Venice city break guide
Our Venice expert, Anne Hanley, tells you all you need to know about a city break in Venice, from the top sights to the best hotels, restaurants and shops.
Venice never loses its capacity to enchant
Anne Hanley has lived in Italy for over 25 years. Venice is her favourite Italian city and uses any excuse to go back. She also edits the Time Out Guides to Venice and Rome.
Visitors pile into the fragile centro storico of Venice – and there are days when tourists outnumber locals by two to one – but the city never loses its capacity to enchant. Late spring and early summer bring some of the most daunting crowds, but there’s a reason why they come: the sheer loveliness of this exquisite city bathed in clear light and warmth. It’s important to remember that, even at peak visitor times, you are never more than a bridge and an alley away from a more secluded city, full of secret campos, handsome Gothic palazzos and neighbourhood wine bars.
As summer draws on, the place gets quieter: maybe the thought of clouds or mosquitoes and odorous canals deters visitors in August. It shouldn’t: Venice shimmering in its summer haze like the most ‘impressionist’ work by Tintoretto is a sight to behold…the heat, humidity and some slightly pungent backwaters are a small price to pay.
In any season, Venice’s churches and museums offer antique glories aplenty, but there is also a vibrant contemporary art scene, even away from the Art Biennale.
When to go?
Low season here is a relative concept, though many hotels offer discounts in hot, muggy August and from mid-November until the end of January. Venice in winter can be a magical place, misty and atmospheric, though the crowds descend (and prices soar) over Carnevale, which in 2013 runs from 2-12 February, while the Venice Film Festival turns the sleepy Lido into a mini Hollywood, which runs from 29 August to 8 September 2012.
Know before you go
British Embassy in Rome: (06 4220 0001; www.ukinitaly.fco.gov.uk)
British Consulate in Venice: (041 505 5990), Piazzale Donatori di Sangue, Mestre. Open Mon-Fri, 10am-1pm. At other times call the Milan consul on 02 723 001.
Emergency services: Dial 112 (Carabinieri), 113 (State Police).
Tourist office: The main office is on the lagoon-facing promenade between the San Marco waterbus stop and the Piazza (San Marco 2, Palazzina Santi; 041 522 5150; www.turismovenezia.it). Open daily, 10am-6pm. Other branches at Marco Polo airport, Santa Lucia train station, Piazzale Roman road terminus and the Lido.
Currency: euro. Most cashpoints accept international cards.
Telephone codes: 00 39 041 from abroad, 041 from inside Italy.
Time difference: +1 hour.
Flight time: London to Venice is just under two hours.
Local laws and etiquette
Venice is a pedestrian city, and alleyways and bridges are its highways and flyovers – so sitting on a bridge is a bit like parking in the middle of the road.
Italians always say hello and goodbye in social situations. A simple “buon giorno” in the morning or “buona sera” in the afternoon or evening goes a long way. “Ciao” is more informal. If somebody says “grazie” , it’s polite to say “prego” in return.
If you’re invited to dinner, flowers or chocolates for the hostess are a more usual gift than a bottle of wine.
Venice Marco Polo is the closest airport to central Venice, while Treviso, 70 minutes by bus from Piazzale Roma (the main Venice road terminus), is used by most low-cost airlines.
Marco Polo is served by British Airways ( www.ba.com) from Heathrow and Gatwick; Aer Lingus ( www.aerlingus.com) from Dublin; BMI ( www.bmibaby.com) from East Midlands; EasyJet ( www.easyjet.com) from Gatwick; Jet2.com (www.jet2.com) from Belfast and Manchester; and Monarch ( www.flymonarch.com) from Gatwick and Manchester.
The seven-mile journey to Venice can be made by road or water. The bus trip is quicker and cheaper, but the boat option is so much more Venetian. Boats are operated by Alilaguna (www.alilaguna.com) and run at least once an hour from 6am until midnight. For San Marco , take the Arancio (1hr 14min) or Blu (1hr 12min) lines; for Rialto hop on the Arancio (57min). Linea Blu also calls at Lido (1hr 2min) and at the cruise ship port (Terminal Crociere, 1hr 34mins). €15 one way, or €13 if you book on line; €25 return or €24 if you book online.
Buses to Piazzale Roma road terminus are operated by ATVO ( www.atvo.it; 20min, €5 one way) and ACTV ( www.actv.it; 35min, €5 one way, €9 return). All tickets, for bus or boat, need to be bought in the arrivals hall and stamped on boarding. A taxi to Piazzale Roma will cost about €35, while a water taxi to anywhere in Venice or the Lido costs €100 for up to five people with luggage.
Treviso is served by Ryanair (www.ryanair.com) from Stansted, Bristol, Dublin, East Midlands and Leeds Bradford. Lying 19 miles north of Venice, Treviso is connected to Piazzale Roma road terminus by ATVO bus (www.atvo.it; 70min, €6 one way). The buses normally wait for late incoming flights. A taxi to Venice will cost anywhere from €150 upwards.
Most of the big cruise ships and ferries dock at the Stazione Marittima at the western end of the Zattere, below the Piazzale Roma road terminus and car parks. A shuttle bus runs from here every 20 minutes or so to Piazzale Roma, where you can buy waterbus tickets, cross the pedestrian bridge to the train station, or jump on a bus to either airport. If you’re heading for San Marco, board the Blue Alilaguna ferry direct from Stazione Marittima (20 minutes; single €6.50). It runs every hour from 8.54am until 3.54pm.
The main station is Venezia Santa Lucia, right on the Grand Canal. On the mainland side is Mestre station, a busy hub with lines south to Bologna, Florence and Rome, west to Padua, Verona and Milan, and north and east to Treviso, Trieste and Slovenia. The national rail operator is Trenitalia ( www.trenitalia.com)
Waterbuses (vaporetti) and road buses (which operate in Mestre on the mainland, and on the Lido) are run by ACTV. There are two main waterbus routes: from Santa Lucia station and Piazzale Roma road terminus, you can either head down the Grand Canal to Rialto and San Marco on the scenic lines 1 or 2, or loop around the main “ island” of Venice to the north or south on the 4.1/4.2 or 5.1/5.2 lines.
If you are heading for the Lido, the quickest routes are the 6 or (from San Marco only) the 10. For Murano, take the 4.2 (4.1 in the other direction). For the islands of the northern lagoon, take the 12 at Fondamente Nove on Venice’s northern shore; change to the 9 at Burano for Torcello. Vaporetto tickets cost €7 single, valid for 60 minutes. If you are planning to use the waterbuses a lot, invest in a travel card (€18 for 24 hours; up to €50 for a week). Venice Connected (www.veniceconnected.com) offers discounts.
These sleek motorboats are a stylish and speedy way of getting around, but they are not cheap. Up to five passengers (including luggage) would pay €60 to travel from the train station to Rialto or St Mark’s and €100 from the airport to Venice or the Lido. Additional passengers pay €10 each, plus €5 for luggage. Book (041 5222303; www.motoscafivenezia.it).
Through silken waters my gondola glides – and that’ll be €120, please. That’s the daytime rate for an hour in a gondola (up to six passengers); between 7pm and 8am it rises to €150. The minimum fare is €80 for 40 minutes, though you may be able to negotiate at slow times.
It’s fairly pointless driving to Venice as you will just have to leave your car in the (expensive) car parks of the Piazzale Rome road terminus, or in Mestre on the mainland, for the duration of your stay. Rental companies include Avis (www.avisautonoleggio.it); Budget ( www.budgetautonoleggio.it); Hertz (www.hertz.it) and Europcar ( www.europcar.it) .
Get a gondola ride for 50 cents by taking one of the large traghetto (ferry) gondolas with two oarsmen that cross the Grand Canal at strategic points – for example, between Campo Santa Maria del Giglio (by the Hotel Gritti) and the church of La Salute (daily, 9.30am-6pm), or San Samuele and Ca’ Rezzonico (Mon-Sat, 7.45am-1.30pm). It’s de rigueur to do the crossing standing up, as the locals do.