The “Floating City” / “City of Bridges” / “City of Water” / “City of Masks” – whatever you call it, Venice is undeniably one of the most quaint and romantic places in the world. An absolute maze of canals filled with the purest turquoise water you’ll ever see, buildings that look like a film set (some of them actually are, think James Bond and Italian Job!) and picturesque little bridges, everywhere in Venice looks like a postcard.
How long should I go for?
I went for 3 nights because flying Thursday-Sunday was only £30 return (London Gatwick – Venice Marco Polo), compared to Friday-Sunday which was a lot more expensive. Also, I’m a bit lazy and wanted to go at a slower pace but you could absolutely fit Venice into 2 nights if you wanted. Some people even do day trips.
Isn’t Venice, like, really expensive?
Before I went to Venice, everyone was like, “oh, Venice is sooo expensive!” Look, like any city in Western Europe, sure – Venice can be pricey. But there are definitely ways to enjoy this magical city without breaking the bank. For example, get public transport from the airport to the city, instead of an overpriced water taxi. Save your money for a gondola! There are no cars on the island, so explore by foot. Food & drink are more costly near the Grand Canal / Rialto Bridge, the tourist hotspots, so stray a few streets away for both cheaper (I’m talking €6 for Carbonara and €2.50 for red wine – THIS IS NOT A DRILL) and more authentic Italian cuisine.
Getting from the airport to the city
Venice Marco Polo is the closest airport to the city but you will still need to get from the airport to Venice itself. Private water taxis are hella expensive (around €135) so I would highly recommend getting a public waterbus (€15). *TIP* – do not do what I did and arrive in the early hours of the morning, after the public waterbus has stopped running. The waterbus connects the airport to Venice and the main Venetian islands and is called the Alilaguna.
The last water bus to San Marco runs around 1am but different lines run at different times. The last bus going to Rialto is midnight, which is the one I missed. Check here for timetables. Find out where your hotel/hostel/Airbnb is and plan in advance if you’re getting a late flight, especially if you have a suitcase. I was only carrying my backpack (because I’m just such a backpacker lol) so I actually didn’t mind the fifteen minute stroll from Fondamenta Nuove to the hotel.
Right, onto the fun stuff.
We woke up bright and early(ish) on Friday morning and headed out to explore. As beautiful as Venice looked during our walk to the hotel last night, I was now seeing it in an entirely different light. It was December so it was VERY cold, hence the huge faux fur coat. Despite the bitter chill in the air (still warmer than England), I was in awe. I must have said about 80 times that first morning, “how is this real?” followed by, “I feel like I’m in a piece of Shakespeare,” or, more commonly, “wait, I swear we’ve been here before? Get Google Maps out”. You’re going to get lost in Venice, so just roll with it.
The first day we made absolutely no plans. I highly recommend aimlessly exploring, allowing yourself to wander down alleys and over bridges – it means you can truly appreciate every part of a city instead of impatiently hopping from one tourist attraction to the next. Yes, it’s great to go and see famous sites like Rialto Bridge and St Mark’s Basilica but allow yourself time to explore like a local too.
It’s pretty hard to imagine a city built on water unless you actually see it for yourself but there are 177 different canals in Venice, snaking their way through the city, splitting it into 118 different islands. Unlike the states I visited in America, there are no “blocks” to keep you on track, no “1st Street”, “2nd street”, none of that rubbish. Oh and don’t think you’re safe just because you’ve got Google Maps because my 4G let me down *waves fist angrily at Google*.
After getting thoroughly lost in the backstreets of Venice, we decided to grab a bite. I would advise to avoid all the overpriced tourist traps, the places where the menu is in six different languages and there are large photographs of the food. Eat like a local; if you can barely understand the menu then the food is probably going to be cheaper and more authentic.
We came across a little place called Barcaro Vinto 22. It was perfect! The menu was in Italian and it was super cheap; €6 for Carbonara (?!!?!?!?!? SO CHEAP !!??!?!?)
The menu was superb and the service impeccable. The owner offered us red wine, which I don’t usually like, but he found something sweet and not too heavy that I actually really enjoyed. The wine was only €2.50 a glass which was certainly kinder than the London prices I’m used to.
After a leisurely lunch, we took a stroll through the pleasantly quiet streets of Venice, stopping every now and then to peak at shop windows. There were art shops everywhere and loads of Venetian carnival mask shops. There were lace masks, filigree masks, feather masks, costume masks, there was even some Steampunk stuff floating about. Venetian masks are a tradition that goes back centuries and are worn during the annual carnival (Carnevale di Venezia) in Spring but historically they were worn to hide identity/social status. Pretty cool, right?
We happened across the Da Vinci Museum (Museo Leonardo da Vinci), and the Dan Brown fan girl in me came racing to the surface. I paid the €8 adult entry fee.
As the last rays of sunshine filtered through the city, we meandered around the streets for a while before heading back to our hotel to recoup.
We headed out for food. I’m about to be a mahoosive hypocrite but … we ate along the Grand Canal. YES it was probably overpriced and goes against everything I said above. But the views were nice and we got sucked in. Do I regret it? No (look at the views!) but the bill did come to like €70 for food and wine for two. Stop judging me!
We wandered back to the hotel along the Grand Canal, taking a moment to stop and appreciate the quietness of the streets. Venice is not exactly known for its wild nights and clubbing scene (which is nonexistent) but there are definitely places to stop for a Venetian cocktail if you aren’t too tired from a day of exploring.
After a hearty breakfast and lots of prosecco, we headed out to explore again, this time with more of a plan of where to go. We walked to San Marco, passing loads of very fancy shops – Gucci, Burberry, Bvlgari, Prada, Miu Miu, YsL, Louis Vitton – all sorts of things I can’t afford. We walked a bit further and the shops became a lot more unique, all with charming, picturesque little storefronts and balconies.
We did all the classic touristy things, such going to see St Marks Basilica, Doge’s Palace and Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute. I would definitely recommend the latter, especially if it’s a nice sunny day. The views were honestly divine. Pretty much everything in Venice is within walking distance but if your feet are feeling tired then get the Vaporetto, the boat which has stops all over the island.
As we ambled back through the winding streets, the sun was beginning to set. I don’t know if we just got really, really lucky or if sunsets are always like this in Venice. But have you ever seen anything so beautiful!? They don’t call it the most romantic city in the world for no reason. Something that made this even more magical was the lack of people. No hordes of tourists with selfie sticks. No kids crying because they dropped their gelato. Just pure tranquillity.
By 7pm, the evening chill was beginning to swoop over us. We went for dinner in San Polo to warm up after a long day of walking around. Locals eat late in Italy, so unfortunately (or fortunately) the restaurants are all pretty empty at this time. I got tagliatelle with meat sauce. Halfway through our meal, the place started getting more full and the lively conversations of locals began to surround us. Italian is a lovely language to have in the background.
There are all sorts of evening activities you can get involved in, such as going to a concert or jazz club.
We woke up to the sun pouring in through the curtains, accompanied by a blue sky. We could have been forgiven for thinking it was t-shirt weather. A quick hand-out-the-window technique assured me that – no – it’s still absolutely freezing outside, so once again, we wrapped up warm.
After a long breakfast (making the most of our unlimited prosecco), we didn’t have much time before we neeedd to head to the airport, but there was one thing we had been dying to do since we arrived. Take a ride on a gondola.
Despite being undeniably romantic and arguably the symbol of Venice, gondola rides are expensive. However, can you really go to Venice and not go on a gondola? Possibly not. The average price is €80 for a round trip of about 40 minutes. If you’re paying more, you’re probably getting ripped off. Our gondolier was super nice and informative. He explained that gondolas are traditional Venetian boats that were historically used to transport wealthy families. Gondoliers power the boat by hand with long oars.
Before we head to the airport, there’s just time to saunter over the Rialto Bridge and take in our last burst of Venetian sunshine. You can get the Alilaguna straight to the airport from here.
Thank you for reading! I hope you enjoy Venice as much as I did!