Venice is famous for its gondolas, its canals and its ancient crumbling buildings. But after you’ve seen St Marks Square, walked over the Rialto Bridge and floated along the Grand Canal, what else is there to do? Here are our 5 must-do tips for Venice, Italy.
Whatever you do, don’t go to Venice. That’s what I tell everyone I meet because I want to keep this incredible place to myself. Well, as much as I can. With over 20 million visitors every year, I don’t think I’m going to make that much of an impact on that front!
Before I first visited Venice, I thought it was going to be a bit of a disappointment after all the hype. But from my first sight of the canals from the train station I was besotted.
Everything you see on the TV, every photo you’ve looked at, every description of it doesn’t do Venice the proper justice. It’s just beautiful; a living museum of waterways, bridges, grand buildings and romance.
But once you’ve finished gazing in awe at this town that seems to have been created especially for Instagram, what else is there to do?
5 things you must do in Venice
1. Visit Murano
Murano, famous for its glass-making. For hundreds of years the glass factories of Murano held a monopoly of high-quality glass production over Europe. The glass from this relatively remote island in the Venice archipelago is still highly prized.
The factories still in operation here use the same centuries-old methods to create the valued glass types such as the enameled glass, coloured glass and the famous aventurine – glass filled with golden threads and crystals.
Get the 3, 4.1, 12 or 13 vaporetto* to explore this fascinating, historic part of Venice not many people get to.
2. Visit Burano
Burano is probably our favourite part of Venice. Further north than Murano and only accessible by the 12 vaporetto service*, Burano is much less touristy and the locals, therefore, are much friendlier.
Other than its friendliness, the island of Burano is also famed for its colourful houses. This part of Venice is unique as there are no house numbers. Boundaries are set but the different colour of each building.
The result is one of the most beautiful, lively street scenes you can find, and coupled with the romance of the little canal network running through it and its wonky church tower, Burano has such a fun feel to it.
Be warned though, it does take a while to get here, so if you’re only in Venice for the day or if you’re on a deadline, make sure you have time to get back to town!
3. Drink spritz Aperol
Spritz Aperol has become the drink of choice throughout Italy and beyond now, but in Venice they do things slightly differently. Not only is it often extraordinarily cheap here – we’re talking €2 at one place – it’s also often served still.
For our recipe for spritz Aperol, check out our post here but usually it’s made with Aperol, prosecco and soda water. In Venice – unless you ask for it ‘frizzante’ or with prosecco, you’ll get just Aperol and white wine.
It’s still pretty good – I had quite a few – but it can be a bit of a shock that first time. Head to Giudecca, the southernmost island in the Venice lagoon for amazing views of the city and the cheapest spritz Aperols.
4. Eat spaghetti al nero di sepia
There are hundreds of places to eat around Venice, but one dish you’ll see pretty much everywhere here is the spaghetti al nero di sepia – or squid ink pasta. Each state or province in Italy has its own specialty food. Tuscany, for example, is famous for its wild boar prosciutto.
The squid ink the Venetians use as they make their pasta turns it black (hence the ‘nero’ part of the name), so don’t freak out when the dish arrives. This is a typical Venice dish and it’s bloody delicious too! It’s not very photogenic so we’ve included another food photo to entice you to try more local dishes.
5. Go up the tower at St Marks Square
St Marks Square is a crushing mass of trudging tourists, sneaky hawkers, and over-priced restaurants, bars and shops. It is somewhere you should go though. The square itself is magnificent and the crowds thin out towards the end of the day.
Try to arrive about 45 minutes before sunset, then go up the tower. The later you leave it, the smaller the queue. We were pretty much the last people to go up and the last to come down. It made it so much better. You don’t need long up there and the sunset from that height over the city is incredible.
Wander – don’t worry about getting lost. If there’s one city in the world that suits getting lost, it’s Venice. Around every corner is a new surprise and a new discovery, and the smaller the back street, the better. You’ll never get bored finding your way here.
Is it worth spending more than a day here?
Although over 20 million people visit Venice each year, less than half that stay the night. Hotels are expensive and often over-booked. With the advent of AirBnB however, you can find a little flat or even a canal boat to rent for a couple of nights and still spend less than one night in a hotel here.
The benefit of staying overnight in Venice is the crowds thin at sundown and you get to see the real Venice come alive.
*How to get around Venice
Venice’s canals are its main roads, so getting about by boat is the way to go. I don’t mean the exorbitantly expensive gondolas, which look painfully embarrassing to ride. I mean the vaporetto system.
Operating like buses, this complex network of public ferries covers most of Venice. It’s an affordable and fun way to see the city from the water.
Do you have any tips for what to see in Venice? What would you do first if you were in Venice? Tell us in the comments!