A gondola passes in the Cannaregio neighborhood of Venice, Italy

I recently visited Venice for the first time, and by the end of the first day I had already begun compiling list of things that I wished I would have known before I got there. Now, in all honesty, I probably wasn’t aware of many of these things because I did limited research before leaving, but I did do enough to where I should have come across at least a couple of these tips in my searches.

But you, being the savvy traveler you are, you will not be uninformed like I was. Because you will find all the things you need to know about traveling to Venice right here on one page on your screen.

Here is my list of 12 things every traveler should know about Venice before they visit.

#1. Venice is tiny.

Everything on the main island is about a 30 minute walk or less from everything else. You’ll be amazed at how much you can cover in a day (but it doesn’t mean you won’t walk a lot). The great thing about the city’s small size is travelers can get a more affordable hotel that’s farther out from the center without having to commute very far to get to the main attractions. Remember, there are no cars in the center of the city so bring good walking shoes!

#2: Venice is a labyrinth. 

Be sure to bring a physical map or ask for one at your hotel, as phone GPS proved to be less than reliable while we were there.

#3. The streets are largely free of tourists if you go even a block off of the beaten path.

We visited in August and the city still felt deserted outside of the main tourist squares. The only part of the city that this doesn’t apply to is the San Marco neighborhood, where the Doge’s Palace and St. Mark’s Basilica are located.

Be prepared for major crowds in the parts of Venice where there are tourists. The streets are very narrow and weren’t built to hold the kind of foot traffic that the city gets today. Take it from me and stick to side streets as much as possible!

If you really want to get away from the masses, head to some of the perimeter neighborhoods like Cannaregio or Castello to experience life like a local.

Children play football in the street in Dorsoduro, Venice, Italy

Who needs a soccer pitch when you can play in the empty streets?

#4. The vaporetto (water bus) will get you just about everywhere you want to go. 

The only reason to take a water taxi is if you want to get somewhere quicker, pay more, and ride in the shiny lacquered boats you’ve seen in Hollywood movies.

#5. If you plan to do a lot of touring, it is worth it to pay for a transportation pass through Venezia Unica, the official tourism company.

We were there for four days, so we got a one-way transfer from Marco Polo airport into the city and then three days of unlimited vaporetto rides (which we used frequently). We had to purchase a separate transfer back to the airport since we were leaving on the fourth day of our trip, and they only have 1-, 2-, 3- or 7-day passes for roundtrip airport transfers + unlimited vaporetto rides. Their customer service agents at the airport and major vaporetto stops will work with you to select the right option for your trip. Bonus: if you’re 29 or under, you get a discount on the pass!

#6. Go to the Doge’s Palace and other museums and attractions when they first open.

This is especially true in Venice because thousands of tourists are ferried in from all kinds of different places each day and tend to start arriving mid-morning. We visited the Doge’s Palace right at 9:00 a.m. and had the entire place to ourselves.

This rule also applied when we went to the island of Burano. We were more interested in Burano than Murano, so we planned to go there first thing in the morning to avoid tourists. It was inevitable that we would run into hordes of people in Murano since we were going later in the day, but we weren’t as concerned about that. We got to Burano around 9:30 a.m. and had the island all to ourselves for at least an hour.

The one attraction where it didn’t make a huge difference to go early was St. Mark’s Basilica. We arrived 15 minutes before the doors opened and still waited in a 30-minute line. However, I would still recommend going first thing in the morning, even 20-30 minutes before the doors open, so there are less people in the church when you go in. (See #7 for two ways to avoid the line altogether.)

#7. Avoid the St. Mark’s Basilica line by checking your bags.

There are no backpacks allowed in the basilica, so there is a bag-checking station around the corner from the entrance. If you check your bags there, they will give you a ticket that enables you to go through a separate entrance and skip the big line. What a vacation hack! We didn’t do this (we actually forgot about it and were kicking ourselves later), but you should – it will save you a solid 15+ minutes of sweating it out in line. The best way to skip the line, though, would be to reserve an entry time online. Be smart and don’t wait like we did.

#8. Get a fantastic view of the city from across the canal at the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore.

It costs €6 to go up to the bell tower, but it is well worth it. I would argue that the view is probably better than that at St. Mark’s Basilica because you can see the entire city from where the church is positioned. Bonus: If you catch the No. 2 vaporetto from S. Zaccaria just outside of St. Mark’s Square, the church is the very next stop!

My limited research did pay off for this particular recommendation. Thank you to Indiana Jo for this tip and others!

#9 Expect to pay to play.

We were surprised when we saw that there was a fee to go up to an observation area of St. Mark’s Basilica, to go into the treasury, and to see the Golden Pall. Though entrance to the basilica is free, you’ll have to pay €10 total to do all three of these things should they be of interest. Many guided tours include some or all of these as part of the cost, so keep that in mind as you are looking at tour prices. Many other places will also charge a small fee to experience “special areas” of their attractions.

#10. On a similar note, be aware that most Venice restaurants charge a cover fee, or coperto, to dine or drink at their establishment.

This can range from €1.50-€4 per person and will always be listed on the menu (usually in fine print somewhere). Restaurants that don’t charge a coperto will usually advertise it.

Here’s an example of a menu with the coperto listed.

La Colonna restaurant in Cannaregio, Venice, Italy

Can you find it? OK, in your defense, it is impossible to read any text on this menu. But if you look at the teeny tiny type in the lower right-hand corner, that is where they list the coperto of €1.50 per person.

#11. Riding a gondola on the Grand Canal is a death wish.

Seriously, don’t do it unless you want to risk getting hit by a vaporetto or being thrown out by large waves created by bigger boats. It’s akin to letting cyclists roam free on an interstate. Who in their right mind would allow that?! Someone is going to lose, and chances are it’ll be the cyclist. Or in this case, the gondola.

I myself didn’t feel the need to ride a gondola, but I did see some that took routes other than the Grand Canal that seemed promising. If you plan to ride a gondola on your visit, my biggest piece of advice would be to confirm exactly where that tiny boat will be going so you don’t risk getting splashed, tossed and possibly run over on the Grand Canal.

A man steers a gondola on the Grand Canal in Venice, Italy

12. The islands – Murano and Burano specifically – are worth a day trip if you will be in Venice for longer than a day or two.

Burano is a photographer’s playground with its colorful houses and picturesque setting. Murano gives tourists a chance to peek into the world of glassmaking and purchase glass products made right there on the island. Here are some tips I compiled for how to structure a visit to the islands.

You can get to Murano on the No. 7 vaporetto from the S. Zaccaria stop. If you want to go earlier in the day (the No. 7 begins around 10:00 a.m.) or go straight to Burano, walk to the Fondamente Nove stop (20 minutes from San Marco) to catch the No. 12. That’s what we ended up doing. 

Here’s the time table for the vaporetto lines if you want more information about departure times and length of journey.

Now that you are armed with some practical tips for your trip to Venice, sit back and enjoy the visit!

I would love to know if you found these tips to be helpful, or if there is anything you would add. Let me know in the comments!

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12 Things Every Traveler Should Know About Venice