Going to Venice? DON’T do this…
Desperate to visit the must-see attractions in the world’s most romantic city? Yeah, some of them are not so must-see…
1. Going on a gondola
Picture yourself enjoying a romantic gondola ride, bobbing gently along the canal, serenaded by a man in a striped vest. Soaking up the sights of the city the way the Venetians have done for centuries, enjoying the peace of the water, the incredible architecture… Blissful, huh?
Now remember that Venice’s canals are notoriously whiffy, and that being so close to the water isn’t exactly easy on the nose. Most gondoliers are as ruggedly Italian as you’d hope, but you’ll be distracted by the tourists gawping at you from the bridges. Then there’s the risk that your gondola will be capsized by the huge amount of water traffic passing by. So – avoid, basically.
Instead: Grab a vaporetto (water bus). Hop on at the San Zaccaria stop by St Mark’s Square, hop off at Ferrovia next to the station, then make your way back again for a cheap, leisurely tour of the entire Grand Canal.
2. Drinking at Caffe Florian
You spot the people sitting outside the iconic Caffe Florian, sipping wine and listening to The Phantom of the Opera being played on a grand piano and think, I WANT THAT. I WANT THAT NOW.
You don’t want that. Sitting down costs you. Listening to music costs you. The wine really costs you. There are much better (and less cheesy) experiences in Venice to spend your cash on.
Instead: Head to the cafe a few doors down, stand at the little bar, and order a Prosecco – it’ll cost you just a couple of euros, and you can still hear the terrible music. Win-win.
3. Touring the Doges Palace
Sure, it’s OK, as experiences go. But the queues are horrific, and if you’re only in Venice for a few days it’s not really worth it. The best bit of the tour is crossing the Bridge of Sighs, which is much better-looking from the outside anyway (you can see it from the bridge next to the San Zacccaria bus stop – look out for the one crammed with tourists brandishing selfie sticks). If you’re going to queue for anything, make it St Mark’s Church itself, which is spectacular, and actually worth the wait.
Instead: Ask the attendant what time the bells in the Campanile are set to ring. The views are stunning, and the bells will knock your socks off if you time it right.
4. Eating anywhere with photos on the menu
Food in Venice comes in two forms: cripplingly expensive and delicious, or moderately expensive and grotty. The hundreds of restaurants with photos of food the menu are inevitably touristy and disappointing, and most of the others are ridiculously pricy. There is the odd gem, but trying to find a particular restaurant could lead to you getting lost in the maze-like streets. Unlike the rest of Italy, Venice isn’t somewhere you go to enjoy the food. Sorry.
Instead: Head off the main drag and brave the little bacari, narrow side streets where Venetians prop up the counter to nibble on snacks and sip wine for just a few euros. A bit scary at first, but completely authentic. (Helps if you have boobs).
5. Sipping Bellinis in Harry’s Bar
This world-famous drinking den is the home of both the Bellini and slightly surly staff. Paying £12 for a glass of wine simply isn’t worth it, especially when the bar itself disappointingly ordinary-looking inside and the staff aren’t particularly friendly to non-regulars. Avoid.
Instead: The Orange Bar in Campo Santa Margherita is famous for its Aperol Spritz, and inspired Russell Norman – of hugely popular London restaurant Polpo – to bring the drink to the UK. It’s basic and a bit plasticky, but much more fun than Harry’s Bar. Plus Campo Santa Margherita is the student district and the only bit of Venice that stays open late, so heading there after sunset is an all-round no-brainer.
6. Shopping for masks
OK, so you might end up buying a souvenir from one of the gazillion mask shops in Venice, but if you must, make sure you shop around. Quality varies enormously, but unless you’re a real mask aficionado, you might as well get a cheap one for a couple of euros rather than blowing your entire spending budget on one that’s been expertly crafted by hand.
Instead: If you’re looking for souvenirs, the supermarkets on the Rio Terra Lista di Spagna sell pretty chocolate gifts for a bargain price. And marzipan sardines, for some reason.
7. Visiting the ‘cemetery island’
San Michele sounds amazingly atmospheric – the island where Venetians have been burying their dead for centuries, featuring a church built in 1470. Stravinsky is buried there, and as you can see it from the mainland it’s tempting to visit. But it’s actually just a bit depressing – rows of what appear to be filing cabinets, filled with people instead of paper. Plus as it’s still used by modern Venetians, it feels a little intrusive when people are visiting their relatives. Basically, if you’re picturing an Italian version of Highgate Cemetery, you’ll be disappointed.
Instead: Visit Murano and Burano, the glass and lace islands. They’re filled with beautiful, jewel-coloured houses and are generally a lot more fun.