Don't panic. I can help.
Venice is an easy city to lose yourself in. The whole place is essentially a maze. Your GPS can only get you so far. There are so many twists and turns it’s pretty simple to walk down the wrong street (also the street signs aren’t exactly easy to find). Once you understand this fact, you have one job: don’t panic! Don’t be intimidated–you can do this. One of the best things about the city is that getting lost can be really rewarding, as every corner is enchanting. I repeat: do not panic. You’ll find that if you lean into your confusion, no matter where you end up will completely enthrall you–even if it’s nowhere near where you wanted to be (and it probably isn’t!).
Unfortunately, I didn’t do this, at first. Instead, I did the first thing that came naturally. I panicked.
The Venice we all romanticize is over two miles from dry land. It’s separated into six main sestieri (neighborhoods), not including the 168+ islands surrounding the “mainland” of Venice. San Marco is the most “touristy” of the neighborhoods, and not coincidentally, the one I would visit.
There are no cars in Venice. You can’t call a Lyft to take you where to go. Water taxis are available, but, lord, are they pricey. The water bus is your best bet to cover a lot of ground (other than good ol’ walking) if you’re unfamiliar with the area–unless it’s nighttime when everything is 100% more confusing.
INSIDER TIPTry to arrive in Venice during the daylight.
Take it from me: I arrived in Venice at 1:30 am. Long story short, I got very lost very quickly, wandering around in the dark for over an hour without working GPS on my phone.
I was informed later that I was “probably fine” because “Venice is a very safe city,” but you know what doesn’t feel safe? Walking around by yourself somewhere you’ve never been in the middle of the night (especially as a woman traveling alone). Listen, even if you’re a travel expert, Venice is a maze, and at night, it’s a night-maze, and night mazes are historically much more difficult than day-mazes. It’s easy to get turned around. Don’t be so hard on yourself! Here are some ways to stay on the right path.
Solution 1: Get a Guide
A sure-fire way to not be lost in Venice is to get led around by a tour guide. If you’ve never been to Venice and want to get yourself acquainted with the city, look no further than top-rated tour company City Wonders. Not only will you begin to understand your surroundings, but you’ll understand the history–all of the guides are expert storytellers, so it’s also super entertaining in that aspect. The tours are specially curated, and even get you front-of-the-line entrance at many of Venice’s major attractions. You can momentarily breathe a sigh of relief, my friend, just as I did–they will lead the way from here. Frankly, a tour was just what I needed after a night of getting lost on my own–plus, this way, I’d be able to better guide myself around in the future.
INSIDER TIPCity Wonders operates 250 different tours in 10 cities.
A tour guide like City Wonders will lead you throughout the maze of the city on a walking tour, get up close with St. Mark’s Basilica, and, best of all, help to familiarize you with the area.
With all this guidance, there’s no way I would wind up lost again.
Solution 2: Lean In
After a guided tour, you might be ready to explore on your own. This might be the case elsewhere. But not in Venice. The very moment I stepped away from the tour with a new-found confidence after being led around for, oh, 40 minutes, I…immediately became lost again. What to do when you’re finally out on your own?
Breathe. Relax. Pay attention to your surroundings and just wander. I reveled in being lost and looked at it as a little adventure. I had no idea where I was going, but damn it, I was going to enjoy myself (obviously—this is Venice, after all!). After a while, I began to recognize landmarks and I was able to find my way around. It wasn’t easy and I really had to focus–but it was extremely possible.
It’s possible! I’m capable. You’re capable. You’re the captain of this ship, all you have to do is not panic and sink it. You’ll eventually find your way. I promise. (Anyway, it’s an island. You can’t really get *that* lost.)
You know what else helps? Gelato.
Solution 3: Know What You Want To Do
Visiting a confusing place like Venice? Know what you want to see ahead of time. There are a lot of things to do, so do your research before you go. Here, let me help: These are some of the most popular and worthwhile sights.
St. Mark’s Basilica is located in the heart of St. Mark’s Square, one of the most populated tourist areas in Venice. Don’t be scared off by the crowds, though—it’s popular for a reason. There is so much to explore around St. Mark’s Square. The Basilica is an enchanting experience, with its onion dome and beautiful mosaics—plus, the view from atop the terrace is one of the best in the city.
INSIDER TIPSt. Mark’s Basilica is lovely by day, but downright dazzling by night. City Wonders’ “St. Mark’s Basilica By Night” tour gives you special access into the ancient church, where you can stare in awe at its interior—accompanied by only a few other people.
Murano and Burano are two of the Venetian Lagoon’s most cherished (and most photographed) islands and are well worth a visit by water taxi. Murano is the manufacturing center for Venetian glass (it’s extremely famous glass!). Burano is known for its lace making, and its bright and colorful streets are lined with shops full of scarves made onsite with Burano lace. The island is also famous for its brightly painted fishermen’s houses, lining the lagoon–each one is a different color, and represents a specific household.
INSIDER TIPIf you see a home not painted a bright color, no one lives there and it is available for purchase.
And, of course, you have the gondolas. Gondolas used to be the main way of getting around Venice way back in the day, but now they are strictly an experience for tourists–a very expensive experience. Gondola rides, while historically the most romantic thing anyone can physically do in their lives are mostly just overpriced novelties at this point. That said, if it’s your first time in Venice and you’re set on taking a gondola ride through the Grand Canal, go for it. You won’t be disappointed. Although I recommend just looking at them, which you can do from atop one of Venice’s many bridges.
INSIDER TIPDon’t be one of those tourists that just stop in the middle of the bridge and set up camp—if you’re going to watch the gondolas, leave a passage for passersby (of which there are many).
Solution 4: Take a Breather
Take a minute from exploring the labyrinth and get something to eat (and drink). I guarantee no matter how lost you might be currently, there is a café with a patio and incredible food (and wine). You won’t have to worry too hard about finding the “right” place—they’re all the right place. For example, Vineria all’Amarone is a wine bar by the Rialto, serving Venetian dishes, finger food, salami, cheeses… pretty much everything you came to this city for. Wine is available by glass, bottle, or flight. Chat Qui Rit is a charming café serving Traditional Venetian recipes with a contemporary flare. It also has the cutest napkins I’ve ever seen in my life.
INSIDER TIPInsider Tip: Drink. Water. Please. The wine is ridiculously delicious, but this is your time to regroup and rehydrate.
Solution 5: Hold Tight to Homebase
Since you will probably (definitely) get lost at some point, it is very important to remember where you came from. Keep a business card of your hotel, or ask your concierge to write, “Please point me in the direction of [your hotel] in Italian” before you leave for exploring. This you can hand over to nice Italian-speaking people and/or locals. GPS isn’t always reliable when you’re roaming the streets and it’s very easy to get completely turned around, but as long as you know where you need to ultimately end up, you’ll be all set.
So prepare to get a little lost. Take stock in what you want to do–have a few goals, focus on one at a time, and don’t be so hard on yourself when you have no idea where you are or what’s going on. Just like in regular life.