Venice, Italy (Venezia in Italian) is still one of the most interesting and lovely places in the world. This sanctuary on a lagoon is virtually the same as it was five hundred years ago, which adds to the fascinating character. Venice has certainly begun to decay since its heyday and is heavily touristed (there are slightly more tourists than residents)-- but the romantic charm remains.
Wikipedia has an excellent article on the history of the city: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Venice
The summer is reported to be the worst time to visit: it's very hot, the canals stink (in the most literal sense), there are infestations of flies, and there are even more tourists than usual. Spring and fall are probably best, a compromise between temperature (expect 5-15°C in March) and the tourist load.
"Acqua Alta" has become a fact of life in Venice. The lagoon water level occasionally rises above the level of the plazas and streets, flooding them. This will happen several times a year, usually in the colder months, and usually lasts a couple hours. You'll see raised walkways in side alleys ready to be pulled out when acqua alta hits. When the city begins to flood sirens will sound warning residents and businesses. If you speak fluent Italian tune into news programs since the floods the time of the flood begins and the time when it will recede is usually on the spot.
Because Venice is on a lagoon, the water plays a crucial role in transportation. The most popular way to approach Venice is by boat or train.
The closest airport is the one near Mestre on the mainland, an industrial city without much charm in itself, called Marco Polo. There is another one in Treviso, its very small and at 40 km (25 mi) of Venice. Both airports have bus connections with Venice (Piazzale Roma). Marco Polo airport runs a free shuttle bus to the Alilaguna water-bus jetty where €10 gets you a leisurely 1 hour boat trip to San Marco via Murano, Lido and the Arsenale. Alternatively you can travel in style (and much faster) by hiring one of the speedy water-taxis for about €80.
Trains from the mainland run through Mestre and to the Santa Lucia train station on the west side of Venice (make sure you don't get confused with Venezia Mestre which is the last stop on the mainland!). From here, water buses (vaporetti) or water taxis can take you to hotels or other locations on the islands.
Is not a good option. Cars can arrive in Venice, but are left on the parking at the entrance to the city (Piazzale Roma or Tronchetto - Europe's largest car park.) Car parking is expensive here and the tailbacks can be quite large, an alternative is to use the car parks on the mainland (terra ferma) and catch a vaporetto or bus into Venice. A good idea is to park near the Mestre railway station and catch a train to Venezia S.Lucia; there are many trains, is very near (8-10 minutes) is few expansive and Venezia S.Lucia is a good starting point to visit Venezia.
By hire car
Most of the major hire car companies have outlets at Piazzale Roma, at the edge of the city. These are on the ground floor of one of the major parking stations. When you are dropping off your car, you need to find street parking and then walk to the hire car outlet and hand in the keys. Do not park in the parking station! There is a vaporetto stop across the road from the parking station.
The Piazzale Roma bus station is well served by vaporetti and water-taxis.
Ships arrive at the Stazione Marittima which is at the west end of the main islands, it is served by vaporetti and water taxis.
Venice is a very walkable city, and the absence of cars makes it - mostly - a pleasant experience. The Rialtine islands - the 'main' part of Venice - are small enough to walk from one end to the other in about an hour.
If you want to get around a bit more quickly, there are numerous vaporetti (water buses) and water taxis. The vaporetti are generally the best way to get around, even if the service route map changes frequently. If you are going to be in Venice for a few days visiting, it is a lot cheaper to get the vaporetti than to get private water taxis. If you want to have a romantic ride along the canals take a gondola ride.
ACTV runs the vaporetti and other public transport services both in the lagoon and on the terra firma. 1 day, 3 day and 7 day Venice Cards are available, in two variations (Blue and Orange). The basic Blue cards provide unlimited travel on the ACTV travel services (vaporetti, motoscafi and buses) and free use of the AMAV staffed toilets. The Orange card also provides free entrance to some of the museums (those covered by the Museum Card). Note that neither card includes the Alilaguna water-bus which serves Marco Polo airport unless you pay a surcharge. Travel cards are extremely useful since the basic fare for one vaporetto journey is typically €5.00 whereas 1 day Blue cards cost €14, 3 day costs €29 and 7 day €51 (prices correct December 2004). There are cheaper 1 and 3 day ACTV travel tickets available (€12 and €25) but these are pure travel cards and offer no discounts or other goodies (like a free map and case) which come with the Venice Cards. Discounts on many of these cards are available for the under €30 or by buying online, it pays to look around.
Otherwise, take a walk! The city is not that big, and you can walk from one end to the other in a few hours, and along the way discover the marvelous art and architecture around every corner.
Don't miss the Rialto Bridge, the Piazza San Marco, and one or both of the Campaniles; San Marco and San Giorgio.
Check the monuments timetables, are very strict.
Ride a Vaporetto (Water Bus) down the Main Canal right before Sunset. The Vaporettos are inexpensive, but the sites are priceless: amazing architecture, soft seaside sunlight, and a fascinating parade of Venetian watercraft.Take a Gondola if you can afford it, it's expensive, but the Gondoliere maybe can decrease the price if you ask (but they can also decrease the time...). Make sure you reach an agreement on price and time before you start! A good tip with the Gondolieres is to bargain the price down as low as you can, then say that it's still too much and walk away. Two or three of them will chase after you, one after the other, each offering a lower price than the last. It's possible to knock 20-30 euros off the price.
If a gondola seems a little pricey the alternative is to cross the Grand Canal by traghetto. These only cost a few cents to use and are largely gondolas that have seen better days, They are stripped down and used as municipal ferries. There are seven points to find them, but often they only operate when people are going to and from work.
If you are looking for something to do, you can always shop. Venice is full of little stores in every corner and crevice. The commonest local specialities are Carnival masks, glass, and marbled paper. Price can vary wildly, so it's a good idea to hold off buying until you have a fair idea about the relative value of things. On Murano you can go see glass-making demonstrations! While going through Venice you need to take in the beauty of it all. Walk through the alley ways, and take the water taxi to different parts of the island, sometimes at night you can just go sit in a main area and watch people and tourists. It is wonderful. There are many museums and churches that are around the city that allow tourists to go in a visit. They are a good thing to keep you busy throughout your visit.
Many times a week, there are musical concerts featuring music of the composers who called Venice home. Especially popular are performances of Vivaldi's The Four Seasons. What better experience than listening to the music in the same halls where Vivaldi himself visited.
There are a couple of (strategically placed) outside mini-stages - One across the Duke's Palace and another half way on the right hand side of the souvenirs strip (walking back to the Train Station, Cathedral at your back)
Anyone is welcome to sit down and enjoy (no need to consume anything) Great atmosphere (and live music) while looking at the zillions of pigeons being feed by visitors that want that 'special picture taken'
If lucky you could have a glance at an outside wedding ceremony.
Venice still has some residents who work in non-tourism industries, but these are quite few today.
The city is well known for its artisans and artwork. Visitors are drawn to its glasswork and its decorative Carnival masks that are a signature Venetian product. Masks are available at every single shop in Venice, and choosing the best one can be difficult, as many are fairly low quality. One shop with a good quality stock and decent prices (the other great pitfall) is [Traditional Mask].
Watch out also for the hand-made paper and the exquisite miniature buildings made by Moro (Watch out for fakes!! Moro "signs" his on the back.
Venice is packed with wonderful restaurants, featuring cuisine of the Veneto. Specialties include polenta, made of corn meal; risotto with cuttlefish ink sauce. Diners should however be aware that for every genuinely wonderful restaurant or trattoria, there are many more places serving rubbish food at inflated prices, especially in the streets around San Marco. Rule of thumb: if there's a waiter outside pimping for business, it's probably best avoided.
One of Venice's trademark foods is cuttlefish and its ink. This intense black ink serves as a sauce and ingredient for polenta (corn meal), risotto (rice), and pasta. These dishes are normally indicated by the Italian words "nella seppia" (in cuttlefish), "alla seppia" (in the style of cuttlefish), or "nero di seppia," (black of the cuttlefish). For example Polenta Nella Seppia is fried corn meal with the black ink of a cuttle fish. Despite the intensity in color, the ink has a surprisingly mild taste.
For fresh fruit (including chilled coconut!) watch out for the street market stalls.
To save money at lunch, eat standing up. Prices usually double as soon as you sit at a table.
If self-catering, the Rialto food markets are an absolute must for fruit, vegetables and cheese, but most of all for the huge range of seafood, much of it fresh out of the lagoon and still moving!
There are a number of particularly cheap stores selling pizza by the (extremely large) slice in the vicinity of Piazza Santa Margherita for approximately €1.80 a slice.
This is a very friendly family restaurant overlooking the Guidecca Canal. The menu starts at €8.50 pizzas and pastas. The wine selection is good with many available in a choice of 250 cL, 375 cL and 750 cL bottles. The interior is almost art deco and surprisingly light. It is used by a lot of regulars, both local and returning tourists. They are closed on Wednesdays and between Christmas and Festival.
Da Fiore is a Michellin starred restaurant that serves fish only.
Although there are many fantastic bars in Venice, if you're planning a nighttime "pub crawl" you should plan a few places to visit in advance - otherwise it's very easy to waste an hour wandering aimlessly in search of a watering hole that's actually open (especially midweek).
Give a try on Spritz al Aperol, "La botte" close to Rialto is a good choice.
If you try the famous Grappa, be careful... it's almost pure alcohol!
The Bellini was invented in Harry's bar in Venice. It is a mix of white peach juice and Prosecco (the ubiquitous Venetian champagne-like sparkling wine).
Hotels in Venice are expensive. Some of the smaller hotels offer better rates.
Staying in a hotel on the Lido (15-20 minutes by Vaporetto) is a cheaper alternative to staying in Venice proper. The island of Lido also has a long beach where tourists and Venetians alike go swimming during the summer months.
Some Italians at the train station may approach you to find out if you need a room. While some of these people may be con artists not all are. Some work for family members and will be able to negotiate a price for you. They will usually ask what your budget is and will call a hotel or two to see if they owner will accept the price you suggested. Do not accept the offer if you think the situation is suspect or think you may be exploited. Always get a receipt for the transactions!
Venice has several internet cafes, but these internet cafes are much more expensive than the rest of Europe with prices for an hour of access around €6. Wait until you leave Venice to use the internet.
It's considered a safe city. One can walk down the darkest alley in the middle of the night and feel completely safe. You have to take the habitual travellers precautions, however. Keep your valuables (like wallet and passport) close to you because there are pickpockets, especially in more crowded parts of the city.
Around the Venetian lagoon are other smaller islands, which have since been deserted but are worth a visit. There is also the Lido, which is a long narrow island with more modern buildings, hosting a youth hostel and a hotel.