10 Helpful Tips For Visiting Venice, Italy
I visited Venice many times when I was younger because I grew up in neighboring Slovenia. I couldn’t wait to show it to my kids on one of our trips to Europe. We finally had a chance to spend a few days there this past summer.
The “Queen of the Adriatic Sea” was as special as I remembered, but I realized that while Venice has always been one of the most popular destinations in Italy, the crowds have gotten exponentially larger. About 60,000 people visit Venice every day, and there has been roughly a 400% increase in cruise dockings in the past 15 years. This can unfairly rob the city of its charm and quickly diminish a visitor’s experience. There are also a few other things that have changed since my childhood visits. With these in mind, here are 10 tips for visiting Venice, Italy with your family.
Top 10 Venice Tips for Families
1. Visit During Off-Peak Times
Try to avoid the summer months and instead, visit in the shoulder season (spring or fall) or even in the off season (winter months except for Carnival in February). I have two school-age kids, so I know this is easier said than done, but if you have any flexibility, I seriously advise you to carefully think about the timing of your visit as it can make all the difference. While thick summer crowds are an issue with most top European tourist destinations, this is especially the case in densely built Venice where simply walking around can feel like going into battle.
2. Get Up Early
Try to explore Venice during the early morning hours before other tourists wake up or before the big cruise ships arrive. The quiet and often hazy mornings in Venice are magical, and as a bonus, you can take some great photos without all the crowds and in beautiful light. If you are planning to visit some of the main attractions such as Basilica San Marco or Campanille, getting out and about early also allows you to get in line before the doors open for the shortest possible wait times.
3. Get Lost in Venice
Piazza di San Marco and Ponte di Rialto are places you must visit in Venice, but you’ll experience so much more of the city’s splendor by simply getting lost in one of the many side streets and passages. Stroll the city without a destination in mind, making as many stops you can to take pictures, buy a gelato or enjoy a few plates of cicchetti (small dishes, similar to Spanish tapas, for which Venice is known). Don’t worry about finding your way back, the central area is quite small and many streets have signs pointing to Piazza di San Marco to help you find your way back. Or simply ask for directions. I encourage you to explore Cannaregio or Dorsoduro sestieri (districts), located just outside the most touristy areas.
4. Consider a Tour Guide
There is so much incredible history in Venice. Even if you are a history buff, there is no way you can adequately absorb and appreciate it all with just a travel guide in your hands. The good news is that there are tours for everything in Venice. Pick one that is right for you based on the sights it covers, duration and, of course, price. We opted for a three-hour Walks of Italy tour and visited the Basilica and Doge’s Palace. The tour was long enough to learn a ton of fascinating history about Venice and some of its main attractions but not so long that our kids protested due to overload and fatigue. As a bonus, being part of a tour allows you to bypass the crazy lines, a serious plus in tourist-packed Venice.
5. Choose Your Hotel Wisely
Consider price, noise and accessibility. I probably don’t need to explain that staying some place on the Canal Grande will set you back significantly unless you are George Clooney. The center of Venice might also not be ideal due to potential noise. Most importantly, what makes Venice special, can also quickly become a source of frustration: it is a city built on water and islands. Keep in mind there are many very narrow passages and over 400 bridges and only a small number of them are luggage, wheelchair or stroller friendly.
Our family was very happy with our stay at Hilton Molino Stucky Venice. The hotel is located in Giudecca, the area across the water from the San Marco district, outside of the main hustle and bustle, which you can easily and quickly access with the free shuttle provided by the hotel from morning until evening. It is also located in the middle of two main vaporetto stops, which are both just an quick and easy walk away. Plus, the hotel’s spectacular roof top pool offers some of the best views in Venice. I think it is worth staying there for this alone.
6. Follow the Rules in San Marco’s Plaza
I don’t remember this from my early visits, but these days eating while standing or walking at Piazza San Marco is prohibited and doing so can get you a hefty fine. Yes, this also applies to gelato. Speaking of food, it is also forbidden to feed the pigeons or seagulls in the square. If you get caught, the consequences, we were told, can be quite painful. I don’t know about you, but I’d prefer to spend 500 Euro on Italian shoes.
7. Bargain for a Gondola Ride
If you choose to splurge on a gondola ride, don’t take the first offer you get from a gondoliero. Ask about the cost and be prepared to bargain. Plan to pay about 80 Euro for 30 minutes and more at night. Your bargaining success will depend on location, the time of the day and how busy they are, but it is worth asking. Also, sharing your ride with another party (if you don’t mind) is another great way to save money as the charge is per ride and not per passenger.
8. Protect Your Valuables
I am absolutely not suggesting that Venice is unsafe, but like many European tourist destinations, it has its share of petty crime, primarily pickpocketing. Losing your wallet, camera or passport because you were enjoying the sights or battling the crowds (a pickpocket’s favorite word) can quickly ruin your vacation. Leave your valuables in your hotel safe, carry your money and camera in a way they cannot be easily snatched, and be aware of your surroundings even in broad daylight.
9. Avoid Fake Merchandise
I’m not getting at the risk that your Prada bag isn’t real, but at the fact that if you buy merchandise from one of the street vendors, you risk getting fined or even arrested along with them. In recent years, Italy has been seriously cracking down on counterfeit distribution, and as a result, buying fake merchandise is a serious crime. You might see posters highlighting “bad bags” and warning you about consequences of buying them, but if you don’t, just take my word for it.
10. Stay for More Than a Day
There is so much more to see and to do in Venice than the San Marco area, and it really would be a shame not to experience some of it. I already suggested wandering off to a few other districts, but there are two more important points to keep in mind. First, Venice is especially charming at night when the crowds disappear and the softly lit canals are so romantic, you won’t be able to stand it.
Second, some of the nearby islands such as Murano, known for its glassblowing and Burano, famous for its picturesque colorful houses, are definitely worth a visit. (Going during the early morning rule to avoid the crowds applies here too.) To accomplish both of these, you need to stay more than one day, but trust me, you won’t regret it.
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Know Before You Go
- Feeding the pigeons in Piazza San Marco was banned in 2008.
- Florence is most famously recognized as the birthplace of the Renaissance. The symbol of the city is the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, which is full of history and beauty.
- One of the most famous viewpoints in Venice is the Bridge of Sighs.