‘Romantic’ used to be the prevailing association when it came to the floating city of Venice. These days however, the city is often more of a talking point thanks to the millions of foreign feet that wander its calle every year. As a true testament to its enduring beauty however, Venice and its charm is still a long way from permanent injury despite the crowds – it remains a city that defies expectation with its grand canals, faded palazzo facades and charming eateries hidden around an unassuming corner. It might take a little digging, but once you’ve found a corner of Venice for yourself, you’ll leave forever enchanted.
Qantas flies direct to London from Perth, then onwards to Venice with partner airlines. Alternatively, Qantas flies from most capital cities to Venice through partner airlines via Dubai.
Flying into Marco Polo Airport
Australian visitors staying less than 90 days in Italy do not need a visa but they will need their passport stamped on entry as a “declaration of presence” in the country.
The easiest (and most atmospheric) way to get from Marco Polo Airport to the heart of Venice is the atmospheric water ‘bus’ or Alilaguna. These sturdy, smallish modes of transport stop at San Marco, Rialto, Fondamenta Nuove and Le Guglie, as well as locations further afield on the islands of Murano, Burano and Lido. The scramble to get a seat on board along with finding space for your luggage on board is almost comedic – avoid the confusion by trying to be early for the next service.
Simple English is spoken in Venice thanks to the constant flux of tourists but the impatience of your hosts is likely to decrease if you make the effort to converse in the local lingo. It isn’t difficult to master the basic greetings such as ciao, buongiorno or grazie but try and throw out a few easy requests when ordering food. Un caffè, per favore (a coffee, please); un bicchiere di vino bianco/rosso, per favore (a glass of white/red wine, please) lo scontrino, per favore (receipt, please) will always please. Venetians use the word bacaro for their ‘taverns’ so you’re certain to experience a more authentic Venetian dinner if you request recommendations for these types of venues.
The Australian government’s Smart Traveller website recommends visitors familiarise themselves with the laws prior to travelling to avoid penalties.
Vaccine and health advice
Italy and Australia share a Reciprocal Health Care Agreement that allows you to be treated at government medical facilities should you be struck down a sudden illness or accident, if your Medicare card is presented.
Check with your doctor regarding vaccinations that might be required prior to travel.
Apart from the train that makes its last stop at Venezia Santa Lucia in the city’s west, boat or foot will be your most common modes of transport. The former isn’t limited to the gondola journeys however – in addition to the public ferries, or vaporetti, there are also trips more than worthy of the €2 per head cost on the two-manned traghetti, or ferry gondolas. These exist primarily to help visitors cross the Grand Canal without snaking around the city too elaborately – routes include Campo Santa Maria del Giglio to La Salute and back, running daily from 9.30am to 6pm. Take a leaf from the local’s book: on these journeys, residents stand.
Taking a gondola ride
It’s the ultimate tourist trap – but it’s also the ultimate Venetian experience. Avoid paying as much for a gondola ride as you paid to fly to Italy by agreeing on a price before setting off with your gondoliere. The regulatory body Ente Gondola sets the price of a boat ride at €80 for 40 minutes, which should serve as a solid guide for negotiating the cost. Be firm on a price before heading downriver.
A word on getting lost
It’s almost a given that you’ll lose your way when wandering Venice – it’s all part of the ancient city’s charm. Note that the canal-veined city refers to its streets and lanes differently than in other parts of Italy – calle is often used instead of via to denote a street and fondamenta generally signifies a street parallel to a canal. A campo is akin to a piazza, if you’re looking for a place to relax and people watch.
The most important part of traversing Venice is to remember that water is a main feature of the city’s infrastructure, you shouldn’t assume you’ll be on the right side of a hidden canal when you’re finding your way around. Many streets of the same name continue on the other side of a watery gap, forcing you to hitch a boat across – and where you catch that boat from often isn’t as straightforward as crossing an aquatic highway. In short, you have to have patience (and a very detailed map) to get around Venice successfully.
At the time of writing, the Australian dollar was buying 0.64 Euro – check a reliable currency conversion service for up-to-date information. Tipping isn’t mandatory in Italy but many restaurants – especially those in areas of the highest tourist concentrations – will add a 10 to 20 per cent addition to the bill as a service charge.
Venetians may be at loggerheads as to how to curb the ever-increasing enthusiasm of visitors but there’s one thing they do agree on: the ancient city is not a theme park. In order to bridge the gap between local customs and curious sightseers, it’s worth considering you’re in someone’s backyard. Make an effort to speak the language. Ask locals how they feel about the influx of tourists. Try to seek out more authentic experiences. Get off the thoroughly beaten tourist trail and explore the city outside of the flooded piazzas and canals. These efforts will go a long way to contributing to a more immersive trip to one of the world’s most overwhelmed cities.
More formally, as part of the city's #enjoyrespectVenezia campaign, a series of fines have been introduced that specifically target off-putting tourist behaviour. Introducing 'love locks' to any monument nets a €100 fine, swimming in canals attracts quadruple that and picnicking or loitering with refreshments might even see you slapped a €100-200 penalty. Visit Comune di Venezia to see 'forbidden behaviour' to avoid.
The highest annual average in Venice sits around 29°C, with dips as low as 0°C in January. The most moderate time of year falls between May and September, coinciding with summer and the bookends of spring and autumn.
Visiting the city’s monuments
A visit to Venice shouldn’t exclude a trip around Piazza San Marco, into the adjoining Basilica and over the Rialto Bridge, but don’t expect to have it to yourself. Getting a real flavour for Venice truly lies in leaving the map behind and delving deep into the knot of cobbled streets. You might even get lucky and surface at lesser-known sights such as the Grassi Palazzo, where contemporary art exhibitions are frequently held; Ca’ d’Oro, where the city is laid out in full from an unrivalled lookout; or La Fenice, the city’s opera house.
While Venice is a safe city, keeping a close grasp on your belongings is wise. Pickpocketing is especially common around major train stations.
When to go
Venice receives over 30 million tourists a year and at some times during the year, it can certainly feel as though that’s the case. Considering this, your trip (and the city) would benefit from a visit outside of peak seasons: Carnevale di Venezia, generally falling from mid-February to early March teems with tourists (so much so that tourist turnstiles were installed to control crowds earlier in 2018), as do the warmer months of July and August. May, June (although wetter) and September bring a more temperate climate and considerably less competition for wandering space.
Water in Venice is pumped from the mainland and is of perfectly good quality. In a bid to avoid canals becoming clogged with rubbish, there are more than 100 freestanding fountains scattered about the city perfect for filling empty bottles.
While Venice doesn’t boast the same level of fashion savvy that cities such as Milan or Rome might, there are still some sartorial signals that give away your status as a visitor. As you’ll be doing a lot of walking, comfort is certainly key but try and manage this with footwear that’s both stylish and sturdy – the pairing of solid leather sandals with a breezy linen shirt and classic sunglasses go a long way is ideal. Keep in mind that as a city built on water, there’s bound to be a few instances, especially at high tide, where you could get a little wet.
Australians will need an International Drivers Permit or a translation of their Australian license done by an official translator if they’re considering driving in wider Italy. Once you make your way into Venice proper however, you won’t be getting anywhere on two wheels – the only way to navigate this city is by boat or feet (bicycles are rendered useless by the obvious obstacles of canals and bridges).
Smart Traveller recommends all visitors take out comprehensive travel insurance to cover overseas medical costs, including medical evacuation.
Where to stay
The neighbourhoods, or sestiere, suited best to first-time visitors include San Marco, San Polo and the eastern corner of Santa Croce. San Marco is the most centrally located, providing access to the city’s main sights such as Piazza San Marco and views of the sweeping Grand Canal from the Rialto Bridge.
Areas such as Cannaregio and Castello, located on the city fringe, reward visitors with separate spoils: in these quarters, you’ll be given a glimpse of Venice rarely seen by those partaking in a weekend stopover. Here, restaurants are authentic and welcoming and you’ll find places where tourists are actually outnumbered by residents.
Phone calls and mobile data
Before you land, remember to disable data roaming and don’t answer incoming calls on your mobile phone to avoid an increase in fees. Upon arrival, you can purchase an Italian SIM card to help with local calls or purchase a prepaid travel SIM card before leaving home if you want regular access to phone services. The app, wifi.italia.it, introduced by the Italian government in 2017, gives visitors easy access to free wi-fi hotspots.
To call Australia, dial +61 followed by the phone number – including the area code minus the zero. If you’re calling Sydney, for example, +61 2 then the relevant phone number. To call a mobile phone, use the same country code, then the mobile number without the first zero.
Power sockets in Italy use the same frequency and voltage as in Australia but you a plug adaptor is necessary in order to charge appliances and tech. Italian outlets have either two or three round pins in a straight line – both of which can be tackled with a two-prong adaptor.
Handy apps and websites
XE for up-to-date currency conversion.
Travel Doctor for pre-travel health advice.
Smart Traveller for up-to-date safety information.
Australian Consulate-General in Milan for passport and consular services.
Venice Airport for flight information.
Venezia Unica for transport information.
Duolingo app to get acquainted with some Italian phrases.