Venice Travel Guide
Canals, gondolas, and the Rialto Bridge. You think you know what to expect from Venice, but it turns out that no photo, however digitally enhanced, can hold a candle to the real city. To get to know it, though, requires more than an afternoon. While the day-trippers are stampeding from the Rialto to St Mark's Square, you should be a block or two away, watching artisans craft items with Renaissance techniques, seeing shimmering reflections dancing on bridge arches, and gawking at marble-clad buildings each more fantastical than the next. The joy of Venice is getting lost, they say – although however far you amble, you're never more than a couple of churches away from a Titian or Tintoretto.
Don't stick to the city, though – that getting lost should also be done in the lagoon, taking the vaporetto (ferry) to the beach-filled Lido, island of glass Murano, and, further out, Torcello and Burano, where Venice began 1600 years ago. You could spend a lifetime here and never do Venice justice. But with just a few days, it can touch your soul.
Central European Standard Time
Best Time to Go
If you're wanting to escape the crowds, there's no better time than winter, when visitor numbers are at their lowest. But while there's a romance to it, Venice in winter with its biting cold, swirling fog, and frequent wind and rain certainly isn't the Venice of people's dreams. In summer, the city is crowded and hot – but it's also the perfect time to head to the beach on the Lido, or into the lagoon. Spring and fall tend to have the best of both worlds – go late March to mid April, Easter aside, and you should enjoy decent weather but not too many crowds. Christmas tends to be quiet but New Year is busy, and Carnival (roughly mid January to mid February) is packed.
Things to Know
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I don't speak Italian: Non parlo Italiano
I'm lost: Mi sono perso/a
I would like…: Vorrei…
How much is…: Quanto costa…:
How do you get to…: Per andare a…:
Calling Code: +39
Capital City: Rome
How to Get Around
Trains: Venice has two main train stations, Venezia Santa Lucia and Venezia Mestre, but only long distance trains stop at the former while local trains go to the later.
Buses: The vaporetto is the public transit system in the city and operates on 20 different lines all through town. The water buses run the length of the Grand Canal and cost €7.50 per ride, and are good for 75 minutes. Travelers can also get a Venezia Unica City Pass (€10) to use one both mainland buses and some water water buses. Buses from the mainland and local airports terminate at Piazzale Roma in Santa Croce.
Taxis: Water taxis can be found at the airport, train and bus station, and Piazza San Marco. Otherwise they must be booked in advance. Note that they're expensive, with a minimum charge of €60 ($72). Ground taxis (a car) can take you from the airport to Piazzale Roma for considerably less.
Car service: Hotels can arrange transfers, usually with water taxis.
Gondola: While more of a scenic mode of transportation rather than a pragmatic one, Gondola rides are synonymous with Venice and shouldn't be missed. Daytime rates are usually around €80 ($95) or €100 ($120) at night, excluding tip.
Things to Do
Neighborhoods to Know
San Marco: Once the political heart of Venice, San Marco is now the most visited of Venice's six sestieri, or districts. Piazza San Marco, or St Mark's Square, is the center; radiating out around it is a rabbit warren of narrow calli (streets), taking you to the Rialto Bridge. There are gems here, but this is definitely the tourist trail.
San Polo: On the other side of the Rialto from San Marco, this is Venice at its most medieval, with squeezebelly alleyways, sottoporteghi (cut-out passageways underneath first-floor houses) and timber-framed palazzos. Although heavily trodden, there are still artisans around, and it has a young feel, thanks to its proximity to university Ca' Foscari.
Dorsoduro: Traditionally the artists' area, Dorsoduro — the "hard back" of Venice, forming the lower border of the city center — is less boho than it was, but you'll still find high-end galleries and bijou shops around the Guggenheim Museum. It's a popular area with students around the vast, bar-lined square, Campo Santa Margherita, and the always-sunny Zattere waterfront is where locals love to stroll.
Castello: The biggest sestiere is also the hardest to pin down. Alleyways behind San Marco stuffed with restaurants and bars unfold into big, café-lined squares where local kids play football. Some of the loveliest churches are in Castello – like the marble-clad Santa Maria dei Miracoli – but this is a place for walking, along the Riva degli Schiavoni waterfront and around the Arsenale, where the Republic of Venice could knock out a warship in mere days.
Santa Croce: For the vast majority of visitors, Santa Croce is their first sight. But step away from the Piazzale Roma bus stops or the cruise terminal and one of the city's most laid back areas is on the doorstep. This is one of the most residential areas still, and the quiet canals are worth a wander. This top end of the Grand Canal is less prestigious, but, because of that, more real.
Cannaregio: What was once an industrial area is now perhaps the loveliest sestiere, with wider canals, bigger pavements to lay seating on, and magnificent palazzos. Cannaregio has long been known for its artisans; today, the Fondamenta della Misericordia is the locals' favorite bar strip, while the Fondamente Nove waterfront, on the north of the lagoon, offers spectacular views of the Dolomites, as well as ferry boats to the islands.Giudecca and the islands: Life goes on as it always has on the islands, which give a different glimpse of lagoon life. Giudecca, the croissant–shaped island opposite Dorsoduro, has some of the best views in the city, while the Lido is one great, miles-long beach. In the north, past the cemetery island of San Michele, is Murano, known worldwide for its master glassblowers. Half an hour beyond it, into the north lagoon is the fishing island Burano, known for its multicolored houses, and Torcello, where two ancient basilicas mark where Venice began.
Spring is the classic time to visit Venice, before the summer crowds (and heat) hit. Temperatures can hit 55°F in March and 70°F in May, but when the sun is out, it feels much hotter. Summer can be sweltering – although average temperatures are in the low-to-mid 80s, the humidity, which pushes 80 percent, makes everything much stickier. Fall tends to remain warm – average temperatures are 74°F for September and 64°F in October, again feeling warmer when the sun is out. Winter temperatures rarely hit freezing, though the high humidity, fog, and strong winds can make the city feel colder than other snowier cities.