Venice has been on my bucket list for a long time. After arranging a trip last year then having to rearrange it, altering who was travelling and sorting out the childcare and home arrangements, twice, it is fair to say I had high hopes for the 3 day visit I finally took with my mum at the end of February.
Venice in 3 days is perfectly do-able from the UK, I wanted to put together a little travel guide of sorts as not all research told me the few things that would have been really handy to know! Like take a water bus to as close as you can to your hotel, don’t try and walk it. I would recommend doing your homework first too and having a loose plan for the sights you really want to see.
It is also fair to say that Venice is not necessarily a city I would recommend for small children. Or even pre-teens. Aside from the obvious open water everywhere, the main modes of transport are boats and feet. And there is a lot of walking if you want to really see anything. But your children might be more excited at that prospect than mine!
That said, Venice as a destination does not disappoint.
We stayed in a beautiful hotel which was built in the 16th century and is located towards the east of Cannaregio – you can see the back of the hotel on the right of the picture below. It had an interior filled with painted beams, beautiful colours and stone floors, a boat entrance on one side and a lovely courtyard garden on the other side.
Venice itself is made up of 6 districts and I can thoroughly recommend the area we stayed in. We chose a hotel away from the main streets on a quiet canal not too far from the water taxi stop of Fondamente Nuove from which you can take a bus style boat to all the islands and on various routes around the city itself.
This came in really handy on the second day when we took a trip to Burano, a tiny island full of colourful houses just across the lagoon from Venice. It is well worth a visit if you have the time! Though, as mentioned, you can also visit several places from this same water taxi stop.
We flew into Marco Polo Airport. If you arrive at the same point there are 3 main ways to reach Venice from the mainland. You can catch a train, take a water taxi or catch a bus. We chose the bus, they leave from right outside the airport and travel onto the island dropping off at Pizzale Roma (essentially a bus station). From this point you can simply cross to the Grand Canal and take a boat to the stop nearest to your destination. I’ll go into a little more detail about the tickets below.
Boats. And feet. That’s about it. There are over 400 bridges on Venice, be prepared for the climb!
Water buses are by far and away the easiest way to get around the main routes and travel one end to the other, down the Grand Canal (travelling the whole canal is around an hour mind you, the boat stops a lot of times!) and around the edges of Venice, then further to the other islands. You can buy tickets from machines at most stops, we bought a 2 day tickets for 30€ each and easily used them enough times that they more than paid for themselves in equivalent individual journey ticket costs.
Get yourself a good map. Online maps on your phone are OK but mine did get easily confused and thought we were inside buildings more often than not. Phone signal is variable. Our hotel had maps to hand out – I guess a lot of hotels will do – best to carry one with you!
And you can of course hire gondolas if you are after the classic Venetian experience, again they are pricey though.
Pretty much what you would expect, many options involving pasta and pizza. It is easy to find places to dine if you can eat them, unfortunately pasta/pizza and I are not compatible. However it was fairly easy to find restaurants who offered other dishes, non particularly noteworthy, all perfectly acceptable. We didn’t go there for the food… I guess there are hidden gems for gastro connoisseurs if you know where to look, just don’t ask me where they are!
Cafés as we have here in the UK aren’t easily found and the lovely hotel receptionist all but laughed when we asked for tea. Although he did produce a couple of lovely pots of it, I think our national reputation for tea drinking is a source of amusement to the Italians perhaps…
Their coffee though, can’t fault it. Some restaurants will serve just coffee without a meal attached if you ask.
Burano. Go. That is all. Its a colourful paradise…
Take a boat along the Grand Canal, it couldn’t feel much more Venetian if it tried! In fact I would go so far as to say it is the Venice you expect to see. Watching the buildings from the water is one of the loveliest experiences we had.
If you make it to no other sights, then just visit Piazza San Marco. The architecture alone is beautiful. But while you are there there are a few sights to see. And – if you’re feeling flush – there are very expensive cafés to visit. Be aware though that even sitting at a table incurs a charge… We took the lifts up to the top of the Campanile, it is the tallest building on Venice and the panoramic view takes in the entire island. It cost 8€ each and we didn’t stay long (wind chill factor of about -10 degrees) but it’s absolutely worth it. The photo below was taken there.
At the square you will also find the clock tower – beautiful even if you don’t take a tour. The Palazzo Ducale, the Doge’s apartments and the prisons are all here too. Just around the back you can see the bridge of sighs – I posted it here and it’s pictured below. But of course the main attraction in the square is the Basilica Di San Marco. We didn’t make it inside the building as time was short but the if the exterior is anything to go by I reckon it would be worth making the time to visit.
Another tip would be to take the streets in-between. The main streets can be really busy and full of shops and market stalls. Leaving these streets and wandering those behind can be much more rewarding. They feel more authentic and there are ordinary moments and hidden gems all over the place. We found a beautiful glass shop in an alley between the water bus stop and the main streets. What it sold was so much nicer than those in the middle which can be over priced and not always of the highest quality shall we say.
A few more things
Plan your time carefully. Realistically, unless you have a whole week to explore, you aren’t like to see all that you plan to. Factor in queuing and the time you have decreases even further. Prioritise the sights you really want to see followed by the ‘if we have time’ ones.
Be prepared to wait to see the view. And to have to duck under countless cameras and (my particularly pet hate) the selfie sticks. Sorry if you love them. They’re not the most friendly thing to wave about the streets so passers by have to dodge injury by them…
Venice is absolutely full. I read somewhere that there are around 20 million visitors a year. Thats a lot of people for a tiny island. Even in what would be off peak season it’s busy, I can’t even imagine how full it would be in summer! My advice would be travel before the end of March. The two weeks leading up to lent are Carnevale and rightly busy – we caught the end of this. But actually the last day was quieter, perhaps folk had left with the Carnevale’s end.
I have spent a long time dreaming of visiting Venice and it lived up to all expectations. If it is on your bucket list, maybe bump it up a space or two. Go. You’ll love it!