There are around 400 licensed guides in Venice and passing the certification exam is not a formality. It takes a combination of historical, artistic and cultural knowledge as well as excellent language skills. Visitors can choose from group tours organized by the city, private tour companies, and independent guides. While the former costs less the latter are usually smaller and allow for greater personalization. Whatever you choose it’s a good idea to take a tour early in your stay to get familiar with the city. Afterwards it will be much easier to appreciate Venetian architecture and culture. Taking a tour is also a wonderful way to put yourself in the hands of someone who doesn’t need a map and never gets lost.
Private certified guides charge a standard €70-80 hourly fee for a minimum two hour tour. Prices are the same whether two or eight people participate. Group tours are slightly more impersonal and can include up to thirty visitors. They are however cheaper and start from €30 per person for a 90 minute visit. There are fewer itineraries and most generally focus on the San Marco area. If you’re interested in food or modern art you’re better off using a private guide.
Sara Grinzato (tel. 345/850-1309, www.guidedvenice.com) and Rossana Colombo (tel. 339/600-8709 http://www.guide-venice.it) know their city well and love sharing that native knowledge with visitors. After a couple of hours together you’ll see Venice differently and things that made no sense will begin to seem normal. They can customize visits according to your interest in art, food or shopping but often start with an overview of classic destinations like Piazza San Marco and the Rialto. Both will pick you up at your accommodation at the hour of your choosing and can organize fun treasure hunts for restless children and teens.
The Venice Free Walking Tour (www.venicefreewalkingtour.com) sounds too good to be true but it isn’t. This non-profit initiative leads 2.5-hour morning and afternoon tours that cover the foundation of the city, traditions, gastronomy, and plenty of facts and figures. Tours start from the old wellhead in Campo Santi Apostoli (Cannaregio) and proceed over a historic two-mile route. Guides are passionate local volunteers who get a kick from helping curious visitors uncover their city and conduct all tours in English.
Once you’ve fallen in love with Venice, you may want to help preserve it, and there are many organizations dedicated to just that. Save Venice Inc (Dorsoduro, Palazzo Contarini Polignac 870, tel. 041/528-5247, Mon.-Fri. 9am-5pm) helps repair and restore the city one painting, sculpture, and palazzo at a time. You can go to their office and speak with Leslie or Holly about the organization’s activities, visit their library and pick up one of their self-guided treasure hunt tours dedicated to art and architecture. Each hunt lasts about 90 minutes and the suggested donation of €20 helps fund future restoration projects.
Several companies including City Sightseeing operate boat tours around Venice and travelers can compare the options along the Riva degli Schiavoni waterfront from where most operators are docked and regularly depart. Journey times and itineraries vary and the biggest advantage is the assurance of getting a seat. The convenience and widespread availability of public vaporetto ferry boats however make boat tours nearly superfluous.
Il Burchiello (Padova, Via Porciglia 34, 049/876-0233, http://www.ilburchiello.it) operates half and full day expeditions up the Brenta Canal that connects Venice to Padova. Boats depart at 9am from the Pietà Water Station (Riva degli Schiavoni) near Piazza San Marco on Tuesdays, Thursday and Saturdays. The bateau mouche like vessels have air-conditioned interiors but the best seats are upstairs on the roof deck. It’s a slow ride through pretty countryside and 3 or 4 stops to visit the gardens and interiors of the region’s palatial villas. Lunch is extra and the tour is one way only but getting back to Venice from Oriago by bus or Padova by train is easy and an excuse to discover another beautiful city.
Whatever type of tour you end up choosing it will significantly add to your appreciation and enjoyment of Venice.
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