top of page
  • Joanne Herd

Navigating Venice: Things You Need to Know For Your First Venice Italy Trip

Updated December 6, 2023

If you've dreamed of floating down romantic canals with centuries-old architecture alongside, a trip to Venice won't let you down.

In Venice, history, art, and culture flow effortlessly through a network of winding canals. This floating city, majestically resting atop the Adriatic, is a testament to human ingenuity and defying the tides of time.

As the sun sets over the picturesque waterways and gondolas glide beneath ancient bridges, Venice compels you to embrace the Italian style of "dolce far niente" (the sweetness of doing nothing) and take the time to marvel at its timeless beauty.

Italy travel isn't just about the journey. It's about immersing yourself in a culture rich with history, art, food, and fashion.

As you plan your trip to Venice, prepare for enchanting gondola rides, awe-inspiring Byzantine mosaics, delicious cuisine, and rich history.

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, meaning I may get a small commission if you decide to make a purchase through my links, at no cost to you.

Understanding Venice – The City On Water

Think of Venice, and you'll probably picture a maze of canals with ornate bridges arched over them and colorful, antiquated buildings dotting the water's edge. And you would be right!

But Venice is more than simply a living museum. It's not a theme park. It's a living, breathing city. Part of ensuring a fantastic experience in Venice is knowing what makes this city so unique.

Founded over 1,500 years ago by Italian refugees fleeing invasions, Venice stretches across 118 small islands bound together by a network of canals and bridges.

Venice quickly became a maritime powerhouse in the Adriatic, commanding a strategic location in the Venetian lagoon. The wealth generated by its immense power created a legacy of grand palaces, opulent churches, and enchanting squares.

The city's location and maritime connections with both East and West created a unique architecture that combined Byzantine and Western European features. This result is the Venetian Gothic style you'll see on many buildings.

Pre-travel Tips For Your Venice Italy Trip

Before you leave for Venice, you'll want to know a few things to help ensure a fantastic trip. The first two are the best time to visit Venice and what (and how much!) to pack.

The best time to visit Venice

Indulge your senses in the enchanting beauty of Venice during springtime! Immerse yourself in the captivating allure of wisteria blooming on an arbor near San Marco. Plan your dream Venice Italy trip and witness the magic of nature's artistry.
Wisteria blooming near San Marco in the spring

An incredible blend of water, stone, and art, Venice is a beautiful place to visit any time of year. But it's most enchanting in the spring (April and May) and fall (September and October).

During these "shoulder seasons," the city is usually cool but not cold. It has fewer visitors than in the height of summer. It's the perfect time to visit to avoid the masses and savor the city's beauty in a more peaceful environment. With fewer visitors, shoulder season prices also tend to be more competitive.

If you want to visit during Carnevale, it takes place over ten days in either February or March. The timing depends on when Easter falls since Carnevale always ends on Shrove Tuesday (Mardi Gras, or Martedì Grasso in Italian).

Acqua alta (Italian for "high water"), when the waters of the Adriatic will blow into the city, typically happens between November and March. The high waters occur due to the combination of tides and winds and generally last 3-4 hours until the tide goes back out.

During acqua alta season, you'll notice stacks of platforms throughout the city, especially in the piazzas. When the water rises, these are moved into position to become elevated walkways, allowing people to pass through the area without wading through the water.

Summers in Venice aren't overly hot, with average high temperatures in the high 70s or low 80s. However, due to Venice's location in the lagoon, the average humidity is around 75%, which can be pretty unpleasant. Combined with the crowds in the summer, it can be an undesirable experience if you aren't ready for it.

However, summer can be an excellent time to experience some of the beautiful resorts in the lagoon. If you have several days to spend in Venice, consider going into the city in the morning before it's crowded and then retreating to the resort (and pool!) for the afternoon.

I'd recommend staying at the Hotel Cipriani, a Belmond Hotel, the JW Marriott Venice Resort & Spa, or the San Clemente Palace Kempinski. The JW Marriott and the San Clemente Palace are on private islands, and you can't get much more classic Venetian luxury than the Hotel Cipriani!

Things to pack for your Venice, Italy trip

Step into a timeless Venetian scene! Witness pedestrians crossing a quaint bridge over a picturesque canal, where boats gently sway in the golden glow. Capture the essence of Venice Italy trip and immerse yourself in its captivating ambiance.
Steps up and down one of the many bridges of Venice

Venice is a city best discovered on foot, so comfortable walking shoes will be your best friends!

You know that "magical something" in the air in Venice? It's called humidity! Even in the cooler months, you'll want light, breathable clothing layers. That way, it's easy to remove a layer if you get too warm or put it on if you're cold.

If you're traveling in the warmer months, pack a light shawl or scarf and carry it with you if you're wearing shorts, a skirt that shows your knees, or a sleeveless top. Italy has stringent dress codes for entering churches, and you won't be allowed to enter if your knees or shoulders are exposed.

Also, be aware of both the amount of luggage you have and its weight. If you're traveling to your hotel by water taxi or private transfer, this won't be an issue, but if you're walking or taking the Vaporetto with your luggage, you'll want it to be easy to carry.

While Venice, for the most part, is very flat, it can be challenging to walk with a suitcase. Since it is flat, the only way to make bridges high enough for boats to pass underneath is to put stairs up and down each side.

If you're pulling a suitcase, you'll need to carry it up and down several steps on each bridge. With over 400 bridges in the city, that could mean a lot of stairs depending on where your hotel is!

If you're staying in a rental, like a VRBO or an Airbnb, instead of a traditional hotel, remember that most buildings don't have elevators. Floors numbers start with 0 or G (ground), so that apartment that says it's on the 3rd floor is actually on what we consider the 4th floor.

Neighborhoods (Sestieri) of Venice

Once you've decided on the best time to visit Venice, the next decision is where to stay. Each sestiere, or neighborhood, has its unique charm and character.

Behold the awe-inspiring beauty of St. Mark's Basilica! Adorned with intricate mosaics, this iconic facade stands as a testament to Venice's grandeur. Embark on a Venice Italy trip and discover the artistry that graces the heart of the floating city.
The Basilica of San Marco

San Marco - Be dazzled by the grandeur of San Marco, where the iconic Piazza San Marco, or St Marks Square, reigns supreme. Marvel at St Marks Basilica's intricate beauty and bask in this bustling area's vibrant energy.

San Marco is the tourist heart of Venice, and the prices and crowds reflect that. But if you want to be in the middle of the action, this is the place to be.

For modern luxury, consider the St. Regis Venice, or book a stay at the famous Gritti Palace for classic Venetian opulence. Both are located away from the main square off quiet piazzas, but you can be in the heart of Venice in less than 5 minutes.

Dorsoduro - Home to the artistic soul of Venice, the Dorsoduro neighborhood is away from the crowded streets and bridges. With a more bohemian atmosphere, it's the home of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection and the Accademia Gallery.

This area has a more authentic Venetian atmosphere and is across the Grand Canal from the city's most visited locations. But all you need to do is walk across the Accademia Bridge, through a few streets, and you're at San Marco in the heart of Venice in about 10-15 minutes.

If you plan to stay in Dorsoduro, I recommend the Sina Centurion Palace, a member of Small Luxury Hotels.

Cannaregio - If you're looking for the beating heart of today's Venice, you'll find it in Cannaregio. Steeped in local flavor, Cannaregio offers scenic strolls by charming hotels, picturesque streets, quaint corner cafes, and an authentic local vibe. Cannaregio is where many of the locals choose to live.

You'll find the Strada Nova, the busiest street in Venice, running through the center of Cannaregio. If that's the only part of Cannaregio you see, you'll miss out on the authentic charm of the neighborhood. The Strada Nova runs from the train station to the city center. It overflows with shops and restaurants catering to tourists. But once you get off the main street, it only takes a block or two to find a side of Venice away from the hustle and bustle.

If you'd like to stay in Cannaregio, consider Ca' Sagredo, a beautiful hotel in a 15th-century palazzo and a member of Small Luxury Hotels.

Uncover the enchanting charm of Venice's Castello neighborhood! A picturesque bell tower stands tall against the backdrop of rosy-hued houses, while boats glide gracefully along the serene canal. Immerse yourself in the timeless allure of Castello on your Venice Italy trip!
The quiet side of the Castello neighborhood

Castello - This area is a vibrant palette of Venice's best features, where residential tranquility meets significant landmarks. Here you'll find highlights like the Arsenale and the Biennale Gardens. This diverse neighborhood provides a glimpse into everyday Venetian life.

The Castello neighborhood is right next to San Marco, starting behind the Palazzo Ducale, so many areas of Castello are very convenient to the city's heart. This area also has some of the best views in Venice, across the lagoon to the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore with its Palladian facade.

If you're considering staying in Castello, I recommend the classic Hotel Danieli, with spectacular views across the lagoon from its rooftop restaurant, or the Londra Palace Venezia, a member of Relais & Chateaux.

San Polo - While it's the smallest sestiere, San Polo is full of rich history and a vibrant ambiance. The grand Rialto Bridge, the lively Rialto Market, and plenty of shopping and restaurants make it a lively district along the Grand Canal.

San Polo is one of my favorite areas of Venice, mainly because I love the Rialto Market! Make sure to go early in the morning, when the locals are shopping, and the restaurants are purchasing the fresh fish they'll serve later in the day.

If you'd like to stay in San Polo, I recommend the Aman Venice, where you'll find 24 individually-designed rooms and suites in a 16th-century palazzo.

Santa Croce - In the western part of Venice, Santa Croce is a peaceful escape from the crowds. It has charming local markets, beautiful churches, and fascinating museums.

On the western side of Santa Croce, you'll find the main maritime terminal of Venice, where small cruise ships and ferries dock. You can take a ferry to Croatia or Greece from here to continue your Mediterranean odyssey.

With its location directly across the canal from the Santa Lucia train station, Santa Croce has few luxury hotels. I suggest the Hotel L'Orologio, which technically is one canal into the San Polo neighborhood but is an excellent location for exploring Santa Croce.

Each of Venice's neighborhoods has its charm and allure, providing an array of experiences for every kind of traveler. Whether you're an art enthusiast, a history buff, or a seeker of local gems, the City of Canals has something to delight and inspire you on your Venice, Italy trip.

How to Get Around Venice

Now that we've gone over when to go, what to pack, and where to stay, let's talk about how to get around. With a city on water, hailing a taxi or Uber isn't an option here!


The Vaporetto is Venice's aquatic version of public transportation. With a comprehensive network of routes, the Vaporetti (plural of Vaparetto) are suitable for sightseeing and getting to the outer islands like Murano and Burano.

They work like any bus service, just on water. Buy a ticket or pass, validate it, and hop on board! They're a practical and picturesque way to get around, but they can get quite busy, especially during the summer when there are more tourists in the city.

The Vaporetto isn't luxurious, but it is the most economical way to get around Venice.

Water Taxis

For a touch of elegance and convenience, water taxis are your ticket to smooth transportation in Venice. They cost much more than the Vaporetto but are also faster and more convenient.

One tip - they're fantastic when transporting luggage and cut down on a lot of time if you're catching a train or flight. They also can hold several people; some have the capacity for 8-12, so they are affordable when you divide the cost between passengers.

To compare, taking a Vaporetto from the airport to the center of Venice is about €8/person and takes about an hour. On the other hand, a water taxi is about €130 one way for multiple people and takes about 30 minutes.

The other benefit of a water taxi is that it can typically take you directly to your hotel. Many hotels have water doors, which are doors at the canal level that lead straight into the building. Since many of the hotels are in historic palazzi, those water doors would allow the residents to go from the house directly to the gondola. After all, the streets of Venice were only used by servants and people too poor to have a private gondola.

If you decide to take a water taxi, I always recommend having cash to cover it. Many water taxis accept credit cards now, but the processing relies on the cellular network. If the connection isn't good, they can't process the card, so regardless of if you're planning to use a card, you'll also want to have enough cash on hand.


Discover the tranquil beauty of a hidden herb garden, found while wandering Giudecca. Nestled beside a charming church in a serene piazza, this oasis of colors and scents beckons you to wander down the peaceful path. Immerse yourself in the enchanting ambiance on your Venice Italy trip!
A church herb garden found while wandering Giudecca

Walking is always a good option in Venice. It's a great way to see the sights, and you really can't get lost. There are only so many streets and alleys you can walk down before you come to a larger body of water, either the lagoon or the Grand Canal.

If you do get a bit lost and can't figure out which way to go, stop for a moment. Listen for footsteps and voices, and head in that direction! You'll find your way out.

In Venice, embrace the art of getting lost. In these meandering journeys, you'll stumble upon the most authentic parts of the city. Wander through narrow alleys and discover tucked-away squares, each with its own story.

One of my most memorable moments in Venice was coming across a park in Giudecca. It was a bit overgrown but had several families with kids playing on a small playground. Along the water was a path and wooden benches, and we spent some time gazing out over the lagoon. It was beautiful, unrushed, and perfect.


A traghetto (singular, traghetti is plural) is a type of gondola that I recommend trying at least once. It's how Venetians have traditionally crossed the grand canal since there are only three bridges across, and they're not always convenient.

Instead of one gondolier and comfortable seats, there are two gondoliers, one in the front and one in the back.

Once you get on, you perch on the side of the gondola. Make sure to go to the opposite side of the person before you. When two people go to the same side, it's enough to make you feel like you'll end up in the canal!

It's only about €1 per person to cross. Make sure you have a euro coin or two to cover it.

If you're trying to get across the canal and see a sign with gondolas and the word "Traghetto," just head over and hop on to the next boat with space. You'll be across in no time.


Venice's iconic gondolas grace the lagoon, framed by the majestic San Giorgio Maggiore. Feel the allure of this timeless scene, where history and beauty intertwine. Embark on your dream Venice Italy trip and savor the magic of the City of Canals!
The gondola stand outside of San Marco

For the most romantic way to get around Venice, take a gondola. Yes, they're touristy, but it's one of those things everyone should try once if they'd like.

There are different lengths of gondola tours available. We decided to take the full tour, which takes about an hour and fifteen minutes. Prices are set, so don't bother looking for a deal. If you want to take a gondola ride, you can take one from anywhere and they'll be the same price.

You can't hail a gondola, they go from certain places, and you'll know you've found one because of all the gondolas tied up and the gondoliers in striped shirts waiting for customers. My favorite spot to start is departing from the lagoon side of San Marco. The benefit to going from there is that you get to go under the Bridge of Sighs, which you don't if you depart from a location in the middle of the city.

What to see and do in Venice

There are more things to see and do in Venice than you can fit into one trip. If it's your first time, here are a few things you'll want to ensure you do.

Piazza San Marco

Every trip to Venice should start here, at the beating heart of Venice. Architectural marvels grace this iconic piazza, from the awe-inspiring San Marco Basilica to the beautiful Campanile, or bell tower.

After some exploration, stop for a treat at the legendary Caffè Florian, which has been serving food and drinks in the piazza since 1720.

Tour a museum (or more than one!)

Venice is a treasure trove of art museums that will captivate any art enthusiast. The city is home to renowned galleries like the Accademia Gallery, showcasing masterpieces by Venetian artists like Titian, Tintoretto, and Veronese.

With so much art in the Accademia, you could spend an entire weekend and still not make it through the whole collection.

If you love 20th-century art, you'll want to visit the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Dorsoduro. Housed in Peggy Guggenheim's former home on the Grand Canal, her collection is among the most significant in America and Europe.

If you prefer Renaissance art, the Scuola Grande di San Rocco boasts an awe-inspiring collection of paintings by Tintoretto. Specifically created for the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, and still in their original settings, these paintings portray biblical scenes with extraordinary detail and drama. They are one of the jewels of Venetian art.

The Rialto Bridge and Rialto Market

Fish for sale at the Rialto Market, a must-visit on a Venice Italy trip. The fish are on tables on ice, with every variety imaginable for sale.
Fish for sale at the Rialto Market

The Rialto Bridge, one of only four in Europe with shops on both sides, is one of the best-known sights of Venice. But the Rialto area is more than just the bridge!

One of my favorite places in Venice is the Rialto Market, a fish market (Tuesday-Saturday) and produce market (Monday-Saturday) that takes place under and around the beautiful "Pescaria" and surrounding areas.

This market has been held since 1097, feeding Venetians and visitors for nearly 1,000 years!

If you're looking for something small to bring home, consider one of their tubes of flavored salt. They're easy to pack and make a great addition to your pantry. I always make sure to have both the basil salt and the herb salt on hand, and if we're running low, it means it's time for a trip back to Venice!

Try Cicchetti

Cicchetti are uniquely Venetian, found nowhere else in Italy. Venetian cicchetti (plural, the singular is a cicchetto) are in some ways similar to Spanish tapas. Just don't call them Venetian tapas to a Venetian. They may be insulted.

They're small bites, mainly served on bread. You can enjoy a couple as a snack or sample a variety for a full lunch or dinner.

Al Merca', one of the best baraco in Venice, just around the corner from the Rialto Market. The store is tiny, with a few people standing in front and a case of cicchetti ready to be purchased and enjoyed. Try cicchetti, a local specialty, on a Venice Italy trip for a truly authentic experience
Al Merca', one of the best bacaro in Venice

You'll find cicchetti at the bacaro, the Venetian version of a small local wine bar.

These bacari (plural, singular is a bacaro) can be found everywhere in Venice. They're often dark and rustic and don't look that impressive. They're all about the food and wine, not the decor.

Bacari don't usually have table service. Instead, they have a counter or case, with the cicchetti pre-made (but very fresh) and laid out, ready to order.

Ordering is simple. Walk in (you may need to squeeze your way up to the counter), point to what you want, and tell them how many. If you don't speak Italian and they don't speak English, a little sign language will do the trick.

Along with your cicchetti, you'll want to order a beverage. An ombra (small glass) of local red or white wine is acceptable most anytime. If you prefer a cocktail, you can order either the traditional Aperol or Campari spritz or the more traditional Venetian Select spritz (my favorite).

Once you have your food and drink, take a look around. You can feel free to be seated if there's a place to sit. If there's no space to sit down, you'll eat and drink standing up, which is more traditional anyway.

When it comes to eating cicchetti, you really can't go wrong. If you're unsure what to try, you can point to anything that looks interesting and order a glass of the house wine to go with it. You won't be disappointed.

The bottom line

Venice is a city that defies time, where history and modernity exist side by side. Whether you're considering visiting Venice for a day, a weekend, or a week, there's plenty to see, do, and learn about. You'll discover a hidden side of Venice down every street and tiny canal.

Looking for more Venice travel inspiration? Check out the other Venice posts on our Italy travel blog!


bottom of page