One thing I’ve learned to do in my many years of travel is to manage expectations, because few destinations can live up to today’s filtered photos and breathless blog posts. Venice, however, is an exception. Even after meticulously planning my first visit there (now years ago), I was still unprepared for the pure, nature-defying magnificence of the Floating City.
I was also unprepared for the crowds. I had heard that Venice is packed, but until I found myself wedged in a wall-to-canal scrum of day trippers, I didn’t fully grasp how overrun the city can get. I’ve become increasingly savvy over my many visits and now know how to experience the magic of Venice while skirting its hordes. Here is my crowd-avoiding itinerary for first-time visitors.
Venice often floods between the months of November and January, so pack waterproof footwear.
If you only have time for one thing, make it a gondola ride. Pricey, but worth every cent.
After getting the lay of the land, check out Venice from above. Avoid the long line at the bell tower in St. Mark’s Square and take the vaporetto (water bus) or a private water taxi to quiet San Giorgio Maggiore on the opposite side of the Grand Canal. Views from the bell tower here stretch across the rooftops of Venice and the lagoon.
Cap off your first day with a gondola ride—it’s a splurge, but well worth it. (Note rates are higher after sunset.)
One of the most authentic culinary traditions in the city is cicchetti, tapas-like appetizers served in old-school bacari (wine bars) across the city. Spend the evening on a foodie stroll sampling cicchetti and washing it down with an ombra (small glass of wine).
Leave central Venice behind today and explore the outlying islands in the lagoon. You’ll find Murano and Burano full of visitors, but if you set off by vaporetto or taxi boat early enough, you can beat the midday rush. Stop first in Murano, then head to Burano for lunch at the excellent Trattoria al Gatto Nero.
Spend the rest of the afternoon perusing the city’s fine artisan boutiques and workshops for one-of-a-kind handblown glass, papier-maché masks, textiles, and other Venetian crafts.
If the timing works out, bid farewell to Venice in style by catching a baroque concert at the 17th-century Church of San Vidal.