to be gesturing towards the left ‘what is he trying to say? Am I to swim to the boat?’ Unsure what else to do, I started sprinting around the side of the dock, feeling like I was going to have a little sick or a cry, maybe even both?
As I ran around the corner, sweating and shaking I saw another boat stop, with the boat I had just missed pulling in, with the captain making ‘hooray gestures’ at me. The moral of the story? When travelling, make sure you check times of boats/buses/trains, so you don’t end up almost stranded on a small Italian island. To be fair, the stunning sunset was worth the anxiety attack!
Go on a walking tour
One of the best ways to explore Venice is to see through the eyes of a local. When you go on a walking tour through this gorgeous labyrinth of a city, it is useful to have a knowledgeable guide to explain the history of an area, to add context to the sights you are seeing.
If you want a whistle-stop tour of the main sights of Venice, then I would book ‘Hidden Venice Express Tour‘ with ‘The Roman Guy’. On this tour you will see the main tourist hot spots such as the Rialto Bridge, St. Mark’s Square, St Mark’s Basilica and the Grand Canal, the tour also includes a Gondola ride and is ideal if you are short on time in Venice.
One of the best things about the tour is that it includes a ‘skip the line’ entry to the grandiose St Mark’s Basilica. You can jump to the front of the queue and spend some time inside admiring its architectural features including mosaics, Byzantine domes and marble-clad walls.
If you want to get off the beaten track and avoid the more touristic parts of Venice, then I would suggest a free walking tour with ‘Venice Free Walking Tour’. These guys won’t take you to touristy St. Mark’s Square or the Rialto Bridge but will take you down most beautiful roads, alleyways and ‘campi’ [squares] of Venice. They will also walk you through Venetian history and culture as well as explain a bit about the Venetian dialect.
Our friendly guide Marie gave us all sort of handy tips and information about Venice and the information about the Venetian dialect and how to navigate Venice being the most useful. It turns out that places in Venice tend to have more than one name and many streets in Venice are known both by their Venetian dialect name and by the Italianised version. This can make it tricky to get around, even with Google maps, so it was handy to have a guide explain what to look out for if you are lost. On the tour I learnt that ‘calle’ means street, ‘sotoportego’ means covered street and ‘ramo’ means a small part of a street. This information was most useful when I got lost for the 4000th time in tiny side streets.
The best part about a free walking tour is that you can pay what you feel is appropriate and what you felt the tour was worth. The group sizes on free walking tours also tend to be smaller and the tour can feel more personalised and informal.
Find fabulous foodie places
Venice has a bit of a reputation for wildly overpriced food and tourist traps serving up shoddy food. Whilst there are many overpriced venues, there are equally lots of locally run Venetian restaurants serving up high quality, reasonably priced dishes. You just have to know where to look. Try and seek out local, Venetian dishes such as ‘Spaghetti in nero di seppia’, which is spaghetti served with squid and coloured black with squid ink.
Or maybe try fish dishes, Venice is famous for the fresh fish that is caught in its lagoon. Look out for grilled octopus and ‘Baccala mantecato’, which is dried codfish.
There are many tips and tricks to avoid dining in a tourist trap, the most obvious one being restaurants with boards outside displaying pictures of the food, menus in multiple languages or waiters trying to coax you in. Run for the hills darlings, [or canals as you are in Venice], you are about to be charged €30 for watery, luke-warm pasta.
Instead, try and find restaurants located away from tourist hot spots. I had a gorgeous pasta dish, a glass of house red and a coffee for €10.50 at Ostaria a La Campana, a locals’ Trattoria on Calle dei Fabbr.
When in Venice, try and visit a range of Bacari [local wine bars], to save money on food and have an authentic, local experience. Here you can order lovely Cicchetti snacks which are the sort of local take on tapas. Try flavoursome snacks such as polpette (fried meatballs), baccalà mantecato (creamed cod) or slices of grilled polenta, prices tend to be around 1-2 euros per snack, depending on size and what it consists of. You can also eat them whilst you stand to save money. I ate a delicious selection of Chicchetti at ‘Ristorante Al Bagolo’ located on Campo S. Giacomo dell’Orio . A few filling snacks and a coffee cost only €7.50.
Many restaurants will serve you overpriced, mediocre pizza in Venice, especially if you want to sit outside in a touristy area. If you are looking for a cheap lunch then I would recommend swinging by ‘Pizza 2000’ on Campo Sant’Agostin, where you can pick up a tasty slice for a mere €2.
When seeking out coffee in Venice, there are a few things to keep in mind. Keep it simple, order un caffè rather than you usual ‘Venti, Soy, No Foam Latte’, and drink your coffee whilst standing to save money. It costs more to sit and drink your coffee, so why not stand as the locals do, and to ingratiate yourself into Italian culture. If you do want to sit down for a coffee, then try and find a cafe that is away from the tourist hotspots. I had a reasonably priced cappuccino at Serra dei Giardini, a converted greenhouse cafe located in Viale Giuseppe Garibaldi. They also do a lovely house red for €3.50.
If you simply must have food or drink in a tourist hot spot then at least make sure wherever you visit is worthwhile. If you want to spoil yourself I would recommend enjoying a Spritz at Caffè Florian, on busy St Mark’s Square. It is the oldest cafe in Venice and has been open since 1720.
Admire the lavish, Neo-Baroque decor and listen to a quartet of musicians playing elegant pieces of music. I paid around €13 for an Aperol Spritz, whilst this is quite steep, it did come with snacks and I also had a great seat to listen to the musicians. I also managed to make my drink last an hour and a half. Like a pro.
Get cultured at contemporary art galleries
There is a thriving art scene in Venice, with galleries such as Teatrino di Palazzo Grassim, hosting permanent and temporary exhibitions, as well as the popular Peggy Guggenheim Collection. Here you will find a large collection of contemporary art, with works from iconic artist such as Jackson Pollock and Picasso, housed in a beautiful 8th century Grand Canal palazzo. Ca’ Pesaro is another fantastic modern art museum featuring artworks from the 19th and 20th centuries.
Venice also has a major art show every year ‘Biennale’ held in locations around the city, showcasing exhibitions and installation. One particular installaion from the 2017 show is quickly becoming an iconic feature of Venice. The art installation, called “Support,” created by artist Lorenzo Quinn, features a giant pair of hand that are appearing to hold up Venice’s Ca’Sagredo Hotel. The piece is meant to represent the rising threat of climate change and its effect on the floating city and the world.
Getting to Venice
You can fly into Venice from most European airports into Venice Marco Polo Airport or Treviso Airport. You can also get the bus to Venice or take the train to Venezia Santa Lucia railway station. I flew with Flybe from Cardiff Airport on their new Cardiff to Venice summer route to Marco Polo Airport. The twice weekly service operates on Tuesdays and Saturdays from 27th March and is currently available for travel through to 9th September. One way fares begin from a very reasonable £34.99 and includes taxes and charges. As a Cardiff girl it was great to be able to fly from my local airport, it is only 30 minutes from my house.
What do you think of my Venice travel guide? Would you travel to this amazing floating city? Let me know in the comments below!
Massive thanks to Flybe and Cardiff Airport for supporting this trip.