Anyone For Venice? Your In-depth Guide To The Floating City

What you have to know about a trip to Venice

Ah Venice, it doesn’t seem real. The fairy city of the heart, an exquisite jumble of palaces, spires and turrets in the middle of a lagoon. But when you get there, enjoying Europe’s floating city can hit you hard in the wallet. As The Telegraph reports, “Venice is expensive, there’s no getting away from that. And the most expensive parts of most people’s budget when they visit the city is the hotel and cost of eating out.” They suggest with a little know-how on where to look and how to book, you can take the pain out of your hip pocket. To help you make the most of La Serenissima for a lot less, read these tips about how to stay afloat – financially speaking that is – in Venice.

When to go

Not in the summer basically. It’s jam-packed, prices rocket and it’s actually not as nice. Venice doesn’t get as stinky as it used to but it is more likely to be whiffy in the odd canal and queues for museums and the Doge’s Palace become much lengthier in the warmer months. November is an ideal time to visit, with mists rising from the canals. January is lovely too, a treat in the post-New Year slump.

Popular blogger mymelange.net says: “The landscape becomes hauntingly beautiful, with fog permeating the city and the chance of snowfall at any minute. If you like photography, this is a perfect place to capture the lightly grayed, slanted light of Venice – winter produces eerie, yet spectacular images.”

October to February is high water season, known by Venetians as ‘acqua alta’, even though flooding can occur at any time of year. But the locals are used to it, and so are the authorities, quickly adding board ‘bridges’ in the streets when the waters rise. In November 2012, some tourists made a virtue out of necessity and took a dip in St Mark’s Square – it made for quite a sight.

What to take

Wellies, warm clothes, money and a map…

  • Wellies or strong waterproof boots because of the acqua alta.
  • Warm clothes to protect you from the icy winds that rise from the Adriatic and whip through the alleys.
  • Italyheaven advises: “Although there may be sunny days, the weather is likely to be grey and can be freezing. Venice gets very cold in winter, with a bitter edge to the damp air. You’ll need lots of layers of clothing and a hat.”
  • Money and plastic, because even with my tips, you will be spending it. Will Thomas from Tuxedo Money Solutions says that its currency cards are gaining popularity with holiday-makers as well as business travellers. “Carry one of our pre-loaded cash cards on your trip,” he said. “They are simple to set up and load with the amount you want.”
  • A map. You can pick up free basic maps from many hotels, tourist attractions and travel terminals but it’s worth investing a few euros in a proper street-by-street map. Getting lost is part of the charm of a visit to Venice, but eventually you’ll want to find your hotel and a warming hot chocolate.

What to do

Walk, walk, walk. Venice itself is a work of art, almost every corner, doorway or rooftop offers a faded frieze, religious symbol or quirky window.

Enjoy the churches. Many charge a small entrance fee but it’s a small price to pay to see works of art by Titian and other Venetian artists in situ. A group of churches has a joint entry scheme www.chorus.org and you can buy a year-long pass for €9, allowing one visit to each of the sixteen participating.

For the Vaporetto, museums, churches, anything except your coffee, buying a multipass can really save you cash. Venice’s civic museums’ museum pass costs €18 and includes entry into the best attractions including the Doge’s Palace. This is a must in the eternal city. As Lonely Planet writes: “Don’t be fooled by its genteel Gothic elegance: underneath all that lacy pink cladding, the palace flexes serious muscle. The seat of Venice’s government for nearly seven centuries, this powerhouse survived wars, conspiracies and economic crashes, and was cleverly restored by Antonio da Ponte, who also designed Ponte di Rialto [the Rialto Bridge}, after a 1577 fire.”

St Mark’s Square must be seen to be believed. Napoleon called it the ‘finest drawing room in Europe’. Its cafes are notoriously expensive but it costs nothing to wander the vast space, admire the architecture and listen to the cafe orchestras and hum of languages being spoken.

Top tip: If you have a coffee and snack at a cafe bar counter, it’s cheaper than if you sit at a table. And you feel more like an Italian. Maybe time it just before you take your water bus or taxi to another part of the city and give your legs a rest while you’re afloat.

The famous La Fenice is well worth a visit, though ironically (or is it just unfortunately) for a place named after the phoenix, it burnt down in 1836 and again in 1996. Veniceonline.it tells of how much Venetians felt the loss of their theatre: “For months a lot of people did a pilgrimage to the theatre, put the flowers, crying, put messages, it looked like if a real person was died …. very, very strange …” Now though, La Fenice has been lovingly restored and is a lovely destination to while away a winter afternoon. You may even catch a member of the orchestra rehearsing in the pit.

When you’ve had enough of ancient beauties, check out some modern wonders at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in a stunning white palace at the end of the Grand Canal, it houses works by modern artists on the Grand Canal. View works by Henry Moore, Jackson Pollock, Max Ernst and Anish Kapoor.

Where to stay

The Telegraph recommends Residenza de l’Osmarin – a cheap b&b in a great location, featuring an elegant décor and a private roof terrace with wonderful views of the city. East of St Mark’s square, L’Osmarin is close to Venice’s main thoroughfares but set just far enough off them to feel secluded and quiet.

I love the four-star Hotel Giorgione in the Cannaregio district, which is a historical house in Venice. The staff are delightful and there is free tea, coffee and biscuits provided in the lobby all afternoon. Ideal for UK visitors needing a cup that cheers after a day pounding the streets. It’s less than five minutes to the Rialto Bridge and less than fifteen to St Mark’s Square.

BA offers good deals on flights and hotel deals to the city at certain times throughout the winter, though you’ll have to make your own way from the airport to the city. Treat yourself to a water taxi and pull up to your hotel landing platform -if it has one – in style.

Featured images:
  •  License: Royalty Free or iStock source: http://photodune.net

London-based lifestyle journalist and travel writer Sarah Thompson loves to explore European cities by foot. An intrepid traveller, Sarah is keen to share her tips on making travel safer, easier and less stressful, though she has to admit to getting lost in Venice frequently and happily. Aside from a love of pounding the pavements of the world’s greatest cities, Sarah also loves to settle down in her favourite armchair with a book. Read more of Sarah’s articles in publications that appear online and in print.

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