What NOT To Do in Venice – Top Five Tips for Better Travel

Venice is a gorgeous city, but to feel its beauty among the crowds which fill Venice from April to October is not an easy task. The Venetians, whose number is dropping every year, also get tired of the crowds and can sometimes be a little grumpy or impatient, not to mention the high prices they tend to charge in restaurants, bars, stores, and hotels. Therefore, to have a good time when visiting Venice and to leave with nothing but the best impressions you would need to do your research and prepare for the trip ahead of time. There are tons of resources on- and off-line on visiting Venice, but most of them focus on the things you need to do in the city. We, on the other hand, decided to give you a no-less-useful guide on what NOT to do in Venice. Read our tips, memorize them, and you will surely avoid more than a few pitfalls that await a clueless visitor to Venice.

1. Do not spend your hard-earned cash on a Gondola trip

Gondola in Venice, Italy
Sure, the gondolas are beautiful, romantic and one of the top things we associate with Venice. So why not have a great $100 trip along the canals (of course, if you can afford it)? Well, in the recent decades gondolas have become extremely commercialized. While there is still no better way of seeing Venice than from water, spending so much cash on gondolas is simply not the best idea. Oftentimes the gondoliers are not the smiling easy-going types you have imagined. They may not have the best voices and if they sing you something it’s likely not a local Venetian song but rather a famous Neapolitan cliché like “O Sole Mio”. The gondolas nowadays are packed with camera-toting foreign tourists, not the romantic lovers of the bygone days. A fairly short trip along the canals, a large part of which will be spent getting out of multiple gondola traffic jams, will cost you no less than $80 during the day and even more in the evening. The gondolier will likely only tell you a couple of words about some of the most famous buildings, nothing that could amount to a “tour” they may have sold you.

Instead, go to one of several Traghetto stops and cross the Grand Canal in an authentic Venetian Gondola for mere pennies! Traghetto is a no-frills real gondola that carries passengers between the picturesque banks of the Grand Canal in places where there are no bridges. It’s the transport frequently used by Venetians who often catch a traghetto to do their daily shopping or return home with the bags of produce. Venetians typically stand in the traghetto, but you can sit and take in the gorgeous sights – no one will frown. The best routes are between the Fish Market near Rialto to Santa Sofia and from Punta della Dogana to Piazza San Marco.

2. Do Not Stay on Mestre or Lido

Mestre Train Station
Sure, we all like to save when it comes to travel. The question is, how to save and still fully enjoy the place we are visiting. While hotels on Mestre (Venice’s mainland neighbor) will no doubt cost less, and travel agents will be pushing the “ease of reaching Venice” with just one train stop, do not fall for their sweet talk. Industrial and faceless Mestre is a far cry from the beauty and splendor of historic Venice, and the hassle of going back and forth, especially after dinner when trains are much less frequent, will leave you tired and disenchanted. Same goes for Lido – an island separating Venetian Lagoon from the Adriatic, an island which lacks atmosphere and charm, has cars, and is of interest mainly to the Film Festival crowd and to the beach bums in the summer.

Better enjoy the Venetian experience to the fullest and stay in the historical center of Venice, the mess of islands and bridges, museums, restaurants, and atmospheric bars that you came here to see. There are lots of hotels and private apartments for every budget in Venice, and it is not hard to find a nice reasonably-priced hotel in the historic center with enough lead time, or even with little lead time during the low season.

3. Do not Go on a Free Tour of Murano

Murano Glass Store
If a concierge of your hotel offers a free trip to the glass-blowing Island of Murano, politely decline. While the taxi will take you to the island for free, it will drop you off at a Murano Glass factory (or maybe not even a factory but just a store) where you’ll be shown a very quick glass-blowing demonstration and then expected to buy something from the store, where prices are often twice or thrice what you’ll find by wandering outside. The water taxi will be waiting to take you back, and the salespeople will be very persistent, creating a sense of entrapment and pushing you to buy quickly.

Instead, go to Murano Island yourself. The Island is full of shops and factories where you can see a dazzling display of gorgeous Murano Glass creations, from small jewelry items costing ten-fifteen euros to large sculptures and beautiful chandeliers with price tags in the hundreds to tens of thousands. Often you can bargain with the salesperson or store owner for a piece you really like, or you could come across a store owner who knows the Island and its glass-masters inside-out and will give you a whole historical lecture on some of the pieces. If you do buy a Murano Glass piece on Murano Island or in Venice itself, be sure to get a receipt where the name and contact information of the store is clearly stated. Should there be any issues with your purchase, especially if you are choosing to get it shipped to your home, this is the only way for you to obtain any information or resolve any problems after the sale took place.

Public vaporettos regularly go to Murano Island, with the quickest route being from Fondamente Nove. Get off at Murano Colonna stop and wonder around Fondamenta dei Vetrai (translated as “Quay of the Glass Masters”) to see lots of shops for all tastes and budgets. Or, to see glass making in action, try to book one of the tours at Museo del Vetro (the Glass Museum on Murano), which includes the 30 min demonstration offered by reputable Abbate Zanetti glass-making school.

4. Do Not Go to Piazza San Marco with the Crowds

Crowds on Piazza San Marco in Venice
The crowds that flow into Piazza San Marco all day long are astonishing. If you follow the crowd to get into Piazza San Marco you will see a beautiful square full of people, then you’ll stand in a long line to get into Basilica di San Marco, walk around it trying to see the poorly-lit golden mosaics, go up to look down on the square from the famous balcony and perhaps stand in line to ascend the Campanile, the Bell Tower, which is actually a replica of the historic one that crumbled in 1902. This will be a very tiring and perhaps not a very fulfilling experience.

Here is a better alternative. We of course do not suggest that you skip Piazza San Marco, Europe’s most gorgeous square named by Napoleon “The Living Room of Europe”, but merely that you come here early in the morning, and preferably hear the mess in the Basilica. This will let you feel the enchanting historical atmosphere of this place, without the hordes of tourists waiting in lines, then rushing you around. This will also allow you to focus on some truly interesting things in the square, such as the Clock Tower (Torre dell’Orologio) on the Northern side of the Basilica. It is possible to visit the Clock Tower, the miracle of Renaissance construction and design, as part of a 50-minute guided tour, which you can reserve in advance. During the visit you can ascend the narrow winding staircase to see the recently restored clock mechanism circa 1497 and the bronze figures with hammers that bang on the bell every hour. Guided tours in English are available at 10.00 and 11.00 AM on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays and at 2 and 3 PM on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

5. Do Not Snack on Pizzas and Paninis

Pizza and Panini in Venice
Every region of Italy has its own distinct food. And to get advantage of this diversity of cooking styles and ingredients it’s best to try the regional foods of the area where you are visiting. For this reason do not eat pizza, the quintessential Neapolitan dish, in Venice, the city famous for its exceptional seafood and legume dishes. Likewise, despite their abundance, do not eat panini in La Serenissima: the local bread is nothing to write home about and it’s tough to find flavorful tasty panini on the street of Venice.

Instead, if you do not feel like sitting down for a full meal, stop in one of the hundreds of local Cicchetti bars for a tasty local treat that is the true Venetian specialty. Venetian cicchetti, similar to Spanish tapas, are small open-faced sandwiches and other bite-sized treats meant to be consumed with wine. Shrimp with polenta, sarde in saor, baccala montecato, grilled octopus, and many other types of cicchetti representing Venice’s entire gastronomic spectrum are displayed in the afternoon (but sometimes all day long) on the counters of many Venetian baccari (Venetian for “bars”), where they are typically eaten by hand or with toothpicks, always standing up, with a small glass of regional slightly effervescent white wine (called “Ombra” in Venetian dialect) while socializing and having fun. Just point to the ones you like and the waiter will make a plate of Cicchetti for you, letting you in on this delicious local tradition.

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