Venice’s Biggest Tourist Traps and How to Avoid Them

Grand Canal VeniceLast week an article circulated around the internet about some tourists—Roman tourists no less!—that were shocked to receive a bill for €100 (about $133) for four coffees in St. Mark’s Square in Venice, Italy. Venice is certainly full of tourist traps that can turn into expensive lessons like this one (read the fine print on the menu!), but knowing how to avoid them will save you from leaving Serenissima with a sour taste.

Cicchetti

A selection of Venetian cicchetti

Tourist Trap: Dinner with a view of the Rialto Bridge
Let me set the scene. You’ve wandered along the Grand Canal for that perfect photo of the Rialto Bridge crowning the canal in all it’s glory. Just as your shutter clicks, you hear the lilted Italian accent behind you inviting you in for the special tourist menu complete with a free Bellini. Don’t. Turn. Around. Just walk away as quickly as possible! Sure, the view is a spectacular one of the Rialto Bridge, but I guarantee your meal will not be.

What to do instead: Graze at Venice’s best cicchetti bars
Cicchetti are like Spanish tapas and cost €1-2 each. They are typically eaten standing up and are the most authentic Venetian cuisine you can have. A couple of my personal favorites are all located just steps away from the Rialto Bridge and frequented by locals. You won’t find any menus; just point to a couple that make your mouth water from the case of the day’s freshly made cicchetti.
Try: Cantina Do Mori at Sestiere San Polo, 429 or All’Arco at San Polo, 436.

Gondola Lessons Venice

Learning to row a gondola in Venice

Tourist Trap: Gondola ride
The movies would have you believe that a gondola ride along Venice’s canals is incredibly romantic. You envision yourself gliding along a deserted canal as a gondolier in black and white stripes sings in Italian and you steal a kiss with your lover. The reality is a gondola ride will run you around €80 for a 20-minute ride as your gondolier shouts back and forth with his gondolier friends in Italian, leaving you feeling like you’re on a packed ride at Disney World. And the singing? That will cost extra.

What to do instead: Learn to row your own Venetian gondola
Venice has only one rowing school for tourists and Row Venice delivers an experience you’ll truly remember for a lifetime. Not only did I row my very own gondola along Venice’s beautiful canals, but I also got a history lesson and learned a lot of fun facts about being a gondolier! A 2-hour lesson will cost €60 for singles, €40 per person for doubles, or €100 for a family (two adults and two children).

Artisan gelato

Avoid gelato that looks like this!

Tourist Trap: Gelato artigianale
There’s nothing better after traversing Venice’s 400+ bridges on a hot day than two scoops of  gelato. You spot a gelato shop with beautiful, colorful gelato piled high in the case, topped with fresh fruit. Must be the good stuff, right? Wrong.

Artisanal gelato is made by hand, using fresh ingredients. The gelato that is piled high in the case is piled high because it has been whipped—and this is the first indication that it is not artisanal or even made on site. Another surefire indicator the color. Banana (banane) is a common flavor and it should be grayish, not bright yellow, and mint (menta) should be white instead of green.

What to do instead: Seek out Venice’s best gelato shops
The tiny Gelateria Alaska, tucked away on Calle Larga dei Bari, 1159, in the Santa Croce neighborhood, is Venice’s best gelateria in my opinion. Run by owner Carlo, who you’ll almost always find behind the counter, makes his homemade gelato daily. When he’s out of a certain flavor, that’s it for the day. Some of the flavors sound wild, but give them a try! His ginger gelato (zenzero) is a bit spicy, but surprisingly delicious. Another favorite of mine is the basil (basilico), amazingly refreshing on a hot summer day and pairs perfectly with strawberry (fragola).

Murano

Glass shops line the canals of Murano

Tourist Trap: Murano glass shops on the Rialto Bridge
Murano glass is so named because it actually is made on the island of Murano. Though it travels only a 20-minute boat ride across the lagoon, Murano glass can be marked up to double or triple the price in most shops on the Rialto Bridge or in St. Mark’s Square. And some of it isn’t even real; it’s made in China! If you absolutely must buy Murano glass in Venice, there are a few places I recommend such as Segreti Veneziani (also known as Rialto 79) where you’ll receive a certificate of authenticity for every piece.

What to do instead: Take a trip to Murano
Murano is easy to reach from Venice via vaporetto (water bus) on the 4.2 line from S. Zaccaria (the stop just in front of Doge’s Palace in St. Mark’s Square) or the 3 line from Piazzale Roma or Ferrovia (the bus and train stations). Once on Murano, wander in and out of the various glass shops and factories. Even if you’re not buying, it’s fun to see the glass makers melting and then molding glass into works of art. A 12-hour travel card costs €18 per person.

Venice

Wouldn’t you rather find a peaceful cafe like this one?

Tourist Trap: Coffee in St. Mark’s Square
The whole idea behind this post came from the most recent €100 bill for four coffees in St. Mark’s Square, so I certainly can’t leave you without a tip to avoid this tourist trap! St. Mark’s (San Marco in Italian) is Venice’s most beautiful, and actually only, piazza. But beware that occupying just about any of the outdoor tables in the piazza comes with a price tag.

What to do instead: Take your coffee at the bar
There is always a higher price for table service. This is because in Italy, servers are paid a wage instead of working for tips like in the U.S. A cappuccino or cafe americano that costs €1 at the bar can cost up to four times that when sitting. So, first wander out of St. Mark’s Square. You’ll find bars in just about any alley leading out of it. Second, live like a local and order your coffee at the bar standing up. You can actually get a coffee and a delicious pastry for the cost of just the coffee and sitting down for a few minutes!

For more from Jennifer on traveling smart in Italy, click here, and on Venice’s famous Carnival celebration, click here.

About Jennifer Dombrowski

Jennifer Dombrowski is a location independent globe trotter and bases herself in Prata di Pordenone, Italy. She works as a social media and innovation strategist in higher education and is a regular contributor on johnnyjet.com. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, or on her blog, JdombsTravels.com

Comments

  1. Excellent tips for Venice. I now can’t wait to take try my hand at rowing a gondola. I had no idea that was an option. Thanks for this information.

  2. Great advice Jennifer! Especially the Gondola rowing course seems like a brilliant way to avoid tourist traps!

  3. Sorry, Jennifer, a gondola ride is 80 euro for up to six people for 35-40 minutes, not 20 minutes. That is the standard tariffe set by the city of Venice. And, I completely disagree that a gondola ride is ‘just a tourist trap’. It is THE best way to see Venice, the way Venice was built to be seen; from the water. Sure, it would be fun to take a rowing lesson while in Venice, too, but I doubt that would be on an authentic gondola (they’re too big, too heavy and too difficult for beginners and even some experienced rowers to maneuver) and lessons certainly wouldn’t be given in the small canals–Venice’s most characteristic–because it takes great skill to maneuver even a smaller ‘sandolo’ row boat in these tight spots. And I deeply disagree when you say a gondola ride isn’t romantic–because it is, it just is! Granted I’m partial, my husband is a gondolier, but believe me I’m not writing this beause I’m concerned this article will put him out of work. My words are sincere. There is no more beautiful, romantic way to see Venice than from a gondola. I’m fortunate to do that often, and I never tire of drinking in the beauty of Venice from an angle one can only see while sitting in a gondola.

    • I don’t usually bring six people with me and I wouldn’t find that overly romantic either. $110 is high, but ya gotta do it once.

      • The last time I was in Venice our gondolier was on his cell phone the whole time we were riding it. Would have loved to have had choice to learn how to do it myself with my hubby.

  4. I did Venice very briefly on a group tour a few years ago. I know I had gelato and I remember really liking it, but there’s probably a good chance it was one of the touristy spots. I also did a gondola ride with a few people on my tour, but it was actually kind of sweet because the couple on my gondola got engaged. Anyway I’d love to go back to Venice and give the other activities a try.

  5. Hi Jennifer,

    I really loved your article. The pictures are beautifully shot too. I havent been to Italy but I plan to go there soon. This would be very helpful. Thanks!! :)

  6. Thanks for the tips. Going to Venice in 2 weeks, so this was timely information.

  7. Maria Palmer says:

    I’ve done both the gondola ride and the coffee at St Marks square…the music played was worth the money we paid…having said that, I found that getting a vaporetto pass works very well..I have gotten vaporetto passes for up to four days…it was great.

  8. Margaret K. says:

    I totally agree with Marie R. From a tourist’s standpoint, riding in a gondola was definately an experience I will always remember. We shared with another couple, so it was half the price! Taking gondolier lessons does not appeal to me (not a skill I would ever need). Just relaxing in the arms of my husband and taking in the sights that we floated past while someone else does the work is worth the price. If I ever get back there, I would do it again, AND pay extra for a singer!

  9. Sorry, but I have to disagree with you on the gondola ride.
    My wife and I just returned and paid 100 euros for a 40 minute nite ride.
    It was spectacular floating down the side canels at nite, no sound but the water around the boat.
    very very romantic.
    Well worth the money for a great memory with the one I love.

  10. Catherine says:

    Jennifer,

    I love your site but PLEASE add one more warning about the vaporetto? My boyfriend and I recently got slapped with a 60 Euro fine by the vaporetto officers (PER PERSON) for not “validating” our tickets that we had just purchased and SHOWED them the RECEIPT for (showing the date and time it was purchased which should have been enough evidence for any vaporetto “authority figure” to leave us alone)! We had only been in the city for 3 days and it was an easy mistake to make. Several Venetian residents argued with them upon our behalf to stop “harassing us” for such a simple mistake and for not taking note of our receipt. By the way, the same so-called-officers did not bother to check anyone else’s ticket on the boat. Everyone working for the vaporetto looked the other way, making this seem like a clockwork trick (by the infrastructure itself!).

    We did not pay the fine but I think others very well may have. PLEASE warn tourists to validate their tickets before boarding the vaporetto!!!

  11. I was in Venice two weeks ago and one of the things I liked the most was making a tour through the traditional bars of Venice, with a selection of typical wines and appetizers.

    I was surprised about how many hidden bars and restaurants there are in Venice… this tour is a good choice to know some of them.

    Here I have found it bacaro tour venice.com
    I recommend it to anyone!

  12. You forgot Harry’s Bar. $28 for a basic drink (hey, but you get free olives!) This is the single most over-rated establishment in Venice.

  13. Another Scam is the famous Harry’s Bar. If you sit at a table instead of the bar prices are much higher with some sort of cover charge

Trackbacks

  1. […] For more from Jennifer on traveling smart in Italy—and avoiding tourist traps in Venice—click here. […]

  2. […] Choosing the Right Gelato When in Italy, stay away from the gelato shops with beautiful, colorful gelato piled high topped with fresh fruit in the case—this means it’s whipped and not the good, hand-made stuff. One way to spot the real thing is by looking at the color. Banana (banane) should be grayish, not bright yellow, and mint (menta) should be white instead of green. This delicious tip came from contributor Jennifer Dombrowski (@jdomb), who shares more wisdom on the subject in her latest story, Venice’s Biggest Tourist Traps and How to Avoid Them. […]

  3. […] Venice’s Biggest Tourist Traps and How to Avoid Them […]

  4. […] Check out more wisdom on the subject from Jennifer in her latest story, Venice’s Biggest Tourist Traps and How to Avoid Them. […]

  5. […] you might want to read Jennifer Dombrowski’s articles: 12 Things You Never Knew About Italy and Venice’s Biggest Tourist Traps and How to Avoid Them. I guarantee you, these tips will help make your travels go […]

  6. […] What to do instead: Learn to row your own Venetian gondola Venice has only one rowing school for tourists, and Row Venice delivers an experience you’ll truly remember for a lifetime. Not only did I row my very own gondola along Venice’s beautiful canals, but I also got a history lesson and learned a lot of fun facts about being a gondolier! A two-hour lesson will cost €60 for singles, €40 per person for doubles, or €100 for a family (two adults and two children). Check out more wisdom on the subject from Jennifer in her latest story, Venice’s Biggest Tourist Traps and How to Avoid Them. […]

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