What to do in Venice
Nothing quite prepares you for Venice. You can read about it, see film of it and listen to people enthuse about it, but only when you’re actually on the Grand Canal with the wind in your hair watching a Venetian sunset will you fall under its magical spell.
This is truly a place like no other – a city built on water, where the main streets are canals; there’s traffic, but not as we know it. It’s also a city rich in art, sculpture and music. But there are many other faces to Venice. The shopping here is as good as anywhere in Italy with all the designer names, as well as crafts such as jewellery, glass and fabrics.
There are chic bars and a vibrant nightlife and little surprises round every corner. Wander from your intended route and you could find yourself in a small but beautiful piazza – there might be a little restaurant, a chapel or a shop selling Carnival masks. This is a city for art-lovers and romantics … and anyone who wants a brief escape from the age of the automobile.
Travelling to Venice
UK airlines, including British Airways, Easyjet and Ryan Air, all fly to Venice. There are also some direct flights from the United States and Canada, but it may be that your airline will arrange a connection to Venice from a major European hub – London, Rome or Madrid, for instance.
The Marco Polo airport is on the mainland about 8 miles north-east of the city. An ATVO blue bus will take you to Piazzale Roma in 20 minutes at a cost of 3 Euros. You can buy a ticket from the ATVO booth in the arrivals hall, or pay the driver.
Alternatively, you can take the orange ACTV No 5. This costs a mere 2 Euros, but use only if your luggage is minimal and you’re not travelling in the rush hour. Once you reach the Piazzale Roma terminal, you could walk to your hotel or take a water-bus (vaporetto).
The quickest and most impressive way to approach Venice is by water, and there are now water taxis (taxi acquei) that allow passengers to do just that from the airport. But they are expensive – it could cost up to 100 Euros. The fares should be agreed on before boarding. Most of the big hotels have their own mooring areas at the rear.
A few flights arrive at Treviso, which is about 20 miles from the city centre. Buses leave from outside the airport terminal for the 30-minute trip to the city centre. There will be no chance of missing the bus as the time-table is linked to the flight schedule, and if the flight is delayed it will wait for passengers.
It is possible to catch a train directly to Venice from Paris, which is itself just two hours from London by the Eurostar service that runs through the Channel Tunnel. For a really luxurious way of travelling, consider the Venice Simplon Orient-Express which links Paris to Venice in about 20 hours.
Journey in the style of a bygone age with refined dining all the way. The 2-day, 1-night journey London-Paris-Venice costs about £1,500. Arriving by train in Venice is a great moment - the Venezia-Santa Lucia station is located alongside the Grand Canal.
Someone once said that driving to Venice was like visiting a shopping mall: when you get there, you’ll need to park your car until it’s time to leave.
During high season, you may want to consider parking on the mainland - either near the railroad station in Mestre (where trains depart frequently for Venice) or next to the causeway by the lagoon (where you can catch a boat into the city). This way, you'll avoid the traffic jams that clog the several miles of roadway between the mainland and the Piazzale Roma in Venice.If you'd rather not park on the mainland, the Tronchetto parking garage offers the best balance between convenience and economy. The 3,500-car garage is built on an artificial island, and it's more likely to have empty parking spaces than the more centrally located (and considerably more expensive) public and private garages at the Piazzale Roma. Tronchetto is also the only place to park in Venice if you're driving a large camper or motorhome.
Venice Travel Tips
Italian, with a Venetian accent. Italian is delightfully easy on the ear and relatively easy to learn. A few polite phrases might break the ice. Try Buongiorno (Good morning) or Bueno sera (Good evening). Come sta? (How Are You?) or Quanto costa? (How much?)
Currency And Tipping
The Italians use the Euro, made up of 100 cents. Tipping is not expected for all services, and rates are lower than those elsewhere. As a general guide, gondolas and water taxis: between 5 and 10 per cent; restaurants: around 2 Euros 50; porters: 1 Euro a bag.
Summer isn’t necessarily the best time to visit Venice. Apart from the crowds of tourists, the air can be unpleasantly humid. But if you are there in July or August, light cotton clothes would be ideal, with some warm jumpers for evenings on the canals. Good walking shoes are a must.
The best time to visit is from late April to early July. In the late spring, it rains less often, the air is mild and the long days allow you to dine out of doors in the light of the setting sun. If you time your visit to coincide with the famous Carnival (February), remember that the Adriatic coast is often cold and windswept.
Take coat, gloves and rainwear. And in the winter and autumn (fall), remember that high tides can cause some flooding of piazzas, so make sure your shoes are fully waterproofed! Except in the very best restaurants, smart-casual is the accepted dress code.
Venice is not a dangerous city, apart from pickpockets in the most touristy areas. The usual precautions apply: carry money and valuables in a belt or pouch, wear your camera and leave valuables and jewellery in the hotel safe.
Venice itself is not so big and the best way to explore it is on foot. A good map is essential and it’s useful to locate and remember a few landmarks like the Rialto Bridge and St Mark’s Square to help you get your bearings.
If you do want to go farther afield, you can either take the vaporetto or the motoscafo. The former is big and rather slow, but offers fine vistas of Venice from its open deck. The latter is low over the water and faster, with a smaller deck. You can use it to go to the islands of the lagoon.
The Venice Public Transportation company, ACTV, has a useful website with full details of fares, routes and times.
What to do in Venice
St Mark’s Square
The religious and political centre of Venice since the 12th century. Ringed by chic sidewalk cafes and fancy shops and thronged by tourists and pigeons.
The Basilica di San Marco
A beautiful church consecrated in 832 AD. Contains fabulous mosaics, the Pala d'Oro bejewelled altar screen and the famous four bronze horses.
Venice’s famous bell-tower, standing 325 feet. The view of the city from the top is a must.
The Doges’ Palace
For nine centuries, the seat of the Venetian republic. Take a tour – and choose the public route or the secret route through the dungeon.
The Bridge of Sighs
The linking corridor between the Doges’ Palace and its prisons.
Ponte di Rialto
The most famous of the hundreds of bridges in Venice. It’s a meeting place and a market place and a place to ponder the delights of the city.
The Grand Canal
The main thoroughfare of Venice: a wide waterway lined with beautiful buildings.
There were once 14,000 of the hand-made craft, now there are no more than 400. Take a romantic ride – but be prepared to pay a high price for the privilege.
San Giorgio Maggiore
The closest island to the city, untouched by commerce.
The main land barrier between Venice and the open sea. The beach was made famous by the movie Death In Venice.