Visiting Italy's floating city was life-changing for me in many ways. Venice was the first city I saw in Europe, the first place I'd travelled to as a young adult (sans mum and dad) and the exact place where my obsession with travelling began. Beyond the initial travellers' awe I was also swept up in the cities’ romance and found myself becoming whimsically lost in what can only be described as one of the most beautiful cities on earth. If you're visiting Venice for the first time, you'll want to make the most of your stay and hopefully the following tips can help you do just that!
When deciding where to base yourself, be sure to stay on Venezia Island as opposed to mainland Venice. Its reputation for being exorbitantly expensive is not always true to form. With some compulsive googling and a bit of commitment it is certainly possible to find clean, comfortable and modern accommodation at a reasonable price. I stayed in a small hotel named Al Canal Regio which not only ticked all these boxes, but was intimate and traditional in its decor and located within walking distance of all the 'must-see' attractions on the island. As far as exploring the city, navigating the streets of Venice is a task that even an experienced traveller would find daunting. Ensure you familiarise yourself with the location of your hotel and carry a map (or use maps.me to roam stress-free). You can easily uncover some amazing sites, statues and stores just by wondering down the tangled alleys and crossing a few unfamiliar bridges.
St. Mark's Square and the Grand Canal are the most notable tourist attraction in Venice and fortunately both are free to visit. Locating either is a piece of cake (tiramisu?) and merely a matter of navigating the streets or, if you get lost, gravitating toward the most tourist-congested areas. The architecture of St. Mark’s is breathtakingly beautiful, the grandeur and size speaks for itself. Much to my delight, the famed pigeons were no where to be seen and when they did appear they had little interest in my food offerings (FYI: I hate birds). As for the Grand Canal, gliding through on a gondola is one of the most coveted ways to experience it's beauty and right at the top of most Venetian bucket lists. Keep in mind the cost if this activity is steep to say the least. Really think about how you would like to enjoy this experience; a romantic evening admiring the cities lights or a vibrant day trip? I took my ride in the afternoon and retrospectively feel that this was a great way to see the canal, take my obligatory gondola photo and get the best value for money.
All of this site seeing is sure to have you feeling a bit peckish but try and resist the urge to dine at the nearby water-front tourist spots. Learn from my mistake- the food is generally sub-par and the prices are sky-high. Keep those legs moving and do a little more wondering away from the main square to find authentic local restaurants tucked away in the many little alleyways and twisting streets for a delicious bite to eat that won't burn a hole in your pockets.
If you grow tired of the Venice microcosm, consider visiting the surrounding islands that are both easily accessible and able to be explored over the course of a day. Each island has it's own drawcard, the most popular being Murano, Burano, and Torcello. If visiting the islands is an option that intrigues you, avoid the organised, pricy 'day trips' and simply explore solo using the local Vaporetto (water bus) which is economic and reliable. For me, the undoubted highlight of my island exploration was Burano, easily reached using the line 12 Vaparetto. Burano is a picturesque island filled with technicolour houses, charming fishing boats and freshly washed linen draped from every windowsill. It is a quaint little island which hasn’t lost its charm despite its increasing popularity with tourists. You can happily snap hundreds of pictures of each unique and quirky home on the island, making it the ideal backdrop for some holiday snaps. Another of Burano's stellar features links back to its roots as a prominent fishing village, and that ‘feature’ is the food. Be sure to enjoy some seafood on the waterfront- not only is it fresher, but also significantly cheaper than the seafood found on the main island.
My love affair with Venice started long before I ever set foot on the island and has continued long after I've left. Most guides had recommended a short 'weekend' stay however I found Venice to be one of those rare places where you feel happy just existing, without any pressure to see a long checklist of tourist sites and attractions. Take your time to slow down and be romanticised by the city, and don't forget to binge on some world-class Italian carbs!