Yes, Venice will be crowded and expensive, but its beauty and uniqueness make it worth visiting for any traveler. Nearly every corner you turn, you will want to take a picture unless it’s a dead-end, which happens a lot because Google Maps doesn’t work there. Venice has some of the best art in Europe and a few nearby islands that are even more beautiful than the city itself. A moment like an Italian grandpa playing the accordion and signing in front of the restaurant you’re at fulfills the dreams we all have of Italy.
When visiting Venice, there are still ways to avoid the crowds and find the elusive authentic feel in this city. The key to visiting Venice is getting up early in the morning. My train got in around 6 AM, and the couple of hours I had in the city when it was nearly empty were incredible. A 6 AM wakeup isn’t necessary to experience this, but if you head for a morning walk around 7:30 AM, it will have a similar feel.
How to Get There
Venice is easily accessible by bus, train, or plane. Bookaway is a great resource that to compare the prices of different modes of transportation, and secure your seat in advance!
What to Do
Doge’s Palace – A gothic palace with incredible artwork on the inside. Lots of palaces in Europe are very similar to each other, and you feel a bit meh after visiting them, but this one is outstanding. The entrance is €30.
Saint Mark’s Basilica – One of the world’s most iconic cathedrals is known for its ornate golden interior. The line will be long, but it moves quickly. It’s best to go early to avoid the heat. The entrance is €3 and you can climb the bell tower for another €10.
T Fondaco dei Tedeschi Rooftop Terrace – Believe it or not, some things in Venice are free. Sign up online for a 15-minute slot to get sweeping views of the city from a rooftop. It’s best to go later in the day when there will be fewer crowds and it won’t be as hot up there.
Scuola Grande di San Rocco – If you’re a fan of Italian Renaissance art, this is the place for you. The entrance is only €10 and it’s an incredible collection. You could spend hours admiring how impressive this place is.
Libreria Acqua Alta – This is a very well-known book store with a gondola full of books inside. You can step out the backside of the shop and climb a stack of books to get views of the canal and take pictures.
Visit Murano and Burano – These islands are gorgeous and worth setting aside 5-6 hours to visit. Burano is full of colorful houses and a strongly tilted church, while Murano is the island known for glass making. Beware that anything you buy on the islands will be very expensive. You can buy a 24-hour vaporetto pass for €20 to visit both islands. The departure point is at Fondamente Nove.
Ride the ferry down the Grand Canal – The €80 cost of a gondola isn’t worth it for every traveler, but you can take in the views from the canal for a lot cheaper. If you buy the 24-hour pass to visit Murano and Burano, you can use that for the ferry ride at no extra cost.
Explore Cannaregio – Cannaregio is one of the few under-the-radar neighborhoods with somewhat of an authentic Italian feel. I was in heaven when I took a stroll through here at night and saw locals listening to classic Italian music while drinking wine on top of a covered boat.
Basilica S. Maria Gloriosa dei Frari – This 14th-century church is not that impressive on the outside, but the inside has a beautiful altarpiece and artwork. The entrance is €5.
Where to Eat
Antico Forno Venezia – Outstanding pizza for around €10. The staff is super friendly, but it does get busy, so expect a bit of a wait.
Osteria Al Squero – I highly recommend this cicchetti (Venetian tapas) bar. The prices are cheap for Venice standards, the food is delicious, and it’s right across the canal from a yard where they repair gondolas.
Pasticceria Tonolo – A lot of the bakeries in Venice sell tasteless sweets, but this one has delicious cakes and pastries.
Pizza 2000 – Another affordable and tasty pizzeria where you can get a slice for €2.
Farini – One of the few places where you can get a cheap coffee and breakfast in Venice.
Where to Stay
To no one’s surprise, hostels are expensive in Venice with dorm beds starting at around €45. A majority of tourists will stay on the mainland in Mestre and take the train to Venice. If it’s within your budget, I recommend staying in Venice. You’d be surprised by how uncrowded it feels at night compared to the daytime.
Ostello S. Fosca – Located in the Cannaregio neighborhood, this hostel shares a courtyard with a university dormitory full of Italian students. The staff is very friendly and has tons of tips on how to see the city on a budget and where to find quality restaurants. The amenities are basic, but it’s clean and has everything you need in a hostel.
Generator Venice – This hostel has a more social atmosphere with a bar and a stunning view of the city. The downside of staying here is that it’s not on the main island in Venice, so you’ll have to take a vaporetto to reach the attractions.
How Long to Stay
3 days is a perfect amount of time. Venice is fairly small, and 3 days will leave enough time for visiting both the city itself and the islands.