What has no roads, nearly 200 canals, is 160 square miles with only 3 ft of elevation & home to the narrowest streets in the World? If you haven’t guessed it, the answer is VENICE! Yep, the Island/city of Venice, located in the Northern region of Italy and the capital of the Veneto region boasts all of those things and so much more, and it’s where I spent my 29th birthday this year! Early in April I tried to see if I knew anyone who might be in and around Europe/The UK but fell short, so figured if I was going to spend my birthday solo it might as well be in a new country, thus began the travel planning! To my pleasant surprise, I found a relatively cheap flight and figured, “29 in Italy? Yes please” and that was all she wrote. So keep reading to find out where I tasted the best gelato I’ve ever had, the spot I found the most magical houses & so much more on my 4 day birthday trip to Venice, Italy.
How to get there + Getting Around
From Bristol you can fly with RyanAir from £30.00 (like I did) so keep your eyes peeled for those deals on the 2.5 hour flight to Venice. While RyanAir gets a bad rep for delays and their cost of luggage, if you fly carryon and are looking to save a few bucks, then there really is no other choice than to do it!
To/From Bristol Airport - for £11 return you’re off on the Bristol Flyer and if you saw my Instastories or Twitter you’ll know I did not have the best experience (aka getting left behind) their customer service was very receptive and have compensated me for the inconvenience. The service runs all hours, and is the cheapest way to get to the airport. (Note - a taxi from Bristol Temple Meads Station will run you about £20, which is what I ended up paying with another stranded traveller) To/From Venice Airport - Now this is where you’re choices nearly triple in modes of transportation to get to your accommodation, it also depends on if you fly into Venice Marco Polo Airport or Treviso. In my case I flew into Marco Polo.
Option 1 - Arriving to MP Airport, take the bus service from ATVO to Piazzale Roma [€8.00 1 way]. Then hop on the vaporetto, numbers 4.1 or 2 will take you across to the Zitelle stop on Guidecca (if you book in at the Generator Hostel), if you’re going direct to “mainland” Venice then grab the #1 Vaporetto. My top tip is to use this option to get around and before getting on the boat buy a multi-day vaporetto pass (€40.00 for 3 days, yes it’s expensive but it works on all boats and a single ticket is €7.50) Option 2 - For all those with money to burn you can take a water taxi direct from the airport that will get you to Venice in about 40 minutes but run you upwards of €100.00
Option 3 - For anyone arriving from within Italy via train, you’ll disembark at Venezia Santa Lucia station and can take the #2 or #4.1 Vaporetto to Guidecca or the #1 to Venice. The vaporetto stations are dotted all around the islands and make getting around so easy, even if you do get on the wrong boat & go on an hour trip when it should have been 10 mins, oops!(Top Tip -it’s the best way to see Venice on the water!). Buying a multi day ticket might be expensive but if you factor in the amount of times you’ll use it then it definitely is worth it, it also works to get you around to the multiple islands including Murano & Burano. Additional info for times, costs & routes please click here
Lay Your Head At Night
Generator Hostel Venice Fondamenta Zitelle 86, Venice 30133 So a bit of backstory, I booked my flights before looking into accommodation figuring there would be a lot of choices. That was an error in my planning, there aren’t a ton of hostels in Venice and the ones that do exist are really expensive (IMO). I even looked into hotels, but the cost wasn’t much different and I knew I wouldn’t meet anyone if I stayed in a hotel, so that left me with the Generator. Having stayed at the Barcelona & Dublin locations I had mixed feelings about it, but didnt want to leave it much longer than I already had and be without accommodation because I knew it would be busy come the end of May. I was actually pleasantly surprised that the rooms were quite spacious (I booked a 10 bed dorm w/ ensuite) and the overall decor & vibe was great. Located on the island of Guidecca, the closest vaporetto station is Zitelle and will get you to Piazza San Marco Square in under 10 mins door to door. Their onsite restaurant & bar is decent, but nothing special. The menu consists of mostly frozen items (indicated on their menu) and offer a breakfast buffet that was a bit too steep for my liking so I only ate there once, but did indulge in a coffee or 5 there as well as their €2.50 Aperol Spritz Happy Hours. Their bar is a hangout for guests but also Guidecca locals who seem to frequent it on most nights and has a great vibe in the evenings as you can take your drinks out front and watch the sun set over the islands (highly recommended!). All in all it was a decent stay that ran me €40/night (like I said steep) and can be booked direct on their website for cheaper than other booking sites like HostelWorld or Booking.com.
Pizza. Pasta. Risotto. Gelato. Tiramisu. And so so many more things that make Italian dining one of my favourites, here are a few spots I visited on my trip but trust me just stopping into quiet little bakeries without names or signs on the door is something I’d highly recommend to get some of the best treats.breakfast pastries you’ve ever had!
Bar Riva Fondamenta Croce, 91, 30133 Located within eyeshot from The Generator hostel, this was where I had my first meal, and while it was absolutely fantastic, I went back later during my stay with some people from the hostel & the meal left a lot to be desired. The view & the cheap spritz’s make it for a good place for drinks if not the food though.
Del Moros Calle Casseleria, 5324 If you’re on on a budget (like myself) but still wanting to indulge in fresh & homemade pasta then this is your spot! Located down a little alley near Piazza San Marco Square this is the perfect place to grab your food and head off towards the water front for an al fresco dining experience that will cost you less that €8.00, the chicken Alfredo is to die for. Treat yourself to the tiramisu if you’ve got a sweet tooth, you won’t regret it!
Al Bagolo Campo S. Giacomo dell'Orio, 1584/A, 30135 On my last night a few people I had met in the hostel suggested we all go out for a good meal to close out the trip, and sadly if you don’t make reservations you end up working off the Yelp map wandering around the island for an hour before stumbling onto a place that has a free table & decent prices. Lucky for us the food was fantastic and even though it rained, sitting out side taking in the comings 7 goings of the locals in that neighbourhood were well worth the wandering around.
Suso Gelato Calle della Bissa, 5453, 30124 San Marco Alright, so if you spend any time on Instagram I can almost guarantee you’ve seen some nicely manicured hand holding this dreamy ice cream cone over a canal or from a gondola, am I right? Well when it came to finding a sweet treat, I’m so stoked I was directed towards Suso. Simply the best in Venice, and the best I’ve ever had & the staff are so chatty & friendly giving you tips on where to go and what to see. Try the Opera (think Ferrero Rocher + Nutella) & Manet (Salted pistachio & gianduia- an Italian cookie) you’ll be going back a few times throughout your trip like I did!
Rio Terà Lista di Spagna, 150, 30121 Cannolis. A think of beauty & one of my favourite desserts. So when in Italy I would be criminal not to try one right? I did my best. To search out the “best” in Venice but for whatever reason the 1 or 2 places I wanted to try out were closed on a Tuesday so that left me without cannoli, until I stumbled upon this place as I was lost for the 178th time in a day & it was well worth it! Pistachio Cannoli’s make getting lost so much better.
Caffe Vergano Rialto San Polo, 129, 30125 With the sun in full swing, by the time 3pm rolls around your feet will need a rest & you’ll need to recharge so stop off at any of the restaurants/cafes located along the Grand Canal wear the Rialto bridge for a great spot to people watch. This spot had a table right on the water & even though the kitchen was closed, the Aperol was cold & the snacks were great.
See & Do
Alright so my number one top tip for Venice is, lose the map & lose yourself! No I’m not kidding in the slightest, get your ass lost in a back alley and wander around. Get on the wrong vaporetto. Just get off the Piazza San Marco Square path, you’ll thank me later. I was overwhelmed on my first day when I got off the boat & saw the thousands of people at Piazza San Marco. I got super overwhelmed & walked the opposite direction to all the people and ended up being so impressed with what I saw, sans crowds!
Piazza San Marco + Basillica Even though it was hella crowded I made sure to go back just after sunrise the next day to see it in all it’s glory & it was definitely impressive. A top attraction for anyone visiting Vencice, it would be crazy to skip it, but just keep in mind that every restaurant or shop in the vicinity will be overcharging you for food or drink. They say in P. San Marco you’re paying for the music & the people watching more than the actual food/drink.
Doge's Palace The second most recognized landmark in Venice, and a pretty stunning one as well. Before I arrived I hadn’t intended to spend any money going into museums or anything like that & the weather was forecasted to be unreal so why be inside when my seeing the sun in England was virtually non existent? That being said, mother nature decided to open up the heavens and thus I ended up booking a ticket to go into the palace through GetYourGuide (paying €23.00). The palace itself was absolutely stunning, and the art that covered the entire interior was something I couldn’t have dreamed up, but sadly the major reason I wanted to go in was because you can actually walk across the ‘Bridge of SIghs’ and see out was a bit of a letdown. The cutouts in the brig have been covered in thick plexiglass & bars making your view less than magical. Oh and the Skip the line portion of the ticket? It just means you skip the line to buy tickets, there was still a 25 minute wait in line with this ticket. The general admittance for the palace is only €20.00 so you’re not getting that great a deal (as I realized after the fact)
Bovolo Staircase Located in Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo, this is the highest spiral staircase in Venice. If you want you can spend the €7.00 to gain entry, climb the stairs and get views from the top, if not the view of the staircase from the outside is just as impressive too! A fun little fact I learned while I was standing outside (thanks to the tour group walking past) is that this spot was selected by orson Welles as one of the main locations in the 1950’s adaptation of Othello which was pretty cool.
Libreria Acqua Alta If you even remotely like books then this is a must stop spot to check out! Books are piled into gondolas and bathtubs, they line every wall from floor to ceiling and the best part is there is a little reading nook right on the canal with a few chairs to take in the views while you browse. And added bonus is when you step outside to the left of the canal reading nook and directions telling you to go up..do it- the views are worth it!
Rialto Bridge + Markets The oldest of the 4 bridges spanning the Grand Canal connection the districts of San Marco & San Polo, this bridge is best seen from the water (IMO) so hop on a vaporetto a few stops or down the line & cruise underneath it. It’s been rebuilt several times since it’s original construction in the 12th centre but there is still a very medieval charm to it. The markets run along the canals down either side and you’ll find the freshest fruits/veggies, fish & all kinds of goodies to cook the best Italian feast yourself if you have accommodation with a self catering kitchen.
T Fondaco dei Tedeschi So chances are you’ll click this link and wonder why the heck I’ve linked the Duty Free store in Venice. No I haven’t lost my mind (not in this case at least). While I was talking some photos down the bottom of the Rialto Bridge/canals I noticed there were some people up on the roof of a building and I wondered “how the heck can I get up there?!”, a few laps around the bridge, the only place I could imagine would house that rooftop ended up being the super posh DFS, and thanks to the super lovely customer services lady she informed me how could get up there and man was I ever stoked on that! Being on an island with less than 5ft in elevation my love of getting high up was pretty much lost, but this is seriously the best & free way to see Venice from above! Time slots need to be booked here and are free, you can book up to 2 weeks in advance of your visit.
While the island of Venice is relatively small, the neighbourhoods that make it up are different from one to the next. My 3 suggestions for must see neighbourhoods would be: Dorsoduro - The university district, and home to dozens of churches, the iconic waterside Peggy Guggenheim museum & some great eateries at decent prices it’s well worth a wander around here.
Canaaregio - The second largest sestieri and somewhere I had no plans to visit but found myself there by happy accident taking in the views of the brightly coloured buildings and where I found the most amazing cannoli (see above). The buildings here are gorgeous and even by accident I was definitely glad I ended up getting time to explore this part of the island as it was quieter than the bustling San Marco & Dorsoduro areas.
Lido - On my second night I was trying to search out the best spot to watch sunset that wasn’t from the hostel. I had googled a few spots but nothing seemed to be what I was looking for, so I did what I have suggested a few times to you al now - I hopped on a boat & road it as the sun started to set over the “mainland”. When it stopped I was on Lido and got to see a stunning sunset situation. Lido is also home to a Laguna but I didn’t get the chance to see it (hunger won out over exploration at that point) but it’s somewhere that looked like it was worth a look around if you get the chance.
Murano - 1 of 2 islands I knew I wanted to visit before I even booked my flights to Venice. Murano is the iconic home of Murano glass and here you can see glass blowers creating some absolutely incredible works of art. I visited late in the day, so some shops and stalls were closed (it was raining in the morning) but it was still stunning, lots of coloured houses run along the canal and it’s a quick 30 minute boat ride from San Marco.
Burano - The second island, and my favourite of the 2, that I new I wanted to see. Burano is the furthest island I visited, spending about an hour on the boat, and while the scenery didn’t have me leaving my seat you can see the rainbow houses from pretty far off and know that you’re in for a treat. A good tip is to catch the first boat from San Marco to Burano to avoid the cruise ship tourists & bus loads of people that turn up from 10am onwards. I did that and spent an hour and a half cruising around the island without more than just a few locals strolling or putting out their laundry. And it is 10x more colourful than Murano is.
When I first decided to go to Venice, the one thing I read often in all the blog posts & trip advisor comments was how expensive it was. I was pretty anxious because although I’m currently working I don’t have a lot of moveable income at the moment and try my best to do every trip on the cheap & cheap. That being said, I can say in all honesty that if you’re on a budget that Venice is still doable with these tips:
Eating/Drinking in Piazza San Marco is a no no! Seriously €17.00 for an Aperol is absolutely extortionate & if you go just a few streets away from P.San Marco you’ll find more affordable and more delicious food.
Accommodation is expensive. Theres not really a way around out, I’m sure travelling during shoulder season can help, but with Venice being one of the most sought out destinations in the world hostels/hostels/rentals can charge that because they know people will pay. Do your best to book direct to save even a measly €5 to cut your costs, or try staying outside of Venice (think Guidecca or Mestre)
Happy Hours are a must! Want to try all the wine? Who says you cant! Happy Hour is the best way to do this, your €5.00 glass of vino will be €2.50 and taste that much better! Plus every restaurant/pub will give you a bowl of chips(aka rips for those UK readers here) with every drink!
Buy that multi day transit pass. While I walked 80,000 steps over 3.5 days I still managed to make my 3 day vaporetto pass worth every penny of the €40.00 I paid for it. Get lost but see a boat stop? Hop on and get back to where you want to go without back tracking. Want to head from one side to another but google maps wont cooperate? Get on that boat. Want to get the best views of Venice without paying the ridiculous price of €80.00 for a 25 min gondola ride? Yep, you know what I’m going to say- Get. On. That. Boat
And yes, gondola ride prices are insane. If you’re a solo traveller then spending nearly €100 for less than 30 mins in those iconic boats is just not gonna happen. But if you’re with a group for 4+ then it makes it a bit more affordable. I don’t regret not getting a chance to ride one, I liked my photos to have the gondoliers & their boats in my photos than taking photos from them.
I truly believe that most places are budget friendly, it just may require you to do a little bit more research so hopefully this helps everyone else who hasn’t found a money tree yet!
Venice was an amazing choice (if I do say so myself) for the weather (80% of it at least), the food, the people, the wine, and of course the views. I’ve never been anywhere like that in my life before, and it literally felt like I had stepped back in time every time I walked down a new alley, with every canal I saw and with every adorable older Italian couple I saw walking hand in hand with a cart full of fresh food. 3.5 days was the perfect amount of time to see the “mainland” and also get out to the iconic Burano & Murano islands. This was my first taste of Italy and most certainly the start of a HUGE obsession.
Spending my birthday in a different city/country has become a self made tradition over the last 6 years and I was so happy to have spent my 29th in one of the most magical places I’ve ever been. I’m not one for birthdays and haven’t ever had that “holy shit I’m [insert age here]” moment but I’m definitely more aware that next year is the big 3-0 and I’m already trying to get an idea of where I want to be to celebrate that.