Venice City Break: all you need to know

Grand Canal Venice

Venice is a great town for a city break. The town is small and compact and you don’t need more than 2 to 3 days to enjoy a complete Venetian experience.  Venice is a city that will immediately steel your heart and every step you take will be a step back in time, in the renaissance period, one of the most flourishing period of Italy’s history. The old town is basically a well preserved outdoor museum, one that reminds of Venice’s peak in the late 13th century, when it dominated the Mediterranean commerce. However, Venice is plagued these days by many different problems, one is the large crowds of tourists that visit the city every year (>30 million tourists a year!), the second problem refers to environmental issues: floods and rising sea levels, causing the city, with an anyhow unstable foundation, to sink even faster.

New Tourist tax in Venice – 2020

Venice wants to introduced a new tourist tax targeted at day-tripper tourists, which you have to pay in order to enter the historical city of Venice. The tax is set initially at 3 EUR – 5 EUR, however, in peak times, it can go as high as 8EUR. The tax will be in force starting with July 1st 2020. If you stay in a hotel, Airbnb, other registered accommodations, you do not have to pay the city tax, as you already pay a tourist tax at you accommodation.

What’s the best time to visit Venice?

That being said, if you want to avoid the masses of tourists as much as possible, I recommend visiting Venice starting from mid-autumn to mid-February. Christmas and New Year’s is also very popular destination time, because of the beautiful decorations, but it is again overcrowded. From Mid-February the carnival time starts. It is also a very interesting time to visit, as you can enjoy and admire the beautiful masques, parades and balls. But definitely count on many people being there and not being able to move freely along the small and narrow streets.

Where to stay in Venice

From a budget perspective I would completely avoid staying the old historical town. The hotels are overpriced and it’s too much of a hustle to carry all your belongings through the narrow streets until you reach your accommodation (in the old town you can only walk, or take water taxis…but they are very expensive). In high season prices are usually above 120EUR.

I stayed in Mestre, on the mainland, and I was very pleased with the location. The good hotels charge you in that area around 50-60EUR a night in low season and 70-100EUR a night in high season. But you can find even more budget friendly options if you opt for Hostels or hotels with fewer stars (prices are around 20 EUR for hostels in a mixed dorm room and around 40 EUR in hotels with fewer facilities). Here are some recommendations for low to mid range budget:

From Mestre you can reach Venice city centre in 30 minutes with the tram T1 or 4L, both leaving from Mestre Centro B1.

Things to do in Venice

Wonder around the city

Venice Canal

If you have never been to Venice before, then you have to take your time and enjoy its beauty. Give yourself an hour to wonder aimlessly around its narrow walkways, along the canals and marvel at the exquisite architecture of this city. Admire the old houses along the small canals, which once belonged to the richest men, sneak a peak in some Venetian cafés and take in the city. Venice will mesmerize you with every step you take.

Visit St. Mark’s square

Venice San Marco Square

Constructed in the 9th century St. Mark’s square is the most famous square in Venice and the perfect starting point for your tour. Napoleon allegedly called it “the drawing room of Europe”. Surrounding the square is a series of building with arches that perfectly frame it. Furthermore many important buildings are located here: St Mark’s Campanile, St Mark’s Basilica, Doge’s Palace and Torre dell’Orologio.

Go up the St Mark’s Campanile

Venice San Marco Campanile

In order to have an even better view of the Piazza San Marco, you can take the lift to the top of the St Mark’s Campanile. It will definitely give you a different perspective of the city and its lagoon. Many people are discouraged to visit this attraction because of the long waiting lines. Therefore I would recommend purchasing a skip the line ticket here. The service is only available in peak season (so from 1st April to 3ed of November).

Visit Basilica San Marco

San Marco Basilica Venice

With its beautiful facade, its ornamented rooflines and gold ground mosaics, this Basilica is a sight to remember. With its opulent design, the St. Mark’s Basilica was once a symbol of Venice’s wealth. The entrance to the Basilica is free, but if you also want to visit St. Marks museum and the Treasury then it will cost you 5 EUR respectively 3EUR. Check here the schedule and up to date prices.

Visit the Doge’s Palace

Doge's Palace Venice

The Doge’s Palace is one of the most important landmarks in Venice and it was built in Gothic Venetian style. It was founded in 1340 and was the main residence of the Dodge of Venice, the main authority figure of the former Venetian Republic. The beautifully decorated rooms, with lavish golden ornaments will definitely leave you speechless after this visit. I recommend it especially for those visiting in high season to book their tickets online, here the link.

Ponte dei Suspini (Bridge of Sights)

The bridge of Sights connects the prison Prigioni Nuove to Doge’s Palace. After a visit to the Doge’s Palace, it’s worth catching a glimpse of the beautiful, yet small, limestone bridge. The legend says that prisoners, facing life sentence in the dreaded prison Prigioni Nuove, where sentenced in the Palace and would be transported to the prison through the bridge of Sights. They would take one last look at the beautiful Venice and let out a sight, being faced from now on only with darkness and rats for the rest of their life.

The Grand Canal

Gondola Venice

The Grand Canal forms the main water-corridor in the city. It takes visitors along many important building dating from 13th to 18th century, which display the wealth and art affinity of the old Venetian nobility. The main buildings are Palazzi BarbaroCa’ RezzonicoCa’ d’OroPalazzo DarioCa’ FoscariPalazzo Barbarigo, the basilica of Santa Maria della Salute

You can take the gondola along the canal, a ride for 25-30 minutes costs around 80EUR, at night the same ride will cost you around 120EUR. Shared gondola rides can cost you around 33EUR.  It would be good to establish the itinerary the before you get on the gondola, to make sure you will float past everything you want to see. It can happen that they sometimes change or even shorten the route. You can also pre-book gondola rides here, but there are mostly shared rides.

Ponte di Rialto

Ponte di Rialto
View from Ponte di Rialto

Ponte di Rialto is the oldest bridge crossing the Grande Canal, and it was the only bridge crossing the canal up until the 19th century. The bridge connects the San Marco and the San Polo district in Venice. The beautifully ornated stoned bridge is full of souvenir shops where you can buy traditional venetian carnival masques, hand made and with amazing colours and designs. You can also find also many jewellery and Murano shops. It can get a bit busy on the bridge, especially in peak season, so take care of your belongings.

Galleria dell’Accademia

The Gallery is situated on the Grand Canal and was open as a museum in the late 1700s. This is a must see for renaissance art lovers, as it hosts paintings from Bellini, Canaletto and Titian. One of the most famous sketches is perhaps the ‘Vitruvian Man’ by Leonardo Da Vinci, which shows the perfect proportions of a man.

Murano

Murano Venice glass

Murano is one of the islands within the Venice district. You can reach it via waterbus and it takes about 15 minutes. From Z. Zaccaria (waterfront from Piazza San Marco and Doge’s Palace) take the line 4.2 and 4.1, which will take you through Fundamente Nove to Murano.   Murano is known for its glass blowing, in bright and distinctive colours. You can see live demonstrations in various factories and establishments. This island is also crossed by canals and is very similar in look and feel to Venice, however it has much less tourists so you can move freely around the small pathways. You have also numerous other attractions which you can visit, including the Basilica dei Santa Maria, the Campo Santo Stefano and the Palazzo Da Mula.

If you want a ready-made itinerary in Venice, check out my suggestions in this two blog articles I have written. I have added also some additional bonus attractions worth seeing!

Do you think I left anything important out? Let me know in the comments what other amazing adventures you had in Venice.

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