Adjectives fail to describe the beauty of Venice
Being in Venice is like time travel. And it is like magic, where every corner reveals something that takes your breath away. Sometimes the city is like a dream – canals where streets should be, houses and hotels built on water, rows of quiet gondolas parked next to a small bridge, winding alleys that feel like a maze, or the ancient cobblestone paths, water shimmering under the shining sun, and the majestic churches. And sometimes it is more real than you can think – when the high tide leads to flooding, or when a narrow alley stinks of the water, or when you see hundreds of tourists cramming up every inch of the city’s space, or when you are at the Piazza San Marco and a pigeon shits over your head!
For all its adjectives, Venice is a city that needs to be experienced once in your lifetime. But be prepared for a beautiful, yet crowded experience. Articles after articles will tell you the things to do in Venice. But let me tell you what not to do in Venice! Be informed in advance, avoid some tourist traps, and enjoy your Venice vacation!
A view of the hotel room I stayed in
Don’t stay near the canal if you are travelling on a budget
Venice canals do hold a magical charm and I admit I was tempted to book a hotel overlooking the canals. But before you get your credit card out, hear me. Venice is quite expensive and hotels around the canal can burn a hole in your pocket, especially if you are visiting in the peak tourist season. Also bear in mind to choose your hotel depending on how you arrive in Venice. If you are flying in, then it makes sense to stay in mainland (that is away from the canal and islands) because otherwise you will end up paying more for the transportation too. Remember, taxis and shuttle services don’t come cheap, and you will have to tow your luggage (many people also choose to hire a porter). Once you get off the ferry and reach the island Venice at the canals, there is no transportation within the narrow lanes near the canals, so walking is your only option.
Instead, choose an accommodation in slightly less touristy areas. Some areas to consider are Lido, Cannaregio, Dorsoduro, and Castello. Mestre has also good accommodation options, although it is far from the island Venice.
Don’t wait to buy the bus tickets on board the bus
It can be costly to move around Venice, especially between the mainland and airport. Thus, it is advisable that you organize your tickets beforehand. It can be cost effective to buy 24 hours or 48 hour pass, if you are staying on the mainland and have to take the bus to reach the islands. It is also worth mentioning here that tickets on board the bus are relatively expensive, and sometimes the driver won’t give you a ticket on board. Remember to buy your ticket at a newspaper or tobacco shop before you board the bus. A 24-hour travel card costs around 20 euros and the time count begins from first time you swipe or punch it. You must swipe it every time you use it, because if you are caught without a valid ticket then the fine is around 50 euros or so.
Water taxis are often expensive and should be considered only if sharing with other tourists
A Vaporetti is different from a water taxi
For a city built on the canal, the transportation is dependent obviously around the water. Think of vaporetti as your regular public bus, except it is on water! On the other hand, a water taxi is like a private taxi. Water taxis in Venice are really expensive, and unless you are sharing it between a few people, stay away from it. Vaporetti are relatively cheaper, and if you take the day pass, you can seriously save some cost as compared to a single journey ticket. You can buy the passes at the airport itself.
Amore mio? Your gondolier probably won't be singing that!
Don’t take the Gondolas *Gasp*!
I know, I know, you must be thinking I am crazy. What is Venice without a gondola ride, right? No! Hear me out! Like you, my idea of Venice was a gondola ride down the Grand Canal, with a handsome gondolier dressed in a white and blue striped shirt and a hat, singing ‘Amore mio’ – that is, until I actually visited Venice and all my idea of romance went down the drain (okay, the canal in this case!).
Gondola rides are expensive at 80 euros for a 40 minute ride. And nobody sings anymore. You might have to pay your gondolier a little extra if you want him to sing. Also, the cost is for a gondola that carries 4-6 people. If you want a gondola ride for just you and your partner, you will have to pay the full amount yourself. At night, the cost of gondola goes up to 100 euros. In peak tourist hours, more often than not, you will be stuck in ‘traffic’ as lines after lines of gondolas try to pass through narrow bridges, and your gondolier will be communicating back and forth with his fellow gondoliers trying to navigate the busy stretch.
I am not discouraging you to not take a gondola ride. If it is something that you really want to do, then do put it on your bucket list then by all means you should so that you don't feel something is amiss in your trip to Venice. So I leave it upto you.
A good (and cheap) alternative to tour the Grand Canal is instead the Vaporetti. Take the Vaporetti line 1 or 2 from P. Roma. Find yourself a nice spot on the boat (try taking this towards the evening when most of the tourist crowd has gone so that you can get a place. For the first day when we took this line, it was so full that we had to stand cramped to a hundred other tourists. But the next day, we found ourselves a spot right in the front and sat to enjoy the uninterrupted view) and cruise along the canal, taking in the views. Line 1 ends at Lido, an island off Venice and it basically covers the entire Grand Canal in its route. This way, you can sit back and enjoy the Grand Canal in all its glory, taking in the views of the breathtaking churches and museums, and that too at your own pace.
That is how an original gelato doesn't look!
Every gelato isn’t an original gelato
After wandering the streets of Venice, the best way to unwind is with a cup of gelato in your hand and view of the canal in front of you. For a city that loves its gelato, there are numerous shops which sell ‘gelatos’, although it doesn’t come close to the real thing. A good gelato is made with real-handcrafted ice cream and fresh fruits, and uses high quality milk (and not milk powder). You will know the difference between an original and artificial gelato once you’ve had a cup or two! But save yourself from the tourist traps and seek down the best gelato places in Venice before you arrive. There are lot of recommendations and reviews on the internet for some of the best gelato places in Venice, and it is a good idea to note down a few for an authentic gelato experience. My favourites are Boutique del Gelato, Gelateria Grom and Gelateria Da Nico.
The Rialto Bridge at night
Dinner with a view
The sight of Rialto Bridge is breathtaking and in Venice you will find many restaurants luring the tourists to enjoy a ‘delicious Italian’ meal with the promise of the view of the bridge. However, most often the meal wouldn’t live up to its expectation. The food is more often than not lousy, and prepared by chefs that aren’t Italian, and the menu is touristy rather than authentic. That is not to say that all restaurants around the area are bad, but it is worth reading the reviews before you make a dinner reservation. Another good idea is to seek the restaurants in the narrow lanes, that is away from the touristy areas – often you end up finding the best meals in the least known places!
A Venetian glassblower demonstrates how a figurine is made from glass at a factory in Murano
Stay away from fake glass souvenirs
Venice is famous for the glass souvenirs made with great detail and craft by artists in Murano. However, most souvenir shops in Venice, especially those around the major tourist attractions are likely to be selling a fake or a product that is probably made in China. Authentic Murano glass is expensive and also carries an official trademark, which is a good indicator of authenticity.