With magnificent pastel buildings rising out of blue water and winding lanes filled with wine bars and cafes, Venice is one of the most romanticised cities in the world. It’s a polarising destination, thanks to the over-tourism that grips Venice during the summer months. Even if you’re adverse to crowds or ‘touristy’ places, Venice still has to be seen. This guide will ensure you experience the true magic of Venice.
When to visit
The best times to travel are October to May with winter being the quietest time. This makes winter prime for an authentic experience and the best value. I recommend visiting in December when the Christmas lights and markets are up.
Avoid contributing to the over-tourism that plagues Venice in the summer and try not to visit during June, July, August, and September. It’s hot, rates are double for hotels and even food, and it’s crazy crowded. If you must visit in summer, early June or late September are best.
Food & Drinks
One of the major draws to Italy is the food and wine, and Venice doesn’t disappoint. This region excels when it comes to Prosecco, Spritzes and seafood.
Venetian Dishes include sardines in Sayre, squid ink spaghetti, all kinds of fish dishes, spaghetti with clams, and polenta. No problem if you’re not into fish, you can still find pasta, pizza, salads and meat dishes everywhere.
Cichetti is the Venetian version of tapas or aperitivo. Enjoy small bites that are paid for by the piece.
Drinks: The Aperol Spritz and Bellini were both invented in Venice.
Restaurants & Cafes
The best chichetti spots: All’Arco, Cantine del Vino gia Schiavi, and Cantina Do Spade.
Ca’ D’oro alla Vedova is a great locals restaurant that is recommended by Michelin.
Al Covo serve classic Venetian seafood in a relaxed setting. Try the zucchini flowers and ricotta cake!
Osteria ai 40 Ladroni is a gorgeous spot for lunch on the canal. Don’t bother with the menu, order an antipasti plate and the spider-crab gnocchi.
Taverna al Remer is a Mediterranean restaurant that’s perfect for a cozy dinner.
Torrefazione Cannaregio has the best coffee and croissants in Venice. It also has an impressive tea menu.
Florian is the oldest coffee shop in Florence and the prices aren’t bad for espresso if you stand. It’s in St Marks square and features stunning frescos.
Al Parlamento is a lively and stylish restaurant for a drink or dinner.
Gam Gam is the first Kosher restaurant in Venice, a city with a rich Jewish heritage.
Trattoria Da Gigio is great for a tasty and inexpensive meal. In winter they offer 3-courses for 10 Euro.
Cocktails & Bars
Harry’s Bar is famous for inventing the Bellini and is one of the most famous bars in the world.
Birreria Forst is a Bavarian-style beer bar near St Marks Square.
Birreria al Vecio Penasa is another bar that draws beer enthusiasts.
Il Santo Bevitore Pub Venezia is a bustling locals pub that’s usually standing room only.
T Fondaco dei Tedeschi by DFS is the best rooftop bar in Venice. It’s best to make a reservation.
Hotel Danieli has both a lobby bar and a rooftop restaurant. if you can’t afford to stay in this old world luxury hotel, pop in for a drink.
What to do in Venice
It sounds cliched but Venice really has something for everyone. Historical sites, art galleries, museums, boat journeys, islands, restaurants, cafes, shopping, bars, coastal paths, and beaches.
The Doges Palace is the main site in Venice. In winter it’s relatively empty but in the summer you will want to purchase skip-the-line tickets. The entry includes the jail, armory and art collection inside the palace.
Peggy Guggenheim Museum is one of my favourite galleries in the world. It’s a small but interesting collection in a gorgeous Venetian mansion on the canal. Give special attention to the sculptures in the garden.
Gallerie dell’ Accademia houses the largest collection of Venetian art in the world with works from Bellini, Tiziano, and Canaletto.
For lesser-known art galleries, try Casa dei Tre Oci, Alma Zevi, Ocean Space, Victoria Miro, and Giudecca 795.
Eat & drink your way around Venice. The food in Italy is often one of the biggest drawcards so ensure you allow time to enjoy it!
If you must climb a tower, make it St Georges, rather than St Marks. That way St Marks will be in your photos and you won’t be fighting so many tourists to get to the top. Alternatively, have a drink at the DFS rooftop bar instead!
Walking tours are a fantastic way to learn the history and stories behind Venice. I recommend Urban Adventures, who operate small groups under 12 people. They offer many food and drinks itineraries too!
Gondola rides are 80 Euro for the boat for 40-minutes. The price rises to 100 Euro after 7 pm. My top tip is to bring your own prosecco! To cut costs, find some people to split the cost of the boat with you and fit up to 8 people on board. The morning is quietest.
Lido is another lovely island to explore, with colourful buildings and great restaurants.
Lesser-known islands include San Lazzaro degli Armeni that was once a monastery, La Certosa with its forested ruins, have lunch at Locanda Ciprani, an old inn on Torcello, or visit Pellestrina for pristine beaches.
Murano is the glass-blowing island. The demonstrations are mindboggling and the galleries are interesting. In winter, Murano offers complimentary boat trips to entice visitors.
Where to stay
Venice is famously expensive for accommodation but prices are drastically less when traveling between October and April. Many visitors orient themselves close to St Marks Square but those looking for more seclusion can find it in Giudecca or on some of the other islands like Lido.
Top tips for accommodation include:
- Travel between November and April for discounts of over 50%
- Book 3-6 months in advance for the best prices
- First-time visitors will enjoy being close to St Marks Square
- Those looking for more peace and quiet will enjoy Giudecca
St Regis is a gorgeous 5-star property on the Grand Canal, steps from St Marks, with unbeatable canal views from their rooms and restaurant. From $300 USD per night.
Gritti Palace is a stunning luxury collection hotel in a 15th Century Palazzo on the Grand canal. From $500 USD per night.
Hotel Danieli in St Marks screams old-world luxury with a cozy lobby bar, rooftop restaurant, and impeccable design. It’s worth splurging on. From $400 USD per night.
Hilton Molino Stucky Venice is a 5-star converted flour mill in Giudecca, a residential area, across the water from St Marks Square. It has incredible views of Venice and a gorgeous rooftop pool. This hotel offers a little more peace and seclusion, as it’s outside the main thoroughfare. From $100 USD.
La Villeggiatura offers only 6 cozy and tasteful guestrooms in a great location. From $100 USD.
Hotel Palazzo Abadessa is a period-style hotel in a 16th-century residential palace, 10-minutes walk from Rialto bridge. From $100 USD per night.
Ca’Bragadin Carabba, once the home of Casanova, is now a well-priced 3-star hotel only 600m from St Marks Square. From $60 USD per night.
Hotel San Geremia is a good affordable option. It’s a 20-minute walk from St Marks Square and only 5-minutes from the station. Ask for a room with a view, as some overlook the piazza. From $50 USD per night.
Top Tips to the Best Visit to Venice
- Vaporetti, or water buses, offer a great way to get around Venice. They’re so scenic! 24-hour tickets are 20 Euro.
- Cicchetti, or Venetian tapas, is a local tradition you must try!
- Pizza by the slice is a great way to have a cheap yet delicious lunch on the go.
- Aperol Spritz and the Bellini were invented in Venice, so it would be a crime not to indulge.
- There are excellent wine stores all over Venice. Bring your own container to Al Bacco Imbriaco and fill it with quality local wine.
- Skip-the-line tickets are a must for the major sites in the summer months (Doges Palace and the Accademia).
- Avoid cruise ships in Venice, as their wakes are destroying the Renaissance architecture and contributing to over-tourism.
- I Musici Veneziani is where to see orchestras and classical music from 25 Euro per event.
- Avoid buying coffee in St Marks Square, as you pay 30 Euro to sit. Try standing for pizza and espresso, as the locals do.
- Vodafone SIMs are available all over the city, buy one of these for 15 Euro and get 10G data for your stay, so you can research on the go.
- Visit the major sites before 10 am to beat the masses.
- Book hotels in advance (3-6 months) to get the best prices.
- If it’s your first visit, you will want to allocate about 5 nights in Venice. If you are tight on time, 2-3 nights minimum.
For more on Venice, have a read of the perfect long weekend in Venice: