All visitors to Italy need a valid passport. For residents of the European Union (EU), European Economic Area (EEA), Switzerland, United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Israel visas are required only for stays in excess of 90 days or for those intending to work, but check with your embassy before travelling. The Italian Foreign Office also has up-to-date details. Contact your consulate if you lose your passport, need a visa or wish to stay longer than 90 days.
Most countries have consular representation in Italy including Australia, Canada, New Zealand, UK and the US.
Allowances for visitors for personal use, from the EU are almost unlimited. If you need medication, bring enough and keep a copy of your prescription. Check Customs Information website for allowances outside and within the EU.
Visitors can get up-to-date travel safety information from the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the US Department of State and the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
It’s advisable to take out an insurance policy to cover cancellation or curtailment of your trip, theft, loss of money and baggage, and healthcare, including repatriation. Visitors from EU/EEA countries should bring a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) which will give free or reduced healthcare including pre-existing medical conditions and routine maternity care, but will not cover repatriation.
For urgent medical aid, go to the emergency (pronto soccorso) department of the Ospedale SS Giovanni e Paolo in Castello. For ambulance (ambulanza), dial 118. There are First Aid Points for tourists, open 8am to 8pm daily, in Piazza San Marco and Piazzale Roma. The Health Venice website lists doctors and pharmacies, and your hotel or a tourist office can give contact numbers for night doctors and dentists.
Pharmacies (farmacie) tend to open 9am–12.30pm and 4–7.30pm Monday to Friday, and 9am–noon on Saturdays. A rota (farmacie di turno) of night-time and Sunday opening is posted online and on pharmacy doors. The Un Ospite di Venezia booklet (see Visitor Information) also has this information. Italian pharmacists are trained to deal with minor ailments.
No inoculations are needed. Take a high-factor sunscreen in summer. An insect repellent and an electric plug-in insect killer will help guard against mosquitoes. It is safe to drink tap water and water from fountains unless you see the sign non potabile (not drinkable).
Venice is a safe city, but still has its share of pickpockets. Leave important documents and valuables in a hotel safe and only carry the money you need. Be extra vigilant at train stations, markets, on public transport, at the landing stages of the vaporetti – especially while boarding. Venice is safe at night, and women alone should encounter no trouble. Make sure you only use official taxis, or you may be overcharged.
In the event of a theft, report it at the nearest Questura (police station) and take your passport. But if you have lost your passport, consult your consulate immediately. In any emergency, call 118 for assistance (pronto soccorso); or call 113 for the police (Polizia di Stato) or 115 for the fire brigade (Vigili del Fuoco). If you leave anything on a train, contact the City Lost Property. Items left on vaporetti are kept at the ACTV Lost Property (Oggetti Smarriti) offices (7:30am–7:30pm daily) in Piazzale Roma for a week.
For travellers with specific needs, the Venezia Accessibile information pack, available on the Sanitrans website or at tourist offices, details the best way of getting around the 70 per cent of Venice. It lists barrier-free itineraries, arrangements for arriving by train, air and bus, public toilets, car parks, manageable bridges and travelling by vaporetto or motoscafo. It also lists shops where you can hire lightweight wheelchairs. Travellers can buy discounted single-fare tickets for the vaporetti, which last 75 minutes and allow a companion to travel free.
Museums and churches are usually free for wheelchair users and companions; call ahead or check with the tourist office. Specialist websites, such as www.europeforvisitors.com, list accessible hotels. The Sage Travel website is packed with detailed information. Can Be Done specializes in holidays and tailor-made packages.
Senior travellers are eligible for reduced fees to churches and museums, with a photographic ID as proof of age. If travelling by train, it’s best to buy the carta d’argento, which gives over-60s a 15 percent discount. Yearly card costs €30 (free to over-75s) and is available at stations, travel agencies or online.
Students should bring an International Student Identity Card (ISIC) card with them for reduced fares and entry fees. Those aged 14 to 29 can get a Venezia Unica card (€6) for a 72-hour pass (€22) on public transport and other discounts.
Family passes are available for the vaporetti, museums and churches. Children under 6 travel free on public transport, and discounted or free entry to sights come with the Chorus Pass (under 11) and Museum Pass (under 6; see Visitor Information). Most restaurants will have children’s meals. Carry a pushchair, as negotiating the bridges can be tiring.
Italy uses the euro, the common currency of the European Union. Bank notes come in seven denominations – 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 and 500 – and coins, eight: 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50 cents, plus €1 and €2. There is no limit on the amount of cash you can bring into the country.
Banks are usually open 8:30am—1:30pm Monday to Friday and close at weekends and public holidays. Almost all banks have a cashpoint or ATM (bancomat), which displays the logos of the cards they accept, as well as giving multilingual instructions. Be careful to shield your PIN, which should consist of four digits only. It’s worth checking whether you need to inform your bank that you will be making foreign withdrawals before you leave. You should also find out the rate of commission and transaction charges. All major credit and debit cards (Mastercard, Visa, American Express) are widely accepted in Italy’s hotels, restaurants and shops. If you lose a card or have it stolen, report it immediately on the appropriate emergency number from your provider.
Foreign-exchange offices are open seven days a week, but commission rates tend to be high. Those at Venice’s train station and airport stay open until the evening and at weekends. Post offices offer the same service.
Tri-band and GSM mobile phones will work in Italy, but confirm the roaming charges before you leave. The alternative – if your mobile can be unlocked – is to buy an Italian pay-as-you-go SIM card from TIM, Wind or Vodafone. Top-ups are available from tobacconists (tabacchi) and news-stands, where you can also buy phonecards (carte telefoniche) for public phone boxes. When calling an Italian landline, it must be prefixed by its full area code even within the city you are calling from, and the 0 must be kept when dialling an Italian number from abroad. To call Venice from abroad, dial the access code 00 39 (0 11 39 from the US and Canada, 00 11 39 from Australia), followed by the 041 city code. Mobile numbers begin with 3 and are not prefixed by a 0. Skype (www.skype.com) is the cheapest option for international calls.
Internet and Wi-Fi is widely available in hotels, some restaurants and cafés. You can buy access to the municipal Venice Wi-Fi network for 24hrs, 72hrs or a week through the Venezia Unica card, though this focuses on the main squares and thoroughfares.
Stamps (francobolli) can be bought at post offices and tabacchi, which are recognizable by the black-and-white “T” sign. Post offices are open in the morning Monday to Saturday. You can find a complete list with opening hours on the Italian Post website. Use the Posta Prioritaria service if you want letters to arrive quickly.
Beside the three state TV channels – RAI 1, RAI 2 and RAI 3 – satellite and cable TV transmit foreign channels such as CNN, Sky News, and the BBC World Service in many languages. The main radio stations – Radio 1, Radio 2 and Radio 3 – are also run by RAI. Venice Classic Radio (www.veniceclassicradio.eu) and La Fenice Radio (www.lafenice.radio.net) both stream Italian classical music.
European and US newspapers are sold at large newsagents a day or so after publication. Local daily newspapers such as Il Gazzettino and La Nuova Venezia are useful for event listings, as is the national daily Corriere della Sera.
Many museums are open daily, but times are subject to change, so it is wise to check. The main churches are usually open 10am–5pm Monday to Saturday. Food shops are open 9am–1pm and 4–7.30pm Monday to Saturday, except for Wednesday afternoon. In low season, clothing and gift stores close all day Sunday and also Monday mornings.
Venice observes the following public holidays: New Year’s Day (1 Jan), Epiphany (6 Jan), Easter Monday (variable), Liberation Day and St Mark’s Day (both celebrated on 25 Apr) Labour Day (1 May), Republic Day (2 Jun), Assumption (15 Aug), All Saints’ Day (1 Nov), Salute (21 Nov), Immaculate Conception (8 Dec), Christmas Day (25 Dec), Boxing Day (26 Dec).
Italy is one hour ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) and changes to Daylight Saving Time (ora legale) from the Last Sunday in March to the last Sunday in October, putting the country two hours ahead of GMT. For all official purposes, Italy uses the 24-hour clock.
The electrical current in Italy is 220V AC with two-pin, round-pronged plugs. Bring a travel adapter for electrical appliances.
Every season in Venice has its attractions, but July and August can get very hot (up to 30° C/86° F) and sticky. Spring and autumn are cooler (around 15° C/59° F). Between October and March, Venice often experiences acqua alta (tidal flooding), which spreads out from Piazza San Marco. Sirens give an alert to an impending flood, and a network of passerelle (wooden walk-ways) are erected on the main routes around the city. You can buy plastic overshoes and find details on tide height on the comune.venezia website.
There are official tourist offices, Informazioni Turistiche, (IAT) at the airport, in Piazza San Marco, Santa Lucia train station and at Piazzale Roma, which provide city and vaporetto maps and other information. The free monthly magazine Un Ospite di Venezia – published in English as A Guest in Venice – gives listings, useful practical information, and boat timetables and is widely distributed in hotels. Look out, too, for wall posters advertising local festivities and cultural events. You can also pick up details of what’s on from the tourist offices, or consult the websites in the directory on this page. If you intend visiting a number of churches, consider a Chorus Pass (€12), which gives entry to 18 churches and organizes guided tours. (Single entrance to churches costs €3.) Though you are not required to cover your head, it is important to dress respectfully when visiting churches and avoid bare arms, shorts and beachwear. The Museum Pass (€24) allows entry to 11 museums. The most comprehensive pass, however, is the Venezia Unica city pass, which you can tailor to your needs. It gives access to museums, churches, vaporetti, public toilets and Wi-Fi. It is also available at various points around the city and online.
The official tour guides, Cooperativa Guide Turistiche Autorizzate, give you in-depth history for every corner of Venice in 15 different languages. Tours with English-speaking guides can be booked through tourist offices and agencies such as A Guide in Venice and Bucintoro Viaggi, which also organizes gondola rides, working out more affordably if you are part of a group.
You can learn to row like a gondolier with qualified English-speaking instructors with Row Venice. Prices start at €85 per person.
Private tours of some of Venice’s museums can be combined with historical walking tours through Venice Museums, and the Jewish Museum offers a guided tour of three of the synagogues in the Ghetto Nuovo (see Jewish Ghetto). They can also arrange tours of the old Jewish cemetery on the Lido.
Outside of Venice, you can spend a full day or half a day cruising the Brenta Canal on the motorboat Il Burchiello, which includes visiting the Palladian villas, once the summer residences of Venetian nobility. The return journey from Padua is made by bus.
Venice has myriad fascinating shops, a selection of which has been picked out for inclusion in each district in this book. Glass and beads, masks, handmade paper and paper goods, lace and gondolier hats are all popular souvenir items with tourists.
When buying glassware, it is worth shopping around: many glass shops stock similar items, and prices can vary wildly. Murano tends to be more expensive than Venice, but you get a free demonstration as well. Make sure you can see the authentic Vetro Artistico® Murano trademark before buying anything that is claimed to be from Murano. Virtually all glass-shop staff are experts in packaging fragile and bulky items, and they can arrange for forwarding overseas by air or sea. Always check that insurance is included. Visitors from non-EU countries can claim a tax refund on purchases that exceed €155 from one shop. Most shopkeepers will have the appropriate forms.
The Mercerie – the district that joins the Rialto Bridge to Piazza San Marco – has a concentration of high-end stores such as Dolce & Gabbana, Prada and Armani selling designer clothing, shoes and handbags. Calle Larga XXII Marzo also has a cluster of chic shops. In the Cannaregio district, T Fondaco dei Tedeschi, the only department store in Venice, stock upmarket designer brands and are open every day of the week.
Delicatessen, bakeries and specialist shops are centred around the Rialto Market, where you can find enticing displays of fresh produce. For food shopping, there are a number of supermarkets throughout the city – Coop Adriatica, Conad and Punto, for instance – which stay open late and on Sundays. Note that shopkeepers are obliged by law to give you a receipt. Street sellers do a brisk trade in tourist bric-à-brac, as well as imitation designer bags and accessories. However, be warned that hefty fines are imposed for anyone who is caught buying counterfeit goods.
Restaurant opening hours are generally 12:30–2:30pm and 7–10pm. Venice caters mainly to tourists, often on a day trip, so the further you venture from the main tourist spots, the less likely you are to find a menu turistico and waiters luring you in, and the more likely you are to discover good Venetian cuisine. It’s best to book ahead as restaurants are often small. The cover charge (coperto) of around €2 and a service charge (servizio) of up to 12 per cent should be indicated clearly on the menu and also on the bill.
Venetians often take an early evening giro all’ombra (stroll in the shade), which involves eating cicheti (snacks) with wine, in various local bacari (small bars). The classic Venetian aperitivo is a spritz – a mixture of white wine, Aperol and sparkling mineral water.
Because the city is situated between a lagoon and the sea, plenty of fish appears on restaurant menus – Venetian specialities include baby cuttlefish cooked in its own ink and eel cooked in Marsala wine. Look out for traditional bigoli (a long thick, dark pasta), frittelle alla Veneziana (fried sweet doughnuts with lemon and Marsala) and the almond confectionery torrone. Burano residents are proud of their bussolai (ring-shaped cinnamon-flavoured biscuits). Italians never drink a cappuccino after lunch or dinner, instead choosing an espresso or a digestivo.
Pizza places are less expensive than restaurants, as is the self-service Brek chain. For something more substantial, find a tavola calda (cafeteria), where hot meals are served at a counter. Vegetarian restaurants are a rarity – Le Spighe in Castello is one – but you can find vegetarian choices at many restaurants.
Drinking coffee in bars while standing up, as the locals do, will cost you half as much as sitting at a table. The ultimate, albeit ultra-expensive, coffee experience is sitting at either Caffè Florian or Quadri’s in “Europe’s drawing room” of Piazza San Marco, while an orchestra plays and you simply watch the world go by.
Note that smoking is prohibited in bars, restaurants and all public indoor places, though electronic cigarettes are permitted. Picnicking on bridges, church steps or in Piazza San Marco incurs a steep fine (€150). Look for a bench in one of the squares or parks instead, and eat discreetly, or find an authorised picnic area. For picnic areas see #EnjoyRespectVenezia.
Venice’s hotels cater for every budget, although being mainly small (20 rooms or fewer), they book up quickly. It’s wise to book as far ahead as you can and to look for special deals online. Spaces fill up quickly at Carnival time in February or early March, as well as for the Film Festival in September. The Venice Biennale is held in odd-numbered years and also puts an extra strain on accommodation.
Hotels nearest Piazza San Marco are the most expensive, and a view of a canal costs more. The Lido and mainland Mestre are less expensive but can be noisier, since they are not traffic-free. Northern Cannaregio and eastern Castello are quiet areas; Dorsoduro has more bars and nightlife. There is also a good choice of guesthouses, bed and breakfasts, hostels and even camping sites. Apartments and house exchanges are another possibility to consider.
Travel for Kids has an extensive list of apartments and hotels that are suitable for families. Truly Venice offers luxury apartments, with plenty for larger groups.
Prices are by room, so check whether breakfast is included. Hotel prices are generally low between early November and Easter and high during the Carnival period from February to March. Some hotels are also cheaper in July and August, when the city can get very humid. When booking, keep in mind that you will have to walk from the vaporetto stop and the amount of luggage you will be carrying; it’s best kept to a minimum, since porters are expensive. Cases on wheels should be carried over bridges to limit damage to the pavements and reduce noise pollution.
Via Borgogna 2, Milan
02 7767 4200
Via Zara 30, Rome
06 854 442 911 (24hrs)
Via Terraggio 17, Milan
02 721 70001
Via San Paolo 7, Milan
02 723 001 (24 hrs)
Via Principe Amadeo 2/10, Milan
02 290 351
Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office
US Department of State
118 (for emergencies)
Garage Communale, Piazzale Roma
041 272 21 79
Ca’ Farsetti, San Marco 4136
041 274 82 25
Fondamente di S Chiara, Santa Croce, 500
041 271 55 86
041 523 99 77
041 521 04 83
041 296 01 43
049 261 06 54
Calle Larga de L’Ascension, San Marco 1241
041 275 04 62
041 521 06 32
(Cooperative Tour Guides of Venice)
041 520 90 38
049 876 02 33
340 341 3448