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  • Windstar-Cruises-Venice-gondola-002 - Find romance during an iconic gondola ride through the canals of Venice during your Windstar Cruises sailing.
  • nightfall-venice-italy - Nightfall at St. Mark's Square in Venice, Italy.
  • Cunard-Queen-Elizabeth-in-Venice - Queen Elizabeth glides past St. Mark's Square in Venice, one of the memorable destinations on a Cunard cruise.
  • Royal-Clipper-in-Venice - Take in Venice as you've never seen her during a sailing on the clipper ship Royal Clipper.
  • Uniworld-River-Countess-exterior - Uniworld's River Countess offers itineraries in Venice, Florence, Rome and other gems in Northern Italy.
  • gondolas-Venice - Gondolas in the waning afternoon hours in the Grand Canal of Venice, a city that combines history and romance.
  • Venice-canal-at-dusk - A painterly scene of Venice at dusk. The City of Canals is one of the destinations on a Tere Moana cruise.
  • canale-di-san-mattia-venice-italy - Northern bridge over the Canale di San Mattia in Venice, Italy.
  • Uniworld-River-Countess-in-Venice - The award-winning boutique river cruise ship River Countess sails through the Grand Canal in Venice.
  • gondolas-venice-italy - Idle gondolas near Piazza San Marco in Venice, Italy. All Venice gondolas are painted black in memory of 50,000 Venetians who lost their lives during the black plague.
  • small-canal-venice-italy.jpg - Off the Grand Canal in Venice, Italy.
  • Poet-Picasso-Guggenheim-Venice - "The Poet" (1911), oil on linen by Pablo Picasso, is part of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice, Italy.
  • Pacific-Princess-in-Venice - Pacific Princess sails through the heart of Venice, Italy, before mooring to give passengers a day to explore the world capital of romance.
  • Sacred-Conversation-Bellini-Accademia-Venice - "Sacred Conversation" (c. 1490), oil on wood by Venetian Renaissance painter Giovanni Bellini at the Gallerie dell'Accademia in Venice, Italy.
  • murano-venice-italy - Craftsman in Murano, Venice, which has a centuries-old tradition of exquisite glass-making.
  • Celebrity-Summit-Venice - Celebrity Summit is towed by the tugboat Vanna C as she leaves Venice. In the background is the basilica Santa Maria della Salute.
  • Venice-canal-boat - Tere Moana takes you to romantic Venice, the "City of Canals."
  • Venice-waterfront - Cafés, hotels and homes along the Grand Canal of Venice, one of the memorable stops aboard a Tere Moana cruise.
  • Seabourn_Odyssey_in_Venice - Seabourn Odyssey coasts through spectacular Venice.
  • Tere-Moana-Venice-Grand-Canal - Paul Gauguin Cruises' small luxury ship Tere Moana sails through the Grand Canal of Venice, Italy, at dusk.
  • Holland-America-Nieuw-Amsterdam-in-Venice-2 - Nieuw Amsterdam sailing into Venice. Launched in Venice on July 4, 2010, Nieuw Amsterdam celebrates the cultural traditions of New York (named Nieuw Amsterdam once upon a time) with its interior design and art collection.
  • wine-shop-venice-italy - A local wine shop in Venice, Italy.
  • Venice-gpld-masks.jpg - Gold masks in a shop window along the Procuratie Vecchie on Piazza San Marco, Venice.
  • Venice-handbags-and-luggage.jpg - Modern handbags and luggage in a shop in Venice.
  • Venice-jester-mask.jpg - A jester's mask in a shop window along the Procuratie Vecchie on Piazza San Marco, Venice.
  • Venice-lamps-store.jpg - Finely decorated glass lamps in a shop in Venice.
  • Venice-masked-animals.jpg - Animal masks in a shop window along the Procuratie Vecchie on Piazza San Marco, Venice.
  • Venice-pottery.jpg - Playfully decorated pottery in a shop in Venice.
  • Venice-shop-masks.jpg - Traditional Venetian masks in a shop window along the Procuratie Vecchie on Piazza San Marco, Venice.
  • Venice-shop-window.jpg - Masks and adornments in a Venice shop window.
  • Venice-womans-mask-3.jpg - A woman's mask in the traditional Venetian style in a shop window along the Procuratie Vecchie on Piazza San Marco, Venice.
  • Venice-womans-mask.jpg - A woman's mask in the traditional Venetian style in a shop window along the Procuratie Vecchie on Piazza San Marco, Venice.
  • Ponant-Venice.jpg - Sail on Le Lyrial to take in the romantic ports of the Adriatic Sea, including Venice.
  • venice-architecture.jpg - Buildings along the Grand Canal in Venice.
  • rialto-bridge-venice.jpg - The famed Rialto Bridge is the oldest bridge that spans the Grand Canal in Venice.
  • san-giorgio-maggiore-venice.jpg - San Giorgio Maggiore, one of the islands of Venice, is best  known for the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore, begun in 1566.
  • gondolas-in-venice.jpg - Gondolas in Venice with San Giorgio Maggiore in the background.
  • gondolas-in-venice2.jpg - Gondolas at rest in Venice.
  • grand-canal-venice.jpg - Water taxis ply the Grand Canal of Venice.
  • koningsdam-venice.jpg - Gondolas bob in the Grand Canal as ms Koningsdam sails through Venice.
  • venice-waterfront.jpg - Buildings along one of the more scenic stretches of waterfront in Venice, Italy.
  • Ponant-Venice-Grand-Canal.jpg - Enjoy the beauty of Venice on your next Ponant cruise.
  • Ponant-Venice-Romance-couple.jpg - Discover romance in Venice on your next Ponant cruise.
  • Ponant-Venice-taxi.jpg - Take a water taxi or water bus on your next Ponant cruise to Venice.
  • Ponant-Venice-woman-ship.jpg - Stroll the streets of Venice in style during a Ponant cruise.
  • Venice-gondola-from-hotel - JD Lasica: "We opened our hotel window, peered down the narrow alleyway and spotted a gondola, as if offering a classic Venetian greeting."
  • Piazzetta-San-Marco-Venice.jpg - View of Piazzetta San Marco toward Grand Canal of Venice, at dawn, with Doges' Palace on the left and Biblioteca Marciana on the right. The two columns are, from left to right, Saint Mark's, protector of the city, and Saint Theodore's.
  • Venice-canal-at-daybreak-2.jpg - Buildings along the canals of Venice at daybreak.
  • Venice-canal-at-daybreak-3.jpg - Leaving the canals of Venice and entering Laguna Veneta (Venice Lagoon) at daybreak.
  • Venice-canal-at-daybreak.jpg - The canals of Venice at daybreak.
  • Venice-cat-mask.jpg - A cat mask in a shop window along the Procuratie Vecchie on Piazza San Marco, Venice.
  • Venice-decorative-glassware-2.jpg - Glassware in a shop window along the Procuratie Vecchie on Piazza San Marco, Venice.
  • Venice-decorative-glassware.jpg - Provocative glassware in a shop window along the Procuratie Vecchie on Piazza San Marco, Venice.
  • Venice-elephant-figurine.jpg - An elephant figurine and other decorations in a shop window along the Procuratie Vecchie on Piazza San Marco, Venice.
  • Venice-enoteca-osteria.jpg - An enoteca, serving food and drinks, along a walkway in Venice.
  • Venice-figurine-with-a-story.jpg - A beaked figurine appears to have a written backstory on its beak in a shop in Venice.
  • Venice-glass-figure.jpg - A pouty glass figurine, likely made in Murano, in a tourist shop in Venice.
  • Venice-glass-figures.jpg - Provocative glassware in a shop window along the Procuratie Vecchie on Piazza San Marco, Venice.
  • Venice-glass-horses-2.jpg - Stallions made of glass in a shop window along the Procuratie Vecchie on Piazza San Marco, Venice.
  • Venice-glass-horses.jpg - Horses made of glass in a shop window along the Procuratie Vecchie on Piazza San Marco, Venice.
  • Venice-glass-rhino.jpg - A glass rhino in a shop window along the Procuratie Vecchie on Piazza San Marco, Venice.
  • Venice-glass-vase.jpg - A colorful modern glass vase in a shop window along the Procuratie Vecchie on Piazza San Marco, Venice.
  • Venice-glassware-2.jpg - Three modern glasses vases in a shop window along the Procuratie Vecchie on Piazza San Marco, Venice.
  • Venice-glassware-3.jpg - Decorative home furnishings in a shop window along the Procuratie Vecchie on Piazza San Marco, Venice.
  • Venice-glassware.jpg - Modern serving plates in a shop window near Piazza San Marco, Venice.
  • Venice-gondolier.jpg - A gondolier prepares to take two travelers out to see Venice's Grand Canal.

Venice: Travel guide & photo tour

our guide

The vibe

You know before you go that this city of islands and canals is like no other. But not until you see with your own eyes (and smell with your own nose) can you appreciate the sublime colors, exquisite (if crumbling) architecture and the dense mantle of history that sits upon a city that reached its peak as a world economic and maritime power more than 700 years ago. Whew, just thinking about the fact that Marco Polo slept here is almost too much to digest.

The tourist hoards can be almost too much to digest, too, at least in summer, when congestion can almost — but never quite — get in the way of the magic. For cruise passengers, this is a city that deserves a pre- or post-trip stay of several days. The best way to explore it is to get up early, walk and walk some more. Explore the tourist spots, yes, but also explore the neighborhoods where laundry hangs from lines suspended over narrow alleyways, children play on picturesque bridges, restaurant menus are only in Italian and the imagination meanders through centuries.

Learning to use Venice’s public transportation is an adventure in itself, and a gondola ride is a pricey “must.” Just please, take my word for it: if you hire a crooner (yes, that’s what they’re called), try to get him (or her) to sing something besides “Santa Lucia” or “O sole mio,” which have little to do with Venice.

Cruise ships that call on Venice

Top reasons to go

  • Romance, beauty, magic. Within minutes, you can go from a crowded avenue to a charming alley and discover gems of architecture, culture and romance in every form.
  • An embarrassment of historical riches. The city's historical sights that have been well preserved, and the many conquerors of Venice have left footprints throughout the region.
  • Are you kidding? Who hasn’t always wanted to go to Venice?

Sonia Gil of Sonia Travels gets wonderfully lost in San Polo in the heart of Venice.

Top things to do & see in Venice

Romance the gondolas

Venice’s inky black boats are the most universally recognized watercraft in the world. They’re also a taken-for-granted part of Venetian life, like cable cars in San Francisco. Those in operation now are only for the tourist trade, but their traditions are centuries old. Expect to spend around 100 euros or about $120 (plus tip) for a 45-minute ride for up to six people at sunset or after dark. Daytime rides are about 20 percent cheaper.

By custom and tradition, all gondoliers over the centuries have been men. As one dashing young man of the trade succinctly explained to me in 2004: “The pope will be a woman before a gondolier is a woman. But the woman is allowed to sing.” There’s a surprise ending to that story: Venice got its first woman gondolier in 2010.

Queen Elizabeth glides past St. Mark's Square in Venice.
Courtesy of Cunard LineQueen Elizabeth glides past St. Mark's Square in Venice.

Take a tour

Your cruise line will probably offer a walking tour as an option; if not, spring for one on your own to get some insight (and skip the entry lines) at Piazza San Marco, the Doge’s Palace, the Peggy Guggenheim Museum and other A-list historical and architectural attractions. Many themed tours are available, from photo walks to culinary excursions. These days, many tour operators provide headsets so that all participants can hear the guide without straining. A special note: Tour guides in Italy must be licensed, and the criteria for obtaining the credential is very involved. They really know their stuff! Many boat tours also are available, offering an entirely different perspective.

Say yes to the city’s highlights

Piazza San Marco is the city’s largest, most-visited square, and houses the Basilica di San Marco as well as the clock tower, Doge’s Palace and Procuratie Vecchie, whose ground floor is occupied by shops and cafes. Dotted with myriad churches and museums, such as San Giovanni e Paolo, Museo Ebraico (Jewish Museum), Galleria dell’Accademia di Venzia and the Peggy Guggenheim Museum, Venice shines as a cultural epicenter within Europe and the world.

Cross the canal in a traghetto

Traghetti are gondola ferries that cross the Grand Canal at seven points where there are no bridges

Traghetti (the plural of traghetto) are gondola ferries that cross the Grand Canal at seven points where there are no bridges. Sans velvet cushions and other adornments, and larger than standard gondolas, the vessels are manned by two gondoliers, one in front, one in back. Venetians do the one-minute crossings standing up. Fare is 2 euros; follow the lead of other passengers and either hand your coins to the gondolier or set them on the deck as you board. Routes are clearly marked on street maps. Buy your pass from an agent or at the Hellovenezia/ACTV office at the Piazzale Roma, where there’s a ticket counter inside the building.

Visit the lagoon islands

More than 70 named islands, some inhabited, some in private or monastic hands, some housing sizable communities, dot the Venetian Lagoon. Most popular with tourists are Murano, where the famous glass is made; and Burano, home to lace shops and a wealth of extravagantly colorful houses. Both islands, along with the haunting isle of Torcello, can be visited on a half-day motorboat sightseeing tour, but be forewarned that you’ll be pressured into buying expensive gewgaws. An option is to go on your own taking public transportation.

Get lost

Your best day in Venice may be the one in which you have no expectations and make no plans. Yes, you’ll be totally vulnerable to Stendhal syndrome — a psychosomatic disorder that causes rapid heartbeat and dizziness when confronted with an abundance of beauty or art. Just go with the flow; you’ll be glad you did.

Shopping

Venice’s narrow streets and alleyways are chockablock with gorgeous boutiques filled with bohemian-chic fashions. Artisan shops sell Murano glass, marbled paper, contemporary paintings, carnival masks and other made-in-Italy treasures.

Nightlife

This is your chance to listen to music in Venice, an experience not to be missed. To find some music coming from venues other than gondola crooners, check out Teatro La Fenice for epic opera, Al Vapore for jazz and blues, Terrazzamare by the beach or Laboratorio Occupato Morion for local Veneto bands in a dive bar setting.

YOLO (You only live once!)

Hire a classic motor launch and make like James Bond as you tour the canals of Venice.

he Rialto Bridge, the oldest of the four bridges spanning the Grand Canal in Venice
Shaun Dunmall / Creative Commons BY-SAThe Rialto Bridge, the oldest of the four bridges spanning the Grand Canal in Venice.

Don’t miss

  • Walking through the Rialto Market, where fresh fish and produce are sold.
  • Pulling up to a sidewalk table, sipping a bellini and listing to the orchestra at Caffee Florian or Ristorante Quadri on the Piazza San Marco. The experience will set you back a pretty penny (15 euros for the drink, plus an “orchestra charge”), but there’s no comparable experience anywhere in the world. World-famous Harry’s Bar is a couple of blocks inland.
  • Sampling gelato, the creamy Italian ice cream.  

Best bets for dining

Cafés, hotels and homes along the Grand Canal of Venice.
Courtesy of Paul Gauguin CruisesCafés, hotels and homes along the Grand Canal of Venice.

In Venice, you can have a variety of culinary experiences. There’s the quintessential candlelit dinner by the canal, the hole-in-the-wall joint serving fresh handmade pasta, the sidewalk café serving pizza or the upscale restaurant that prepares local specialties such as cuttlefish, gnocchi or squid in its ink. While maybe not getting the most accolades for dining in Italy, Venetian cuisine is nothing to scoff at. To eat cheaply, wander out of the Centro Storico, or historic district, to a residential neighborhood and eat where the locals eat. Three-course, set-price menus usually offer good value.

Some places to put on your radar: The hidden-away Taverna del Campiello Remer offers a high-value lunch buffet and happy hour in a romantic setting. San Trovaso is one of many no-frills venues offering a daily tourist menu along with pizza and other traditional Italian and Venetian dishes. On the high end of the scale, Harry’s Dolci, run by the Hotel Cipriani, is, according to Zagat, a “Harry’s Bar” spin-off with better food. Corte Sconta, Al Artisti and Alle Testiere are among the city’s best.

My friend Dick Mercer, co-founder of trip planning service Experience Italy, visits Venice frequently and has these restaurant recommendations:

  • Osteria Oliva Nera on St. Mark's Basin, is a pair of side-by-side restaurants serving traditional Venetian food. "We have established a secret password with the owner," Dick says, "so when you see Isabella, mention 'zucca,' which translated means 'pumpkin.'"
  • Another favorite is Trattoria Antiche Carampane near the Rialto Bridge. "It was an old whorehouse, well over 100 years ago. The story in full is more interesting, so ask the proprietor. It has fantastico food," Dick says. 
  • For the adventurous:  Osteria Bancogiro da Andrea. "Fish only, no pasta. This is not a place I ever would have found as a tourist, and it was the only place I ate in Venice where the menu was presented in no other language than italian. Situated in the heart of Venice, only steps away from the Rialto. Very much a locals' haunt." I accompanied Dick here at the suggestion of a gondolier and it was quite the memorable lunch.

Best time to go

Venice has a humid subtropical climate with cool winters and very warm summers. July is the year’s hottest month, with an average high temperature of 81.5° F (27.5° C). Winters can get quite cool, with breezes coming off of the water and average lows of 42.4° F (5.8° C). The best time to visit Venice is during the spring and autumn months. Stay away, if you can, in July and August, which are hot, humid and congested. Acque alte, or high tides, occur from November to April and often flood low-lying areas of the city, including the historic center. Fortunately, most last only a few hours.

Chances are the better the time of year, the more people that will visit along with you. Though you might not have Venice all to yourself, the city becomes incredibly personal once your first memory is made here.

The Doge's Palace, one of the most recognizable landmarks in Venice.
Aurimas / Creative Commons BY-NDThe Doge's Palace, one of the most recognizable landmarks in Venice.

Fun facts

  • Venice has 177 canals crossed by some 400 bridges and plied by 405 unionized gondoliers.
  • The S-shaped Grand Canal splits the city in half.
  • Founded in the mid-400s, the city is built atop millions of wooden piles driven into the the islets and waters of the Venetian Lagoon. It is slowly sinking under its own weight.
  • Up until the 14th century, Venice was the leading power in the Mediterranean. Trade with Asia brought riches — and bubonic plague. The most severe pandemic, in 1629-1631, took about 50,000 lives, wiping out a third of the population.
  • Gondolas are painted black in remembrance of the Great Plague. At the time, gondolas were put into service ferrying dead bodies.
  • By law, gondolas must be made of wood and made only in Venice. The craft are 36 feet long (yes, they're lonnnng!) and 5 feet wide, but they are asymmetrical, being wider on the left side, where the gondolier stands. The boats are build with eight types of wood, and there are 280 pieces in all.
  • The six “teeth” on a gondola’s ferro, or bow ornament, represent the six districts of Venice.
  • The famous Carnival of Venice was outlawed in 1797 due to licentious behavior and the wearing of masks was strictly forbidden. The festival was brought back in 1979 and today draws about 3 million masked visitors to the city.
  • The city receives more than 20 million visitors a year, or about 60,000 a day.
  • More than 61,000 people live permanently in Venice, and the population continues to decline. 

When you arrive

Docking information 

The Venezia Terminali Passeggeri or Venice cruise ship terminal, is near a causeway linking the historic city with the mainland. Most ships get a close-in berth in the Stazione Marittima, from where shuttle buses and taxis travel to the Piazzele Roma. From there, visitors can walk into the city over a bridge or travel by boat. An alternate means of transportation from the port to the Piazzele Roma is the People Mover, an automated tram. Water taxis, and water buses offer more expensive transportation solutions.

Airport

The closest airport is Marco Polo Airport (VCE) on the mainland near the city of Mestre. Sixteen miles from Venice is the relatively small airport, Treviso (TSF), though it mainly serves domestic flights. Airport buses arrive at and depart from the Piazzele Roma. For about 100 euros, you can travel by water taxi.

Getting around

You have two choices: By foot or by water. Gondolas, water buses and water taxis will take visitors up and down the canal-riddled archipelago, while the inner parts of the city are highly walkable.

Considering that a ride on a water bus, or vaporetto, will set you back about $10, a Venezia Unica tourist travel card can be a good investment. Unlimited rides on vaporetti and mainland buses can be purchased in increments of one to seven days for 20 to 60 euros. One small piece of luggage is included, and a 4-euro surcharge will get you to or from the airport. The Rolling Venice card for youth ages 14-29 is good for three days and costs 20 euros. The Tourist City Pass, 40 euros for a week, less for youth and children, saves 28 percent on the cost of admission to many museums and churches and includes priority-line privileges at some sites. Another option is the Chorus Pass, which covers entry into 16 churches renowned for art and architecture.

Need to know

A painterly scene of Venice at dusk. The City of Canals is one of the destinations on a Tere Moana cruise.
Courtesy of Paul Gauguin CruisesA painterly scene of Venice at dusk. The City of Canals is one of the destinations on a Tere Moana cruise.

Documents: U.S. and Canadian citizens need a valid passport.

Language: Italian and Veneziano, the local dialect. English is spoken at most establishments catering to tourists.

Store hours: Stores in Venice are typically open from 10 am to about 6 pm Monday to Saturday. You will find many stores and attractions closed on Sunday outside of the main tourist areas.

Tipping: Tipping in Venice, like all of Europe, is not expected. At a restaurant you can round up the bill slightly with a few coins.

Currency: The euro. Most major credit cards (with the exception of American Express) are widely accepted.

Safety: Venice is overall considered a safe city. That said, be aware of potential pickpockets, especially in the crowded tourist areas, and keep your valuables locked up on the ship. Don't wear flashy jewelry and don't keep your iPhone in your back pocket. It's also worth noting that Venice is full of stairs, canals, bridges and cobblestones, which means you should pay special attention to your footwear. Comfortable walking shoes are a must. Those strappy heels may look good, but it's easy to twist an ankle on challenging surfaces if your shoes aren't really made for walking.  

ShoreFox and Wikitravel contributed to this review.

Your take

Have you been to Venice? Please share a story, tip or discovery. What was the highlight? I've love to know!

See anything wrong? What did we overlook? Be a co-creator!

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Janet Fullwood
Janet Fullwood is an editor, writer and photographer-at-large specializing in travel and hospitality topics.

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Overheard

“At aperitivo hour, fight your way to the cramped marble counter of Polpette, the beloved old osteria at Trattoria Ca' d'Oro alla Vedova hidden off Strada Nuova. The reward is the city's ultimate meatball: crispy on the outside, juicy shredded pork inside.”

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