Venice: the Lowdown

| May 2, 2014

Everyone has advice about Venice after they visit. My main advice is to chill out and recognize ahead of time that you have no idea where the hell you are at almost every moment in Venice, yet it is too gorgeous not to appreciate it. That said, here’s the lowdown on one of the most breathtaking cities one can experience. With caveats.


venice gondola I had pictured Venice as a city with some canals and gondolas and bridges, but otherwise modernized with cars and such. I was mistaken. We did not see a car from the moment we left the airport until the moment we returned to it. Venice is a city of only canals and bridges and boats and walking. If you do not have good walking shoes, forget about it. Just stay home.


venice family

Ferries, taxies, and gondolas are public transportation. Then you’ve got private boats, and feet. We took a water taxi from the airport to the hotel. (Note: if you jump from one side to the other for a picture, the weight shifts.) We took a ferry up the Grand Canal just to do it. It was crammed. We took a gondola ride. We took our hotel shuttles from Venice to Murano and from our side of the lagoon to San Marco. We were on the water every day.






The best day to take a boat: a clear day in spring, when there is still snow on the Alps.


venice gondola

Okay, it’s expensive. It was 80 euro for all of us to glide down the tiny waterways of Venice. The alternative: It costs 2 euro a person to go across the canal and back. You experience a gondola, you save 78 euro: an attractive alternative, indeed. But we really wanted to glide through the canals…under the footbridges…around the corners wondering if we were going to crash into another boat. It’s awesome.  The gondolier’s turn signal is shouting as he approaches the turn.  That’s similar to my driving.



venice not happy

For reals. You will be walking.  If you have a child, they will be: sick of walking.


Utterly useless.

venice useless sign

except this one


venice read the map


A dead end in Venice looks like this, this, and this.  You will see many like them.

(Exception: If you have a map of Venice, this is a great idea for use as backup toilet paper.)


venice toilet

There are about 3 public bathrooms in the city.













Otherwise, just walk into an establishment and ask to use theirs. Don’t be shy; otherwise, you’ll either be going in the canal or wandering the city until your bladder explodes. Do not rely on toilet paper being present in the bathroom (here’s where your map would be most useful).
Be prepared to search for the method of flushing the toilet. There are as many ways to flush toilets in Venice as there are gondolas. In one bathroom, Sequoia and I each stepped into stalls. After flushing, I emerged, then waited for a while before asking if everything was all right. Sequoia: “Yessss…” Me: “Do you know how to flush the toilet?” Sequoia: “Nooooo…” The line that had formed chuckled. I explained the foot pump, there was silence, then “I got it.” Also: toilets might or might not be bolted to the floor, might or might not have all pieces attached, and might or might not be taller than YOUR CALF.

venice toilet


Since views cost money, don’t expect to sit down on benches. Expect to sit on an expensive chair, or the ground. The only place you might find a free “seat” is on the upside-down planks they have out all around town for use as sidewalks when floods are high.


General rule of thumb: the more languages on the menu, the faster you run in the opposite direction. Also, if there are waiters standing outside attempting to kidnap you and drag you into the restaurant, hold your family tight and run even faster in the opposite direction. The closer to the square, the more mediocre the food and the more expensive for a morsel. The best restaurants are down the alleys, tiny, tucked away, displaying a small menu in Italian only or perhaps with an English translation below each dish—or posting no menu at all. They might offer translated menus inside, but their menu outside isn’t seven pages wide with giant flags for each country up top or, worse, a chalkboard advertising the “Tourist Menu!”

Food With a View

venice outdoor cafe

















Normal beer: a few euro. Beer standing up: a few euro. Beer sitting down outside at San Marco: cash out your IRA. Some restaurants pad the menu prices; others tack on a “music charge”, e.g. an extra 6 euro per adult just to sit down and hear their violinist play in the background.


There are three kinds of pizza in Venice:

venice pizza

1. Pizza that tastes like shit. This comes from places that look similar to a chain restaurant at home.

2.  Pizza that isn’t too bad. This comes from places that don’t look like chains, and are down alleys and not high-traffic areas.

venice pizza yum

3. Pizza that makes you feel like this. This particular slice can be found by accident in a place with no menu outside, just a tiny awning in a tiny alley when your husband notices a cooler of beer by the door. You step inside with him, you smell the pie, and even though you just ate lunch, you buy a slice because you know the smell of good pie. And you’re right.

Squid Ink

venice squid ink pasta

Do you know what was not made to be put on food, ever? Squid ink. The thought of eating it ever again, or watching Paul eat it ever again, makes me want to gag. Again. If you’re not gagging as you read this, you’re probably Venetian.


Eat it. Gelato: It’s everywhere.  Breads, cakes, chocolate desserts, etc.

venice dessert

This was just one area of our hotel breakfast buffet










venice dessert

My favorite dessert moment occurred after a wonderful meal at a small place along the lagoon side. I ordered Sequoia a yogurt dessert topped with berries. Sequoia took her first bite and her eyes lit up. Paul: Is it good? Sequoia: Yes! Paul: What’s it taste like? Is it sweet? Is it tart? Sequoia, overwhelmed: I DON’T KNOW!


Drink it. Feel free to ask for the house wine if you have no idea what the hell to order. Go to a wine bar. Tell them what you like and then let them surprise you. Also, indulge two old Italian men when they offer to take a photo of your family, with your iphone. It will result in them thinking they’re not pushing the right button, followed by nineteen successive photos, most of which include an old man’s finger.

Sequoia takes a photo

Sequoia takes a photo

Old man takes photo

Old man takes this, and 6 photos like it

Old man's friend takes another 12 photos of our family and his finger

Old man’s friend tells him he’s not doing it right, then takes another 12 photos of our family, and his finger

My restaurant notes:

Here are the restaurants for which I have records, along with what I liked and didn’t like, how much meals cost, etc., to help you decide if you might want to try them. Trattoria Antica Mola, Cannaregio 2800 This was a favorite meal for me.  I started with a shrimp appetizer, followed by a cannelloni with melt-in-your-mouth dough.  Paul attempted to ruin my meal by eating squid ink spaghetti across from me.  This is where Sequoia had her amazing dessert experience.  If you don’t mind tipping an (excellent) accordion player who might pass by, this is a great find.  It’s on the lagoon side, away from most tourists.  I would return.  (3 entrees, an appetizer, wine, beer, two desserts, bottled water, coffee: 62,50.  We have to stop letting Sequoia drink so much wine and coffee.) Osteria Al Mariner, Cannaregio 2679 We ate here our first night.  Since it’s just a couple canals from the lagoon, it’s not filled with tourists.  In fact, we were the only ones speaking English, and almost everyone who entered actually knew the bartender.  I had shrimp and pasta–yum.  Sequoia regretted trying the spaghetti carbonara–bacon and eggs sounded more tasty on the menu than on her spaghetti.  Whatever Paul ate, he enjoyed.  We considered returning.  (Take off the bar charges and our family total, including service charge, was 38,00.) Osteria Da Bacco S.N.C., Castello 4620 We stopped here for basically tapas, and were not disappointed.  Cozy, good service.  Right by where the action is, but along an alley and without a barker outside luring people in.  I would return for lunch, for sure.  (4 tapas, 3 drinks = 23,00) Gelateria “Al Todaro”, San Marco 3 If you noticed, the address is “San Marco”.  This would be why our bill includes a 17,90 beer and an 8,90 cup of tea.  They threw in a bowl of potato chips for free.  It cost us 26,80 to sit with a view.  It was a wonderful view, and we knew what we were getting into, but be advised, theirs will be the most expensive beer you ever pay for.  (If you’re converting, that beer cost over $20 for one bottle.)


Ostaria all’antico Dolo, Ruga Rialto 778 Venice Ostaria all'antico Dolo, Ruga RialtoThis is a cozy little place just off the Grand Canal/Rialto Bridge.  I wish I had known that there was a hint of squid ink in the dish I ordered–it would have made my visit slightly more pleasant.  The shrimp appetizer was great, as were the breads.  We were very happy with this find.  I was doing all right with the squid ink situation until Paul asked me about it and I had to verbalize what I was eating; then I couldn’t make it any farther into the dish.  I would, however, return. Rossopomodoro, Calle San Marco 403 Meh.  Pizza: mediocre.  Rigatoni: Mediocre.  Free wi-fi!  Family friendly.  Reasonably priced.  Would I return?  Probably not.  But if you like chain restaurants back home, this will probably work for you.  (Our family lunch for three with drinks came to 37,90.) McDonald’s – Cannaregio 3922 Um.  It’s McDonald’s.  They have a bathroom. My awesome pizza Down an alley that lets out at a courtyard.  Red awning.  Good luck.

When we weren’t that hungry, we stopped at the farmer’s market for fresh fruit.  We would grab a drink and grapes/kiwi/strawberries, at prices ranging from 5,00-8,00 per visit.  This farmer’s market is located two thirds of the way between San Marco and our hotel.  You’re welcome.



Doge’s Palace

I had read that you had to do the Secret Itineraries tour in order to see the dungeons. This was not the case. Regular admission gets you across the Bridge of Sighs and into the prisons. If you’re a major history buff, you might want to do the tour; otherwise, you get to wander on your own time schedule if you get the cheaper ticket, and your kid doesn’t have to follow a tour guide.

St. Mark’s Clock Tower

There is a tall tower in Venice. If you’re not holding your child’s hand when visiting the tall tower, the Italians will leave your child at the bottom of it. It will go like this: I’m buying tickets. The ticket agent has to go off to get change for me. I look at the receipt to make sure I received the proper change, and Paul nudges me toward the elevator because he is always concerned that I am not holding up the people behind me. What Paul is not concerned about: whether Sequoia is on the elevator he is pushing me onto before the doors shut. I look at him, he looks around, and the door completes its last millimeter of shutting. I begin banging on the elevator door (a known method for opening elevator doors). The elevator operator asks me to calm down as he attempts to reopen them. They do not reopen. I do not look at Paul. The operator attempts to reverse the direction of the elevator, which has already begun its ascent. I do not look at Paul. The operator tells us to stay on the elevator.  Like I’m getting the fuck off. The operator lets everyone off, lets on a new group, and returns to the base of the tower. When the elevator doors open, the first thing my daughter sees is not her mother.  It is the elevator operator in that stance where an Italian man squats at the knees, reaches out, and says, “Come to papa!” She doesn’t come to papa. I lean into view and she runs to me, bursting into tears. I hug her, silently break down, and ride to the top of the tower. Paul thanks the Italians for putting bars on the windows so his wife can’t throw him over the side.

View from top of clock tower

View of Doge’s Palace from top of clock tower

View from atop clock tower

View of Venice from atop clock tower


Has your child read the Magic Treehouse series of books, specifically Carnival at Candlelight?  Okay, she now knows everything about Venice.  While I would not rely heavily upon her knowledge, I would hesitate to call her any less helpful than a map or a sign.


venice tourist

Venice is the most tourist-crowded city ever; it is so compact that you can’t escape the tourists. It’s not like New York or Prague or Berlin, where there are thousands of inhabitants and business travelers and students walking around. You cannot walk 2’ without bumping into a person who is pausing to take a photograph of an alley, palace, statue, or gondola. And we went in April—I cannot imagine what the place is like when cruise ships are spewing passengers onto the docks, everyone is on summer vacation, or Carnavale season comes around. It is still a magical place; I am just glad we did not stay right by the square or make our first visit during peak season.






Never have I found peeling paint, mildewed façade, water damage and disrepair so beautiful.


Good luck. If you have a kid, you will end up with some piece of crapola like this splatting toy sold illegally by guys on the street:

venice accordian player

Accordian players will play.  She will pose with someone.  You will leave Venice penniless.



The Murano glass factory would like for you to buy some glass, so they offer free boat rides there, but not back (unless you drop a few grand on a piece of glass).  People say the glass factory is a must-see.  I think it’s a probably-see, depending on time.  It’s nice, they do English tours, the glass is amazing, and the chandeliers are impressive.


Cat allowed free run of the Murano glass factory showrooms.  Which is just fucking crazy.

Cat allowed free run of the Murano glass factory showrooms. Which is just crazy.

There are better deals on Murano glass up the street from the factory. It’s a cute island worth seeing for its glass sculptures in the streets.

We then took a ferry to… Burano. burano italy venice Super charming. We personally did not mind paying a bit extra to sit right on the corner of the canal to eat.  I wish I remembered the name of the restaurant, because my risotto was awesome. venice good food

venice colorful homes

Sequoia made friends with a German girl and played for most of the meal.

How we did the islands: We took a free shuttle from our hotel to Murano, toured the glass factory, bought a souvenir, walked around Murano, took a ferry to Burano, ate lunch and spent the afternoon there, then took the ferry back to our stop in Venice.

On Murano: nun photographing statue of topless woman.  Priceless.

On Murano: nun just photographed statue of topless woman. Priceless.


venice masksMurano Glass (and its knock-offs), masks (made in Venice, made in China), pigeons (which will not hesitate to dive-bomb), gelato, guys selling illegal purses, and guys selling the goddamned toys that splat.  If you need a break, stand and observe the guys illegally selling purses and splats. As soon as the cops approach, they gather their goods and run. Amusing.


Venice Boscolo Venezia Marriott

Where to stay in Venice is not an easy decision. We stayed almost as far away from San Marco as one could get. Venice Boscolo Venezia Marriott

The Boscolo Venezia, a Marriott Autograph Collection property, is on the lagoon across from Murano. It’s a lovely old convent that has been converted into a hotel, and it was beautiful. The gardens were awesome, with nooks and crannies for a child to hide in.

That same child, however, had to walk a minimum of half an hour to get to San Marco, and that was when we didn’t get lost. So…once.

Venice Marriott footbridge

Walking across the footbridge over the canal on which the Marriott sits

You basically have to balance how close to the tourist attractions vs. how remote you want to be, how much you want to spend, whether you want to be around tourists or not, etc. I’m glad I didn’t do that much research—I just went with the Marriott property because I was leery of mold being present at other hotels. (It should be noted that my mildly asthmatic child did not have a single problem in Venice, despite all the water damage in conjunction with all the walking.  My worries were for nought.) If I’d taken the time to do any actual research, I would have taken 6 months to decide on a hotel. Pictures of two different rooms in the hotel: Our room the first night was lovely, with exposed beams and barred windows overlooking the lagoon.

Due to a miscommunication, the hotel had us in a room without sufficient room for Sequoia.  They switched us in the morning and were very accommodating about the situation all around.  Our room for the duration of the stay was perfect, with an iconic view of the canal.


Venice rocks.  Just don’t forget walking shoes, and don’t schedule a ton of things to do, particularly if you are going to have to find places not located within one street of one another (and not separated by a canal whose bridges seem to have disappeared).


Venice scary

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Category: Europe, Family Travel, In Germany A Broad blog, Italy, Photo Gallery, Travel

About the Author ()

Kari Martindale is a writer and ESL instructor. She’s visited all 50 states and 37 countries, including many of the big cities of Europe and a ton of Christmas Markets. She spends her days straddling the fence between a sense of adventure and a sense of dread. She is married to what is clearly a patient man and has a daughter who, frustratingly, is just like her. Her academic and professional backgrounds are in linguistics and foreign languages. When she's not teaching ESL, she's writing. When she's not writing, she's thinking about her next trip.

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