When it comes to visiting Venice, our favorite city in the world, you can count on GlassOfVenice.com for some good unbiased advice. Unlike the travel agencies, whose recommendations always try to sway you toward using their services, we just want you to enjoy this amazing city and keep it in your heart long after your trip is over. Having been to Venice many times, we criss-crossed it leaving no corner unchecked, visited the attractions on and off the beaten path, stayed at various hotels and apartments, ate at all kinds of restaurants and cooked ourselves, befriended the locals, and connected with the city of our dreams on a whole different level. Now we are happy to share our knowledge and experience with all current and future Venice fans. After thinking long and hard we selected 10 best recommendations for Venice visitors. Here are the first five. Look for more in our next post, coming up soon.
1. Come Off-Season
Venice is beautiful any time of the year, but most people visit it in the Summer when it’s warm enough to roam around all day and dine at the outside tables at pretty canal-side restaurants. So what’s not to like about the Summer in Venice? Well, for one it’s the crowds. You will feel suffocated moving with the huge crowds through narrow alleyways and little bridges, not to mention trying to board the vaporettos. The best restaurants (and even the mediocre ones) will be perpetually full making that coveted canal-side dining an unreachable dream. The hotels will be fully booked and expensive, just like the flights, and the heat and humidity of the Summer will have you gasping for air well before mid-day. So heed our advice and head to Venice in the shoulder season (May or September), or better yet, visit in March-April or October. The flights will be much less expensive, the city will not be overrun by tourists and you will be able to enjoy it in a leisurely fashion and take away wonderful memories of a relaxing time in an enchanted place.
2. Stay in an Apartment
Venice has over a thousand hotels, but they get booked up very quickly, especially in high season (see point 1 above), and even middle-of-the-road Venetian hotels are quite expensive. Instead of going through the stress of finding a good central hotel at the right price and getting a tiny impersonal room (if you are lucky), we suggest you try an apartment rental instead. Your own apartment in Venice may sound like it is a hassle, but have no fear. We promise that it will actually be an amazing experience, which will let you feel at home in Venice and explore it like locals do. There are many good websites offering apartment rentals where you can specify the time period, see apartment offers complete with photos and maps, and directly contact the owners (many of whom speak English). Homelidays is one such company the services of which we’ve used in the past to get connected with apartment owners in Venice.
3. Avoid Dining near Main Tourist Attractions
Venice has an incredible variety of dining options, including Michelin star-rated restaurants, low-key family-run osteria’s, trendy bar-style eateries, traditional trattorias, and of course lots of pizzerias on every corner. However, far from making life easy for a hungry traveler, this mind-boggling restaurant scene makes a visitor confused and either looking for direction or settling for the first place they see. It is, of course, best to research ahead of time and seek reviews and recommendations on such sites as Tripadvisor, but if you haven’t, here are a few simple rules to live by when it comes to dining in Venice. Avoid restaurants located near main tourist attractions. It is a bit difficult in Venice, where some feel the entire city is a tourist attraction, but at least try to avoid the area near San Marco and the Grand Canal, Rialto, restaurants on the main piazza’s, near museums, and (with few exceptions) restaurants with canal-side seating. Also avoid the immediate vicinity of the train station, and any traffic-heavy streets where massive crowds move between San Marco, Rialto and the train station. The restaurants located in these areas are usually expensive and offer inferior food, counting on the unadventurous traveler or those unwilling to move away from the beaten path.
4. Visit Rialto Market
Amid hundreds of Venetian attractions, most of them several centuries old, it is easy to overlook the more mundane places that are essential to Venetians’ everyday lives. One such place is Rilato Market. However, Rialto Market deserves its own chapter in the book of Venetian history and attractions, and it really is anything but mundane. The Market, one of the oldest in the world, was established in 1097, and in the 12th century the first Rialto bridge was built to make access to the Rialto market easier for pedestrians from all over the town. The market served both retail and wholesale clientele and became famous far beyond Venice. Today Rialto is still a big busy market, with the daily Erberia (green market), and the Pescheria (fish market) visited by many Venetians every day. But beyond offering something for dinner to Venetians, the Rialto is a wonderful experience for a tourist and deserves a close look. Visit Rialto in the morning to witness this ancient Market come alive with merchants praising their goods to discerning buyers. Lively, bustling, and always busy, Rialto is Venice’s beating heart. A stop at the Rialto is a must to feel the soul of Venice, and understand that the city, defying all cries about it dying a slow death, is alive and well.
5. Check Out Gallerie dell’Accademia Museum
Ever wonder what Venice looked like 500 years ago? There is a place where you can see just that! One of the best Italian museums, Venice’s Gallerie dell’Accademia is the place to see the masterpieces of the Venetian painters from the 14th to the 18th century and to enjoy the world’s best collection of Venice views from the middle ages. Standing in front of Canaletto’s paintings depicting familiar places in Venice, you will be tempted to play the game of “find ten differences” between Venice of centuries ago and the city of today. You will try hard and only find a few. After the initial amazement has passed, spend some time in front of the world-famous paintings by Paolo Veneziano, Tiepolo, Bellini, and Titian, which will make the visit to this gem of a museum the highlight of your Venetian trip.
6. Make an outing to Teatro La Fenice
When you tell your friends that you are going to Venice you will often hear advice to visit San Marco, Palazzo Ducale, famous museums and wonderful restaurants. But there is more to Venice. Far from simply being an open-air museum and a culinary heaven, Venice is a living breathing city offering much more than its streets, canals and restaurants to the curious tourist. For centuries Venice has been famous around the world as an important cultural and artistic center, continuously innovating and discovering new creative frontiers, be it in painting, architecture, artisanal forms, or theater. The latter flourished in Venice thanks to the rich heritage of Roman religious festivals through advent of Venetian Carnival and unique theater forms, such as Commedia del Arte and Grand Opera, and became favorite pastime of Venetians and enlightened tourists alike in the last 300 plus years. Take an evening to witness the magic of Venetian theater at one of the most famous opera houses in the world- Teatro la Fenice (translated as Phoenix), which, like the mythical Phoenix Bird rose from the ashes of three fires, which ruthlessly burnt it to the ground in 220 years of its existence. As you will see when you step into this opulent gem of a theater and hear the opera divas on stage, La Fenice offers not just a fine operatic production but a unique Venetian experience and an enchanted evening that you will not soon forget.
7. Go to a Vivaldi concert (but not where musicians wear wigs)
Vivaldi is Venice’s favorite son. Very famous in Venice and beyond during his lifetime, the composer went through a long period of being largely forgotten until interest in his work reignited during the 20th century, and many of his works, which were considered lost, had since been rediscovered. Today Vivaldi is again immensely popular and his music can be heard in Venice’s churches and scuolas almost every evening. Hearing Vivaldi in Venice, the city which inspired him, is a unique experience, which you will definitely enjoy. Just don’t pick one of the concerts performed by musicians in costumes, as their skill is usually inferior to that of other orchestras based in Venice. One orchestra we recommend in particluar is Interpreti Veneziani, who usually play in San Vidal Church. Get more info about these musicians and their repertoire on their website
8. Venture off the beaten path
Venice is probably one of the most photographed and filmed cities in the world. Even if you have never been to Venice, chances are you have seen so many of its squares, churches, palaces and canals on various photos and in films that you feel like you’ve seen it all and there is nothing new to be discovered. However, this is very far from the truth. In reality, Venice has a well-known touristy part stretched between Piazza San Marco and the train station and a much less known residential part found in more remote areas of Dorsoduro and Arsenale, as well as La Giudecca. This is where you can see the living and breathing city, the Venetians going about their business, the kids playing soccer on piazzas, the curious little stores, the most authentic (and the least expensive) restaurants, the best artistic Murano Glass, Venetian masks, and other artisanal creations, and of course this is where the most interesting experiences and encounters await.
9. Walk around Venice early in the morning or late at night
Arguably most people visiting Venice are day-trippers, trying to save on the cost of accommodations in this expensive city, or coming in on cruise ships with only a few hours to spare. This makes for huge mid-day Venetian crowds, especially on the popular routes between San Marco, Rialto, and the train station, and in the popular late Spring, Summer, and early Fall months. But if you are willing to splurge even for only one night in the historical center of Venice, there is still a way to have Venice all to yourself and see it the way it appeared to our predecessors centuries ago. Just get up very early, preferably before dawn, step outside, and watch Venice wake up. You’ll be amazed at the beauty of this mysterious city, when even the most popular sights such as Piazza San Marco will be eerily empty and quiet. Or, if you are not a morning person, stay up way past dinner time and walk the streets around midnight or later. Don’t worry, it is completely safe (Venice enjoys some of the lowest crime rates of any major city and the worst danger by far to any tourist is pickpockets, which love crowds). You’ll be rewarded with picture-perfect views of dimly-lit winding streets and shimmering canals at every corner and a very romantic feeling that you won’t soon forget.
And the last one that is especially near and dear to us:
10. Be very careful when buying Murano Glass
We have already covered this topic at length in another post explaining how to identify authentic Murano Glass. But we feel our tips for travelers to Venice would be incomplete without yet another mention of the need to be careful when buying the ultimate Venetian souvenir – Murano Glass. Regretfully, the effect of globalization and modern-day economic reality is such that for many Venetian stores it makes great economic sense to buy counterfeit glass from China instead of purchasing the real thing from the local glass artisans (though from the ethical standpoint such unscrupulous store owners are ruining not only the ancient art of Murano Glass but also the reputation of Venetian tourism industry). Not only are the Chinese fakes incredibly cheap, but to many unsuspecting tourists unfamiliar with Murano Glass and rushing to buy some souvenirs to take back home they look attractive at low price tags. Yet all glass is not created equal, and Murano Glass is not merely a name behind all glassware sold in Venice. Authentic Murano Glass starts with the exceptional quality minerals from the Venetian Lagoon, gets shaped by the laborious manual skill-intensive process honed by the centuries of glass-making tradition, and receives its worldwide recognition thanks to the artistic talent of the local glass masters, making it impossible to replicate the unique characteristics and beauty of authentic Murano-made glassware outside of Venice. Before buying any Murano Glass in Venice, please read our Murano Glass Guide carefully and feel free to e-mail us if you have any questions.