How to Make the Most of a Layover in Venice


My travels in September were all about visiting my European oversights.

I’ve never been to Paris. I’ve never been to Berlin. I’ve never been to Greece. So I decided to spend a month hitting up all three to find out what I’d been missing out on.

And then when I spotted a flight that would take me from Preveza, in Greece, to Berlin via Venice, I locked that shit down. Because Venice was yet another European oversight of mine, so why not cram it into my trip? I’d have a seven-hour layover with which to explore the city, and I was determined to do it justice while also not missing my onward flight.

And fun fact: this would be my first time ever at taking advantage of a short layover in a city. I’m usually either too nervous I’ll miss my flight or I’ll realise I have so much I want to see that I extend my stopover to several days.

Venice
The Grand Canal

Fortunately, layovering in Venice is easy to do, and despite my fiercely-held beliefs that I was going to miss my flight to Berlin, it ended up being a hassle-free experience and gave me an enjoyable first glimpse of the city.

Getting to Venice From the Airport

Venice’s airport has a left luggage section just outside of arrivals, which will make any layover immediately much easier. At just €6 for 24 hours, it’s a bargain! I left my backpack and brought with me my camera, phone, and money for the day.

From outside the left luggage area, you can then hop on an ATVO Venezia Express bus that takes you to Piazzale Roma, which comes in at €15 for a round-trip ride. Buses head from and to the airport every half an hour, so you’ll never have to wait long for one.

From Piazzale Roma, you can then either walk into the more tourist parts of Venice (it’s a 25 minute walk to get to St Mark’s Square), but I decided to hop on a vaporetto (water bus) instead. The Linea Uno (No. 1) vaporetto runs from Piazzale Roma along the length of the Grand Canal and costs €7,50 for a single journey.

Gondola rides are crazy-expensive (around €80 for a 40-minute ride) in Venice, and I would have also felt like a loner if I’d taken one on my own. The water buses, though, give you a similar experience at a much more affordable price. You still get to see Venice from the water, and if you manage to get to the front of the queue while you wait for the vaporetto, you’ll be able to nab a front row seat outside, where you can clearly see all of the action.

Venice views
Venice from the vaporetto

And it was on this journey that I fell in love with Venice.

I spent my entire vaporetto ride berating myself for having never been there before, wondering why nobody had insisted that I visit, and even thinking about how I would totally have my honeymoon there.

Venice was easily one of the prettiest places I’ve ever visited.

Venice from a water taxi

Oh, God, the Tourists

I stayed on the water bus until Sant’Elena, then dawdled my way back towards Piazza San Marco (St Mark’s Square), wandering down narrow alleyways and gazing up at the colourful buildings. I was falling more and more in love with Venice with every step.

And then, when I finally reached Piazza San Marco, I was greeted with scenes like these.

Arghhhhhhhhh! 

Big yikes.

And suddenly Venice wasn’t quite so wonderful anymore.

Venice crowds

So here’s the thing: I’d heard that Venice was crazy-chaotic in the summer months, but this was a random Tuesday in September, when all the kids were back in school. I really hadn’t expected it to be quite so busy.

At least it didn’t smell of pee, though.

Getting My Tourist On Regardless

But, of course, I can’t complain about there being tourists in Venice when I was also a tourist, so I pretended the crowds weren’t there and set about seeing as much as possible.

I fought my way through St Mark’s Square, checking out Doge’s Palace, the opulent St. Mark’s Basilica, and the campanile. Unfortunately, I had to admire them from the outside, because the queues were stretching back a hundred metres and I wanted to make sure I had time to see everything else.

St Mark's Square, Venice

I wandered across to the Bridge of Sighs, which was beautiful. The bridge connects Doge’s Palace with its prison, and on that bridge was where many criminals took their last glimpse of Venice before being locked up.

Bridge of Sighs in Venice

I couldn’t come to Venice and not sample some of the gelato, so I hopped online to google “best gelato venice”, and made my way over to Gelato Fantasy. I went for the strawberry cheesecake, and was it the best in Venice? Well, it was definitely the best I’ve ever tried.

Gelato in Venice

And then I was all about getting lost. I had a couple of hours left before I’d have to make my way back to the airport, so I decided to spend them wandering down tiny alleyways and snapping photos of the picturesque canals.

And it was during this walk that I started to fall a little bit back in love with Venice. Away from the crowds, it can be so wonderful — it’s just really hard to escape them for more than a few minutes at a time.

Gondolas on the canals in Venice

Canal in Venice

Venice canals

My First Impressions of Venice

I have mixed feelings about my first visit to Venice.

When I was cruising along on the water, I absolutely adored it. I was making plans to visit every year, I couldn’t stop taking photos, and I was even placing it above Ljubljana as the prettiest city in Europe.

But as soon as I left the water, I struggled. There were just so. many. people. that it was probably one of the most crowded place I’ve ever been to. I hate crowds, and I especially hate crowds that are that large.

So it’s a bit of a love-hate relationship for me. I’m glad I visited, and I’m sure I’ll return at some point in the future, but yeah.

There were simply too many people for me to fully enjoy my time there.

 

Have you ever been to Venice? Was it that ridiculously crowded when you visited?

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32 Comments

  1. Emily
    October 14, 2016
    Reply

    I’m with you on the love/hate. I would love to visit the quiet alleyways and side streets, but that huge influx of tourists would be a huge turnoff for me.

    • Lauren
      October 19, 2016
      Reply

      Yeah, that was the problem! And I guess the solution is to visit in winter and hope you get a sunny day.

      • Kristine
        January 23, 2018
        Reply

        Went there in August and November, both were crowded, but November definitely better. Although it gets so foggy that, in the end, we didn’t go up the Campanello because it just didn’t make sense…

        • Lauren
          January 26, 2018
          Reply

          Thanks for sharing!

  2. Rebecca
    October 14, 2016
    Reply

    I lovelovelove Venice! It was packed the first time I went in 1997 and I haven’t been back since 2003, so I can’t even imagine the crowds now. But the smell (so gross when it rains that it comes back to being iconic again) and the lack of cars/buses just make me love it more. I would go back in a second, despite the crowds.
    Since I went before the invention of digital cameras (or at least before I started using them) do my previous trips even count? Har har:-).

  3. Brooklyn Murtaugh
    October 15, 2016
    Reply

    I think the crowds would have made me panic a bit, so I think I would need to go to Venice in the off season.
    I’m glad you made the most of your layover, I’m like you, I have never left the airport during a layover because I get too worried about missing my next flight!

    Mmmmm, real Italian gelato!

    • Lauren
      October 19, 2016
      Reply

      I was surprised by how easy it was to visit on a layover. I’d always assumed short layovers like that would be way more hassle than they was worth, but it really wasn’t.

      Yep, it definitely sounds like off-season is the time to go!

  4. Kiara Gallop
    October 15, 2016
    Reply

    I loved Venice best after dark, when you can wander the quiet back streets pretty much alone. And it’s just so damn atmospheric. There’s enough light around to take decent photos but not so much as you get glare from the brightness. Murano and Burano are lovely too, if you ever go back :-)

    • Lauren
      October 20, 2016
      Reply

      I actually looked up whether I could visit Burano on my layover as well, before realising that would be ridiculous! It looks gorgeous — definitely on my list for next time.

  5. Maria
    October 15, 2016
    Reply

    Venice looks so gorgeous! I’ve just been to Italy but didn’t reach Venice. I’ve heard from a friend that yes, it is wonderful, but it’s alright to not spend a ton of time there because it is a) expensive and b) very crowded, and I’m getting the same impression from your post. I still absolutely want to visit and pretty much do what you did for a couple of hours :P

  6. Amy
    October 15, 2016
    Reply

    I had a similar experience this July in Florence, the city was beautiful but it the crowds were crazy and you had to queue for hours to see any of the religious buildings or visit the galleries. It was insane! I haven’t been to Venice but it looks like it could be a good move to go there in low season, even if the weather isn’t as great.

  7. Alice
    October 15, 2016
    Reply

    I’d really recommend visiting in winter. I’ve been twice in February and had St Marks Square almost entirely to myself. We had beautiful weather, clear blue skies but cold, and then one foggy incredibly atmospheric day, wandering along deserted streets beside canals where we couldn’t see the other side for the fog. It was amazing. A weekend there in January / February would be the best I reckon!

    • Lauren
      October 19, 2016
      Reply

      That sounds amazing, and definitely like the right time of year to visit! I’ll keep it in mind for any future visits :-)

  8. Michaela
    October 15, 2016
    Reply

    I’ve never been… But prettier than Ljubljana?!? I must put this place on my list :)
    I too hate crowds… Just been to Camden town on a Saturday and I wanted to punch everyone in the face :///

  9. Katie
    October 15, 2016
    Reply

    Felt the same way a out Venice – too many people and too many dirty pigeons. I went nearly ten years ago in August, if u ever go back it will definitely be in the shoulder season

    • Lauren
      October 20, 2016
      Reply

      I don’t think I noticed the pigeons! But then there were so many people, there was probably nowhere for them to land, haha.

  10. Anne Morgan
    October 15, 2016
    Reply

    It’s years since I was last in Venice and I never really got to know it well. I do remember enjoying getting lost in the back alleys best though.

    • Lauren
      October 19, 2016
      Reply

      Definitely! It was the only place where I could escape everyone else! :-)

  11. Dominique
    October 15, 2016
    Reply

    I’ve never been! I always think about visiting in off-seasons but then I realize I also like the weather to be nice. When summer comes around I realize I would be silly to visit the city – as your post has proved – I wonder if it’s ever really quiet though. Maybe I should just stay there for a few days…

  12. Lorna
    October 16, 2016
    Reply

    Venice is one of my absolute favourite cities. It’s so beautiful and charming, but also full of personality, like there are stories around every corner. Fortunately when I visited (February, quite a few years ago now) I don’t remember it being as crowded as it looks in your video, although it’s entirely possible I’m remembering it through rose-tinted glasses! I really hope it’s quieter for your next visit. :)

    • Lauren
      October 20, 2016
      Reply

      Based on other comments on this post, it sounds like it’s not as crowded during the winter months, so you timed your visit well!

  13. Matt
    October 16, 2016
    Reply

    I felt the same about Venice; the crowds are crazy but there’s a reason why. Also, congrats on going for the layover tour! It’s a great way to get a quick peak at a city at no extra cost. If you ever have the chance, go for a 23-hour layover in Cairo; enough time to see the pyramids, museum, and another sight or two, and you get to leave before you go crazy.

    • Lauren
      October 20, 2016
      Reply

      Oooh, I actually did have a long layover in Cairo once, but I was too nervous to leave the airport!

  14. Martina
    October 21, 2016
    Reply

    I love Venice! It’s one of the most special places I’ve ever been. I’ve visited Venice two times in wintertime, in January/February. Almost no tourists, no crowded places and a magic light in late afternoon before it’s getting dark. Be prepared for cold temperatures, but it’s definitely worth it! Lauren, your blog is really great and I enjoy your posts very much :)

    • Lauren
      October 21, 2016
      Reply

      Thank you so much, Martina! That means a lot :-)

  15. Rachel S Imper
    October 21, 2016
    Reply

    When we visited Venice in the 1980s and 1990s, it was crowded–but not nearly as crowded as when we visited in September 2016. I think the cruise ships are destroying Venice–not just by unloading hordes of tourists, but also because the backwash of those large ships is eating away at the pilings. They should be banned, and I understood that they are still allowed to dock there because the locals want the business. Venice is still lovely on the back canals, but I feel sad that one of my favorite cities is being killed by tourism. Mary McCarthy wrote that “The tourist Venice is Venice,” and that has been true for hundreds of years, but the invasion of the cruise ships has made it a nightmare at times. It’s sad, because Venice is a world treasure.

  16. Kirstie
    October 22, 2016
    Reply

    We accidentally went to Venice during carnevale… intense! I found it a bit much. Loved the graveyard island though, and the water buses, even though they were all packed all the time.

    • Lauren
      March 2, 2017
      Reply

      Oh, wow. I can’t even imagine how crowded it would be during carnival!

  17. Adam
    November 13, 2016
    Reply

    Venice for me was awesome in the early morning before most people were out of bed. But by about 10am I really began to despise it. The crowds made it feel like Disneyland and the city lost its charm pretty quickly.

    I would love love love to go there and see it as perhaps it was 50 years ago. Still, I think it’s possible to enjoy some parts of it even if you hate crowds. Sort of regretting I didn’t get one of those canal buses you mentioned.

  18. Anjeline
    February 23, 2018
    Reply

    What airport did you leave from? Mine is going to be Treviso and I have several hours and would LOVE to stop by to sight see a bit!

    • Lauren
      February 24, 2018
      Reply

      I left from Marco Polo Airport.

  19. jenny benjamin
    October 15, 2020
    Reply

    It’s best to visit Venice between November and mid February to avoid the crowds. I was there January last year and although it was cold it was perfect. Due to go back next month, but heard yesterday flight has been cancelled due to Covid, so will rearrange for next year, outside of tourist time.

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