Please note that this post contains an affiliate link, meaning that if you make a purchase through my link I'll get a small commission at no cost to you.
Opinions on Venice seem to be pretty mixed. Some people are charmed by it’s romantic canals and inspired by it’s grand architecture, whilst others find it overcrowded and overpriced. Venice had always been on my bucket list, but I’d also heard negative things about it, so I was quite nervous about visiting incase I disliked the place that was so perfect in my head! Would the tens of thousands of tourists cramming onto bridges to take selfies and the extortionate price of a coffee in St Mark’s square make me hate Venice? The short answer – no. The long answer – below. I found that the trick to falling in love with Venice was simply to avoid the crowds and the tourist traps. Here’s my guide to doing the same.
Don’t Stay in Venice Itself
Usually I would stay as close as possible to the centre on a short city break to avoid spending valuable time travelling each day and make the most of the city buzz, but Venice was an exception. We stayed on the island of Murano and I would highly recommend doing this if you want to avoid the crowds – we began and ended each day on what felt like a private island, walking along the charming canals with hardly anyone else around. If you’re spending a lot of time in the busier parts of Venice, being able to retreat to somewhere quieter will be much appreciated and it’s mega easy to travel between Murano and Venice on the water bus – it takes around 20 minutes and the buses run regularly until just after midnight.
You also get significantly more for your money on Murano than you do in Venice. We booked a room through Air BnB which was directly next to a water bus stop, had canal views and perfectly combined traditional charm (think wooden ceiling beams and antique furniture) with modern amenities (the bathroom was insane). It cost us 62€ a night which, if you’ve looked at accommodation in Venice already, you’ll know is fantastic value for money! Yes, your travel costs will be more (the ACTV pass is 20€ for 24 hours, 30€ for 48 hours or 40€ for 72 hours) but if you’re going to visit the islands anyway then it doesn’t make a difference. Oh, if you want to book an AirBnb and haven’t used it before, you can use my code here and get £34 off your booking.
There’s one more benefit of staying on Murano. Not only will you see the island before and after the crowds descend from Venice for the day, but you can also hop on the water bus to the famously colourful island of Burano and get a head start on everyone visiting from Venice. We set off from Murano to Burano at about 9am and were able to wander around to our hearts’ content and stop for a leisurely breakfast before the crowds poured in (which they were doing as we were leaving). From here we got the water bus straight to Venice to spend the rest of the day there before returning to Murano in the evening.
Explore the Back Streets of Venice
Don’t use the back streets merely as a route from one tourist attraction to the next – enjoy them for their own beauty and charm. We didn’t plan any sort of route through Venice and we didn’t consult a map, we just let ourselves get lost and see where we ended up. If we didn’t make it to one of the must-see places it didn’t matter because the narrow streets and pretty bridges were enchanting enough in themselves, even more so because they were quiet!
I know a lot of people are going to say to me “you went all the way to Venice and didn’t visit X?!” but I saw parts of the city that I might otherwise have missed. To be honest, when we did make it to the Bridge of Sighs and the Rialto Bridge I was a bit underwhelmed and keen to get back to the magical back streets which were exactly like I had imagined.
Take Your Time
I may have taken my own advice a little too seriously here, taking approximately 5 hours to make it from the Fondamente Nove water bus stop to St Marks Square on account of my refusal to route plan combined with multiple cicchetti stops (more on this in a moment). However, this slower pace worked in our favour because by the time we made it to the main tourist areas such as the Rialto Bridge or St Marks Square, the crowds had started to disperse meaning they weren’t unbearably busy. We could take our time gazing up at Basilica di San Marco’s before retreating for a hearty carbonara at Bar Puppa to complete the day.
Eat and Drink With the Locals
I spent approximately 89.2% of my time in Venice in cicchetti bars. I loved standing at the counter with a glass of Prosecco in one hand and a cicchetti in the other, trying to converse with the locals despite my lack of Italian and their lack of English. It rained all day (hence the above picture of me looking absolutely ridiculous in a bright pink poncho), so we pretty much ran from one cicchetti bar to the next.
If you’re not familiar with cicchetti bars (I’d never heard of them before visiting Venice), they are small bars that serve various little snacks – Italy’s answer to tapas. The most common form is bread topped with meats, cheeses, fish or vegetables but you’ll also find arancini balls, stuffed squid or grilled anchovies. Some have tables, some just have a bar to rest your drink on, all of them are warm and welcoming. A huge benefit of these bars is also the price tag – I was convinced that Venice was going to bankrupt me with its 18 euro cocktails, but we were mostly paying around 2.50 for a glass of Prosecco and 3 or 4 euros for an Aperol spritz. Not bad at all!
I’ll be publishing a blog post specifically about cicchetti this weekend so keep an eye out for that.
5 Little Tips For Venice
I really hope this post has showed you that you can fall in love with Venice whilst avoiding the crowds and cliches, and that it doesn’t have to be the overly touristic destination that it’s often made out to be. I honestly thought it would be a place to tick off my bucket list and not return to again, but I can’t wait until I get a chance to experience it’s charm again. To finish with, I’ll leave you with a few tips that helped me in Venice.
- Look out for cover charges in bars and restaurants. Often in cicchetti bars the menu lists items with different prices for ‘at bar’ and ‘at table’ so if you’re looking to save try to avoid sitting down at a proper table. In restaurants a cover charge will be listed and shown on your bill, ranging from 2€ to 6€ person.
- Have cash on you. Whilst most places accept card, we found that there were a lot of minimum spends around, sometimes up to 30 euros. Cash points often have a minimum withdrawal amount as well so it’s best to get a bigger chunk out at a time.
- Buy an ATCV pass – it’s 20€ for 24 hours or 7.50€ for a single journey so if you’re planning on visiting a few different parts it’s definitely worth it. This gives you access to buses, trains and water buses and can be bought from most tobacco shops.
- You can drink the tap water, despite what the restaurants try to tell you in order to sell you bottled water! If you do want to drink bottled water, you can get 1.5 litres for less that 30 cents in the supermarkets, whereas you’ll have to pay through the nose in a restaurant so hydrate yourself before you go in!
- Practice those squats before you travel to Venice. Most toilets, even in the nice restaurants, don’t have a toilet seat. They were all spotlessly clean, but you’ll need to hover if you don’t want a cold bum/to fall in!
If you’re visiting Venice and fancy having two city breaks in one, why not cross the boarder into Slovenia? Ljubljana is just 2-3 hours away by car or coach, and I’ve written a post about it here. Or if you’d like to stay in Italy why not take the train to beautiful Trento, which you can read about here.
P.S. if you enjoyed this Venice post please share it to your favourite social media channel using the icons at the bottom of the post, or pin to Pinterest by hovering over the below graphic. Thanks!