Everyone must visit Venice once in their life time.
Picturesque Venice is the capital of northern Italy’s Veneto region. The city that bathes in water is enchanting and leaves you gasping for more. It is built on more than 100 small islands in a lagoon in the Adriatic Sea and surrounded by 11 other larger islands namely, Torcello, Burano, Murano, Tronchetto, also known as Isola Nuova or New Island (where the cruise ships dock and the ferries that operate on the Adriatic Sea depart). Other islands are Isola di San Michele, Sant Erasmo, Giudecca, San Lazarro degli Armeni, Isola di San Clemente and Poveglia.
I do not know where to start with Venice. I would say that the whole excitement starts on arrival. Travelling from the airport into central Venice is simple with a variety of cost-effective options at your disposal. However, if you should arrive late, we would recommend that you spend the night in neighbouring Tessera, Mestre. This is where classic chain names like the Best Western and Marriot Courtyard and the Park Hotel reside but there are also lovely farm houses such as the Agriturismo Ca’ Danieli which are all reasonably priced.
From the airport or your airport/mestre hotel, you can choose any public transport like shuttle, buses, train or even by boat. For luxury, private water taxis will be organised by your hotel to ferry you home from the airport. Yes, this is Venice and travelling by water is the norm.
Whichever way you choose to arrive in Venice, it is mesmerizing. A city built like no other, built entirely on water. It is simply an architectural and engineering miracle.
You will not need any introduction to the City itself when you arrive. It has no roads, just canals – including the Grand Canal thoroughfare which is lined with Renaissance and Gothic Palaces. Come out of the main train station and even before you plan your sightseeing you can see Gondolas going up and down the lagoon. As a young maiden, I had always dreamt of sitting in a Gondola and being serenaded by a venetian beau. If you have had the same thoughts in your mind, your dream will come true in Venice.
Finding accommodation is easy and available in abundance with luxury options further upstream and the affordable ones rather central. Sightseeing is also easy because you can either walk everywhere or take the numerous waterbuses or taxis.
All travelling is on water or by foot unless you are going out of Venice.
The City Centre lines that cross Venice are mostly waterways of the Canal Grande and Giudecca Canal. Transportation is guaranteed on a 24-hour basis. The public boats called Vaporetti and Motoscafi run almost constantly during the day and evening, and you will seldom have to wait for more than a few minutes for one to come along.
I discovered that walking through the Venice alleys was fun too and getting lost is half the fun when you are exploring Venice buy a map from any of the shops selling tourist goods. It does not have to be expensive to see you through Venice. There are directional signs all over Venice. Before you decide on where to stay, you can also store your luggage at the Left Baggage (Deposito Bagagli) at the main train station or at the “Keep Calm Point Luggage Service”. The shop is on your left as you come out of the main train station. They also sell maps and other touristy bits. Of course, affluent travellers will arrive direct to their hotels and need not worry about left luggage. Most hotels offer this service.
Thing to do and see in Venice
There are walking tours that take you into the heart of the city. It pays to book some of these tours online before you go but you can also enjoy good tours when you arrive. Whether you walk through Venice or travel on the Vaperetto, things not to miss include:
No. 1 on my list is a Gondola ride over the lagoon and through its canals. This a definite “must do” in Venice. Your visit to Venice will not be complete until you have taken one of these time-honoured magical taxis. Gondolas are long narrow boats used on the Canals of Venice. They tick the boxes of all the 3Rs of a holiday time; Romantic, Relaxing and a Refreshing way to tour the City. You can book a private ride or share a ride with other guests depending on your budget.
It is preferable to book these online before you go as the prices change completely when you are there and you may need a bit of Italian to succeed in haggling. Day rides are just as pleasant as the night rides but the night rides are more expensive. See the best of Venice on your Gondola ride through the Grand Canal.
- St Mark’s Basilica and Doge’ s Palace.These are two very popular attractions in Venice; the external architecture of these buildings is unique. St Mark’s Basilica is the Patriarchal Cathedral of Saint Mark sitting majestically on St Mark’s Square – Piazza San Marco and Doge’s Palace – Palazzo Ducale – is a great example of Venetian Gothic Style architecture and interior. The current building dates to the 14th and 15th Century when the Palace served as the private home of the Doge (Duke) and his family as well as the seat of Government housing the political institutions of the Republic of Venice until the abdication of the last Doge during Napoleon’s occupation of the city in 1797.
This is also the home of the so-called “Lion’s Mouth” post boxes. These “mail slots” in the shape of lion’s mouths marked Per Denontie Secrete (For Secret Denunciations) were designed so that people could anonymously denounce people whom they believed were stealing from the State or even violating the Law. Absolutely anyone could place a name or accusation on a piece of paper and place it into the lion’s mouth and the convicted individuals could face a death sentence. Venice was not a place to make enemies. The paintings inside Doge’s Palace are out of this world and affirms the theory that Italians are wonderful artistes. The island of San Giorgio Maggiore which can only be reached by water boat or water taxi can be admired from the Riva degli Schiavoni.
As you can see from the above photograph, the Square and its banks are usually crowded. The good news is that it is less crowded during the early mornings or late nights. It is advisable to book your ticket before travelling to avoid the excessive long queues. Luxury hotel guests can arrange for these tours through their concierge.
Rialto Bridge/market: This is one of the oldest bridges in Venice and it is one of the four bridges on the Grand Canal.
The famous Rialto is in the San Polo district of Venice joining it to San Marco. There is nothing romantic amount the Rialto Bridge but it attracts a lot of visitors even though it is made of steep stairs and lined with shops on both sides. It is a central crossing place on the Grand Canal and offers fine views over the Grand Canal with Gondolas and ferries. It is a very busy spot in Venice with the Rialto market providing an array of fruits, vegetables and fish.
Take boat to the neighbouring islands of Murano to visit the Glass Factory for glass shopping. Murano is made of seven small islands and is famous for its glass making industry making it a popular stop for tourist. All of Venice’s glass makers were forced to move here in the 13th century due to risk of fire. Tours here are usually followed by a visit to the islands of Burano, four small islands linked by bridges famous for a Lace tour, brightly coloured houses and a spot of lunch. Other attractions include the Church of San Martino with its leaning campanile.
Boutique shopping. Venice has many quaint little boutiques that will provide you with the best in art works, paintings, food and drink., handbags, shoes, jewelry and clothing. Save your glass jewelry selection for Murano but walk and do walk all over Venice for anything else and you are very sure to find a bargain or two.
You can also take a day out of the Water City to visit the UNESCO listed Dolomite Mountains. This is where you walk across lush green fields to the mountains and see two of the most stunning lakes in Italy. I did say take a break from the water but not quite because Lake Santa Caterina and Lake Misurina also known as the pearl of the Dolomites.
Museums and Galleries
Art is a great skill in Italy and Venice has its own fair share of museums and galleries with a collection of paintings by Italian masters. A few places to visit include Gallerie dell”Academia, Ca’ d’Oro, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection for modern art, Ca’ Rezzonico a museum of the 18th century or the Museo Storico Naval, a navale museum with models and historic gondolas.
Food and Wine tour. There is a 3-hour walking tour through backstreet bars of Venice including visits to some of the best Cicchetti bars, famous for Venetian-style tapas dishes.
Accommodation in the Quieter end of Venice
Accommodation in Central Venice is in abundance and comes in all shapes and sizes. Luxury Hotels like the San Clemente Palace Kempinski Venice however live on their own private island of San Clemente. The Isola di San Clemente was the home to a band of Camaldolese monks before the buildings were converted to the luxurious Kempinski, which like most luxury hotels on the island have complimentary boats that ferry guest between the hotel to most of the delightful tourist attractions.
On the north-west bank of Giudecca island, home to some great pizzas. Giudecca became an industrial and shipbuilding hub in the early 20th century. A giant flour mill was converted in the luxurious Hilton Molino Stucky Venice. It is also home to Belmond Hotel Cipriani. Most of the private islands are only a ten-minute boat ride away from St Mark’s Square Venice apart from the JW Marriott set on its own private island – Isola delle Rose – which is 20 minutes from St Mark’s square. Transfer from Venice Marco Polo airport to the luxury hotels is usually by private water taxis.