Facts, travel tips and tourist information.
Inhabitants: about 300.000 (all of Venice)
Area code: 041
Venice has two airports: Marco Polo ("VCE" the main airport) and Treviso's small San Giuseppe airport ("TSF" 30 km from Venice). From Marco Polo you can take a bus to Piazzale Roma, and then you cannot drive further - from here it is on foot or by boat (see Transportation). You can also sail with Alilaguna or take a water taxi (expensive).
It is more tiresome from Treviso's airport. From here you need to take a bus to Treviso and then a bus or train to Venice.
You can go by train to Venice, where the station is called Santa Lucia. You can also go to Mestre on the mainland and then change trains to Santa Lucia or take a bus.
In Venice proper you must either walk or sail. There are no cars, and bicycles are forbidden! You can go by waterbus, "vaporetto", or if you are short of expenses you can take a water taxi or a gondola. At some points there are gondolas, "traghetti", crossing the Grand Canal, and a traghetto trip will only cost you half a Euro. Tourist gondolas however are very expensive.
A ticket to the waterbus isn't cheap (6 € as I recall), and if you are staying for more than a few hours it is better to buy a ticket valid for one or several days. Another possibility is to buy a VeniceCard.
If your ticket wasn't validated (stamped) when you bought it, then remember to validate in the yellow machine before you board the first time. Also read the signs carefully - otherwise you risk getting on a vaporetto in the wrong direction!
One should definitely try to sail in Venice. Things look different from the canal perspective, and the grand palaces ("palazzi") have their pretty fronts facing the canals. But if you don't mind walking, Venice is so small that you can walk from one end to the other. So whether to go by boat or walk is an individual decision that can also be influenced by where you stay.
If you arrive by car it is possible to park by Piazzale Roma (where the buses go too), but usually people advice against it! First of all there is a very real risk of getting stuck in a traffic jam on the way, secondly there might not be a vacant place to park and thirdly - if there is room - it is quite expensive.
So to avoid frustration and waste of time it is widely recommended to park in Mestre on the mainland and then use public transportation to get to Venice. There are several parking lots in Mestre (for instance Viale Stazione 10), and it is also cheaper here. Parking in the street will probably cost something too or be time limited.
Where to Stay?
Where to stay is very much a question about means, because Venice is definitely not in the cheap league. However it is possible to find accommodation at a sensible price. The cheapest is to stay on the mainland (Mestre), but if you can afford it you should definitely stay in 'the real' Venice. Then you can really enjoy the evening silence (no cars!) and the enchantment, once all the day tourists have left.
Check the booking sites on the Internet carefully. There are lots of Bed- & Breakfasts and hotels in Venice. Once you have found a place that sounds good then search for reviews - what did other guests think? A good place to look is TripAdvisor or search for the name of the hotel + "reviews". If the reviews are bad or very mixed (and sensible - some may blame the hotel if the weather is bad) then look for something else - unless the things being criticised don't matter to you.
And don't forget that air condition can be a blessing on hot summer days!
Restaurants in Venice
There is an Italian saying that in Venice food is bad and expensive. It has a grain of truth. Eating out is definitely expensive compared to most of Italy, and some places really serve lousy food; but there are also good restaurants. The problem is that most restaurants don't have locals as their most important customers - tourists are their main source of income, and who cares about a dissatisfied tourist who leaves tomorrow? Some of the restaurants in Venice would not survive for long if placed in a city with few tourists, but in Venice they are not punished.
I recommend Chow Venice, a book with descriptions of good restaurants - relatively cheap as well as really expensive ones. We used it as a helping guide in 2007. We did not agree 100 % with the authors, but it helped us avoid plain disasters. The book can be purchased via the Internet.
If you want a cup of coffee or refreshment at a bar, then consider if you need to sit or not. If you sit down by a table the price can easily double, and that is how it is almost everywhere in Italy. To sit at a table in front of Florian's at St. Mark's Square you must be either a daredevil or have an expense airbag in your purse.
For places we have visited read my travelogues Venice 2004 and Venice 2007.
Normally tips are included at restaurants, but it is not unusual to pay a round figure or leave some coins as a token of thanks for good service (if it was good!).
There is a lot to see in Venice, and what to see depends on the time you have got. St. Mark's Square and the Doge's Palace are of course high on the list, but it is also here and on the route from the railway station/Piazzale Roma that you find most of the tourist crowd. Actually you don't need to walk far, before the tourists get fewer and peace settles. A trip on vaporetto #1 on the Grand Canal is a must.
Guidebooks have long lists of must-sees, and if you like churches and art this is the place. For us however the greatest sight is the city itself and its unique atmosphere. Go on trips with the water buses, walk around randomly and keep your eyes open to the many details. If you have several days at your disposal it is worth your while to visit the islands Murano, Burano and Torcello.
Banks and Money
A relevant point, because Venice is an expensive city to visit! The banks opening hours are usually 08:30-13:30 and 15:30-19:30 Monday to Friday. Remember your passport if you want to draw cash in the bank. There are lots of ATMs that accept the usual credit cards like MasterCard, Visa and Diners Club, and being a tourist Mecca you can pay with plastic in most shops and restaurants - but not in all!
A VeniceCard is a pass to waterbuses and buses on the mainland (for instance to/from the airport with the ACTV-bus), and with an extra payment it also gives access to the Alilaguna boats. It also gives free access to public toilets and a discount at some restaurants and shops.
There are two versions: an orange and a blue. The orange one costs more, but gives you free access to many museums and churches whereas the blue one is an expensive bus pass with some discounts. So if you want to visit places where a ticket is needed, the orange card can be a good idea - also because you can skip the ticket line sometimes. Usually tickets to museums and the like cost 4-6 Euro (some more, others less), so it really depends on what you want to do during your visit.
EU citizens must carry valid identification when in Italy - for instance an identity card. Non EU citizens must carry a passport. Personally I don't like to carry my passport around (pickpockets etc.). Instead I hope a photocopy and driver's license will suffice. But of course the driver's license may be just as important as the passport if you go by car.
Receipts & Control
In Italy you must get a receipt whenever you buy something. Sometimes the tax authorities check customers, and if they don't have a receipt, the shop owner will be fined for tax evasion. If you don't get a receipt, you can be pretty sure it is tax evasion.
In public transport like buses and trains ticket controls are frequent. If you don't have a valid ticket you will be fined.
I have heard about ticket scams. If you are quite sure your ticket is valid then ask to see some ID and write down the name etc. You can refuse to pay here and now (the law does not demand that you carry money), and if the person in question begins to bargain and reduce the amount, you can be pretty certain it is a scam. Don't be fooled by a uniform and official looks.
If it happens on a vaporetto in Venice, and you suspect a scam, contact one of the crew no matter if the swindler wears a uniform or not.
In Italy's tourist spots international brands are often offered at bargain prices: bags, watches, sunglasses etc.
Don't buy faked goods! It is considered equally bad as buying stolen goods, and if you are caught, the fine can be very high. In 2006 there was a story in the Danish newspapers about a Danish tourist who was fined 10.000 € for buying a pair of faked sunglasses.
We haven't read much in Endlish about Venice, but here are a few titles:
And as a last resort you can read my travelogues with links to more info:
Damien Simonis: "Venice. City Guide". Lonely Planet Publications 2004. ISBN 1-74104-198-8.
A good and thorough guide with lots of tips.
Shannon Essa and Ruth Edenbaum: "Chow! Venice. Savoring the Food and Wine of La Serenissima. A guide to restaurants and bars in Venice". The Wine Appreciation Guild og Chow Bella Books 2007. ISBN 1-934259-00-4, ISBN 978-1-934259-00-9.
Seems like a thorough and personal presentation of restaurants visited by the authors. We visited some of the recommended restaurants in June 2007 and did not agree 100 % with the view of the authors, but every experience is personal and when in Venice advice is valuable. I got my copy through an Internet bookstore.
John Berendt: "The City of Falling Angels". Sceptre 2005. Hardback ISBN 0-340-82498-0. Paperback ISBN 0-340-82499-9.
Half documentary and a bit long. With the fire and rebuilding of the Fenice theatre as gearbox you get a peculiar insight into scandals, corruption and the upper class' (Italians as well as foreigners living in Venice) artificial culture and honeyed daggers in the back. But you also get a good impression of the everyday Venetian's pride and love for the city.
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Updated April 12th 2010