As I planned our Italy trip, I debated between Milan and Venice. After Rome, the two cities diverged in opposite directions and as is we would only have a day to spend wherever we went. Ultimately Venice won out as Milan was more about shopping and our entire trip was more about sightseeing (which also meant I had to get my shopping done in Rome).
We caught the 6:50am train departing Rome to arrive in Venice 3 and a half hours later. This gave us enough time to check into our Airbnb and eat lunch in the city. Just outside the train station was the main Vaporetto (water taxi) station. The route maps were easy to understand and we made it to our destination without difficulties. Once we started walking though, it turned out that Google Maps and the actual street signs in Venice didn’t match up for the specific street we were looking for. Stephen and I circled the same two blocks a few times before our host greeted us from a window above. Without that, we probably would’ve never found the apartment.
Tip: Since we were only staying for a day and planned to walk most of the time, we only bought water taxi tickets to get us to and from our Airbnb. Although in hindsight, a 1 day pass would have been more useful and a better value. If you’re staying longer or staying off the island I’d recommend looking into their day passes.
Do you need to stay on the island?
Honestly, the answer’s a definite no. I wanted to stay on the island because I thought it would be romantic and I read about romantic evenings in St. Mark’s Square enjoying a glass of wine and listening to live music. Actually, we ate dinner close to our AirBnB and was in bed by early evening, worn out from the early start and the full day of walking. Maybe with an afternoon nap, we would’ve made it later into the night. Once the sunset, there were also not a lot of people around. This was our most expensive Airbnb the entire trip.
Tip: With easy transit to Mestre (just 30 minutes) late into the night, finding accomodations off island the island would be more economical and you’re really not missing much.
The Tourist Sites
My plan for Venice was just to wander. I had made note of the 3 main tourist attractions but had no real plan or course plotted. The entire island was gorgeous and filled with adorable shops and eateries. Pretty much every bridge, building, street was stunning.
Tip: On every corner, there were street signs on the buildings, which made the confusing city fairly easy to navigate. However, because of all the canals and bridges, getting from point A to B usually took lots of detours and there were no straight lines. Be sure to allocate more time if you’re on any kind of schedule.
We didn’t venture inside St. Mark’s Basilica or the Doge’s Palace but enjoyed taking in the sights walking through St. Mark’s Square. Do not eat near the area though, most restaurants were tourist traps with overpriced and mediocre food. We thought we had ventured away far enough however with the winding streets, actually ended up at a restaurant just around the corner. I really liked walking through Rialto Market and we strolled across the famous Rialto Bridge although it was under construction. By this point in our trip, I was content with all the historic sites we saw in Rome and Naples that I was ok with spending our time exploring the shops and streets of Venice versus touring buildings. Every corner and building was picturesque.
Tip: There were lots of signs leading to paid public washrooms, although the signs start far away from the actual washroom. We followed them for at least 10 minutes before getting to the facilities. Be sure to have some change on you.
To Gondola or not to Gondola
Heading into the trip, I was very much on the fence about taking a gondola ride, on one hand it seemed really expensive and I’d rather spend the budget on a meal, on the other it would likely be a once in a lifetime experience (I don’t foresee us returning to Venice in the near future). While walking by the main gondola stops at lunch, the boats were filled with tourists and the whole deal seemed too crowded and forced. I did not feel like I was missing out and was willing to see if I changed my mind later in the afternoon.
As luck would have it, on our way out of the grocery store with lunch ingredients (bread and so much prosciutto for under €5!), a French couple approached Stephen and I to share a gondola boat with them and a grandmother and granddaughter duo. We wouldn’t have had the courage to arrange to split a ride so this was incredibly lucky. The French lady had already arranged everything with a Gondolier to pick us up right where we were. There are gondola stops all over the city if you’d like to avoid crowds, just look for an empty boat as you’re wandering.
So we got our gondola ride at a reasonable price and we barely saw any other boats the entirety of our ride.
Tip: Find people to split the ride. Each gondola fits 6 people and is a set rate per boat by time (€80 for 40 minutes). The ride also gets more expensive in the evenings as most tourists want the sunset views. Split between 3 pairs of 2, the once in a lifetime experience becomes far more reasonable.