How to be a tourist in Venice

January 31, 2019

by Milo Villamayor

During my leisure trip to Italy last May 2018, and my first time ever travelling to Europe, I really didn’t know what to do and where to go. The first city in my itinerary was Venice, and it’s so easy to get lost among the hustle and bustle of tourists coming from different parts of the world. Luckily, I have a few friends who are not strangers of this place, and they gave me a few tips on how to get around. Here, I’ll share with you guys these tips as a guide on how you can enjoy being a tourist in Venice.

Geography and Climate

Venice is a pretty unique tourist destination in the sense that it is surrounded as well as traversed by bodies of water. However, it’s not an island but rather a city built on top of wooden piles. In general, the water level rises slowly through time because of global warming, but there also certain times in the year where the water level is significantly high which floods the majority of streets. This phenomenon is called acqua alta and usually occurs from October to January.

High tide flooding in Venice

Acqua alta in Piazza di San Marco

Getting to the City Center

From the Venice Marco Polo Airport in Tessera, you can ride a bus to Venice, or if you’re coming from other parts of Italy, you can take the regional train and alight at Stazione di Venezia Santa Lucia.

Modes of Transportation

Without looking at the signs, a simple rule of thumb to know if you’re already in Venice is when you see the Grand Canal. Once the bus from the airport drops you here or stepping outside the train station, you have the following options at your disposal:

Walking

Venice is highly walkable, as all land vehicles are not allowed in the city, not even cycling. Nevertheless, I think that it’s the best way to travel through Venice so you can fully experience the rush of people walking around to get to their destination. It might be hard if you’re still carrying around your heavy baggage, however, because the smaller canals intersect the streets a lot of times so there are a lot of bridges with stairs. The streets are also paved with different sizes of stone which will make for a bumpy ride when walking with your stroller bags. While walking around, you can see up close the different kinds of shops that are lined along the intersecting streets, all trying to get your attention. And every time you walk across a pub or restaurant, you’ll definitely want to slow down to smell what’s on the menu.

Venetian streetscape

Walking in the streets of Venice

Vaporetto / Water Bus

If you’ve booked your lodging far from the city centre, most likely you’ll need to ride the Vaporetto, also known as the water bus. You can get a ticket on any of the stations, and depending on how long you’re staying in Venice, you can purchase a 2-day, 3-day, or 7-day pass. You also need to note that there are a lot of different routes for the Vaporetto, so you’d have to check which one you need to ride to get where you need to go. Naturally, each station has a colour-coded map of each route.

Water Taxi

Hiring a water taxi is a convenient and luxurious way of getting around Venice if you’re willing to spend. It’s basically a private motorboat with nicely decorated interiors, upholstered leather seating, carpeted flooring, and a sunroof – much more like a limo than a taxi. If you want to try something fancy while also needing to go somewhere in Venice fast, you can use one of these. There is a ferry terminal at Venice Marco Polo Airport in Tessera where you can hire a water taxi.

Water taxi view

A water taxi visible in the foreground

Gondola

This is less of a mode of transportation than a tourist attraction in Venice. If you want to go around sight-seeing through the many smaller canals and want to try an experience unique to Venice, their trademark gondolas will surely fit the bill. If you have money to spend, you can also look for the more expensive and more uncommon gondolas with gondoliers that sing and play music to complete the experience.

Venetian gondolas

A row of docked gondolas

Etiquette

Travelling to a different country comes exposure to new cultures that you’re unfamiliar with. As a tourist, you must respect the destination’s unspoken, but apparent customs and practices. Here are a few etiquette tips you must observe when visiting Venice:

Helping the Elderly

In most Asian countries, when you are riding a bus you are expected to give up your seat for the elderly, or if you see an elder person carrying heavy baggage, you are supposed to assist them. Most Venetian local elderly, similar to their counterparts in other parts Italy, are more independent and would prefer to keep to their own business unless they explicitly asked for your help. Well-meaning travellers may sometimes become victims of awkward situations when elderly locals refuse a form of assistance offered to them.

Riding the Vaporetto

The Vaporetto is a common form of public transportation just like a regular bus, and sometimes they can get pretty crowded. If you are carrying a backpack on your back while riding the water bus, it is common courtesy to doff your backpack and hold it in your hands to where your legs are to provide additional space for more incoming passengers. Alternatively, if you are carrying a larger-sized bag, there are storage compartments on the water bus for you to keep your belongings until you’re about to alight.

Giving Tips

In countries such as the United States and other similar cultures, giving tips is encouraged to let the restaurant staff know that you have enjoyed their service. In Italy however, you’re not supposed to give tips, as the prices on the menu already include their service.

Restaurant Seating

What if you’re entering a restaurant as a group of five people, and there are only tables arranged for four? In Venice, you’re not supposed to just get two 4-seater tables and merge them together. Instead, you should call the attention of the restaurant staff, and let them handle the task of rearranging the tables.

Grocery Shopping

When staying for a longer time-period in Venice, in some days it’s more practical to prepare your own meals. Luckily, there are accessible supermarkets such as COOP and CONAD where you can buy common grocery items. A quick tip when buying vegetables is to not handle them with your bare hands. Instead, there are disposable glove provisions near these items which you can use.

Entering Churches

Sometimes, when you’re travelling to other places, you forget that there are still people who regularly use the places you visit. When visiting churches, for example, you still need to observe the proper dress code similar to what you wear when going to church in your own country. This tip applies to all churches you visit as a tourist, not just in Venice.

Facade of the Basilica Santa Maria Della Salute

Greetings

When someone greets you Buona Giornata (Good Day) or Buona Serata (Good Evening), it is proper etiquette to greet them back Buona Giornata or Buona Serata. It is considered rude when you don’t wish someone back a good day.

Other Tips

If the tips I gave you above still isn’t enough here are a few last tips in mind:

  • If you find any public fountain in the streets of Venice, it’s perfectly safe to drink from it. Of all the fountains in Italy, the ones in Venice are the cleanest because they are tapped directly from mountain springs.
  • There are self-service laundry shops where you can do your own laundry at a cheap price.
  • If ever you get tired of eating pizza and pasta, you can always go to Orient experience in San Marcuola or Walk n’ Go near Rialto.
Milo Villamayor

By Milo Villamayor

A Geeky Architect in his own right. Passionate about architecture, games, and life, he finds inspiration in the beauty of the simple things.

Read more at vmilos.com

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