10 Things NOT To Do In Venice (And 10 To Do Instead)

Last Updated on March 14, 2024 by Jo Fitzsimons

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Venice has become a city of tourists. And sadly, that can take the shine off your trip with large crowds, tourist menus, and inflated prices. However, with a bit of planning, you can turn a potentially disappointing visit into a trip to remember. Here are my 10 tips for what NOT to do in Venice, and what to do instead.

NEW: Venice visitor fees apply from April 2024

1. Don’t try to see all the sights – pick a few and see them well

Outside the Doge Palace in Venice.
The Doge Palace in Venice.

It’s tempting to fit as many sights as possible into a trip, but I advise against it in Venice. Too many people mean long ticket queues and slow travel. Do yourself a favour – take the pressure off, choose a couple of attractions, and see them well.

I recommend prioritising St Mark’s Basilica and the Doge Palace.

How to do it: I took this St. Mark’s Basilica and Doge’s Palace Fast Track Tour (3hrs, €105, Walks of Italy). The tour includes several highlights, some of which aren’t included in most other tours:

  • Priority skip-the-line-access.
  • VIP behind-the-scenes access at St Mark’s Basilica including close-up access to the gold mosaic roof.
  • Rare access to the Basilica’s Mezzanine and the real copper horses.
  • Rare access to the balcony offering views of St Mark’s Square below.
  • Visit the Doge Palace (also skip-the-line)
  • Go inside the Bridge of Sighs and the prisons (more info below).

Related: Best Places to Visit in Venice | How To Get To Venice From The Airport

Did you know that the copper horses at the top of St Mark’s Basilica are replicas? The real ones, which are thought to be the oldest on earth at about 2,000 years old, are located inside the terrace. These four life-size horses travelled from Constantinople to Rome to Paris (they went on top of the Arc de Triomphe after Napoleon stole them) to Venice.

Ornate ceiling and walls in Doge Palace.
Inside the Doge Palace, in case you wondered if it is worth visiting.

Venice Cruise Ship Crowds – Venice’s crowds can be overwhelming and get worse on cruise ship days. If you’re not on a cruise and want to avoid the crowds, check out this cruise ship calendar to plan your visit.

2. Don’t stare across at the Bridge of Sighs – Go INSIDE the bridge and stare out

View from inside the Bridge of Sighs.
View from inside the Bridge of Sighs. Look at all those tourists opposite yet I had this window to myself.

The Bridge of Sighs (Ponte dei Sospiri) is one of Venice’s most famous bridges. It’s a white, covered bridge located inside the Doge Palace, connecting the prison with the execution rooms. Most visitors make the mistake of only seeing the Bridge of Sighs from the outside, standing on Ponte della Paglia, the bridge opposite.

Not only is this the most tourist-crammed way to see the Bridge of Sighs, it’s actually not the correct way to see it. Why? The Bridge of Sighs got its name because prisoners inside the Doge Palace would walk through the bridge on their way to be executed. The small lattice gaps in the bridge gave prisoners their final view out over Venice and the lagoon before they died. And that last view is thought to have induced a sigh at Venice’s beauty. Hence the name, the Bridge of Sighs.

How to do it properly – the St. Mark’s Basilica and Doge’s Palace Fast Track Tour (3hr, €105, Walks of Italy) includes a visit to the prisons and a walk inside the Bridge of Sighs. It’s the same tour I’ve mentioned above. Inside the bridge was blissfully uncrowded when I visited.

3. Don’t pay tourist prices – order coffee like a local

Espresso and glass of water.
Also try Goppion in Cannaregio.

While Caffé Florian is one of the oldest and most iconic cafes in Venice, sitting down for a coffee can be expensive. As well as the price of your coffee (€12 for a cappuccino), there is a €6 charge per person for the live orchestra (summer months). If €18 for a coffee feels too much, learn to have coffee like a local.

A few buildings to the right of Caffé Florian, after St Marks Clock Tower, you’ll find Ai Do Leoni. Ask for a caffé (espresso) which will cost you less than €2. Sure, you’ll have to shuffle in among the locals and drink your coffee like an Italian, standing up, but that’s half the fun, isn’t it?

Musical Performances in Venice – if you’re interested in attending a performance in Venice, there is a popular Four Seasons Concert in Vivaldi Church (€30). Otherwise, you can visit La Fenice, Venice’s famous Opera House.

4. Don’t take a Gondola ride – take a boat tour

Grand Canal in Venice

Taking a trip on a Gondola is a must-do for many people who visit Venice. However, read the reviews – it can be a disappointing experience. If you want to fulfill the dream, I suggest booking a shared Gondola ride and then taking a longer, more in-depth guided boat tour of Venice.

In a city without roads, everything takes place on the water – deliveries, commutes, school boats, and even ambulances. By taking a boat tour, you get to see real Venetian life. Travel down the Grand Canal, under the Rialto bridge, and out towards the smaller islands. See the old custom house that used to tax every boat coming in to trade with the Merchants of Venice, learn about the Republic of Venice, see the House of Prada, and the hotel where George Clooney got married (the Aman Grand Canal Hotel). It’s a richer way to explore the waterways in Venice.

How to do it: I took this Venice Boat Tour With Grand Canal & San Giorgio Maggiori Tower (2hrs, €110, Walks of Italy). This is a popular shared gondola ride (€30/30 minutes).

5. Don’t climb the Campanile – go up San Giorgio Maggiore Tower for the best views in Venice

Views over Venice from San Giorgio Maggiore Tower.

St Mark’s Campanile in St Mark’s Square is one of the most iconic sights in Venice and people queue for a long time to go to the top of the bell tower. However, you get far better views from the top of San Giorgio Maggiore Tower. Located across the water on the small island of San Giorgio Maggiore, San Giorgio bell tower offers panoramic vistas over the lagoon toward the Campanile and St Mark’s Square. Isn’t it better to get sweeping views of the Campanile than stand inside it? This is one of my favourite views in Venice. And it’s the kind of picture most tourists don’t get.

How to do it: A visit to San Giorgio Maggiore island is included in the boat tour I mentioned above –  Venice Boat Tour With Grand Canal & San Giorgio Maggiori Tower (2hr, €110 with Walks of Italy).

6. Don’t linger in St Marks Square – visit Canareggio for crowd-free Venice

Ponte de chiodo bridge without parapets

Canareggio, one of the oldest and most authentic districts in Venice, offers a refreshing escape from the crowds. Once you’re done seeing the main attractions, make your way to Canareggio. As well as a lot of history (it’s the old Jewish Ghetto) you’ll find a modern shopping street and some of the best bars and restaurants in the city – this is where the locals wine and dine.

How to do it: Take a vaporetto to Ca’ d’Oro. From there, walk to Strada Nova (New Street). Continue to Via Emanuele to Rio Tera S. Leonardo (same street but the name changes after crossing the bridges). Keep a keen eye out for a small Hebrew sign above a narrow alley. This alley will take you into the Jewish Ghetto. You can take a looped route back via Misericordia.

Don’t miss Ponte de Chiodo. Located in Canareggio, it’s the only bridge on the island that doesn’t have a parapet. The only other one is on Murano. Read more here: the best day trips from Venice.

7. Don’t risk bad food – take a food tour with a local

Cicchetti Venice.

Warning: The food in Venice can be hit and miss. Catering largely to tourists, it’s all too easy to end up with bad food. After several visits to Venice and too many disappointing dinners, I took a food tour to get some local intel. For half a day, I followed a local lady through the winding streets of parts of Venice I’d never visited, stopping at some of the best hidden eateries in the city. From the tiny cicchetti bar where the gondola riders have a quick snack and wine break, to the perfect local dinner spot, I was only annoyed I hadn’t taken a food tour sooner.

How to do it: This Venice Food Tour (2.5hrs, €44, Raphael Food Tours) includes a guided tour of Rialto Market then a stop at some of the best eateries to sample some Venetian food including cicchetti (small bites similar to Spanish tapas), Italian cheese and Tiramisu (created in nearby Treviso). Otherwise, check out my guide to the Best Restaurants in Venice.

8. Don’t order a Bellini at Harry’s Bar – try an Aperol spritz

aperol spritz and cicchetti.

Having a Bellini at Harry’s Bar is a bit like taking a Gondola ride – for some people, it’s a must do and, if that’s you, I won’t try to talk you out of it. I’ve certainly done it. But be prepared for a tourist experience – sparkling wine from a soda-style tap (which is not technically Prosecco since Prosecco only comes from bottles), and preserved peach puree in foil packs. No blending of peaches. No popping of corks. Just a €22 charge per drink.

If you’d prefer a more authentic experience, head to a local bar and order an Aperol Spritz. One of the most popular pre-dinner aperitivo drinks in Italy, the Aperol spritz is a cocktail made with a large measure of Aperol (similar to Campari but much sweeter) served over ice, topped with Prosecco, a splash of soda water, and garnished with a slice of orange.

How to do it: I like Bacaro Risorto in Castello. It’s filled with Italians and they serve great Aperol Spritz and tasty cicchetti for just a couple of euros.

Did you know Italy’s Prosecco wine region is only 1hr from Venice? Find out more about the Prosecco Region and check out our Prosecco Wine Tours here.

9. Don’t order pizza – have risotto or seafood

Plate of Risotto.

There are two good reasons to skip the pizza in Venice. First, there are strict rules in the city that prevent restaurants from having wood fired pizza ovens. It makes sense when so much of Venice is made of wood. However, it’s wood firing that makes Italian pizza so tasty, and Venetian pizza so lackluster in comparison.

But there’s a second good reason to skip the pizza – Italian food is very regional and in Venice risotto, polenta, seafood, and tiramisu are the local dishes that shine. If you’re experimental enough, sample the sepe al nero, which is cuttlefish served with ink. It’s not for me.

10. Don’t battle the crowds by day – see Venice at night

St Mark's Square lit at night.

If the crowds make you want to jump into the lagoon and swim out to sea, be patient. When night arrives, the city quietens considerably and Venice becomes truly magical. The day trippers have left and the tourists who have crammed their itineraries full have retired to their hotels in exhaustion. St Mark’s Square expands back to its grand size, the bridges are passable, and the narrow streets are near-empty and inviting. Go out. Explore. Get lost. Enjoy. Pop into a bar for a relaxing drink. There’s every chance I’ll see you there.

There’s no reason to have a bad experience in Venice. It’s beautiful, majestic, and riddled with history. The trick is to learn how to see the city in a way that feels local and, just for a little while at night, like you have it almost to yourself.

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