Venice is one of those cities you have to go to at some point in your life. It’s one of the most well-known destinations and one of the places most synonymous with travel in Europe, or travel anywhere! Despite (or maybe, in spite) of it’s reputation, Venice is both loved and hated. I know people who find the city magical and beautiful, and others who think it’s totally overrated and should be skipped.
Me? I fall somewhere in the middle.
I both loved and hated Venice. All in all, I’m very glad I went but I think I would be fine if I never visited Venice again. For me, it’s the kind of place you tick off the bucket list, not one you go back to every year. But that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it!
Here are eight things I loved, and five things I hated, about Venice.
8 things I loved about Venice
Venice Terrace rooftop
One of the best kept secrets in Venice is the rooftop of T Fondaco Dei Tedeschi, the Venice Terrace. This rooftop of a shopping centre is located right next to Rialto Bridge and has a beautiful view over Venice. Best of all? It’s free! No need to spend money going up to other viewpoints when you have this one that’s beautiful, central and completely free.
The only catch? You need to reserve your spot ahead of time. Of course, the sunset times go quick, so book early. We booked about three weeks in advance and the sunset times were already gone, but we managed to grab a pre-dinner viewing time. As we were standing in line to enter the terrace, security were turning people away as it was all sold out for the day.
You can book online or try your luck booking in person at the rooftop (you’ll likely be booking for the next day). You only get 15 minutes up on the rooftop for your time slot, but there’s not much to do up there besides admire the view. There are no drinks to buy and there’s no shade. So 15 minutes is plenty – lots of time to see a beautiful side of Venice!
Getting lost along the canals and back alleys
Everyone says the best part of Venice is just getting lost and they are right. My favourite parts of the city were found almost by accident, wandering around the back alleys and quiet canals. It’s so interesting to see the stark difference between the grand canal and a quiet street just a few minutes away.
If you start to feel like Venice is overcrowded, just wander off the main drag. You’ll suddenly find yourself all alone and coming across adorable canals, beautiful old buildings and cool piazzas. Pack your walking shoes and enjoy the cooler, quieter and more authentic side of Venice.
Some people say that Venice is dirty or grungy. I didn’t feel that way. Yes, it’s not pristine and clean but I didn’t feel like that was bad. It just felt more authentic and more lived in. I kind of love that this place that is so prized for being beautiful is also full of proper old buildings that aren’t being given the Disney treatment just for tourists’ benefit.
Italian leather purses
Of course, these aren’t unique to Venice but it was in Venice that we snagged some really beautiful, well-made and inexpensive Italian leather purses. During our moms trip, we all got a purse (or two!) and Colin got a wallet. I had been in market for a new cross-body bag and love that my new one is from Italy!
Cute houses in Burano
Burano is one of the islands off of Venice and definitely worth a half-day trip. It’s claim to fame is the bright, colourful houses that line its canals. And they really are beautiful!
Unfortunately, Burano isn’t as well kept a secret as it once was. So these days, tourists are swarming around the colourful houses. But the island is still really beautiful. We visited in September, but I would think the off-season wouldn’t be as crowded.
Burano is also known for its beautiful lace. I’m not much of a lace person myself but if you’re in the market for something made out of lace, Burano has got you covered.
Cool Murano glass
Burano’s sister island, Murano, is known for its production of glass. Back in the day, all of the glass-makers were kicked out of Venice for fear that they would start a fire on the main island. They moved to Murano and it became one of the most well-known glass producers in the world.
Murano is definitely worth a visit from Venice, as seeing the glass is super cool and the island is quite pretty (and quieter than Burano). It’s incredible to see what kind of art they can make out of glass – from chandeliers and sculptures to jewelry. We all went home with a few little figurines and earrings. Just be careful not to break anything!
Staying close to the train station
We booked a hotel that was close to the train station and main water bus terminal. Since we were only in Venice for two days, I’m glad we did this. Venice is the city of canals and the only way over those canals is a twisting maze of bridges and stairs. This is not the place where you want to be walking a long time to get to your accommodation.
I’m so glad we only had to walk less than 10 minutes with all of our heavy bags to get to our hotel. And it was even shorter on our way out, as we were taking a bus to the train station on the mainland. During our time in Venice, we saw lots of people struggling with bags as they made their way from the train station to their hotels on the other side of the island. Sure, you’re closer to St. Mark’s Square. But I’d much rather walk to St. Mark’s on my own time after I’ve dropped my stuff off at my hotel than have to get there with all my bags.
If you are staying far from the train station, you can take a water taxi (expensive) or water bus (cheaper but can be very crowded and might not get you close enough to your hotel). There are also porters who carry bags throughout the city, if you want to pay for that service.
This Venice highlight ties into my love for wandering and getting lost. Only in doing that do you get to stumble across hidden gems, like great little cafes that you can have all to yourself, away from the other tourists.
I’m sure Venice is full of them, but two really stood out to me. One was a coffee bar/real bar that made us iced coffees in a margarita shaker. It was very innovative and super tasty! I wish we had stayed longer to sample some of the real drinks and great looking appetizers. But it was the perfect spot for a coffee break.
Another great find we came across was a sidewalk wine bar. You ordered from a tiny stand next to a bridge, and then could take your drink with you and sit wherever you wanted. We sat along the canal, in a really beautiful piazza with a giant church behind us, sipping on the cheapest aperol spritz we had found all trip! I think it was only 2 or 3 euro!
Osteria Alla Staffa
The best meal we had in Venice, and possibly the best meal of our entire 3-week long moms trip, was our dinner at Osteria Alla Staffa. This small restaurant in Venice is an absolute must. They don’t take reservations and it’s a very small dining space, so go as soon as they open. Everything is delicious and the service is lovely.
Feast your eyes on this:
All right so that was what I loved about Venice. Now let’s get into some of the parts I didn’t really enjoy.
And 5 things I hated about Venice
Eating by the Rialto Bridge
This one is on us. My rule is to never eat right next to a big attraction. Want to have a terrible and overpriced meal in New York? Eat in Times Square. The same rule applies in Venice. So I should have known we’d be in for a rough time when we sat down at a restaurant right next to the Rialto Bridge.
You can tell all of the restaurants along the Grand Canal leading to the Rialto Bridge are catering to tourists. They boast big English menus with daily specials and everyone sitting at the tables is chattering away in English. We sat down at one so close to the bridge I could lean my head on it. Unfortunately, the food was subpar and the prices were a bit high. But the worst part was the service. Our waiter was so rude! And they went out of their way to ask for a tip, despite already charging us a 12% service fee.
Now, I know that service in Europe is not the same as service in North America. I’ve been living in Prague for four months so I definitely know that customer service isn’t a thing here. But rudeness is a problem. I also know that a regular service or table fee in Italy is only a couple of euro and is supposed to be for your bread. It should not be 12% and I certainly will not be tipping on top of that.
Expensive rooftop drinks
Following that dinner, we wandered the streets until we spotted a rooftop bar. To be fair, I really loved our rooftop bar experience. The atmosphere up there was super cool, the service was awesome and the drinks were tasty. It was a very nice end to our first night in Venice.
But the prices were outrageous! I think we paid about $18 for a single drink and, of course, we had to get two each! They did give us a complimentary snack platter but even still, it didn’t make up for the crazy prices.
Crowded water buses
This might have been the part of Venice I hated the most. To visit Murano and Burano, we decided to take public transportation – water buses. We bought 24 hour tickets for 20 euro (which is scarily, the cheapest option for transportation in Venice) but then things got bad. Water buses didn’t follow their posted schedule and were so ridiculously crowded. It’s no fun to stand on a hot and crowded water bus for 30+ minutes!
The worst journey was our way home. There is supposed to be a direct water bus from Burano to a port in Venice. However, they decided that wouldn’t be running and that we needed to walk over to the next stop. So we did, and then stood in an extremely crowded and hot bus station forever as boat after boat passed us going in the wrong direction. When a boat to Venice finally showed up, it was a ton of shoving and pushing to get on board.
As much as I enjoyed Murano and Burano, my experience on the water buses was pretty awful. I know there are tours you can take out to the islands on private boats – and some even offer free boat rides if you agree to visit their glass and lace factories. I don’t usually like organized tours but I think I would recommend that route to avoid the crowded water buses.
The quintessential Venice experience? Riding a gondola, of course! Unfortunately, it’s also the most expensive experience in Venice. A 30 minute gondola ride will set you back 80 euro, or 100 euro if you want to go during peak hours. That’s the cost per boat, and a boat can seat up to six people. So you could split it and only have to pay 13 euro (or about $20 CAD) each, but that’s still expensive for such a short ride. And if you’re not travelling in a group of six, you’d have to find strangers to share with.
We decided not to go on a gondola ride and I think that was the right choice. Yes, it would have been cool to say we rode on gondolas in Venice. But the price is really high and the experience only looks so-so. From land, it never looked like anyone on the gondolas was having a great time, especially if they got stuck on the busy grand canal.
From my research, I’ve learned that if you do want to go on a gondola ride, you should confirm the route with your gondolier and request to be taken through the quiet, back canals. And if you’re desperate to ride in a gondola but don’t want to part with 100 euro, try this hack for riding one for just 2 euro! We didn’t try it on our trip, but it sounds like a good idea.
Being let down at St. Mark’s Square
We only visited St. Mark’s Square once on our last night in Venice. And, to be fair, we visited at night when everything was closed. So maybe I would have been really blown away if I had gone into St. Mark’s Basilica, Doge’s Palace or St. Mark’s Campanile. But I was never planning to go in anyway because they all have a high price tag, and I’ve heard you need skip-the-line tickets or else you’re waiting forever.
But I still wanted to visit the square and see these iconic places in person. Unfortunately, when we showed up, I was a little underwhelmed. As we were walking there, everytime we came up to a big church (of which there are plenty in Italy), Colin’s mom would ask if we were at St. Mark’s Square yet. I was expecting to be really wowed when we did finally arrive, but it kind of felt like the other squares.
Of course, the exterior of the Basilica was beautiful. But I was so turned off by the crowds (even at night!), vendors trying to sell toys and roses, and restaurants pumping out loud music. It just wasn’t my kind of atmosphere. I expected a lot more from this must-see area in Venice.
And that was my Venice experience! What do you think? Did you love Venice or did you hate it?
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