What to do in Venice aka Venice for Beginners

by | Mar 12, 2017 | Europe, Italy | 29 comments

“If you read a lot, nothing is as great as you’ve imagined. Venice is – Venice is better.” Fran Lebowitz

Venice was a last minute addition to our Italian itinerary. Everyone I asked said not to bother, it’s too crowded, too expensive, too smelly. I guess it can be those things if you visit in the middle of the high season but our trip took place in late March. It was a little cold, a little rainy one day but it was not crowded, and it did not smell!

Of all of the amazing places, we saw in our three weeks in Italy Venice is the one that captured my heart and that I have returned to three times.

Planning what to do in Venice

Below are the ten things we enjoyed most in our short time in Venice. We would love to hear if you have any suggestions for our next trip.

1. Ride the Grand Canal

What to do in Venice - Ride the Grand Canal

The Grand Canal has a different feel at various times of day

We had four full days in Venice, so we purchased a 3-day Vaporetto pass on our arrival at the train station. It was worthwhile for us as our hotel was just a few minutes from a stop on the Grand Canal and we planned to explore as many of the routes as possible. Start with the #1 slow Vaporetto (water bus) that travels along the Grand Canal. If you have a pass get off anywhere that takes your fancy. Try to ride this route in the very early morning when the sun is still rising, and locals workers are getting the city ready for the day and then again after dark so you can see inside all the brightly lit windows of the grand homes at night.

These passes are expensive, so if you are travelling on a budget, then you could get a one day pass, take a morning ride in the Grand Canal and then head out to the islands.  After dinner take a night time ride before your ticket expires.

Three ways to get around the canals

  1. Vaporetto (vah|poh|REHT|toh) – think of this as the public bus system – I loved it
  2. Traghetto (trah|GET|toh) – A quick, cheap way to directly cross the canal
  3. Gondola – I decided this was too $$$ and too much like Disneyland for me.

2. Explore the Mercato di Rialto

Things to do in Venice - Visit the fish market

There were so many seafood varieties I had never seen before

We got up early the second morning of our visit to head to the Rialto Market. This was one time I wish I had rented an apartment; there was so much fantastic food that I wanted to take home and try to cook. After an hour or so exploring here, we bought some takeaway lunch and sat on the wharf in the sun relaxing and looking out over the water and watching life on the canal. It was one of my favourite mornings.

When: The markets are closed on Sunday and Monday. 7am-1pm
Where: Campo della Pescaia
How: Walk from the Rialto Bridge

3. Visit Murano and Burano

What to do in Venice - Visit the glass island

See the glass shops on Murano and the pretty coloured houses in the fishing village of Burano.

Our visit to these lovely islands coincided with our first cold and foggy day in Italy. Riding across the water to the islands through the fog was quite extraordinary, almost eerie, particularly when we passed some of the small deserted islands along the way, it felt like we were travelling back in time. We managed to stick to just a handful of small glass souvenirs like these cute cats for our daughters.

What to do in Venice - VIsit the colourful Burano

Arriving in Burano to all the lolly-coloured houses after such a dark journey was a delight. We strolled around for a while, had lunch at a typical tourist restaurant just to escape the cold and headed back to the main island.

I would love to do this again on a fine sunny day, but we enjoyed seeing a different side to Venetian life regardless.

When: Time your visit for lunch as there are some great restaurants on Burano
How: The No 12 Vaporetto from Fondamente Nova is the fastest direct route to both island. You can also take the No 3 from the train station to Murano.

4. Enjoy the afternoon bar food

Things to do in Venice - EAT

The best place to do this is far, far from St Marks Square – we found some great places in the outer edges of Cannaregio.

I loved the Cicchetti (chi-keh-tee) in Venice. So many little interesting morsels to try and wine by the glass. For this reason, alone I would like to move to Venice permanently!

ExpertAbroad in Venice

Each day on our walks we could keep our eyes peeled for interesting looking bars and cafes to head back to at night. I had taken a list of recommended places, but I think this is probably a better way, discovering your own amazing place is so satisfying and finding a recommended one that has changed hands or upped prices and dropped standards since hitting the guidebooks is very disappointing.
Look out for small”osteria” or “trattoria rather than restaurants.

Where: Try Chowhounds forum if you want some specific recommendations

5. Eat Squid Ink Pasta or Risotto

I was determined to eat Squid ink pasta in Venice after reading it was a local speciality. It is my favourite dish at our local Italian restaurant in Sydney, so I wanted to see how the real thing compared. We walked from our hotel in the opposite direction to the crowds and discovered Trattoria dai Peochi after about 10 minutes. It was crowded with couples speaking Italian which I thought was a good sign and it turned out to be right. The meal was quite nice and not expensive – about 50 Euro for two courses, a glass of wine and a child’s meal. The staff were friendly, and I would be happy to eat there again. I will spare you the photo of my mouth covered in black ink.  Take my word and try it. Take a walk along Fondamenta della Misericordia, and you are bound to find something good.

6. Visit Santa Maria della Salute

What to see in Venice - Churches

Santa Maria della Salute is the beautiful Baroque church on the junction of the Grand Canal and the one that features prominently in many photos of Venice. Known locally as “the wedding cake”It was built to thank God for ending the terrible plague of the 1600s. Translated into English its name is St Mary of Health. The church has a great collection of masterpieces including a Turner, several Titans and one of my favourite is free to enter.

It is a great spot to view St Marks from afar and also a good place to begin your walk exploring the Dorsoduro sestieri.

Where: Punta della Dogana
When: 9am-Noon and then 3pm-5pm
How: Walk from the Accademia Bridge (great spot for a photo) or take the No 1 Vaporetto

7. Tour the Doges Palace

Things to do in Venice - Museums

Known as Palazzo Ducale in Italian

We did not have an itinerary for our visit to Venice, and despite every guide book I had seen saying the Doges Palace was a must see I had not intended to visit. None of us was particularly interested in Venetian art and we were trying to keep costs down, but after two days walking past this amazing building every day I was captivated by the facade and felt I needed to go inside.

We visited in the late afternoon and purchased the English audio tour. My 12 yr old daughter and I loved it, and I was glad we went. The ticket included free entry into another museum opposite, but we did not have time to visit that.

Where:  San Marco, 1, 30124 Venezia, Italy
When: 8.30am -5.30pm (7pm in summer)
How: It’s hard to miss in the middle of St Mark’s Square 🙂

8. Stroll through the Jewish Quarter

Things to do in Venice - Jewish quarter

See some of the real Venice

By the last day in the city, we had walked all the main spots listed in the travel guides and taken many Vaporetti rides. Our pass had expired, so we decided to stay in our sestieri (area) and walk to all the corners of it. Tucked away in the far corner near the train station is the Jewish Ghetto area. This place is where the word Ghetto originated.

In the 16th Century, the leaders of Venice decided that rather than expelling all Jews from the city they would allow them to remain but confine them to one small area. As a result, the houses here are much taller and narrower than other parts of Venice. The residents had no option but to build up, and as they had limited finances, many of the structures were made or wood.
We happily strolled around by ourselves, but there are several walking tours that available if you want to learn more about Jewish history in Venice.

9. Visit the lesser known squares

Campo Santa Margherita was my favourite

While it is nowhere near as attractive as St Marks Square Campo Santa Margherita was one of my favourite places to eat gelato and watch the world go by. It is less Disneyland and more real life Venice with washing hanging from windows, old ladies gossiping in trios and kids running around having fun.
Another square we enjoyed was Campo Santa Maria Nova, not far from the beautiful Santa Maria dei Miracoli church and home of a cute second-hand market.

10. Get really lost

Venice book shop

You never know what you might find

We found the bookshop above in the Castello sestieri. Inside the books are arranged inside old gondola and there is plenty of humour in the design of the place. It’s pretty messy and causes slight anxiety in this ex-librarian, but I think it is worth a visit if you are walking in the area. It is called Libreria “Acqua Alta”, and I have since discovered it has its own Facebook page. We enjoyed exploring this area behind St Marks Square immensely.

Where: Castello 5176b, Calle Longa Santa Maria Formosa
When: 9am-8pm

Addresses in Venice are almost meaningless to visitors.
Ask for a landmark for your hotel or you may never find it!

Links to help plan your holiday in Venice

Music in Venice
This website lists all the concerts and musical performances in Venice. All price ranges are catered to so take a look and see what is on while you are in town.
Where to stay in Venice
Understanding the neighbourhoods. This article from Slow Travel Italy likens Venice to a fish and explains the characteristics of the various areas.
Chowhounds Italy Boards
If you want to discuss where to go and what to eat in Italy this Italy forum at chowhounds will fit the bill.
Palazzo Rosa – Our hotel in Venice
We loved the location of our hotel; in fact everything about it was great. I would prefer to stay in an apartment for my next visit but this hotel had great rooms, super friendly service and a perfect location.
200 Things to do in Venice
Another gem by Slow Travel Italy – This article lists 200 things to do arranged by sestieri (area).

Have you been to Venice? Are you hooked on her magic like I am?

29 Comments

  1. Eemma

    Squid ink pasta sounds amazing! I’ve never even heard of it before! What does it taste like?

    Reply
  2. Bruce Schinkel

    Wow, thanks so much for this great post! I’ve been looking at adding Venice to my travel plans for this year and this will come in so handy

    Reply
  3. Janine

    I loved Venice. You aren’t joking about Getting lost whether deliberately or by chance as the narrow alleys are just too interesting not to explore. I agree with exploring the lesser known squares too as Piazza St Marco truly takes a bite out of a traveller’s budget 😉

    Reply
  4. Ferna

    I love how you traveled to Venice, at last its not only about grand canal. I am now able to know more of the place because of this. Wonderful photos captured by the way.

    Reply
  5. Maaya Legaspi

    I always thought of grand canal when someone mentions Venice. And wow, I didn’t know you can see and do a lot of things in Venice aside from the grand canal. And from every post I read, they would always mention the gondola ride is expensive. Hehe. But I guess if it’s for experience then why not. I mean you only go to Venice once or twice (unless you always go there), so just go and ride. After Venice is always famous for the gondola rides.

    Reply
  6. FS Page

    This is so thoughtful of you to create a blog just for the beginners. It is surely a great starter to know this beautiful city. I love the last part about getting lost. This is so true for so many incredible places that when you get lost, you find the best things!

    Reply
  7. Carola

    Man, I can’t believe people told you “not to bother” with Venice! It’s touristy, yes. But that’s because there is amazing stuff to discover there.
    It’s also one of the most beautiful, most unusual, most lively cities you could ever visit. I am happy to read you didn’t listen to the nay-sayers and I love your tips on what to do. Couldn’t have said it better 🙂

    Thank you & happy continued travels!
    C

    Reply
  8. Me-An Clemente

    The places you visited are wonderful. And it’s nice to see other varieties of seafood. I would like to try that. It’s also helpful to know that they offer Vaporetto 3-day pass.

    Reply
  9. Natalie

    I’ve always wanted to go to Venice! We haven’t made it to Italy (yet), but whenever we go, Venice will definitely be on the list. I’ll sadly have to skip the fresh seafood (boo, allergies), but I have to go to Murano to see the glassblowing. Even though it’s super touristy, I’d probably splurge on a gondola ride, too. 🙂

    Reply
    • Paula Morgan

      I ended up splurging on the Gondola ride last October when I was there for my Birthday! A sunset ride on the Grand Canal. Great fun 🙂

      Reply
  10. Scenes From Nadine (Nadine Smith)

    Oh, Venice! Even in photos, it looks so romantic! I have always dreamed of going to Venice, especially when I started working as a gondolier in the Venetian Hotel in Macau. The Venetian was so beautiful, but I bet it cannot even come close to the grandeur of Venice! I love your last tip about getting really lost. I love wandering around and getting lost when I travel because we get to discover so many cool things that you don’t really see in blogs or guide books. And that library you discovered sounds so nice! Definitely trying the risotto if I ever go there!

    Reply
  11. Indrani

    Visit to Murano and Burano tops my list here. I missed touring these 2 towns. The other one that I didn’t do is the Grand canal tour, but then it is okay. I wish to revisit Doges Palace in this list, it was so beautiful.

    Reply
  12. Jill

    I had a brow raised when you mentioned that you were told by people not to bother visiting Venice. I mean, it’s one of the places I’ve been longing to go to! I am just happy that you shook off their remarks and still went for it! 🙂

    I love your pictures, by the way. Especially of that Baroque church! I love its intricate details. Just so beautiful! <3 Getting lost is my motto especially when travelling! Thanks for mentioning that too!

    Reply
    • Paula Morgan

      I know what you mean Jill – all my friends who had been had visited in Summer when it was overcrowded and so so hot. Or they had done day trips. A day trip is OK if that is all you have time for but I think you need to stay for a couple of days to really appreciate it.

      Reply
  13. Pia

    Ever since I was little, I’ve always wanted to visit Venice. But, like you my friends who’ve actually been there have told me not to bother because it’s overrated. I’m glad to meet someone who found it just as fascinating. It renewed my interest in the city. 🙂 Beautiful pictures- but I also like how you shared interesting tips and tidbits about all the places you visited. I find the Jewish quarter especially interesting – I didn’t even know it existed! Plus, I love how you shared how you got lost and found a nice bookshop in the process- it reminded me of an argument my husband and I had when we went to Japan. He likes having no itinerary and getting lost and discovering new places. I’m little Ms. OC- so it drives me nuts! But yes, I have learned that letting go a little bit when you travel sometimes leads to the best experiences – so you guys were right all along. 😛 Thank you for letting me experience Venice vicariously through this post! 🙂

    Reply
    • Paula Morgan

      Pia, I used to be an crazy planner but I have learnt to let go a little over the years. I still like to research like mad so I know all my options but these days I tend to let the days flow only making sure that I have the things that are really important to me covered 🙂 then letting the rest just happen. I save everything that catches my eye in Google maps so if we find outselves some place with some time to spare I can check what I marked nearby. That is a system that is working really well for us.

      Reply
  14. Herbert

    Oh Venice. I dont know if I can visit this place. Only in movies I guess. A photographer friend went here last year and we were drooling on his photos. This place is really nice especially the architecture.

    I am still hopeful I can visit Venice someday 😀

    Reply
    • Paula Morgan

      I hope you get there one day Herbert. It really is quite magical.

      Reply
  15. ROBERT LEE | Amazing Life Daily

    Venice is everything they say it is, isn’t it? Some positive, others negative. But who cares, what is important is that you took the time to visit and get to see a truly unique city. That alone, is quite an experience in itself.

    One thing I am curious about but have never once asked… because of the waters… are there pests like mosquitoes?

    Reply
    • Paula Morgan

      Hi Robert, we did not have any experiences with Mossies (as we Aussies call them) but I have heard they can be a problem in the summer.

      Reply
  16. Phoem Ponce

    Okay so I love Italy! Everytime I watch movies or dramas and their location is Italy, I really feel like I lived there in my past life. hahaha! I always wanted to ride the boat of grand canal, (though we have a man made grand canal here in the Philippines in Taguig). Plus the bird feeding sesh! I always see that in movies and I want to try to do it for myself too! hihi! Wish I can go there after college!

    Reply
  17. Miranda

    Love the glass work that you photographed! I also love the brightly colored houses! Reminds me of Rainbow Row in Charleston South Carolina. It is amazing to me to see the various ways that different countries can be so similar.

    Reply
    • Paula Morgan

      There was so much glass I was scared I would break something. It is funny how we can always find comparisons to home when we travel.

      Reply
  18. Ally Emm

    I had a very quick trip to Venice once…and it was super rainy the whole time! But I did manage to go to Murano, and it was so cool! I loved seeing all the glasswork…so amazing! I’d love to go back and spend time “getting lost”, as you suggest…I hear that’s easy to do in Venice!

    Reply
    • Paula Morgan

      Ally I really think Venice is worth several visits 🙂 I hope you get to go back in better weather!

      Reply
  19. Leah

    This blog is perfect for me because I’m planning a trip to Venice in September! I’m so excited!

    Reply
    • Paula Morgan

      That’s great Leah. I hope it helps 🙂 Let me know if you have any questions.

      Reply
  20. Jeff & Crystal

    That looks like a great itinerary. Our daughter went, and brought us back some of the glassworks. It is a place we would like to visit.

    Reply

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