Updated: May 21, 2015
Italy Vacation Guide - Planning a Trip to VeniceMost people love to travel, but there are a lot of headaches that go with it. For a lot of American tourists, planning a trip to Italy can be an overwhelming task. So many things to worry about - language, currency, maps, reservations, what to see, where to stay, will your cellphone work, will your iPhone end up with a $1000 international roaming charge, how do you charge your electronic batteries given the different electrical outlets there, etc. This particular guide is focused on planning a trip to Venice (taken in 2010), but many of the tips and suggestions apply equally to any trip you are planning to Italy or Europe. So read along and find out what you need to know when planning your Italian vacation.
Planning a Venice Vacation - Currency and Money HelpOK, let's start with the basics - money. If you're going to Italy, you are going to be spending some money. Unlike the old days when each European country had their own currency (in Italy, is was the lira), today all countries in the European Union (this does not include Great Britain whick still uses the pound) use the Euro as their currency (just like our $). All prices you see will be in Euros. How much are Euros worth compared to dollars? This site gives you the current daily exchange rate between dollars and euros (currency converter - dollars to euros) -- as of 2010, it is about $1.40US per Euro, so something that costs 10 Euros is about $14US. Another difference in Europe is how they write their numbers -- they switch the comma and decimal around, so 3,00 means 3 euros, and 5.000 means five thousand.
- Credit cards: Most credit card companies are always on the lookout for fraud -- if they see charges suddenly occuring in a foreign country, they may try to block them and contact you. So rather than arriving in Italy and finding out your credit card keeps getting denied, call your bank in advance (listed on the back of the credit card) and let them know the dates of your travel and the countries you will be visiting -- that way everything works smoothly. Also, don't take all your credit cards -- 2 should suffice. One carry with you for all your normal charges, the other keep hidden away in your suitcase in your hotel room as a backup so you have it in case you lose or have problems with your primary card.
- ATM Cards: Here's another tidbit I never knew before planning this trip -- in Europe, PIN numbers for your ATM card are limited to just 4 digits. If you've got a code longer than that, it won't work at the ATM machine in Italy (called a "bancomat" there). You can change your PIN to 4 digits at home by either calling or visiting your bank, or in some cases, at your local ATM machine. Just be sure to remember your new code and perhaps change it back when you return. Using a bancomat/ATM in Italy is pretty much the same as in the US -- select your language (English), then do your transaction. Most ATMs limit you to a daily withdrawal of about $300, same as in the US (that's about 200 euros as of the time of this writing) - plan accordingly for your cash needs. Your hotel should be able to point out the closest bancomat if you can't find one on your own.
- Cash: A word of warning on cash -- many restaurants (probably 80% of the ones we saw in Venice) don't accept credit cards, and you will need to plan on paying in cash. This is a hassle, but make sure you check before sitting down ("carta di credito OK?"). Most shops seemed to accept credit cards. We also heard a lot of stories about being careful with your money and watching for pickpockets. I hear the same about NYC and have never seen problems in either locations (3 visits to Venice). But you should be aware of your belongings during crowded summer months, especially when people push and shove to get onto and off of vaporettos or while maneuvering down tight streets. Some also say St. Mark's Basilica is a trouble spot since it is ALWAYS crowded -- hang onto purses and wallets, be suspicious of people bumping into you or standing too close. If you feel safer with a money belt, get one.
Arriving at the Venice Airport - Marco Polo AirportMarco Polo Airport in Venice is pretty small. It lies on the mainland just a few miles from the city of Venice, which of course is situated on water in the lagoon. As you exit customs, there is a bancomat (ATM) machine all the way down to your right. If you need to pick up some Euros, this is a good place to do it. Also right in front of you as you exit customs is a big information counter which sells vaporetto tickets (local boat/bus for getting around Venice) - we bought our 72 hour visitor passes here (about E35). Individual rides on the vaporetto are 6 euros -- decide which is a better value for you, getting a pass or paying for individual rides. You can also buy vaporetto tickets at many major vaporetto stops where a person mans a booth. We'll talk more about the vaporetto system below. To get to Venice, most people take either the Alilaguna public boat or a private water taxi (like a mini speedboat). The private water taxi is expensive but fast - 95 euros (and about 25 minutes) to drop you off in front of your hotel assuming it has water access, but you can share this cost with several other travelers if you are going to nearby destinations (the water taxis take a specific route marked by channel markers to get from the airport to Venice -- you can't make suggestions on taking a specific route, really, until you are on the Grand Canal). The Alilaguna boats are less expensive (10-25 euros each) but they are slower (more like an hour) and only stop at a few locations, meaning you walk the final distance, dragging your suitcases to your hotel. For both of these options, you exit out of the airport and turn left, following signs and the covered walkways for about a 5 minute walk down to the harbor where both types of boats and tickets await you. A good site with more helpful Venice tourist information is VeniceForVisitors.com.
Venice MapThe map below shows some of the main landmarks in and around Venice. That's the airport up at the top, the city of Venice down at the bottom. You can drag around to center things and zoom in and out to see more details.
View Venice, Italy Map in a larger map
Using Your Cell Phone and iPhone in Venice, ItalyMost newer cellphones will work automatically as you travel to different countries via international roaming -- you'll see the new carrier listed when you get off the plane and your phone connects to the local cell network. The problem is the charges. Just like long distance in the old days, telephone companies try to charge a lot for international roaming even though it really is no more expensive to provide than local calls back home. So you can expect to pay $1.00 or more per minute of phone calls back to the US, and often 25 cents or something per text message. So you will want to check with your mobile phone company before heading to Italy or elsewhere in Europe and plan your calls and texts accordingly. Using an iPhone with AT&T service, I switched to an international voice and data plan. The voice plan brought the cost per minute down to 99 cents, not a huge savings from the regular $1.29 or whatever, but still a savings. But with the iPhone you need to do more -- if you access email, maps, Google searches, web pages, etc. you are using data, not voice, and the international roaming charges for iPhone data are massive -- those are the stories you hear about with people getting home from vacation and finding a $1200 bill from AT&T in the mailbox. Without an international data plan, you pay $20 per MB of data transferred, which could be a handful of webpages with photos on them. With a plan, you can pay $25 for 20MB, $60 for 50MB, or $120 for 100MB (in all cases, about $1 per MB, or 20X cheaper than the no-plan rates). On your iPhone you can go to Settings and the General Settings and then Usage and reset your usage meters to zero, then track how much data you are using as you travel. If you find yourself going above your allotted plan, you can call AT&T to upgrade the plan (though I also hear they will accomodate you after the fact if you call them when you return and change to the higher plan if you went over your data limit). You can check out the AT&T plans here. Their phone number is 1-800-331-0500.
Electrical ConvertersMost of us travel with a number of battery-powered devices that need regular charging - iPods, cell phones, laptops, cameras, etc. In the US, you don't think twice about this, other than remembering to bring your assorted cables and charging cradles. But one thing you learn quickly on a European trip is that their electrical outlets do not look like ours in the US. Most European sockets are round and recessed with opening for just 2 round prongs -- try plugging in your 3 prong or 2 prong US cord into that! So you will need to use a physical adapter that allows you to plug your US electronic cords into on one side, while the other side has the necessary size, shape, and prongs to plug into the Italian/European wall socket. Good news is that these devices are very cheap - under $5. We used this one from Amazon (a whopping $1.33) and it worked fine in both Italy and England/Scotland. You'll have to fiddle a bit with the locking switches that enable/disable the various prongs from popping out - there is one setting for Europe (the 2 round prongs) and another for England/UK (3 prongs - the 3rd prong is a little tricky since you have to actually fold it down into place which I missed on first attempts). Anyways, plug this adapter into the wall, then plug your cords into it and you are ready to go. Almost all modern electronic devices can function on all universal voltages ranging from 100-240V, so you should have no problems (Europe uses 220V vs American 110V). The one area where you will run into problems is in very high wattage devices like blowdryers and flatirons -- our advice, leave these at home and use one borrowed from the hotel or buy a cheap local model. Problem is, you plug your US 110V hairdryer into a 220V outlet and it gets fried -- this happened to my wife's flatiron. You need a separate voltage converter to do this - you may want to check if your hotel offers one. Do NOT plug your consumer electronics into a voltage converter -- only use the basic outlet converter for them as described above.
Venice Weather - Venice Rainfall - Average Venice TemperaturesThe weather in Venice ranges from hot and muggy in the summer to cold and wet in the winter (though rainfall is pretty constant throughout the year). If you could pick the best time of year to visit Italy, choose late spring (May into June) and early fall (Sept into October). The middle of summer is obviously the hottest, and many older hotels lack air conditioning, and you'll hear complaints of mosquitoes and smelly lagoon water. I've visited in August, October, and March, finding rain in August and October, and dry, cold weather in March -- you never know for sure what you are going to get. In terms of average temperatures in Venice, plan for 30's-40's from Dec-Feb. For March or November, more like 40's-50's. For April and October, 50's-60's. For May, June, and Sept, lows creep into the 60s and highs into the mid 70s. And for July and August, average high is about 81, with a low of 66.
Venice average rainfall is 2-3 inches per month, pretty much every month, with June and August having the most rain at just over 3 inches, Feb. the least at just over 2 inches. Another tip when it comes to flooding (or "acqua alta") in Venice -- flooding usually occurs from late Fall into early Spring, and it coincides with full moons and new moons when the gravitational pull is the most extreme. Consider checking a lunar calendar and book your trip 10 days AFTER the full moon or new moon. Also, when flooding does occur, the city puts out elevated platforms for getting through the busiest parts of towns (you'll see individual doorways with a slat inserted at the bottom to block up to 10 inches or so), and there will be warning signals telling you of approaching high water. It only lasts for 2 hours or so at a time and then subsides, so while it is an inconvenience, it is nothing like a flooded river you might encounter elsewhere that completely inundates a town for an extended period.
Feel free to email us a question about Venice - we'll do our best to answer it (email below).