Venice in 4 days | Photo Diary & Travel Guide.
It might have escaped your knowledge if you don’t follow my blog or any of my social media platforms but I spent the first four days of March in (snowy) Venice. This was my second trip to Venice, the first time being with college for the Biennale in 2011, and this time with my Mum and two of our friends for a girly weekend away.
The first time I went to Venice it was November and we were told it was rainy season so to pack wellies – it ended up being beautiful sunshine all 6 days and we were boiling. This time we were advised it would be 10-15 degrees – instead Venice saw it’s first snow in years and then rained every other day at a casual -4.
Having done Venice twice now, and for 10 days in total, I feel like I have had a chance to see everything I want to see, do everything I want to do and have a few recommendations and tips to share if you’re also planning a trip to one of (imo) the most picturesque places in Europe. Deffo one to tick off the bucket list.
I have come to the conclusion that 4 days in Venice is the absolute perfect amount of time to spend there. 3 full days to sightsee and one (or one morning and one evening) travelling would see you right over a long weekend and give you the time to make the most of what the city has to offer. Venice is small, it’s packed with history and architecture but very little in the way of ‘traditional’ sightseeing and tourist attractions. If you’re looking for water parks and basically British home away from home then Venice is not the place for you. If you’re on the hunt for the most Instagrammable streets you’ll ever walk, art and great Italian food then you can go no wrong with booking a few days here.
4 days in Venice should require no more than hand luggage, especially if you’re flying a low budget airline and have to pay for hold baggage or if you have a tight turnaround at airports and could do with walking straight off the plane with your bags. We all easily packed for 4 days in our small hand luggage suitcases and a cabin bag (handbag or rucksack) each.
Packing to the weather forecast is the most important ingredient when it comes to packing hand luggage so think about your outfits carefully. We all planned our outfits in advance so that we could swap items around so for example I took a pair of leggings and a pair of jeans and then 3 tops and 3 jumpers/cardigans so I was able to switch things around to create new outfit combinations – without having to pack a new item for every day.
Think logically about what you actually need. I think when away from home you tend to pack ‘just in case’ because you know your stuff isn’t to hand but with hand luggage only you’re limited on space and weight and those ‘just in case’ items are taking up vital room. If you’re going in winter like we did then make sure you have packed your warmest socks, hat, scarf and gloves whereas if you’re going in the height of summer you want your straw hat, your sunglasses and your sandals. Take out anything that you can do without, make sure you pack what is vital, chuck out anything you can just buy there for cheap and make sure you leave room for souvenirs. We also only took one pair of shoes each and really, anything more would have been a waste of space so choose comfortable, durable shoes wisely!
My top tips for hand luggage only in Venice;
- Roll not fold
- Take plasters
- Venice involves a lot of walking
- Buy toiletries there or at the airport
- Share as much as you can with the rest of your group
- Pack toiletries in your handbag or rucksack for ease of presenting at the airport security
- Don’t pack anything that will crease
- Wear boots and your coat/thickest jumper on the plane
Venice is quite expensive. There’s no getting around it, it’s not the cheapest of places in Europe you can visit for sure and it’s also a tourist trap, for very good reason. I swear three quarters of the people who live in Venice must work in the tourist trade because you rarely see any other kind of business.
However, I firmly believe you can do Venice on a reasonably strict budget depending on how you play it and the biggest advice I could give is to be street smart. Every vendor or performer on the street that calls you over for a selfie will charge after you’ve taken it. Most restaurants or eateries charge a kind of service fee so the price you see on the menu isn’t always what you’ll be charged at the end of the meal so check beforehand.
We took the equivalent of £50.00 per person per day (so £400 for me and my Mum) which sounds insane for a long weekend but we paid for everything including transfers, public transport, entrance fees, meals out, supermarket shops and souvenirs and we came home with about 80 quid spare cash leftover.
Flights to Venice aren’t the cheapest by any means, but they don’t have to be THAT expensive if you’re willing to travel a little further. Our local airport would have charged us anywhere from 120 quid to a cool 400 depending on dates but instead we travelled 4 hours down the motorway to fly from Stansted and it cost around 70 quid for a return – the flight out being about £18.00. If you can travel further afield cheaply to fly for cheaper (we stayed with the friends we were travelling so free accommodation the night before and after the flights) then I’d really recommend it. Don’t forget as well if you’re up to the challenge, the cheapest flights of the day often are the first flight of the morning and the last flight back out at night which also means you’re more likely to have the most amount of time possible in Venice itself.
There are two airports you can fly into when travelling to Venice; Marco Polo and Treviso. Marco Polo is the main airport if you like, it’s bigger and it’s closer to Venice whereas Treviso is about a 40 minute coach trip away but it’s the only nearby airport that the low budget airlines like Ryan Air fly into. I have actually flown into both now, into Marco Polo in 2011 and into Treviso this time so I feel like I got a good gage of the differences between them.
Marco Polo is maybe more what you’ve come to expect when flying in Europe, slightly bigger, more airlines, more retail and places to eat and also is closer to the heart of Venice itself. Treviso on the other hand is a very small airport and uhm, one of the most unorganised I have ever been to. It does the job don’t get me wrong – it’s budget airlines, it’s cheap to fly there and you get what you pay for but be prepared for a long boring wait if you’re delayed. It’s also worth noting there’s not really any hot food inside Treviso airport once you get through security so if you’ve planned a final slice of pizza into your schedule pre flight make sure you do it before you join the queue for check in.
Transfers from both Marco Polo and Treviso are pretty simple and both times I have taken a coach. Marco Polo is much closer to the heart of Venice and transfers will set you back about €8 per person per journey and take around 20 minutes. Treviso on the other hand will take anywhere between 35 minutes and 70 minutes depending on how many times your bus stops and will cost around €12. Whichever airport you’re at, the ATVO buses are super easy to find or you can book ahead to take the stress out of it a little.
Don’t forget when you visit Venice there are no vehicles on the islands so coach transfers will drop you off on the last part of mainland Italy. Transport from there can come in a variety of forms and the first time I visited we took the people mover into Venice and then walked the last few streets to our hotel. The people mover is kinda like a monorail and costs a peachy €1.50 no matter where you stop along the way but it’s likely you’d only use it if you were staying in the very top of Venice itself.
The most popular form of transport to finish your journey and take you from the coach drop off to your hotel is to take the Vaporetto – the venetian version of a bus, except like everything in Venice, it’s on water not land. The ACTV’s work a lot like the Tube in London with a variety of lines, stops and your ticket works like an oyster card which you tap to an icon when you board. Before you get to Venice I’d recommend finding out which ACTV stop is the closest to your accommodation and researching which line you need to take to get there. A single journey costs €7 no matter where you stop or how long you’re on the boat.
The cheapest way to transfer? Walk! Ok so you’re not going to walk from the airport sure but when your coach or vaporetto drops you off, walking is going to save you the most amount of money. Venice is easily walkable all the way round and you can clock up miles so nowhere is particularly far but do your research first as maybe after a long delay or day travelling you won’t want to get off at that stop that’s a 45 minute walk from your Air B&B. Our accommodation was in one of the quieter parts of Venice right down at the bottom so we got an ACTV to our nearest stop and walked the rest (around 10 minutes) following google maps on our phones and navigating the snow. Just remember to keep an eye on your luggage at all times and don’t forget if you’ve got a heavy case – Venice is FULL of bridges and steps.
Venice is like anywhere when it comes to accommodation – there’s a whole range and a whole load of prices too boot. Your best bet is taking recommendations from someone you know who’s already been or going on the old haunts; Booking.com, Late Rooms etc and don’t forget to check out Trip Advisor reviews too. There’s plenty of hotels too choose from and a whole heap of Air B&B rooms or apartments too.
There’s a few things to bear in mind when you’re looking for accommodation in Venice, price obviously more than likely being your first port of call. Depending on what you want to get out of Venice there’s a lot you can whittle down. You have to remember the buildings are old, lots of the interiors match a very traditional theme and might be a little uhm, more dated than what you’re accustomed to at home. Of course you can find the grandest, most lavish and modern pads too, depending on if you’re planning on splashing out.
Location is also a biggie when choosing on where you want to stay. Venice is obviously small and easily walkable so nothing should be too far from where you’re staying to visit – and there’s always the vaporetto too. Location maybe comes more down to how rustic and local you want your accommodation vs if you want to be more in the heart of it.
The first time I stayed in Venice I was with college in a hotel a stones throw from the Grand Canal at the top of Venice where it’s more touristy. We were a bridge away from an Irish bar, we were in the heart of the hustle and bustle and for a group of 19 year olds it was perfect. This time, travelling with my Mum and our friends we opted to rent out an apartment on the quieter side of Venice, down by the Biennale Gardens where the buildings were full of locals and there was very little in the way of tourist traps.
Think about what you want to get out of Venice and book your accommodation to suit. If you want to be up in the heart of it all, book around the Grand canal but be wary of price. If you want to be where the locals live book further down toward the lagoon. If you want everything done for you book hotel and breakfast and if you want to keep costs low and cook for yourself then book a house, flat or apartment.
I myself can only give recommendations based on the two places I have stayed. The Hotel Basilea was where I stayed when I was 19 and as a three star hotel with breakfast it was a bit of alright. The décor is pretty dated, along with much of Venice but very in-keeping with the building. We actually managed to bag seemingly the best rooms in the hotel with a little suite combining of one room with a big double bed, another room with 4 singles and a separate loo, bathroom and shower. The hotel also owns the building across the street (about 5ft across from the main reception) and those rooms are more budget and a bit more basic so if you’re booking in a group, and don’t mind getting a little cosy in beds close together it can be a really cost affective way of staying in Venice.
If apartments and self catering is more your thing then I can’t recommend Ca Zuane near the Biennale Gardens enough. We booked it via Booking.com and it was reasonably enough priced for a group of 4 and our host was SO accommodating and helpful. It’s quiet, it’s easy reach from whatever you need and the apartment is absolutely beautiful and cooking from ‘home’ makes Venice a heck of a lot cheaper too.
If you’re into art then Venice is the place to be – and very likely the reason you’ve booked it. The first time I travelled there I travelled specifically to see the Biennale and if modern art is your jam then I can’t recommend it enough because the whole city comes alive. If you don’t happen to travel during a Biennale year then there’s still plenty of art and culture to see, including the super famous Penny Guggenhiem museum which is easily accessible from the water bus.
Last time I went to Venice we were there for the art, only the art and didn’t get to do much of the more touristy bits but this time we did and the Doge’s Palace was deffo my fav. There are a few iconic buildings in Venice and this is definitely one of them and if you’re after a break from the rain as we were then it’s a must. The entrance tickets are a cool €20 each which seems steep but we spent hours there and it’s well worth the price. The building is iconic for good reason – the architecture, the paintings, the sheer bloody scale of it is immense and I can’t recommend it enough.
Just round the corner from (and actually attached to) the Doge’s Palace is Saint Mark’s Basilica – the most famous church in Venice. It’s imposing and grand on the outside and has been described as ‘church of gold’ so I’m sure you can imagine the inside. Again, the scale of it is breathtaking and the indulgence of it all is mind blowing. Entrance to the Basilica is actually free but a donation is recommended although I have read that in the height of summer the queues can take hours and for about €3 online you can book skip the line tickets.
Maybe one of the most famous sights in Venice is Saint Mark’s Campanile - which is the big ol’ tower standing tall in St Mark’s Square which you can see from much of Venice. It’s 323 feet tall and visitors can be shot straight to the top in the elevator for potentially the best views in the city. This is actually one thing I haven’t done in Venice and wish I had but when I visited this March it was so rainy and misty we knew we wouldn’t see a thing. Google tells me it costs around €8 per person and is well worth the trip up (if the weather’s right!)
There are a load of islands of the ‘main’ part of Venice but my recommendations lean strongly toward Murano and Burano. Both are easily reached on the vaporettos but I’d probably say it’s a whole day trip out of mainland Venice to make the most of it. Murano is famous for it’s glass making and as Venice is full of Murano glass in every shop, it’s nice to take a trip to see where it’s from. Murano is about a 40 minute boat journey from Venice, depending on what side of the islands you’re on and looks like a mini Venice in a lot of ways. Burano on the other hand, famous for it’s lace making, is full of brightly coloured, vibrant houses and buildings and was honestly my favourite bit of the whole trip. Burano is a bit futher on from Murano, just over an hour away from Venice (again, depending on where you join the line). The vaporetto is €7 per single journey so going from Venice to Murano and then on to Burano and back can add up quickly. You might want to think about buying a one day ticket (more on that to come) to keep costs down. Take a picnic with you, take your camera with you and definitely make your way out there because it’s well worth the trip.
But by far my favourite thing to do in Venice, and hands down my biggest advice to you, would be to just walk. Walk everywhere, get lost, don’t follow a map, don’t head for anything in particular, just walk and explore. I’ve said loads of times already that Venice is easily walkable (if you’re willing to stomp up and down bridges a lot) and you can easily traipse miles in a day. Take the side streets, find where the locals go, stumble across the grand canal 10 times a day without even realising – the absolute best part of Venice is the side streets and the canals and the beautiful bridges and the people who live there hanging their washing out above your head.
There’s a bunch of sights you should definitely tick off your bucket list when you visit Venice – and luckily they’re all free to see too! Obviously the Grand Canal is a big one and was the first place I really got the feeling like I was officially in Venice. I think maybe because this is the place you see on all the photos, all the fridge magnets, all the films, the Grand Canal is quite a sight and it feels a little bit special to just stumble upon it when you’re walking.
Arguably the most famous bridge in Venice, and deffo the one you will have seen in pictures is the Rialto bridge which straddles both sides of the Grand Canal. It really is something else to look at and well worth seeking out to take a picture or two. This is also the view on the Venice live stream so if you’ve got someone at home who can do a quick google they might even be able to see you waving there too.
And seen as we’re on famous bridges you might as well go the whole hog and go to see the Bridge of Sighs too. It apparently got it’s name because it was the last view prisoners got of Venice before they were imprisoned and it’s right by the Doge’s Palace. You can see it for free from some of the windows if you’ve paid to go inside the Palace and I believe you can pay to cross it too as part of a tour.
St Marks Square really is the most iconic square in Venice and it’s 100% worth stopping by. With so much of Venice being tiny streets and cooky bridges it’s always a shock to come into such a vast open space and the grandeur of the square really hits you. The square has the Doge’s Palace, the Basilica and the Campanile so it’s the perfect place for you to explore all three in a day but beware of shopping or eating anywhere nearby – it’ll cost you about 4 times the price of anywhere else in Venice.
I actually can’t recommend getting out of the hustle and bustle of the Grand Canal and heading out to the lagoon enough. If you walk through St Mark’s Square and head left with the Doge’s Palace on your left you find yourself out at the lagoon and it’s a heck of a view. It’s a lot quieter on the lagoon side of Venice, a lot more leafy and gives you a proper breath of sea air and I think it’s really worth traipsing over there.
I find recommending specific places to eat in Venice quite difficult because I haven’t been anywhere myself that blew my socks off. This time around I had lunch one day in Al Teatro Goldoni which has really dodge reviews but I found more than pleasant and was the ideal stop off in the rain when we were starving.
For our evening meal on the last night we went wandering around where we were staying and after wandering a little, trying to cater for someone who doesn’t like pizza or pasta, a nut allergy like me and a veggie we found Osteria alla Bandiera. It was really reasonably priced considering the size of the meals and the atmosphere was really nice and for us it was the perfect stop for the final evening.
If you’re travelling in last afternoon and want somewhere to book for your first night with no hassle then Venice actually has a Hard Rock just round the corner from St Marks Square (and a H&M and Zara if you need a better excuse). Ok so it might not be your traditional Italian meal but it’s easy to book, you know what you’re getting there and actually it’s a bit of a novelty to visit as many Hard Rock’s as you can around the world innit? Treat yourself to a souvenir and I’d recommend the twisted mac and cheese with chicken and garlic bread because trust, I am still dreaming about it.
My biggest recommendation when it comes to eating in Venice is just to walk and discover something. It’s what I’ve done every time I’ve been to Venice and it’s where you find the hidden gems (and ok maybe sometimes not, we had a very dodgy Chinese back when I was 19). I’d say go walking around when you’re staying, ask hotel staff or Air B&B hosts where they’d recommend, check out the menus outside the restaurants and have at least one size of pizza and a plate of pasta at some point when you’re there. Also look to see if somewhere is filled with tourists or filled with locals – the locals know the best spots!
And if eating out for every meal isn’t your thing then you can go no wrong by getting an Italian picnic to take out. The day we went to Murano and Burano we went to a local supermarket (there’s loads of Spars and Coop’s about) and picked up fresh baguettes, butter, cheese, meat and fruit and we had the loveliest picnic on the rainiest day on our boat journey over to the islands.
One thing to watch out for in Venice is the tourist tax. A lot of Italian cities have this and it’s normally payable in cash or on arrival or check out of your trip, depending on where you’re staying at their policies. A lot of places won’t add it onto your invoice when you’re booking your accommodation so you might be a bit unawares so you might want to send an email to your hotel or apartment asking for clarification on the tax price for your stay. I can’t find any definitive information on how much tax you will have to pay but the general consensus is that it’s €1 per star per person per night of your stay in a hotel but 5* hotels are exempt and you only pay up to 5 nights. So for example if you stay in a 3* hotel with one other person for 4 nights you’d pay €24 for the both of you. Apparently though it also depends on whether or not you stay out of season (November – March 50% off) and if you stay on the lido or not (30% off) but this doesn’t include carnival season when you’d pay full price. My advice would be to ask before you get there what you’re likely to pay and if it seems much higher than this system I’d query it. For reference we paid €24 for all 4 of us for 3 nights in a privately rented apartment so go figure that one out.
If you’re staying in an apartment or Air B&B it’s really common for the host to ask for some information from you when you’re there. Most hosts will ask for your flight number which sounds a little intrusive but actually, when you’re up in the air and you’re delayed and you can’t use your phone it’s actually really handy for your host to be able to track your progress (this happened to us and as we had a cut off for check in it was really helpful not having that worry). Lots of hotels and accommodation hosts will also ask for your passports, either to keep in a safe for the duration of your stay or just for your passport number which they need to provide for their own taxes/documents.
I mentioned briefly above that lots of restaurants and eateries in Venice have hidden costs when it comes to eating out and you can soon find yourself with a huge bill you weren’t expecting. Sometimes they’ll bring out ‘free’ breadsticks, garlic bread or water for the table that you might find weren’t free if you dipped into them and lots of places will add a ‘tax’ or ‘service charge’ on at the end. The best way to combat this is not to eat in St Mark’s Square, go via recommendations and Trip Advisor reviews and also ask before you set foot in somewhere whether or not the price on the menu is the actual price of the meal. One plus side though is most restaurants will add a service charge onto your bill anyway so you don’t need to tip which solves that awkward conversation.
Paying for things is pretty easy in Venice and if you stick to the £50.00 per person per day rule (and don’t go spend happy) you should be fine. Lots of places to eat, hotels and public transport take Mastercard so your bank card should be accepted should you need it but don’t forget to check with your bank first so it isn’t blocked. Of course smaller places and shops might only take cash so it’s wise to take at least half your money in cash and exchange it at home – not at the airport!!
Speaking of money, it’s a thorn in Venice’s side but pick pocketing is a common occurrence. It’s understandable really, it’s full of tourists too busy standing and looking at pretty views and maybe not paying as much attention to their rucksack as they should. Just be sensible about it, don’t put your money or your passport at the front of your bag where it’s easy to grab, don’t have open bags and don’t flash your cash around. Most of the vaporetto’s have posters on them warning about pick pocketing so when you’re travelling I’d advise taking off your rucksack and holding it, putting your suitcase in front of you and swiveling shoulder bags to your front when you’re on public transport as it is close quarters and you’re often squashed in between people.
Pick pocketing aside I really dig Venice’s public transport system and it’s ease of use (and impeccable timing). There are no delays on the boats, it’s not like Britain, it’s very efficient and very easy to use. There are tonnes of vaporetto stations around Venice on a variety of lines which are numbered and the boats arrive at specified times to each of those docks. The only downside I’d say is you can’t buy your tickets at every stop so for example this time around our most local station didn’t have a ticket booth whereas the one closest to us back in 2011 had a self service machine. It’s not too much of an issue, chances are one a bit further up the line has a ticket booth and you can buy a single ticket (no matter where you stop) for €7 and a return for €13. If you’re in Venice for a few days and likely to use it a few times then I’d really recommend looking into a 24 hour, 2 day, 3 day etc pass which allows you unlimited journeys for a set price.
And finally – the question I think everyone asks when visiting Venice; are the gondolas worth it? In my humble opinion? Yes. They’re not cheap by any means but the hour I spent on the Grand Canal back in 2011 with some of my best friends was the time I truly felt like we were doing something special, that we were truly in Venice and it really was one of my favourite memories. The thing to remember when considering a gondola tour is to shop around people selling tours. There are millions and they all cost different prices and never just go for the first offer from the first man. When we finally committed we had an hours trip with a brilliant guide and we negotiated €10 per person – a price we thought more than fair for the experience we got.
And that’s it! 5000 words parting my wisdom on Venice – a really beautiful place to spend 4 days. Feel free to leave me a comment, tweet me or send me an email if you have any questions or are planning a trip there!