Last updated on November 20th, 2023
Are you planning a trip to Venice? If so, congratulations. It’s one of the most gorgeous and unique cities on the planet.
You may have heard people complain about Venice:
“It’s so hot!”
“I can’t believe how crowded it was!”
“We spent so much on a gondola ride!”
“We ended up eating overpriced, mediocre pizza!”
“We spent half of our trip lost!”
I’ve been living, traveling, and working in Italy for over two decades, and in my time here, I’ve visited Venice plenty of times – as a solo traveler, with my kids, and with friends and family. I’ve also helped clients visit Venice. Based on my experiences in Venice (good and bad), I’ve put together this list of my top tips for your first visit to Venice. I hope you’ll find them helpful!
Ready for my Venice travel tips for your first visit? Andiamo – let’s go!
Make Reservations for Venice Activities
No matter what time of year you visit, don’t plan on being able to just walk into places like museums or restaurants.
Although it happens occasionally (like on my recent visit during November), it’s not the norm.
I highly recommend making reservations for things like:
- Climbing the Torre dell’Orologio (Clock Tower)
- Guided tours of Venice
- Entrances to St. Mark’s Basilica or the Doge’s Palace
- Special Restaurants
- Activities like the Fondaco dei Tedeschi terrace view
Helpful Tip: Try the official sites first. If everything’s booked, you can also look at third party sites like GetYourGuide and Viator (although you’ll pay a premium).
Stay Overnight if Possible
If you’re visiting on a day trip, you can still have a lovely time in Venice (our family day trips from Florence often).
If you can, stay overnight. Venice is magical in the evening and early morning – when day trippers and cruise ships have departed.
You can experience aperitivo, cicchetti, and dinner with locals, and taking a vaporetto on the Grand Canal in the evening is one of my favorite things to do. I’m also a sucker for an early morning walk that covers places that are packed during the day – like Piazza San Marco and the Riva degli Schiavoni.
Try to Visit Venice Outside of High Season
I know it’s not always possible to choose the time you travel to Venice – your work or school schedule may dictate when you can visit.
However, if you do have some flexibility with timing, I recommend trying to visit Venice in the winter (especially during the Christmas holidays), early spring, or late fall.
Why? Venice gets extremely crowded during the late spring, summer, and early fall. So crowded that you’ll find yourself shuffling down the narrow lanes and waiting in long lines to get on a vaporetto or enter major sites. And, Venice also gets very hot and humid in the summer.
If you can visit outside of this hot and crowded period, do it.
If you can’t, then know what you’ll encounter, so that you can manage your expectations and plans (plan on things taking longer, do your sightseeing in the early morning or in the evening when possible, and book activities and hotels way in advance). You can still have a wonderful time!
What We Do: If I have the choice, we visit Venice between the months of October and March.
Pack Comfortable Shoes
Hopefully you’ve already planned on this for your Italy trip. You’ll be doing a lot of walking in Venice, so comfortable shoes are key!
If you’re visiting in the winter (especially November and December), water-resistant shoes are helpful because you’ll likely encounter puddles and some rain.
Choose the Correct Train Station
If you’re arriving in Venice by train, book your ticket to Venice Santa Lucia train station, not Venice Mestre. Venice Mestre train station is still on the mainland.
Even with correctly booked Santa Lucia tickets, many first-time visitors get confused and get off at the first Venice station they hear the train manager announce ‘Venice Mestre.’ When you hear ‘Venice Mestre,’ wait – and cross the water – and get off at Venice Santa Lucia train station.
Good To Know: If you do happen to accidentally get off early, or book a train to Venice Mestre, you can buy an inexpensive ticket for the quick trip between Venice Mestre and Venice Santa Lucia. There are tickets at the machines – just remember to validate your ticket in the machines at the track.
Read more about Train Travel in Italy
Plan Your ‘Musts’ for the Beginning of Your Visit
In Venice, sometimes things close unexpectedly. So, do your best to plan your ‘musts’ for the beginning of your trip to Venice. For example, if you really want to see the inside of St. Mark’s Basilica (you should, it’s amazing!), plan to do it right away. That way, if it does happen to close, you can always try again later in the day or another day.
But Also Have Backups
As I just mentioned, I often find things close at a moment’s notice when I’m in Venice. For example, I’ve visited and had the Basilica di San Marco close for unforeseen repairs, the power has shut off in a museum, and the elevator wasn’t working for the San Giorgio Maggiore Tower (happened to me on my recent visit).
So, I recommend having a few things on your must-see list for Venice, but roll with it if something closes.
Read about The Best Things to Do in Venice
Build Extra Time into Your Venice Itinerary
Venice can be crowded, which means you’ll need to shuffle along narrow lanes with others – you can’t always pass someone if you want to walk faster.
Lines for the vaporetti can be long. Even if you’ve planned on taking a specific vaporetto, you may need to wait for the next one.
If you don’t want to rely on Google Maps, it’s easy to get lost in Venice. So, you’ll need to allow a little extra time to backtrack and find your way. Don’t worry though, when you get lost you’ll find empty tiny streets and campi (squares) full of locals.
See Venice From Up High
Don’t miss seeing Venice from above! The best ways are to climb some steps (or take an elevator) or enjoy the view from your hotel or a restaurant. Here our family’s favorite ways to see Venice from up high:
Climb a tower – San Marco Campanile (Bell Tower), the Clock Tower in Piazza San Marco, St. Mark’s Basilica Upper Terraces, San Giorgio Tower, Scala Contarini del Bovolo
See Venice from a high window or terrace – your hotel, a restaurant, the Fondaco dei Tedeschi department store terrace, the Museo Correr
Visit an Island
Standing in the middle of Piazza San Marco, taking a vaporetto down the Grand Canal, walking over the Rialto Bridge – these are all iconic things to do in Venice. But, if you get a chance, hop on a boat and head to one of Venice’s islands.
If it’s your first visit, I recommend choosing either Murano (the island of Venetian glassmakers) or Burano (one of the world’s most colorful places). And, if you want to escape some of the crowds, take one of the first boats over. On my recent trip (November), I took the 7:25 ferry from Venice to Burano and I was the only tourist. I spent about an hour as the only visitor on the island as the locals got ready for the day – a truly special experience.
Helpful Tip: If you only have one day in Venice, skip the island visit – you won’t have enough time to enjoy it.
Read more about Choosing a Venetian Island to Visit
Look into a Water Travel Pass
If you’re planning on spending time on the water, getting a travel pass may make sense for you.
I usually plot out what trips I think I’ll make and do the math to see if it makes sense.
For example, on my recent trip, a 75-minute ticket was €9.50 (check current rates on the official Venice AVM website. The 24-hour travel pass was €25. My planned routes were:
- Venice –> Isola San Giorgio
- Isola San Giorgio –> Venice
- Venice –> Burano
- Burano – >Venice
- Piazza San Marco – >Parco delle Rimembranze
- Parco delle Rimembranze – >Accademia
These six trips would cost €57.00 (€9.50 x 6), and I was planning on making them in a 24-hour period. So, I purchased the 24-hour travel pass and saved €22 (€57 – €25).
Good To Know: You can see the vaporetto routes and schedules on Google Maps.
Try a Gondola Alternative
Hey, if you’ve been dreaming of floating down a canal in a gondola with your love (or your family, or by yourself) – go for it!
If you’re not keen on the price, you have a couple of excellent alternatives:
- Ride the vaporetto. It’s just €9.50 for 75 minutes!
- Take a gondola taxi. It’s just €2 for a ride across the Grand Canal in a gondola!
Go On the Open Water
If you have time, take one of the boats into the lagoon to see Venice from a different perspective. Yes, the narrow canals and the Grand Canal are gorgeous, but it’s nice to see the city from the lagoon.
You can head out into the open water on a trip to a Venetian Island, or even on a vaporetto ride between two parts of Venice – for example, from the San Marco – San Zaccaria stop (San Marco District) to the Sant’Elena stop (Castello District).
Go on a Bacaro Crawl
Venice’s cicchetti (little bites or snacks) are not to be missed on a visit to La Serenissima.
A bacaro is a wine bar, and in Venice you can stop in for a glass of wine and cicchetti.
It’s fun to try a couple in one bacaro, then head to the next one.
You can even make a meal out of cicchetti – I do!
Good To Know: Cicchetti aren’t just a dinner option – they make an excellent lunch or snack also.
Explore the Art Biennale
If you’re visiting Venice in an even-numbered year in the spring, summer, or fall – add the Art Biennale to your itinerary. Even if you don’t consider yourself an ‘art museum person,’ there will likely be exhibits or large installations that you’ll enjoy (or be moved by). The Biennale has artist participants from around the globe, and the art is varied, unique, and large-scale.
Look for Helpful Signs
You’ll see yellow signs for main landmarks like Piazza San Marco, the Rialto Bridge, Piazzale Rome, Ferrovia, and the Accademia.
There are also WC (public toilet) signs up too, often next to one of the yellow signs.
Use Google Maps
I often hear that Google Maps doesn’t work well in Venice, but I can attest that I use Google Maps on every single visit to Venice and it works well! I love that I can just follow Google’s blue arrow if I need to, instead of spending three times as long looking at a paper map and trying to find street signs on the walls.
Read more about My Favorite Apps for Italy Travel
Bring an External Charger for Your Phone
You’ll be walking a lot in Venice, and using your phone quite a bit – especially your map app and your camera.
If your hotel is in the center, you can pop in to rest your legs and charge your phone. Otherwise, bring an external phone charger. I bring one every time I visit Venice and I end up using it every day.
Have Coins Handy for Using Public Toilets
I always recommend using a toilet whenever you’re presented with the opportunity – at museums, in restaurants, etc. But, if you’re out wandering in Venice and need a toilet, there are public toilets (WC) scattered throughout the city.
These are the official Venice public toilets – you can click on them to see what they offer (for example, changing tables). Heads up that the hours can change (especially during quieter periods like winter).
Read more about Bathrooms in Italy
Remember That People Live in Venice
I say this jokingly, and also seriously. I sometimes see locals get frustrated with the crowds, and I always try to put myself in their shoes. Some simple things we can do as visitors to be respectful of the locals include:
- Moving to the side of the street if you need to stop (to take a photo, look at a map, etc)
- Support local businesses over large chains when possible
- Avoid stopping on the passarelle (raised walkways if there’s acqua alta)
- Don’t feed the pigeons
- Throw trash in the bins, and if you find one that’s full, wait and throw your trash in the next one you see
- Stay quiet at night – sound carries!
I hope these trips are helpful for your first trip to Venice! Enjoy the unique city – buon viaggio!
Read my Essential Italy Travel Tips