When I first visited Italy 10+ years ago, I took a day trip to Venice and was less than impressed. Like many tourists, I was herded into St. Mark’s Square with the masses and herded back out in a matter of hours.
I vaguely remembered the Basilica and greatly remembered the dozens of street vendors and souvenir memorabilia being hawked at every corner.
For this reason, I almost didn’t build Venice into our trip this summer because I didn’t want to ‘waste the time.’ However, I figured Mr. L should at least see the Grand Canal so I squeezed in the stop.
I am so glad I gave it another chance as missing Venezia would have been a mistake.
The difference? We learned a few tricks to help experience Venice like a local and “The Floating City” easily became our favorite stop in Italy.
Venice can be a pricey city, especially when it comes to places to stay. If you need the posh promises of a hotel or want to make sure you have a grand view of the grand canal, expect to pay more for it.
I tend to consider hotels as simply places to sleep and just need a few minor comforts ( a bed, clean bathroom access and a/c + wi-fi are preferable). When you book with a local, you tend to get more of a local feel ( and tips on how to stay away from the tourist traps.)
We absolutely loved our AirBnB stay at Ca’ Barrozzi. The home was clean, in a great, quiet location…but, most importantly, we were able to get recommendations on places to eat that had the local vibe. This kind of inside intel is invaluable…but for us it was just about $75/night. #awesome
Bonus: If you plan on staying at an Airbnb anytime soon, use my referral link to get $40 off your stay!
Learn a Few Key Phrases
Practicing a few key phrases before you head to Italy can go a long way in connecting with the locals. Even though you may not be able to speak Italian, learning terms like “Ciao“ (Hello) and “grazie” (thank you) can go a long way in showing some effort to connect with the culture.
If you have time, go above and beyond and learn a bit more. My favorite was ” che cosa suggerisci?”(What do you suggest?) They appreciate you seeking your recommendation…and you generally can’t go wrong in accepting it.
Free apps like DuoLingo or Learn Italian Phrases and Words are easy, cost-effective ways to learn some simple Italian.
Take a Free Walking Tour With A Local
We were tipped off about the Venice Free Walking Tour from a family friend and we are so glad we checked it out!
We easily signed up for the tour online and scheduled it for the evening that we arrived in Venice.
After meeting at Campo SS Apostoli, our amazing guide, Lucrezia, escorted us on a 2.5-hour walk around the city. Lu is a Venice local and also a licensed tour guide. She showed us the hidden gems and back areas of Venices that many tourists would miss.
She also made herself available for questions afterward, which gave us an opportunity to find out additional restaurant recommendations and where to find the authentic Venetian souvenirs like masks and glass.
Plus, she was completely up-front at the beginning as to how they are able to offer the tour for free. They do ask for contributions where you can give what you felt the tour was worth at the end and there was seriously no pressure.
We definitely recommend booking one of these walks as soon as possible if it is your first time in Venice. There are several tour options and times available.
One of the most heartbreaking thoughts when visiting Venice is how touristy it has become. Venice is losing citizens daily do the expense of living there and it’s become a tourist haven with tourism being the driving economic force in the area.
But, Venice is rich in history and that heritage is because of the local citizens who have spent generations navigating the canals. With the decline of locals, the Venice that we know today could very easily become “Veniceland” (to quote our tour guide, Lu)…. nothing more than a theme park with some historical roots.
So, when visiting Venice, the BEST thing you can do is support the locals.
Pass by the kiosks with Chinese imports and find where local craftsmen are engaging in long-time traditions to make the Venetian glass, masks and other wares that are truly authentic.
For more information on how to travel responsibly and support local businesses in Venice, check out Venezia Autentica , an awesome business that educates and provides resources to help us all better support the city of Venice.
Get Off Of St. Mark’s Square
Yes. It’s amazing. St. Mark’s Basilica is stunning and Doge’s Palace is definitely worth touring.
(Travelers tips: The Basilica is free, but spend the 3€ in advance to make a reservation and avoid long lines. Also Pre-purchase your Doge’s Palace ticket in advance here. Also, avoid backpacks if you can, otherwise you will need to check them around the corner of the Basilica.)
But after you see those sites…get away from the square. It’s where the tourists are and you want to be where the locals are.
Let yourself get lost a bit in Venice, find a canal and claim it for yourself.
We loved hanging out by a canal, exploring some local restaurants and enjoying the cicchetti (think ‘Italian Happy Hour’).
Getting away from the main tourist attractions seemed more authentic, less crowded and…ahem…cheaper.
I regret not spending more time in Venice and giving it the credit it deserves. But, I am so glad I gave it a second chance. After 2 days, we had to catch the train back to Rome, but Venezia is definitely on the list of places to return.
Like most of Europe, Venice is a city to be seen, sensed and explored. Walk the streets, eat the food even if you don’t know what you’re ordering…and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Spend a night there so you can enjoy the experience when the day-cruisers are gone.
Before you know it, you will be experiencing Venice, Italy in a far richer way than many tourists ever get the chance to.
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