Venice is one of the most beautiful cities of Europe. Wandering down narrow, crumbling streets lined by canals, you can watch as gondolas silently slide by in the teal colored water, marvel at ornate churches and view a huge trove of masterpieces by Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese and Tiepolo.
Here are some tips to help you enjoy your trip to Venice.
1) Take the vaporetto!
You might be surprised to find out that the main island of Venice has no cars or motorcycles. There are simply too many canals and narrow winding streets for them to be of any use. That means the best way to get around is the vaporetto, which is the Venetian water bus.
A system of boats, the vaporetto is by far the easiest way to get around the city and a great way to see the beautiful palazzos lining the Grand Canal. A ride on the vaporetto is one of the greatest attractions of the city and is quite easy to figure out how to use.
The main line is #1 and it goes up and down the Grand Canal and ends in the Lido (another island that has a beach). Each ride of the vaporetto costs €7, but you can buy the TRAVELCARD, which is available in timed tickets (from 12 hours to 7 days) that offer unlimited travel. I recommend you get the TRAVELCARD for however long you plan to be in the city. Though a bit pricey, the ease and freedom of going on the vaporetto whenever you like is a great boon to travel. You don't think twice about taking it only one stop, and you can also take it simply for the sightseeing on the boat, which is great if you snag a seat at the front or stand along the sides of the boat.
Be sure to pick up a map of the vaporetto system, which is available at the main tourist info spot in front of the main train station. You can also print one out here. Line #1 runs every 10 minutes until evening and less frequently until midnight. There is also a line #2 that goes up and down the Grand Canal and functions like an express bus, stopping at fewer stops.
Some vaporetto docks go in both directions; some stops have separate docks for each direction. Each dock has a sign showing which lines are served by that dock and in which direction. After you use it a couple times it is pretty self-explanatory. You can buy a TRAVELCARD card here at the Venice Connected site, along with many other types of discount cards, including wifi passes and parking passes.
2) Get the Museum Pass
A great way to save money (and occasionally time, as it allows you to cut entrance lines) is the Museum Pass. It allows a single visit to 11 museums in Venice, including the Correr Museum, with its fabulous painting collection, and the Doge's palace, with its enormous reception halls. The card is available at any of the participating museums for €20.
3) Get The Chorus Card
Another card that is a great value is the Chorus Card, which allows free access to 15 churches, and includes a handy map of most of the churches and sights of Venice. The card is available at any participating church and costs just €10. Note that it does not cover every church in Venice -- some are free, and some have their own separate entry fee.
4) Bring a GPS
Venice is an extremely confusing tangle of narrow streets, winding canals and small bridges which can leave you baffled and lost. I recommend bringing a GPS, which is a real help and can make getting from point to point a breeze.
Many people now have GPS on their cell phones. This is one option, but make sure to find out if your cell phone GPS uses data to fix a position or download maps. If so, find out how much that data will cost while roaming in Italy. Beware! The data may add up to hundreds of dollars if you are unaware.
Another option is to use an automotive GPS which you may have for use in your car. This has its limitations as well, as many automotive GPS units have a very short battery life, which can leave you stranded an hour into your trip. Check the specifications of your unit to see how long the battery will last, and set it to "pedestrian" setting. Of course, also make sure you have maps of Venice on your device.
The solution that I rely on is to use a handheld GPS unit. The device I use is the Garmin GPSMAP 62, but there are other similar devices on the market. It has a nearly 24-hour battery life, it is reasonably easy to use, and I downloaded a map of Venice off the Garmin website for only $10 (see the "in the city" section of their map site). I was able to navigate the streets of Venice easily -- including looking up nearby locations such as an ATM -- though the maps do not contain the vaporetto stop locations. A problem with the device I use is there is no touch screen or keyboard, so it can take a while to input addresses or scan around the map using the buttons.
5) Stroll Piazza San Marco in the evening
The Piazza San Marco (or St. Mark's Square) is one of the most beautiful sights in Venice. Unfortunately, it can be clogged with tourists during the day. I love to visit San Marco in the evening, around sunset, when many tourists have left and the dark blue of the sky is set against the sloping rays of light of the sun illuminating the pinks of the bricks of the Doge's palace. It is a great time, as well, to walk along the waterfront out of the heat of the day.
A couple of time saving tips: leaving the square and turning left (when facing the water) you can find a water fountain behind some benches where you can refill your water bottles for free. If you keep going in the same direction along the path along the water, you will find a public WC open until 9 p.m. (which can be a real life saver!).
6) Save on Lunch
Food in Venice, as in the rest of Italy, can be very expensive. Rather than eating in a restaurant, I highly prefer going to a local supermarket and stocking up on some prosciutto, parmesan, arugula and chocolate and having a mini picnic (I also lost a lot of weight on this diet, but that is the subject for another article!). This tactic can save you quite a lot of money and time. It can be tricky to find a supermarket in Venice, but two chains that have several locations are called Billa and Coop.
7) See 18th-century Venice
By far my favorite museum is the Ca Rezzonico, the museum of the 1700s in Venice. It is housed in an extraordinary palazzo along the Grand Canal, with room after room of frescoed ceilings, many by Tiepolo, filled with decorative art treasures, many in a thrilling Rococo style.
Nearby is the tiny but very charming Casa Goldoni, included in the Museum Pass. It is a restored mini palazzo with a beautiful courtyard. Upstairs, three rooms made up to look like a party in the 1700s had just taken place. It's very cutely done.
8) Start with a dose of Baroque when you arrive
If you arrive in Venice by train, very close to the train station is the Santa Maria di Nazareth Church or Church of the Scalzi, an amazing Baroque church that is a great jumping off point to visit when you first arrive.
9) Take the boat to and from the airport
If you are staying on the main island of Venice, a great option for getting to and from the airport is to take an airport boat. These are operated separately from the vaporetto (which does not go to the airport) by a company called Alilaguna. They operate on their own schedule, with spiffy water buses that take about half an hour from the city to the airport. The cost is about €15 per person, and tickets can be bought on the boat or in advance at the main tourist office. Note that the stop is a five to 10 minute walk from the airport, and the Alilgauna service stops at only some of the vaporetto stops, using the same docks. Click here to get more info. A private water taxi, on the other hand, can be very expensive.
10) Avoid the sun and the summer heat
During the summer the heat can be unbearable, and just a few minutes in the sun can leave you sweaty and wilted. I highly recommend, if you are in town during the summer, to take it easy and stay out of direct sun as much as possible during the time between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. You can walk around some shaded side canals, go to a museum or simply hang out at your hotel for a couple of hours. Being out in the intense sun and humidity in the middle of the day can leave you drained and make it hard to enjoy the rest of your trip. So feel free to take a siesta to get the most out of your trip.
Hotels in Venice can be very expensive and heavily booked up. To get the most out of your trip, try to stay on the main island (either side of the Grand Canal), rather than on the Lido, which is not nearly as beautiful. One website that can be of help finding a place to stay is www.Ryanairhotels.com -- the hotel search engine of the Ryanair airline. It is an excellent website that looks through multiple booking engines and can find great deals. Another website I found useful is www.booking.com. Make sure to try a few different hotel websites, as not all of them show every availability.
Enjoy your trip to Venice!
This article was originally published on Joel Garten's blog: The Beauty of Life. If you have questions about travel in Venice or in Europe, contact Joel Garten through Twitter www.twitter.com/@joelgarten or comment below. Be sure to check out Joel Garten's 10 Tips for Travel to Florence as well!