Venice is enchanting. Yes, that may be cliché to say, but once you see the city on the water for yourself, you'll surely agree. Step off the Santa Lucia train station and the breathtaking Grand Canal will soon greet you. You'll see water taxis coast along, passing underneath the Ponte degli Scalzi (Bridge of the Barefoot) and might hear the faintest hint of a serenading violin, or is that your imagination? It might not be all in your head. Romantic gondolas carrying smitten couples glide through the web of the city's many waterways, and gondola drivers are known to sing when the moment feels right. On land, narrow passageways twist past Old World storefronts and residences, and over bridges. You should note that maps aren't all that helpful here and getting lost is the norm – embrace the disorientation.
This canal-clad city's main draw is its magical atmosphere, but you'll also find quite a few diversions, too: The tour guides at Saint Mark's Basilica and the Doge's Palace give some great historical insight; the Gallerie dell'Accademia hangs works by Titian, Veronese and other famed Venetians; and the Teatro La Fenice puts on some world-renowned operas. You can also travel to nearby islands like Lido for the beach, Murano for the well-known glass and Burano for its lace.
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The best time to visit Venice is from September to November when tourists desert the city. Although the temperatures – which range from the upper 30s to mid-70s – necessitate some layers, the lowered hotel rates and the barren canals make it worth it. Winters are cold with temperatures in the 30s and 40s, while spring brings Venice's most beautiful weather. Summertime is peak season and is characterized by high hotel rates, high temperatures and – you guessed it – plenty of crowds. Although acqua alta (high water) can occur anytime between late September and April, it's most likely to happen in November and December, so make sure to pack a pair of rain boots if you plan on traveling then.
Data sourced from the National Climatic Data Center
Unlike Rome, Venice's economy is largely dependent on its very strong tourism industry. So, keep in mind that you'll likely be sharing your Venice trip with loads of other vacationers.
To Italians, everything from a person's dress to his or her actions and manners should be beautiful, or bella figura. First impressions are especially lasting for Italians, who, while warm and helpful, do hold outward appearances in very high regard. Dressing well will sometimes even be rewarded by better and more prompt service.
Bella figura does not stop with physical presentation as it extends into a person's manners and conduct. Avoid being obnoxiously loud or ostentatious, as this is greatly looked down on as brutta figura. Learning some Italian and attempting to use it will win you points with Italians, who are generally patient and happy to help you learn more. In any kind of store or restaurant, it's appropriate to greet and say goodbye to employees – even if you do not buy anything – with a ciao and arrivederci, respectively. Wherever you go, remember your manners and don't forget your pleases, per favore, and thank yous, grazie.
Residents generally speak Italian with a Venetian dialect, which can be unrecognizable – even to native Italian speakers. Ca, a shortened form of the word "casa," is used to describe many private residences and palaces. A street or calle in Venice, (pronounced ka-lay), is different from the "via" or "strada" streets elsewhere in Italy.
Similar to the rest of Italy, many Venetian businesses and tourist attractions take Sundays and at least one other day off, though it fluctuates from place to place. During the week, some also take a midday siesta after lunch hours.
Meals in Italy are expected to last long and it's very common for patrons to linger. So don't be surprised when your server does not bring your bill the minute you finish your meal. In fact, you will not get your bill, il conto, until you ask for it. When you do receive it, remember there is a service charge, or servizo, included, and sometimes a coperto, or cover charge. Italians don't tip, so you don't have to either. Also keep in mind that water and bread are usually not free at meals. If you ask for water, your server will ask you to specify whether you prefer tap water, acqua di rubinetto; flat water, acqua naturale; or sparkling water, acqua frizzante or acqua con gas. Also be aware that Venetians tend to eat dinner by 7:30, and many Venice restaurants close their kitchens by 10 p.m. As is the case throughout Italy, Venice's official currency is the euro. Since the euro to U.S. dollar exchange rate fluctuates, be sure to check what the current exchange rate is before you go. Major credit cards are accepted at most restaurants and shops.
With such close proximity to the water, it should come as no surprise that fish is the main component of Venetian cuisine. Cuttlefish (sepia), clams (vongole), and sea bass (branzino) are popular ingredients, which can be found in many of the area's most well-known dishes, including frutti di mare, Venice’s take on a seafood salad. Tramezzini is a tasty Venetian street food: These triangular sandwiches, with a range of fillings from cheese to meats, can be found at cafes throughout the city. Wash it all down with prosecco, a sparkling white wine from the Veneto region.
For the best bang for your buck, try to avoid the San Marco area or any establishment that solicits tourists off the street. Instead, try one of the smaller establishments – such as traveler-recommended Ristorante La Caravella – tucked away on one of the many hidden side streets. Locals frequent establishments like Paradiso Perduto, near the Jewish Ghetto, for its long wooden tables and vibrant atmosphere. The farm-to-table Ostaria Boccadoro is another popular haunt. You could also dine at a bacaro, a smaller wine bar with lower prices, authentic cuisine and more character. Traveler favorites include Cantina Do Spade, Alla Ciurma and Cantina Do Mori.
Venice is considered a very safe destination. However, as is the case with most popular tourist destinations, the city can be a magnet for pickpocket crimes. Keep a watchful eye on your belongings, especially around crowded areas of the city, such as Piazza San Marco and on any of the waterbuses. Travel experts say that you can walk Venice's dark alleys at midnight and still be safe, but you might get lost considering how often street names change. Still, getting lost is part of the allure of a Venice vacation. Keep in mind that there's no way to walk off of Venice: The compilation of islands is surrounded by a lagoon. You should also note that signs with the word "Per," an arrow and an attraction name are pointing you in the right direction. You shouldn't pay attention to graffiti directions, which may or may not have been written to confuse tourists.
The best way to get around Venice is by foot. Although the city's labyrinth of canals and weaving roads can complicate things, getting lost is the best way to discover the city's famed allure. You can traverse the canals by vaporetto or water bus/ferry (relatively affordable), water taxi (pretty pricey) or gondola (very expensive).
To get from the Marco Polo Airport (VCE) to central Venice, you should take an ATVO bus (the Venice Airport Bus Express) or Alilaguna water bus. If you – like many other travelers – choose to take the train from other Italian or European cities, you'll be dropped off at the Venezia Santa Lucia train station, where you can take a vaporetto to your accommodations. Driving is not an option here – even the police use boats to get around. However, if you'd like to rent a car, there are several companies located at the airport.See details for Getting Around
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A passport with at least six months of remaining validity is required for United States citizens traveling outside the mainland by air or sea, as well as for U.S. citizens trying to re-enter the country. U.S. citizens do not need a visa unless they plan on staying longer than 90 days. Visit the U.S. State Department's website for the latest information on foreign exit and entry requirements.
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