Venice: What You Need to Know Before You Go

Venice-cityscape

“The map says the address should be right here,” I whined. The hot, sticky July heat was melting my good humor into a puddle.

“This is the right number, but I only see a dentist’s office,” my travel partner confirmed, sharing my growing despair.

Having just arrived by train from Florence, the logical first step was to find our hotel, deposit our bags, and then skip off joyfully to discover the city. What we weren’t planning on was a 3-hour detour, trying to navigate the maze of canals to find the apparent “unicorn” where we had made our reservations. The Lost City of Atlantis was proving easier to find than this particular location.

I’m more of a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants sort of traveler. I don’t make plans, and I hardly ever do extensive research. I prefer to wander a city, get a general idea of the layout using a rudimentary map, get lost, get found and see what unfolds. What I don’t enjoy, however, is doing while towing a medium-sized piece of luggage behind me.

We did eventually find our hotel (hint: if your particular number is not on the actual street, check for alleys. It might be down one of those). We changed out of our sweat-drenched clothes, freshened up, and hit the streets again (sans baggage) just in time to pass the evening over a bottle of wine at the Piazza San Marco.

I was perhaps a bit overconfident, a touch naive on that first visit. Venice humbled me, and then showed me her best angle. For those who venture after me to this incredible city, a few words of advice.

Venice-wide-canal

The city is more like a maze of canals than planned with any particular order in mind. This might seem obvious, but we had no idea how true this would prove. Occasionally we would decide we needed to head in a general direction, so would follow some small street that headed that way, and would dead end into a canal. There is no way to avoid this. If you are simply wandering, this poses no problem. If you’re searching for an address, a detailed map is a worthwhile investment.

Venice-buildings

The best way to cover large distances the most efficiently is by water. Given the prevalence of water routes in the city, this again should come as no surprise. There are multiple options for getting around the city by boat: water bus, water taxi, and gondola. The water bus, or vaporetto, is the cheapest method, taking passengers along set routes with set stops much like a normal land-loving bus. The water taxis are for private hire and as such can take you anywhere you want to go by speedboat (for a higher cost). Gondolas are the most romantic (and most costly) but perhaps better for a joy ride rather than getting from point A to point B.

Venice-gondola-bridge

It’s expensive. Of course, going on holiday one expects to fork out a certain amount of cash. We found Venice, however, to be much more expensive than the other places we were in Italy that summer. This was mostly noticeable in the restaurants. The reason: seafood. There’s lots of it on offer in Venice. Consider it their specialty. Naturally, seafood is more expensive. There were also very few bars (of the North American or British sort) at the time of our visit. This wasn’t a problem per say, but it did mean to enjoy a glass of wine we usually ended up at the touristy (i.e. expensive) cafes on the Piazza San Marco.

Venice-pigeons

Pigeons are literally everywhere. Tourists can buy seed to feed them, so of course, the birds come flocking. It sort of adds to the charm of the square. I don’t have a particular aversion to them, and it was amusing to see equal numbers of people and pigeon sharing the same space.

Venice-Rialto

For a small city, there is plenty to do and see. We were there for four days. We saw churches and art galleries and the Basilica and the Doge’s Palace and the Rialto. We still didn’t see everything. There are over 100 churches in Venice, for example. And then there’s the islands – Murano, where the glass is made. Burano, and Torcello, the cemetery island. This is a place that deserves more than a day passing through. A weekend at the very least.

This is by no means a comprehensive list from which to plan a trip. Rather, it is a collection of my impressions. A wet-your-appetite snapshot of the city. If you do plan to visit, I encourage you (unlike me) to do some research before you go. She’s a truly beautiful, charming place that lives up to all expectations. Just make sure to save yourself some headache and bring specific instructions to your hotel, and a detailed map.

  • This reminds me of my first trip to venice! We didn’t discover the greatness of water taxis until day 3 either. It was definitely challenging at first not being prepared!

    • That water proves to be a bigger obstacle than anticipated!! It is incredibly charming, but I’d place money on a map view of that city looking just like the mazes we did as kids lol. Water taxis were the best way to go – less crowded than the buses, and took you right to your destination!

  • I never made it up to Venice when I was in Italy, but it’s always been on my list. Will have to keep the water taxis in mind!

    I love the mix of impressions and images in this post so much more than a detailed travel plan. That’s what makes travel and adventure blogs so much fun, at least to me – if I want details, I’ll go on TripAdvisor or Lonely Planet. I love blogs that let me tag along behind someone’s adventures and experience what they experienced!

    • Venice is an amazing city! I’ve been back twice since this first trip (before and after a cruise that left from the port there). I did much better those times since I knew what to expect lol. And I completely agree with you – it’s the stories behind the places and the experiences that attract me to travel blogs. The planning details don’t have as much personality, although they are incredible useful! Living vicariously through other adventures has its perks lol. 🙂

  • I have yet to make it to Venice and just found out the other day that my husband has no desire to ever go. What?! Oh well. Guess it will have to be a girls trip right?

    I also really like the way you wrote this one, starting off like a story. Nice job. 🙂

    • Thank you Deanna! I’ve had a bit more time (and energy) to devote to my writing lately, so I wanted to experiment with story-telling. Glad you liked it!

      And Venice is amazing!!! It could be a great destination for a girls trip – in fact, jetting off all over Italy would be pretty fantastic. A villa in Tuscany, sometime at a beach somewhere, finish it up in Venice with wine on the piazza… I’m there in my mind already! 🙂