When I visited Venice I was totally in awe of this beautiful city, firstly for the amazing floating architecture untouched for over 600 years and then for the sheer amount of tourists constantly flowing in and out of Venice. The latter in summer is mind boggling but nonetheless it still doesn’t take away the charm of what is essentially Venice.
With its reputation as the city of love, Venice is a destination for honeymooners. For the single traveller, it might be hard to avoid this love fest as there is something to see at every turn! Just cast a glance down any canal and you will find gondolas with couples gliding along the water, expertly steered by gondoliers, loved up couples walking hand in hand and at sunset lots of kissing on quaint little bridges. Yes Venice is a romantic city indeed but, to me that’s just the surface of Venice. It’s not only for the lovers but for anyone with a love of history and an appreciation of architecture. There is so much more to Venice than romance, gondolas and canals.
Venice is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its architectural significance and masterpiece artwork found throughout the city. Even the smallest buildings contain works by the world’s greatest artists of the time such as Giorgione, Titian, Tintoretto and Veronese.
Consisting of 118 little islands that are connected by canals and bridges, this city is pedestrian only. Getting around Venice is either on foot or by water transport. The islands of Venice are divided into six areas: Cannaregio, Castello, Dorsoduro, San Polo, Santa Croce and San Marco which is where the main monuments and sights are located. Venice may be a maze of canals and narrow streets but it is well signed with street names and signs to orientate the direction you are heading. On the main thoroughfare there will be signs with arrows pointing the way to Rialto Bridge or in the other direction pointing toward the Santa Lucia train station. You can also just follow the trail of tourists!
Which brings me back to the point about the tourists, and yes, we are all there to admire the same things and here’s a fact you can’t escape from, there are as many tourists as there are locals! Now don’t let that put you off in the slightest. Once you get past the endless tour groups with their flags and over sized flowers held high in the air, the souvenir shops and the restaurants targeting tired and hungry tourists with their pre-prepared food, you can discover a different Venice. Just steal yourself away to the left (or right) and take yourself off the main path. You may only be a couple of streets away but it can feel like a world away from the tourists.
If you are not by yourself (safety in numbers) then I totally recommend that you tuck your map in your pocket, head off for the quieter streets and make your own discoveries in Venice. You will be surprised at how quiet Venice is off the beaten track. Yes I did get lost on many occasions but I came across things that otherwise I would never have known. I sat along the quieter canals marvelling at graffiti carved into walls, hundreds of years earlier, spied into residents courtyards filled with beautiful flowers against the decaying walls, found a crazy book shop that had a plethora of cats happily sleeping on tables amongst the books and watched the gondolas going past as I sat on a private terrace. Every now and then the serenity was broken with “Ciao Bella” being called out as the gondola guys floated past. If you find yourself lost then take out your map again or ask a local.
Venice is just one of those magical cities that is like no other, if you are visiting Italy, then make Venice a part of your itinerary, it may be touristy, but I guarantee you will still fall for its charm.
What to See and Do
If you can, try to arrive into Venice on a speedboat at sunset. When the sun goes down the view coming into Venice is just magical with the twinkling lights reflecting on the water.
Enjoy a gelati ice cream sitting on one of the many terraces along the canals.
Purchase some fresh food from the markets in the morning and have a picnic lunch along a quiet canal with a bottle of wine and rejoice you’re in Venice!
Splash out and spend the required money for a gondola ride. You can’t be in Venice and not have a ride in a gondola! If you like to haggle for a cheaper price than what is advertised, be mindful that your ride may be cut shorter for a cheaper price or your ride may bypass some tourist sites. Be prepared to pay around 80 to – 120 euros for a gondola ride and this will vary depending on what type of ride you are after. Times also vary from 25 minutes to 50 mins and you will find gondoliers working from many canals throughout Venice. If you don’t know what to expect, then you will be in for a surprise as you will be taken under quaint little bridges, past the quiet residential areas, canals with pretty flowers, old dilapidated buildings and then onto the amazing grand canal. Our gondolier was not only handsome but very knowledgeable on the area and gave a nice commentary on the sites we passed without being overpowering in the moment.
Carnival of Venice is one of the most popular carnivals in the world. It starts around 2 weeks before Ash Wednesday and lasts about ten days. It’s a great opportunity to see how Venice was in the 1800s, with many people walking the streets in fancy dress and wearing elaborate masks. So what better excuse is there to wear a mask and enjoy the festival?
St Mark’s Square (Piazza San Marco)
St Mark’s Square is the main square in Venice. This beautiful square contains St Mark’s Basilica (Basilica di san Marco), the Biblioteca or library, the Bell Tower and the Doge’s palace.
Rialto Bridge, I must say nothing spectacular about the actual bridge but the view down the Grand Canal is!
The Doge’s Palace was where the Doge (ruler of Venice) resided many centuries ago and is now a museum. With a grand exterior the palace houses priceless paintings within. If you purchase a Venice Museum pass (San Marco pass) it will give you access to 4 museums and you will avoid lining up to gain entry. These can be bought online at a cost of 16.50 euros and is valid for 3 months. For an extra few euros you can book the Secret Itineraries tour that takes you through secret passageways, interrogation rooms, the prison and the bridge of sighs. These must be booked in advance.
Bell Tower of San Marco
The Bell Tower of St Mark (Campanile di San Marco) is located in front of St Mark’s Basilica. For eight euros, take the elevator up for a grand view over Venice. Make sure you pick a nice sunny day for clear views.
The Peggy Guggenheim Museum
Located on Venice’s Grand Canal, the museum is devoted to modern art, with Europe’s most respected masterpieces housed here.
Day trips to Murano and Burano
Take a day trip to the surrounding islands. The larger island of Murano is famous for glass making, whilst the smaller island of Burano has lovely colourful buildings great for taking photos. Take the Vaporetto (public water bus) from St Mark’s Square.
So many shops, shops and more shops! See my other blog about shopping in Venice by clicking on the link (coming soon).
Harry’s Bar is an institution in Venice, not only was the Bellini invented here but it has also been visited by the likes of Ernest Hemingway, Charlie Chaplin, Orson wells , Truman Capote and Somerset Maugham to name a few. So be sure to stop here and have a Bellini purely for bragging rights! It’s also fair to note that this place is very busy, small and you may have to wait on a table. Harry’s Bar is expensive, living off its reputation and I will admit that I had better tasting Bellinis elsewhere in Venice …. but what I can say is, I have had a Bellini at Harry’s Bar in Venice.
If you get up early enough, you could wander the main strips almost by yourself. There are very few people out and about early in the morning, so it’s a great opportunity to really see the city. I was quite surprised about this but crowds began to build by mid-morning.
During winter in November and December be aware of the acqua alta (high water). The combination of strong tides and high winds can cause a large inflow of water into the Venice lagoon. It can last for three to four hours, but usually only affects low lying areas such as St Mark’s Square and once it recedes things quickly go back to normal.
I went in summer and it is widely reported over the internet that it can smell due to the heat. I found this not to be the case whilst I was there. In the summer that I visited the heat was around 35 degrees Celcius each day and there was no smell at all.
How to get to Venice
Venice is served by Marco Polo Airport which is located about 13 km from the city centre.
The water transfer service is located just outside the Marco Polo airport and simple to get to. Buy your ticket at the arrivals hall of the airport and then follow the signs to the docks. Show your ticket to one of the water taxi guys and they will get you on board a taxi and have you riding straight to your accommodation or as close to as possible, depending on water access. There are also other cheaper water services but I found that if you are in a group then the water taxi service is a good option when splitting the cost and it takes you right to your hotel.
The main train station is the Santa Lucia Station and is located in the northern part of Cannaregio. You may still need to use a water transport service to get to your hotel or if you know where you are going then walking is the next best option!
Where to stay
We chose to stay in Cannaregio at the Hotel Antico Doge which was located not far from the Rialto Bridge and halfway between the train station and St Mark’s Square. We found it to be a good base from which to explore, shopping was located on the main strip in either direction and many restaurants available in the area.