I’d heard mixed things about Venice. It’s one of the most romantic cities in the world, right? A city filled with canals and gondoliers in striped shirts, decadent cathedrals and extraordinary architecture. But also smelly, crowded and extremely expensive.
With that in mind I didn’t know what to expect.
This was the first stop on my 3-week Italy adventure and I wanted to love it. I wanted to fall in love with the magic of Venice, but mixed reviews from tourists had left me feeling a little unsure if I would.
People seem to either love or hate Venice, right?
And you know what, friend, I loved it.
Venice was crowded. It was expensive, though I found the prices to be in line with prices in the rest of Italy. The city’s restaurants offer overpriced and average quality meals, there are few hostels, and a ride on a gondola will set you back €80.
But unlike other overpriced tourist traps Venice absolutely should be on your Italy bucket list.
I think the key to visiting Venice (and enjoying it) is to have real expectations. The crowds are bad, but not as bad as you think, and there are ways to avoid them. Meals can be overpriced and average quality, but not if you head a little further away from St Mark’s Square. A gondola ride could be the highlight of your stay, but only if you go into knowing what to expect. And honestly, the city doesn’t smell that bad.
Still a little unsure what to expect? Dive straight into this guide to discover five things you should know before you go to Venice.
1. The crowds are bad, but not as bad as you think
I was expecting crowds.
It’s Venice, right? The jewel of Italy’s crown, one of the most iconic and visited cities in Europe. So I was expecting crowds, long queues, and a constant press of sweaty bodies.
But you know what? The crowds in Venice weren’t as bad as I was expecting.
Hear me out. I went at the end of August, coming to the end of peak tourist season. The longest queue I had to wait in was for Saint Mark’s Basilica, the most important cathedral in Venice and a must-see while in the city.
Unless you visit first thing in the morning there will inevitably be a crowd of people waiting outside. When I went the queue moved quickly and we were inside within 20 minutes, a lot better than the 45 minute wait outside the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence.
If queues aren’t your thing (are they anybody’s thing?) you can plan ahead and purchase a Skip the Line ticket. For only a little extra it can be worth it to be able to (pretty much) head straight inside. You can purchase a Skip the Line ticket on the Get My Guide App, and the service is only available during high season (April-November).
You can also stay away from the worst of the crowds by picking accommodation away from St Mark’s Square. We stayed at Maison d’Elite Guest House (I’d totally recommend it, by the way). Our guest house was a 10 minute walk from St Mark’s Square and the area around it was surprisingly quiet. Sure, there were still people around, but you could pose for a photo in front of a canal without jostling other tourists!
Ok, Venice is definitely crowded. There are a lot of tourists. But I came expecting the worst, and it definitely wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.
2. Riding a gondola is totally worth it (if you know what to expect)
Can you go to Venice and not ride a gondola?
Ok yes, you definitely can, and for those on a tight budget, it might not be something you can afford. Riding a gondola in Venice is a bucket list experience and I honestly don’t think there’s a better way to see the city. So if you can afford it, do it! But read this first.
As Venice is a city without roads the best way to see it is from the water. Hire a gondola and glide through the city, marveling at the crumbling gelato-hued buildings, ornate churches and the beautiful architecture.
Prices start at €80 for 30 minutes and rise to €100 for a sunset cruise. You can choose to rent the whole boat or to make it more cost-effective you could group up (gondolas take up to 6 people).
You can find a gondola by simply walking along any of the city’s main canals. To make the most of your cruise I’d recommend finding a gondola stop closer to the Grand Canal to experience a more interesting and picturesque route. If you’d prefer not to wing it you can book ahead here.
The other thing worth noting about your gondola experience is that your gondolier might not be the most… engaging. Our guide wasn’t very chatty, though he was more talkative than the other gondoliers we saw absorbed in their phones. And you know, I kind of get it. Venice is so overwhelmed by tourism that it’s no wonder the gondoliers are a little unenthusiastic, but it can put a bit of a damper on the experience.
3. You should definitely visit Murano & Burano
Murano and Burano are by no means hidden gems, but there is a chance that (like me) you don’t know much about them. Should you go? Is it worth it if you only have a few days in Venice? Read on, friend.
I only had two full days in Venice so the thought of leaving the island made me feel a little guilty. Still, one of my fave travel ‘grammers had just posted a shot of Burano and it looked like a rainbow-hued slice of heaven. Pink houses? Count me in!
Murano is located a 20-minute boat ride from Venice. The quickest way to get there is to catch the Vaporetto Line 12 from Fondamente Nova. One way tickets are €5 or you can purchase a 1-day ticket for €20. From Murano the vaporetto also connects to Burano.
Murano is famous for its glass-blowing and when wandering the island’s streets you’ll find countless glass souvenir shops and glass-blowing factories. Some factories offer free demonstrations so it that’s your thing, it could be worth a visit. If not, take time to wander Murano’s pretty streets, grab a gelato, and snap endless photos of the canals.
If you’re short on time skip Murano and head straight to Burano, a colourful island straight out of an Italian fairytale. Seriously, Burano is one of the dreamiest places I’ve ever visited. Take your time wandering the multi-hued houses and if you’re hungry head to the famed Devil Pizza.
Should you go to Murano and Burano? It’s a yes from me.
4. There are good places to eat, but there are equally as many tourist traps
I’m sure you’ve heard it too; that Venice is filled with average, overpriced restaurants.
And sure, that’s true. A lot of restaurants in the city centre are overpriced and not that great. I had an expensive pesto pasta dish near St Mark’s Square that honestly, tasted like my ex-boyfriend could have made it (and he’s not the greatest at cooking, ya know?).
You could easily pay a whopping €8 for a glass of house wine near St Mark’s Square. While it may be fun to experience the atmosphere and hustle and bustle, you could get two glasses for that price just a little further away.
Step away from the crowds and do a little research and you’ll be rewarded with cuisine that lives up to Italy’s famously high standards. You could head to the Jewish Ghetto to dine at a deceptively quiet restaurant with lovely views of the canal. The blue cheese and pear gnocchi I ate at Osteria Al Bacco was some of the best I ate in Italy, and the red wine and tiramisu was tasty too.
The takeaway? Do a little research before you go. I like to save places to my Google Maps so I can find them easily later. Come away from the crowded city centre for tastier meals and more affordable prices.
5. It doesn’t smell that bad?
Ok friend, I’m sure you’ve heard the rumour. You know, the one that Venice smells… kind of bad?
As well as having expectations of crowds, average food, and overblown prices, I was also expecting Venice to smell bad. Seriously; Google ‘Venice bad smell’ and one of the first suggested searches that pops up is ‘does Venice smell like poo?’ No. No it does not.
In my two days in Venice I never caught a whiff of anything nasty, because honestly, the canals only smell during low tide. Even then, it probably will only smell bad for two seconds as you walk past. So if you were considering striking Venice off your Italy bucket list because you have a bit of a sensitive nose, don’t. You’ll be fine, trust me.
Venice is crowded, and expensive, and the city is filled with average, overpriced places to eat. But it’s also not as crowded as I was expecting, or as expensive, and there are great restaurants away from the tourist hotspots. People either love Venice or hate it, and before I went I had no idea what to expect. Honestly, I fell a little bit in love, and Venice quickly became one of my favourite places in Italy.