Anyone can tell you what to do in Venice – get lost, visit the St Mark’s Basilica, take a gondola ride, yadda yadda yadda. When you hear people talk about Venice, however, it’s all love or hate – there’s very little in-between. How can one city inspire such diametrically opposing feelings? It’s simple: there’s as much value in knowing what not to do in Venice as there is in knowing what to do.
You will make travel mistakes – we all do – but you certainly don’t need to make the same ones people have been making in Venice for decades. By learning what not to do in Venice, you’ll stand a better chance of having a “love” relationship with this fascinating city rather than falling into the same old potholes others complain about.
Don’t Stick to the Main Streets
For a series of small islands, Venice has a surprisingly well-trodden main path that is nearly always crammed with people. It runs from the train station to the Rialto Bridge, and then zigzags to St. Mark’s Square. The vast majority of visitors don’t stray from this path, mainly because they’re on a short day trip, so most people come away from that experience assuming all of Venice is that crowded. It’s not. Even in the high summer season, you need only step a few blocks away from the main thoroughfare to get away from the throng.
Don’t Visit During Carnevale
This follows from the point above about not staying just on the well-beaten path, but it bears special mention. Carnevale, Venice’s annual carnival celebration, is typically when the city is absolutely flooded with people. Never mind that it’s in what would otherwise be the off-season – visitors come by the thousands every day to see the elaborate costumes, art exhibits, performances and parties. If Carnevale is on your “bucket list,” then plan accordingly. If it’s just Venice you want to see, avoid Carnevale completely.
Not visiting during Carnival but still want some of the Carnival flavor? Book a spot in a Venetian mask-making class.
Don’t Eat Just Anywhere
Venice is notorious for having bad food, and it really does have more than its share of overpriced and underwhelming restaurants. The city knows it doesn’t need to woo visitors with food – they’ll come anyway. There are, however, great spots to eat in Venice. You just need to be a bit more careful when choosing where you go. Avoid places along the Grand Canal or on St. Mark’s Square. Avoid places with multi-language menus. Follow the locals to see where they go. And be on the lookout for Venice’s famous “chicchetti” bars, where you can order Venetian specialties in bite-sized pieces, to be consumed with a small glass of local wine while standing at the bar.
Don’t Get Into a Gondola Unarmed
…with knowledge, that is! You see, there’s an official rate for gondola rides, and as long as you know what the current rate is you won’t get ripped off by unscrupulous gondoliers. Gondola rides are priced per trip, not per passenger, although there’s a maximum of six people per gondola. In other words, it’s cheaper (although less romantic!) if you share a ride with a few friends. The standard gondola trip is 40 minutes, with each additional 20 minutes being an additional charge (this may be why some complain that their hour-long trip was more expensive than advertised). And remember that if you want a really cheap way to get a gondola ride, hop on one of the 50-cent boats that ferry passengers across the Grand Canal. It’s a short trip, and you can even stand up the whole time!
You can skip the research and just book a gondola ride in advance instead.
Don’t Go to the Basilica Without a Reservation
Aside from “getting lost,” the best thing to do in Venice is visit St. Mark’s Basilica. The onion-domed cathedral sits at one end of the beautiful St. Mark’s Square, and it’s not uncommon to see a long line streaming out of the church – even during the off-season. You can avoid wasting precious holiday time in line by reserving an entry time for the Basilica on the church’s official website before you get to Venice. The reservation costs 1Euro (entry to the Basilica is free), and you’ll get a 15-minute window during which you need to arrive. Walk past the line, hand your reservation to the guard at the door, and you’re in.
You can also avoid waiting by booking a “skip the line” tour that includes St. Mark’s Basilica.
Don’t Just Do a Day Trip
You’ll have to look much harder to find the magical side of Venice if you’re only there on a day trip from somewhere else. Venice’s population dwindles dramatically when the last trains leave – in the evening and early morning, you might think the city is abandoned. Even St. Mark’s Square gets deserted. Missing out on those moments (and then going around saying the city is “always crowded”) isn’t doing justice to Venice, or to your vacation. Stay at least one night on the islands (not the mainland). You’ll be glad you did.