Venice is one of those cities that has always fascinated me. It’s beautiful architecture, culture, and not to mention shopping, plus the fact that it won’t be around forever made it a pretty easy decision when I was planning where to visit. Even though it’s getting on for three years since I was there (has it really been that long!?), when I close my eyes I can hear the hustle and bustle of the Grand Canal from our bedroom window first thing in the morning as if I was still there.
If you suffer from seasickness, and really can’t stomach setting foot on a boat, it’s probably for the best that you sit this one out. Needless to say, part of Venice’s charm is that there is pretty much no other form of transport than by boat. Technically there is a way to get into Venice without having to get on a boat, but it will involve taxis, trains, and once you get into the city itself, a lot of walking. Plus, it’s not really in the spirit of what Venice is all about.
We flew from London Gatwick to Marco Polo airport, which took around two and a half hours. I find it crazy that it takes longer to get from Somerset to London by car than it does to fly from London to Venice. That’s the beauty of air travel! Once we landed at Marco Polo, it was just a short walk to the dock to catch the waterbus through the Venetian Lagoon to the island itself. There are a few different ways to get from the airport, but the two most popular modes of transport would be the Alilaguna ferry, or if you’re wanting to arrive in Venice in a bit more James Bond style, you can always opt for a private water taxi. (Once you’re in Venice you’ll see the private taxis everywhere you go, and will be annoyed that you didn’t choose that option). After a bit of sulking on my part, we ended up using the cheaper option, the Alilaguna ferry, as it stopped at Rialto which was right outside our hotel. There are a few different routes depending on where abouts in or around Venice you are staying, but you can visit their website for exact details of their routes and fares at http://www.alilaguna.it. If you have the budget and you’d like to punt for the Bond option of a water taxi, there are plenty of websites just a Google search away which enable you to book in advance and they will be waiting for you at the airport. If you do decide to find one on the day, make sure you agree the fare with the driver before you board the boat.
We stayed at the Rialto Hotel, which, we found out once we got there was in pretty much every single picture, postcard, keyring etc of the Rialto Bridge and Grand Canal. We could not have been luckier with the location of our hotel.
You see the red building to the right of the bridge? That’s it.
You see the room at the top with it’s light on? Ours was the room below that.
This was the view of the Grand Canal from our bedroom window.
I can’t remember exactly how much we paid, but I think it was around £600 for 6 nights. Not cheap, but when you consider the style of classic Venetian room we had, the location, oh, and not to mention THE VIEW, I don’t think that’s all too bad. Please don’t expect to stay in modern hotels when you visit Venice. The lobbies and reception areas are usually fairly plush, but unless you pay thousands to stay in a five star luxury hotel, most other hotels have more of an old-fashioned style charm. A lot of people take to Tripadvisor to complain about how their hotel was old, grotty, etc but I just think, you’re in Venice – what do you expect?! Don’t get me wrong, the hotels are not dirty, most of them are just either quite small, or not allowed to extend or renovate so it’s unfair to compare them to the standard of most hotels in the UK.
There’s no sugar coating it – prepare to do a lot of walking. The easiest way to get around in Venice is to use the Vaporetto, which is essentially a waterbus. There are a variety of different tickets available from 24 hour, 48 hour, 72 hour etc, so you can make the most of them for however long you’re in Venice for. Boat is the only form of public transport, so once you’ve reached your stop you need to walk from there. Make sure you validate your ticket every time you use the Vaporetto.
Venice isn’t huge, but there are a lot of tiny back streets so it’s very easy to walk for miles and have very tired legs by the end of the day. There are plenty of maps online, and most phones have some form of offline map nowadays so it’s not too difficult to figure out where you’re supposed to be going. Venice is actually very well signposted, though.
St Mark’s Square & The Doge’s Palace
One of Venice’s main tourist spots is St Mark’s Square (labelled San Marco in Venice). The square boasts a variety of coffee shops and cafe’s, high end shops, and St Mark’s Basilica. The Basilica is a must-see. There are plenty of tours which you can attend, or for free you are able to look around just the main part of it. As is the case with most cathedrals, there is no photography allowed and you must have your shoulders and legs covered as it is a place of worship. (Although I did get a cheeky picture!) The Basilica was originally the chapel for The Doge’s Palace, which was the residence of the Doge of Venice, and is also famously known as the prison from which Giacomo Casanova escaped. We went on a Secret Itineraries guided tour of the Doge which was very interesting and informative and I highly recommend doing this as opposed to general admission. This tour costs €25 per person and includes more rooms than general admission, plus a tour guide explaining what each room was used for and the history, and they also take you inside Casanova’s prison cell and show you how he first attempted his escape. All visitors can go through the Bridge of Sighs into the new prison which is well worth doing, although the view from outside the Doge looking at the Bridge of Sighs is better than the view from the inside!
Overpriced tourist trap or a once in a lifetime experience?
When it comes to Gondola rides in Venice, there are generally two types of people. There are the ones who refuse to pay €80 – €100 for a 40 minute Gondola ride, and there are those who know it’s expensive but think that it’s one of the things you NEED to do when you’re in Venice. I’m definitely in the latter camp.
You certainly won’t be spoilt for choice when choosing a Gondola ride in Venice, there are ports everywhere you look, and the Grand Canal is filled with them. It’s generally more expensive after dark, but there is a good reason for that! It definitely works out more cost effective if you’re part of a group so you can all split the cost, but unless you’re part of a Chinese tourist group it’s likely that it will just be you and your significant other, and, for the men reading this, I’m afraid you’re going to have to fork out for this one.
Restaurants & Nightlife
There are plenty of restaurants to choose from in Venice, and a lot of the time the staff will try to lure you in off the street, but don’t just go to the first place you find! Venice is an amazing location for food because you’re in Italy, so you’re going to find delicious pizza and pasta dishes, but also as you’re near the sea there are also some to-die-for fish and seafood choices, too.
Unfortunately, most of the restaurants with the best views aren’t going to provide the best food. They know that people go there for the view, and don’t have to worry about getting repeat custom as they know they will always get new people eating there due to the location. This is the case is many cities all around the world. The best restaurants to eat at are the ones off the beaten track, down the windy backstreets of Venice. TripAdvisor is a great tool for finding restaurants to dine at, but often the best places are the ones you stumble upon by accident. I wish I had taken my own advice back then, but I was completely mesmerised by the thought of eating alongside the Grand Canal by the Rialto Bridge at nighttime. Although, saying that, one restaurant in particular along the Grand Canal did serve the best Lasagne I’ve ever had! Don’t be afraid to sit outside during the colder months, too. We went at the end of November, and most places have outside heating, so we were able to sit outside without needing coats.
When it comes to nightlife, there is one place I will recommend every time: Bacaro Jazz. This is a quaint little Jazz bar, just a couple of streets away from the Grand Canal. The food is perfectly adequate, but the real treat is the atmosphere. There was no live music the night we went, but they were playing live performances of the likes of Amy Winehouse and Michael Bublé on their big screen TV. One of the best things about Bacaro Jazz was the decor. As well as having framed black & white pictures of Billie Holiday, Miles Davis, Frank Sinatra, etc, they also had a huge collection of bras hung from the ceiling. Yeah. Marco told us that they had all been donated from customers who visited from all around the world, and with that said, I classily whipped mine off at the table and gave it to him to hang up. I’d like to say I was more drunk than I actually was to give my bra to a complete stranger, but it was actually at the beginning of the night. Stay classy.
Another must-do is a visit to the famous Harry’s Bar, which is located near St Mark’s Square. We had the bright idea of going on a Saturday night, and if you do the same – good luck getting a seat. I payed probably around €9 for one of their classic Bellinis. Nice, but I can’t tell you what it tasted like three years later!
If you have the time and want to pretend you’re a sophisticated concert go-er, have a look to see if Interpreti Veneziani are playing at the San Vidal Church. You don’t have to love classical music to appreciate how incredible this orchestra is. Tickets are around €25 – €30 per person, but trust me when I say it was completely worth it. The night we saw them we were lucky enough to see them perform Vivaldi’s Four Seasons which was just beautiful! Gorgeous live music in a gorgeous church – what more could you ask for!? After the performance I even took a string which came from the Double Bass and had landed on the floor. I’m such a groupie.
Murano & Burano
The Venetian Lagoon is actually made up of a number of different islands. You have the main island itself, and surrounding islands such as Murano, Burano, Torcello, Lido, etc. If you get a chance to, make sure you get to see some of the other islands, too. We took the Vaporetto from Fondamente Nove, and chose a route which included both Murano and Burano. (There are a few different routes and lines to choose from, just like normal buses, but it’s pretty easy to get the hang of). This was definitely my favourite part of the whole trip.
Murano is where Murano Glass comes from, which is used is for homeware, lighting, and jewellery among having many other uses. It’s also what they use to make Troll Beads. It was great visiting Murano and having a look around all the shops at the stunning glassware on sale, and there are also lots of workshops to visit. We actually watched someone making a small horse figurine out of Murano Glass, and he just seemed so casual while he was crafting, as if he was absentmindedly thinking “What shall I have for dinner?”, “Did I feed the dog?” while creating a masterpiece at the same time. I mean, I doubt I could even make a mess, let alone anything that looked half decent. Incredible!
Onto Burano, which, in a nutshell, is beautiful! It’s a photographer’s dream. It’s quite a small island so there’s not as much to do here, but it’s definitely worth a visit. Lace is to Burano what Glass is to Murano, however, the more popular reason people visit the island of Burano is the brightly coloured houses. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.
When to visit
Late spring/early summer is the best time to visit Venice as far as the weather is concerned. However, the summer months are usually the busiest, so there will be long waiting times to get into museums and attractions. It’s also been said that Venice smells in the summer, so personally I’d want to avoid that.
As Venice is sinking, it’s not uncommon to experience a high tide while visiting Venice. October – January is the typical high water season. To put it into perspective, we were there for 6 nights, 7 days, and there was a high tide on at least 3 of the days we were there. You won’t be too inconvenienced though, as wooden walkways are put up all over the city early in the morning, so it’s pretty easy to get around. Still, I’d recommend taking wellies with you, if you can.
Alternatively, you can purchase these ultra sexy knee-high plastic boots for the *ahem* bargain price of €10 each from street sellers!
So there you have it! If I had the chance, I’d go back again in a heartbeat.
If you’ve been thinking about going to Venice, I hope this has helped make up your mind and given a bit of advice about how to make the most of your visit.
Thanks for reading, leave me a comment about your favourite thing about Venice!