The motorway from Stresa to Venice was not a fun motorway – average speeds must have been 140/150kmh and people liked to tell us to move over by riding up inches behind us at those speeds, even if we had nowhere to move to!
Now, you might be thinking “you can’t drive through Venice, what the hell did you do with the car?”. That was one of my big worries too! In fact the whole of Venice was a worry. I’d visited twice before on day trips and not really loved it either time (taking the train from Bologna). Both times I ended up eating overpriced, awful food, spent most of my time trying to get to and from St. Mark’s Square (pre-smart phone days), and dealing with Carnevale crowds one time, and Saturday crowds the other. I was determined not to make this trip like the last two!
So, tip number 1:
1) Book parking in the covered parking lot at the airport in advance.
I wasn’t sure how this would work, and I didn’t actually find any advice online suggesting to park there – everything else suggested the big parking lots on the main land, just before the big bridge to Venice, or the very expensive parking at the far end of the island. However, getting to Venice airport was super easy, the parking felt very secure, seemed reasonably priced and from there we were able to get a free transfer boat to our hotel easily, which leads me onto tip number 2:
2) Stay off the beaten track
We stayed on Murano, which we were really happy to do. It meant that we constantly went against the flow of tourists (they all flooded over to Murano in the day, while we went over to Venice and vice versa at the end of the day). On top of that, we stayed somewhere that had its own fleet of boats, and would transfer guests to and from the airport as well as to the old town for free. We booked onto a transfer before we arrived, so that once we’d parked up, all we had to do was walk downstairs and hop on the boat! (This would have felt super suave, but for the fact that there were 8 other people on the boat, and all our luggage was precariously balanced by the driver, who took distinct pleasure in hitting all the waves as fast as he could, causing us and the bags to bounce up and down. With Dec’s bag right at the top, I spent the entire journey panicking about how we would rescue the bag should it go over the edge!).
You wouldn’t have to stay on Murano though to be off the beaten track, and the island of Venice has plenty of quieter quarters, away from San Marco, but staying outside of the main tourist zones is definitely more relaxing. The other reason we stayed on Murano was I had won some hotel vouchers through The Guardian, and this was one of the best value for money options I could find! When we booked, it was a Sofitel, but it changed hands, so we actually stayed in a Hyatt, and it really was a good find! (Also because they gave us a lovely bottle of bubbly on arrival to congratulate us on our marriage!)
3) Research the costs of a holiday in Venice and just accept it when you’re there
Venice is not cheap. When you’re there, and you see how literally everything has to be adjusted to be done by waterway: how rubbish is cleared, how construction takes place, how coffins are taken away to the cemetery (how people visit the cemetery), and how food is delivered, you get an understanding for prices. You start to marvel at how sewage, fresh water and electricity are supplied when you realise that the ground you’re standing on is literally swampy mud, made more solid with oak poles and boards, that Venetian ancestors put in hundreds of years ago to escape barbarians and make land for themselves. So do appreciate how this corner of Italy is not like anywhere else!
We paid €30 each for 48 hour passes on the traghetti – the boats that take you to all the islands. As we stayed on Murano, we needed them, but even if you only visit one island, it’s almost worthwhile buying at least a day pass, as a single is €7! Yes it is expensive, but actually we loved taking the boats, it was a lot of fun!
Do look into hotels that offer free transfers, or investigate the trains, there are options to make getting to and from Venice manageable. The multi use passes don’t include airport transfer so do bear that in mind!
We did find cheaper places to eat (more on that in my next post), but you need to research if you don’t want to be scammed! Venice is mostly tourists, so there are inevitably many tourist traps.
Again, it’s best to research before you go and work out what you really want to see. Not only can it help you plan calmer days where you don’t have to navigate around the whole city, there are money and queue saving gains to be had!
There are 2 Venice tourist cards you can buy – have a look at what you might want to see, and work out if it’s worth it. We only visited 2 museums, the Doge’s Palace and the Murano Glass Museum, but we bought the Museum Pass ticket for €35 and boy was it worth it. The individual tickets to both museums would have cost us €35 anyway, and the Museum Pass allowed us to jump the enormous queue to the Doge’s Palace!
The final bit on costs is around Gondolas. Gondolas are so quintessentially Venetian. They are beautiful, and serene in the way they glide across the waters. The gondoliers take great pride in their boats, and spend €€€€ to buy and maintain them (I read somewhere that they cost over €30k). On top of that, they undergo extensive training. So, while you may balk at the €80 price tag for 30 minutes (€100 in the evenings), remember that these guys are providing you with a unique experience, learnt from an ancient trade and tradition, and that they have a lot of overheads too! We did do a ride, and I was nervous, thinking the guy would try to charge over and above the set prices, but he was lovely, friendly and kept the costs (and time!) to what we expected. It definitely completed our Venice experience for us!
Hope these tips are interesting – particularly if you’re thinking about going!
Check back soon – I’ll be doing a post on 10 things to do in Venice in 48 hours!