Venice, how can one not fall in love with you at first sight?
Consisting of a group of 118 small islands, with over 400 bridges, the city of Venice attracts over 20 million tourist a year! Which is why, I can totally understand why some people gets deterred by the idea of visiting Venice, and that all to avoid having their shoes get stepped on by someone, or their faces poked by some selfie sticks.
However, for me, it is the canals, the bridges, the cobbler stone pathways, the corner where you’ll catch a couple passionately kissing, the back alleys where a group of friends sing and dance to the guitar … all of these give Venice its ingenuity, its warmth, and of course, its charm.
To really explore Venice, you must stay overnight! I know accommodation costs a bomb! But, if you only visit Venice on a day trip, you’ll be missing out a very different sight of Venice!
Getting in and around
So, this was part of my first Europe trip, whereby I covered 5 countries in 2 weeks (ambitious i know).
I travelled between countries using the Eurail Global pass, and on getting into Venice, I travelled on a 12 hours sleeper train from Vienna.
That was my first and I shall say it, last time I ever travel on a sleeper train. I barely got any sleep at all in this tiny couchette!
You can (and should) try it once in your lifetime. But, ask me to do it again, no thanks!
I arrived at Venezia Santa Lucia train station, and as soon as I got off the station, I was blown away!
Getting around the many islands of Venice, you will be using vaporetto (the water bus). Vaporetto stations are easily identified by the yellow banners (as seen in the bottom left corner of the above photo). Download the vaporetto map in link. The station just outside of Santa Lucia is Ferrovia.
The vaporetto tickets are not cheap, with one way ticket costing 7.50 EUR. If you are planning to stay a few days, you will be using a lot of the vaporetto. Hence, you should consider getting one of the ACTV day passes, i.e. 20 EUR for 1 day, 30 EUR to 2 days, 40 EUR for 3 days, and 60 EUR for a week.
In my opnion, the gondolas are tourist scam. It is overrated, expensive (80 to 100 EUR), and it really isn’t as romantic as how Hollywood sells it.
However, if you can snatch yourself a cutie with a private boat, that’s a totally different story. *wink
Where to stay
During my last visit, I stayed in Residenza Da Cario, which is on the main islands. I particularly wanted to stay on the main islands, so that I can roam around in the evening, and take a stroll along the less crowded San Marco square at night. It is more expensive, I paid about 95 EUR for a double room in September (end of Summer which is considered shoulder season). Even with Airbnb, anything on the islands will cost you at least 70 EUR a night.
Another cheaper alternative, is to stay on the mainland, Mestre. Here, there are plenty of Airbnb options under 50 EUR, and some even as low as 40 EUR. From Mestre, you can take the bus to the islands (of which the bus fare is also included in the ACTV day pass). Bus frequency is every 10 to 15 minutes, and it takes only 10 minutes from Mestre FS to Venezia! Be sure to check the bus route map, and find an Airbnb near the bus stop. Buses run till midnight, so you want to also check the bus schedule for last departure time from Venezia.
What to do
Of course, you must visit San Marco square. Missing this is like visiting Paris and not seeing the Eiffel tower. Be reminded again that it will be crowded like mad in the day!
San Marco square (Piazza San Marco in Italian) is this large square made famous by the San Marco Basilica and Campanile (bell tower). Entrance to the Basilica is free, but the free queue is crazy long, it can take up to 5 hours!
I highly recommend you to get an online reservation ticket at 3 EUR, and it saves you so much time! The skip the line ticket however, doesn’t give you access to the museum, the Golden Pall (Pala d’Oro), and the Treasury. You need to pay additional 5 EUR for the museum, 2 EUR for the Golden Pall (which is the high altar, 3 m by 2 m, made of gold, silver and rare stones), and 3 EUR for the Treasury. Photo taking is forbidden inside the basilica.
While you are at San Marco square, you want to also visit Doge Palace (Palazzo Ducale in Italian). Originally, a palace built Venetian Gothic style for the Duke (military leader), it was later used also for Venetian administration, and as with holding cells for prisoners. Today, it is a museum where you can visit, and explore the lavishly decorated chambers and halls, as well as the cramped and dark holding cells.
Venice, city of beautiful basilicas by the lagoon
An interesting and rather sad feature in the Doge Palace, is the Bridge of Sighs, which connects Doge Palace to the New Prison. Story was that when the prisoners walked across the bridge for the last time before they were imprisoned or executed, they would take one last glimpse of the lagoon, and sighed.
From the holding cells inside the Doge Palace, prisoners would be looking out from their cells, and counting their days to when they will be walking the Bridge of Sighs for the very last time of their life.
Another annoying thing about Venice (besides the crowd) is Acqua alta (high tide). It usually comes and goes in 6 hours cycle. You will know that it is coming when you see raised walkways being pulled out.
After you are done with all the queues and must see(s), it is time to get lost in Venice. Well, it is not particularly hard to achieve that actually. Even, with a physical map, the small alleys and road signs can still confuse you. In the end, I just gave up trying to figure out where I am, and just keep walking … aimlessly. And it was so much fun!
I got to explore and experience the local side of Venice, where there were no selfie sticks, and the peace and calmness were occasionally interjected with the most affectionate Italian conversations.
Venice, city of canals
You shouldn’t miss the Rialto bridge and market if you want to buy some souvenirs at slightly lower prices compared to those at San Marco square.
Venice, city of bridges
And for whatever reasons, Italy is blessed by the best pomodoro (tomatoes). Which is why you can almost never get a bad pizza in Venice or Italy (unless you walk in to a tourist trap). You can buy pizza by slice, and you pay like 2 EUR per slice.
My favourite spot in Venice is without a doubt, Santa Maria della Salute. Commonly known simply as Salute, this Roman Catholic church was commissioned to build in 1631, after the 1630 plague. It was dedicated to Virgin Mary for her protection and the city’s deliverance from the black plague.
The Salute stands elegantly and visibly at the edge of the southern end of the Grand Canal.
The facade is decorated with saints and prophets.
If you plan to stay for a few days, you can also visit the smaller islands nearby, e.g. Murano, famous for glass blowing. Not to mention the very Wes Anderson colour tones.
Venice, city of colours
Burano is another island, famous for lace making, and its much vibrant colour tones.
Venice is much more than the romantic image we were sold by Hollywood. To really discover its true beauty and charm, you really have to take your time, throw away your maps, and get lost in the back alleys, and canals. You’ll never be more surprised by what this city of dreams can offer!