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8 Mistakes Most Tourists Make in Venice

April 07, 2019
8 min read
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Venice's nickname may be La Serenissima — the most serene — but anyone who has been jostled by the crowds around Piazza San Marco, gotten on the wrong ferry or taken a wrong turn and found themselves at the dead end of a canal knows that the city can, at times, be maddening.

Of course, with its picturesque waterways, incredible architecture, museums full of Renaissance masterpieces, glamorous hotels and exceptional Venetian cuisine, Venice continues to have an undeniable appeal. And take it from me: Strolling down those narrow streets after dark, when the crowds have dispersed, is downright magical.

To keep your Venice experience the stuff of dreams and not nightmares, avoid making these common mistakes too many travelers make when visiting the City of Canals.

1. Eating on Piazza San Marco

Venice's most famous square is famous for a reason, of course. At one end you have the striking Basilica di San Marco — a masterpiece of Byzantine architecture filled with opulent mosaics — while the other sides are lined with covered arcades housing shops, restaurants and bars. But with the exception of Caffè Florian, which dates back to 1720, the restaurants here are not worth your hard-earned Euros. So how can you tell a good restaurant from a tourist trap?

"One of the most common ways to tell if a restaurant is good is by finding out whether Venetians go there to eat; should this be the case, then most of the times the quality is worthy the try," Gabriele Picci, head concierge at the Belmond Hotel Cipriani, told The Points Guy. Of course, you could always ask the concierge at your hotel for a recommendation, too.

Piazza San Marco is beautiful, but the restaurants surrounding it should be avoided. Photo by Dmitry Sovyak on Unsplash
Piazza San Marco is beautiful, but the restaurants surrounding it should be avoided. Photo by Dmitry Sovyak on Unsplash

2. Relying on Google Maps

Venice is a city where you're going to get lost — it's really inevitable — and in fact, that's a large part of its charm. If you've got the time to spare, I highly recommend wandering aimlessly around the canals, just taking it all in. However, if you're in a hurry and have got somewhere to be, you might need some help navigating the labyrinthine city. Unfortunately, Google Maps is very unreliable in Venice. It's not unusual for it to tell you to walk over a canal where there's no bridge or leave you facing a dead end. Luckily, many streets in Venice are marked not only with the street's name but also with arrows pointing toward Piazza San Marco. Follow those arrows or ask for directions from the shop owners.

3. Taking the Wrong Waterbus

Being a car-free city has its charms, but it means that the only public transit is the waterbus, known as the vaporetto. Aside from walking, it's the cheapest way to get around, but figuring out which one to take can be confusing. There are more than 20 different vaporetto lines circulating around the main island and connecting it to Giudecca, Murano, Lido and Venice's other islands. Before boarding, check to make sure the boat arriving at the dock is going in the right direction, since boats going in both directions will often stop at the same dock. You can use the AVM Venezia Official App to help you plan your route. You'll also need to buy a ticket in advance and validate it before boarding. Not every stop has automated ticket machines or a ticket booth, so if you know you'll be using the vaporetto several times, it's best to buy multiple tickets at one of the main stops or get a Tourist Travel Card.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

4. Getting Ripped Off by a Gondolier

The city of Venice sets the price for gondola rides, so don't listen to a gondolier who tries to tell you otherwise. According to the City Hall, it costs €80 (around $90) for a 30-minute ride between the hours of 9am and 7pm. From 7pm until 3am, the price rises to €100 (closer to $112) for 35 minutes. But according to Picci, you should try to bargain the price. Just know that rates for gondola rides are set by the amount of time you spend in them, not how many people ride in them, and keep in mind that they can hold a maximum of six passengers.

5. Jumping on a Gondola for Photos

You might be able to bargain with the gondoliers, but don't treat their boats like props for your personal photo shoot. Fulvio De Bonis, founder of Imago Artis Travel, has witnessed this and plenty of other bad behavior by tourists in Venice. He has seen people walking around the city in swimsuits, throwing trash in the canals and even putting their feet in those canals. "Bathing in the canals is forbidden," he explained. It seems crazy that we'd even have to say this, but don't be that person. You might not blend in with the locals, but don't be a totally clueless tourist. You might think it's funny, but the city is cracking down on tourists and you could get fined up to $475 for your bad behavior.

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Photo by Christie Kim on Unsplash.
Photo by Christie Kim on Unsplash.

6. Reserving Your Hotel Last Minute

If you're planning a trip during high season — roughly between April through October — it's a good idea to book your hotel several weeks or months in advance, especially if you have your heart set on a particular property. And if you're going to be in town for one of the city's major events, like the Venice Biennale or the Film Festival, Picci said you should book your hotel, "at least one year in advance."

Be sure to book in advance if you want to stay at an iconic property like the Belmond Hotel Cipriani. Photo courtesy of Belmond.
Be sure to book in advance if you want to stay at an iconic property like the Belmond Hotel Cipriani. Photo courtesy of Belmond.

7. Not Booking Cultural Attractions in Advance

Most museums and historic sites don't require that you purchase tickets in advance, but in some case you'll either need to (or want to) so you can skip the lines or get exclusive experiences. Picci recommended booking the Secret Itinerary tour of the Doge's Palace at least two weeks in advance. And if you want to see a famous opera at Teatro La Fenice, you'll need to book that ahead of time, too.

The Doge's Palace (at right) is full of Renaissance masterpieces. Photo by AussieActive on Unsplash
The Doge's Palace (at right) is full of Renaissance masterpieces. Photo by AussieActive on Unsplash

8. Skipping the Local Specialties

"Visitors very rarely know that Italy boasts as many culinary traditions as the number of regions it is composed of, so they think of eating Italian [and order] the most common dishes they have been hearing about," Picci said.

"When in Venice, in order to do as Venetians do, they should order: Fegato alla veneziana; bigoli in salsa; seppie in tecia; baccalà mantecato with polenta; and sarde in saor," Picci explained. That's calf's liver and onions; pasta with onion and salt-cured fish; squid over grilled polenta; whipped cod fish; and sweet and sour sardines. You can find many of these dishes at Cip's Club at the Cipriani, and traditional Venetian restaurants and bacari (typical Venetian bars) around the city.