Travel Tips for Venice, Italy

One of the most unique cities in the world, Venice is both captivating and frustrating.  Some of the most beautiful Old World views can be found here, and the city is a photographer's paradise.  At the same time, it's physically difficult to get to Venice, and once you are there, the street layouts are confusing.  Most visitors get lost at least once during their visit, and Venice is easily the most controversial city we have visited.  Some of our friends who had been there commented that we would hate it, that it was smelly and always flooded, and that we needed to have alternate plans for activities beginning on day number two in Venice, when we would certainly realize what a mistake we had made.  On the other hand, others told us how much they had enjoyed it, and several people had been to Venice more than once.

The bottom line -- we loved it.  It deserves every bit of acclaim and praise that has been heaped upon it, and probably very little of the criticism.  Venice is more than a "city."  It's an experience, and a very powerful one.  We'll help you prepare for your visit to Venice so you can fully enjoy it.

First off, the "streets" in Venice - nearly all of them - are what most Americans would consider as narrow alleys, with multi-story buildings on either side.  The pavement is generally uneven cobblestones.  Many of the streets are narrow enough that two people can barely walk shoulder to shoulder.  The "wide" streets can accommodate four people side by side, but they will still look like a wide alley.  Streets tend to be short, so you'll quickly come to a wall or an intersection where you have to turn right or left.  You must have a good street map to negotiate this maze, but most maps will be inadequate, because they will only have part of the city's streets labeled.  Using a bad map is an easy way to get lost and frustrated.  Our favorite Venice map is printed by Rough Guides -- it's exceptionally easy to use, all of the streets in the city are listed and identified by name, and the map itself is waterproof and tearproof. 

If it was just a city of picturesque alleys, Venice would have very little notoriety.  The real story of Venice, of course is the canals.  And they are everywhere.  Venice is actually comprised of 118 islands, and the water that divides all of the islands is the canals.  There are very wide canals, such as the Grand Canal, which resemble a busy street (with boats replacing cars and trucks), and there are quiet, narrow canals that just sort of lay alongside the Old World buildings.  Do they smell?  No.  We were in Venice during a hot part of the summer, and there was no discernable odor from any of the canals. 

Handicap access -- in a word, terrible.  The bridges that connect the 118 islands are not handicap-friendly.  Each bridge has 6 or 8 steps up, then a flat landing, followed by 6 or 8 steps down.  Streets are generally uneven cobblestones.   Wheelchairs and walkers are impossible to use, and individuals with limited mobility will have a difficult time in Venice. 

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