Venice, Italy, is one of the most well-known cities on the planet. We’ve all seen images of it in movies, and know of the famous gondolas. But is Venice worth visiting? Is it a romantic place, called the “floating city”, or is it the “sinking city” and should be avoided? We asked ourselves this question, and then headed to Venice with our kids to find out!
We spent two months in Italy, with a month based in Florence exploring all the museums and historic sights we could. In this post, we’ll share what we love about Venice, and what we don’t love- including our best tips for avoiding the crowds and other nuisances in Venice. We’ll also cover the best time to visit, some fun things to do, and how to make the most of this unique destination.
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Is Venice Worth Visiting?
Yes, Venice, Italy is absolutely worth visiting! I first visited Venice when I was in my 20s, and found it intriguing, but I was traveling solo and didn’t really fall in love with the city. When we talked about visiting as a family, I was unsure- was this picture-postcard city worth visiting, or would it be too touristy and crowded?
We decided to make the trip and find out for ourselves whether Venice is overrated, or a must-see in Italy. We stepped off the train, exited the train station, and the kids saw the Grand Canal. E (5 years old), looked around, turned to me, and squealed “Mom! I Want to Live Here!” As they skipped off over the first bridge, I knew we were going to have a magical trip, and visiting Venice was definitely worth it.
Feeling Rushed? Consider a Day Tour
If you are trying to visit Venice in one day, seeing everything you are interested in can be overwhelming. Consider a Private Day Tour of Venice to take the stress out of your day. This tour is five hours long and includes skip-the-line tickets to St. Mark’s Basilica and the Doge’s Palace, a walking tour, and ends with a private gondola ride.
Book Now: Private Day Tour of Venice
Our Favorite Reasons to Visit Venice Italy
Here are some of our favorite things about visiting Venice!
1. The Famous Gondolas
Again, I debated, was a gondola ride worth it? I’m so glad we did one! The memories are priceless, and the prices are well-controlled so you don’t have to stress about overpaying.
Try to take a ride early in the day before it gets too crowded. The gondoliers are less tired, and the sun is less hot. If you are lucky, you may get a singing gondolier!
Walk away from the more crowded touristy areas to grab a ride from a quieter location (without long lines from tour groups). We recommend getting a boat at Ponte San Polo. Follow Google Maps to this narrow bridge. From here you’ll spend more time on the narrow inner canals, and less time on the large Grand Canal. It’s a quieter, more intimate experience.
We visited in September and stepped into a gondola just after 11 am without having to wait in line at all. Later in the afternoon, you’ll also see boats backed up waiting for the one in front to move ahead.
Gondolas are priced according to the boat, not the number of people, so you’ll pay one price for all of you. Currently, it costs 80€ for a 25-30 minute ride. If you choose a ride at night, that price goes up to 120€.
Most rides end at the same place they begin, if you’d like to end at a different location, discuss that at the beginning, and the gondolier will be happy to accommodate you.
It was a wonderful experience to share as a family. The girls loved the plush, fancy boat with its gold trimmings, and reaching up to touch the underside of the low bridges as we passed through.
2. Stunning Buildings, Canals and Bridges
Venice is filled with stunning architecture, ornate bridges, and beautiful narrow alleyways. If you love taking pictures, you are going to want to take your time wandering around! Don’t miss the exquisite spiral staircase at Contarini del Bovolo.
This city is sinking, and ever-changing. The buildings have a distressed look that is enchanting. We also love the contrast of old and new, like the gold sculpture just inside the Campiello San Giovani. Venice feels like it has a new surprise around every corner.
The mazelike alleys also mean that just a block or two away from the crowds you can feel lost in an entirely different world.
3. No Cars or Motorbikes
One of the things we immediately loved about Venice- no cars or motorbikes! The kids were free to run ahead of us without worrying about a speeding bike. All the walkways are pedestrian. You’ll see boats unloading goods into stores from the canals, as this is the primary mode of transportation.
4. Amazing Food and Wine
This is Italy, so of course there is amazing food and wine to taste! Venice has its own specialties you should try when you visit.
First, Venice is known for Cicchetti, or tapas-style dishes that are a few bites. They are also known for their seafood and risotto.
Look for Risotto al nero di seppia (squid ink risotto), Risi e bisi (rice and peas) which includes prosciutto, and Fegato alla veneziana, which is liver with carmelized onions and polenta. You’ll also see dried cod and fried sardines featured on many menus.
Interested in digging deeper into local dishes and wines? Consider a food and wine tour! From Siem Reap to Lisbon, we love taking food tours as we learn about food, culture, and history at the same time.
This Cicchetti & Wine Tour includes 7 dishes, 1 dessert, 5 different local wines, and one spritz! At 2.5 hours long, this small group tour is a great introduction to Venice. Of course, if you don’t drink, or are under 18 (children are welcome), substitutions can easily be made.
Book Now: Cicchetti & Wine Tour of Venice
5. Sit in the Royal Box at the Opera House
Don’t miss a tour of the fabulous Gran Teatro La Fenice. This Opera House has burned down and been rebuilt twice, and it is spectacular. This is one of those things we planned to do not knowing whether our kids would actually enjoy it- and it was a huge hit!
An audio guide is included in the price of the tour. There is no need to pre-book tickets, just show up when you are ready. The tour includes sitting in the Royal Box, looking down at the ornate stage. When we visited there was a rehearsal going on that we were able to watch.
Open most days from 9:30, but check the official schedule. Entrance is 12€ per adult or a family with two kids for 30€. Children up to 6 years old are free.
5. World Class Art
While Venice is known for its fabulous Carnival masks and costumes, and the over-the-top fun that goes with them, it is also full of amazing, world-class art!
Don’t miss the Peggy Guggenheim Collection– a world-renowned collection of modern art curated by the icon Peggy Guggenheim who once lived in the palazzo that now houses her museum. Buy timed tickets online in advance; Open 10-6, Closed Tuesdays. Adults 16€, children under 10 are free.
For masters of the Venetian School, head straight to The Accademia. You’ll find Renaissance masters Bellini and Veronese in a grand building with original Titians on the walls. Open every day from 8:15, closes Mondays at 2 pm. Adults 15€, children under 18 free.
If contemporary art is more your scene, check out The Pinault Collection, housed in the old naval customs house. Here you’ll find a series of temporary exhibitions featuring renowned contemporary artists. Adults 18€, under 20 free.
Love Art? Don’t miss all the museums in nearby Florence!
6. Amazing Masks and Costumes
Even when it’s not Carnivale, Venice is filled with shop windows showcasing amazing costumes and ornate masks. It’s so much fun to window shop as you wander around town!
If this aspect of Venetian culture interests you, consider taking a mask decorating workshop! Perfect for families, this 1-hour workshop includes a paper mache mask and all the art supplies you’ll need to decorate it including beads and feathers. You can take home your handmade souvenir.
Book Now: Venetian Mask Painting Workshop
7. Murano and Burano
The islands of Murano and Burano are just a quick ferry ride from Venice and have so much to offer.
Murano is known for its glass-blowing, all over the world. Head here to shop, and watch some glass-blowing demonstrations. In fact, for many years, glass blowing was only allowed on this island so that the artists wouldn’t accidentally set Venice on fire!
If glassblowing as an art form interests you, you can join a class on Murano! This beginners glassblowing class is for anyone 12+, and lasts 2.5 hours. There are a maximum of 4 people in each class, so you will get a lot of instruction and attention. You’ll be able to create something you can take home with you.
Book Now: Beginners Glassblowing Class
The island of Burano is famous for lace-making and for its colorful houses. Both are easy to visit from Venice and get you away from the crowds that often descend on Venice for quick day trips.
The island of Torcello is even less well-known and worth a visit as well.
Interested in Murano and Burano? This small group tour of Murano and Burano Islands gets great reviews. You’ll learn about the history of both islands, see artisan workshops, and learn about the crafts they are known for. This tour is five hours long, with a private boat and a maximum of 20 travelers.
Book Now: Group Tour of Murano and Burano
9. Unique Festivals in Venice
Ok, we’re not sure if all the popular festivals in Venice are a good thing or something to avoid. Depends on what you’re traveling for! If you want to spend a few days exploring the nooks and crannies of this amazing town, we highly recommend avoiding a visit during a major festival.
However, if these festivals are on your travel bucket list, then the backdrop of Venice makes them all the more unique and amazing. Visiting Venice during the traditional Carnivale celebrations is a once-in-a-lifetime experience!
Major Festivals in Venice, Italy include Carnivale (Feb or March), Venice Film Festival (August or September), Venice Biennial Art Show (month varies, every two years), Veneto Jazz Festival (twice a year, months vary), Regata Storica Boat Race (early September).
Our Least Favorite Things about Venice
There are some of the things that make Venice less appealing. Here are the top things we don’t love about Venice, and the best way to deal with them.
The flooding in St. Marks Square can be awful. From October through December, there can be water that is a foot high or more. The flooding may continue until March. There are videos of people in waders just going about their business and eating at restaurants with knee-deep water. No thanks.
When we visited in September, there were puddles in St. Marks which were a few inches deep and easy enough to avoid. On the positive side, they make for fun reflection photos!
The standing water causes traffic bottlenecks, as tourists try to use the few available pathways to avoid them. Some parents were letting their kids splash in the water, which is fine if you bring extra clothes, and don’t let your kid splash random tourists. Ahem.
The city is trying to address the flooding, deploying the MOSE system in 2020. This is a system of tide barriers that can be raised to hold back the water and stop the city from flooding. The system has been semi-successful, but takes 48 hours to activate, is expensive to operate and maintain, and only holds back the worst of the tides.
The larger problems still exist- that Venice is sinking (approximately 11 inches in the last 100 years), and the oceans are rising.
In the meantime, expect water in the lowest areas of the city, including the Piazza San Marco during the fall months. In some areas, wooden walkways are temporarily installed to help tourists move around.
Venice is a popular place, and the crowds can really change how you experience the city. We recommend visiting Piazza San Marco at the beginning or end of the day and avoiding it the rest of the time.
You’ll want to visit the iconic St. Marks Basilica and the Doge’s Palace, but avoid the restaurants here, and head to quieter parts of the island instead.
Don’t skip visiting St. Marks, but do consider getting a tour- only tour groups can access the terrace of St. Marks, you’ll also get to cross the Bridge of Sighs as part of your Doge’s Palace tour.
We recommend this St. Mark’s Basilica with Terrace Access & Doge’s Palace, it’s 3 hours long and includes skip-the-line access to both sites. Even when we visited in September the lines for the Basilica were daunting. Venice is so popular, that skip-the-line tickets really are helpful. You’ll also learn much more from a guided tour than from wandering through on your own.
Along the way, you’ll learn all about the politics of the Venetian Empire and see the Doge’s private apartments. Remember you’re entering an Italian basilica, so shoulders and knees must be covered (both men and women).
Book Now: St. Mark’s Basilica & Doge’s Palace
The 2024 Tourist Tax
With over 30 million visitors per year, Venice, like much of Italy, has suffered from overtourism. In 2019 the government announced a new 5€ “tourist tax” for day trippers to Venice. This fee would not apply to anyone staying overnight in a hotel. (In a similar move, a fee was added to the Pantheon in Rome).
However, the new tax was put on hold and revived again in 2024. Beginning in June 2024, the tax will be tested, and the government will announce whether the fee will be permanent. Fees will range from 3-10€ depending on how busy the day is, and generate a QR code that will allow tourists to pass through turnstiles at key access points. A website for this system has yet to be announced.
Venice is Expensive
There’s no getting around it, Venice is not a cheap destination. Almost all goods must be imported, plus the island is jammed full of tourists, with limited hotel availability.
Hotel rooms even in the off-season are rarely less than $160 USD per night, and in the summer months start at $200 and rise quickly. Book early and stay midweek to grab the best deals.
As with most places, food prices in Venice range dramatically. We had a fantastic dinner at Puppa Bar Venezia (C. del Spezier), which is not fancy, but delicious. Pastas start at 15€.
Accessibility Is Limited
The cobblestones and bridges of Venice are not easy for everyone to get around. There are often steps, steep ramps, and uneven surfaces. Those who struggle with mobility may find Venice to be challenging.
When is the Best Time to Visit Venice?
April, May, September, and October are the best months to visit Venice for pleasant weather and low(er) crowds.
Try to visit in the shoulder season if you can- the summer months are the busiest and the hottest time of year. Hot sun and long lines mean our family gets grumpy quickly.
We visited in September and loved wandering around. We were rarely disturbed by crowds until we hit St. Marks Square and the streets closest to it.
Where to Stay in Venice, Italy
Hotel rooms in Venice are tricky for families, it is difficult to find rooms with two beds- the spaces are quite small, and only hold two twins or one double bed. Unless you are willing to book two different rooms for your family, you’ll need to look at apartments with two bedrooms.
We recommend this 2-bedroom apartment that is clean and spacious, with two double beds and an extra sofa bed if needed. It rates highly for both location and comfort.
Book Now: Ca’ Vittoria 2 Bedroom Apartment
How Many Days Should I Spend in Venice?
We recommend spending two days and one night in Venice at a minimum. You can visit on a day trip from Florence, but you’ll be a bit rushed and have to choose your activities carefully. If you only have a short time, it’s still worth visiting- in fact, it’s one of our most recommended day trips from Florence.
Plan to stay the night if you can, so you can take full advantage of the beautiful Venice sunsets, and not rush through your exploring.
If you only have one day in Venice, we recommend not trying to visit Murano or Burano, but concentrating your time in Venice instead.
Is Venice Good for Families?
Yes, Venice is great for families! No cars, alleyways to explore, beautiful colorful masks, and great food. Our kids loved it!
It’s not a place to take strollers though, so if your kids can’t walk all day, be prepared to carry them.
How to Get to Venice
The easiest way to get to Venice is via train from Florence. The train from Santa Maria Novella reaches Venezia St. Lucia Station in 2 1/2 hours. The train from Rome takes just over 4 hours. If you are coming from Milan, the train departs from Milano Centrale Station and is under 3 hours.
You can also drive to Venice, and park your car at Piazzale Roma. Parking will cost around 35€ a day, you’ll need to reserve in advance to guarantee a space.
There is a small airport close to Venice- called the Marco Polo Airport (VCE), located about 12km from the island of Venice.
Tips for Visiting Venice
Here are our top tips for visiting Venice to make the most of your time.
Book Train Tickets in Advance
Italian train tickets get more expensive the closer you book to your travel date.
We booked one-way tickets from Florence and figured we’d go online and book our return when we knew what time we would be ready to leave. We found that at the last minute, our return tickets were 3x what we paid to get there. At that point, we had limited choices- pay the higher fare or shell out for a night at a hotel.
Prepare for Sun
Depending on the season, Venice can be quite hot. Wear sunscreen and/or hats, and bring plenty of water. When in doubt, stop for some gelato to take a break and cool off.
We recommend Gelataria Gallonetto (Salizada S. Lio). To find a good gelato place, look for silver canisters that are closed to keep the gelato at a constant temperature, rather than mounds of decorated, colored gelato designed to draw in tourists.
Gelato is amazing all over Italy, but we think Florence has the best gelato!
Download Offline Maps
Don’t fight with Google Maps, download the offline version of the maps before you get to Venice. Then if you don’t get a great signal, you can still find the right ferry terminal, or locate that restaurant you’re looking for!
Wandering around Venice is part of the fun, but if there are places you want to see, mark them on your map ahead of time. It’s easy to be just a turn or two away and not realize what you are missing.
You’ll be carrying your bag over bridges and down narrow streets. You are probably just staying for a night or two, so only bring the essentials. If you are traveling more extensively through Italy, consider leaving most of your baggage in storage in a larger city before journeying to Venice. Oh, and wear comfortable shoes!
There You Have It: Is Venice Worth Visiting
Yes, Venice is worth visiting! The Floating City really is marvelous, you just need to be prepared for crowds. Use skip-the-line tickets and then head out of the tourist zones to explore the rest of the island. We hope you have a magical trip!