Venice is without question a beautiful city and a real must-see by pretty much anybody’s standards. The fact that it is even there at all demands that you see it for yourself; it is truly stunning to think that all that intricate and delicate architecture is built on not much more than mudflats and support beams.
To address the naysayers who insist that Venice is overcrowded, overpriced and overrated (not to mention a little smelly as well), we can only say that we disagree entirely. Yes, Venice is extremely busy, even at the end of October when the peak season is pretty much over, the main squares are still packed with tourists – we can only imagine how crammed it must be come Carnival – but it doesn’t take much of a walk to slip away from the crowds and find something a little more unique.
Getting lost within its winding side streets is easily done and all part of an authentic experience. Move away from the crowds, take a turn through a few alleyways, cross a few bridges and all of a sudden you are thrust into local life; people going about their daily errands, enjoying a quick coffee at the cafe counter or simply carrying a bunch of fresh flowers back home.
For all the charm there is to be had in wandering the unknown side streets, no visit to Venice could really be complete without ticking off a few of the classic tourist pursuits (…as they say, when in
Rome Venice). A gondola ride is pretty pricey (around €80) but, find a good gondolier as we did and you are guaranteed a fantastic experience, with potted history of the immediate surroundings and a few verses of song here and there thrown in for good measure. We were surprised at the skill involved in navigating through the tightly packed canals without so much as nudging the sides.
There’s plenty of interest to be found in St. Mark’s Square, too. For our money, the place is best seen at dawn, as the sun rises over the lagoon and the gondolas slap gently against the water. With only a few photographers and street cleaners for company, you can truly enjoy the stunning architecture around the square and the eery silence of seeing a place so vast, so empty. It soon fills up though, and before long you’ll find the serenity you experienced has been replaced by the sight of raised selfie sticks jostling for position in front of the Basilica. You simply can’t visit here without taking in the classic tourist sites; the Doge’s Palace and St. Mark’s Basilica are every bit as grand and ornate as you’d expect and well worth standing in line for. We also recommend a quick trip up to the top of the Campanile, opposite the Basilica for spectacular views of the city. All sight of the winding canals are lost from up here, and you get a real sense of how densely packed together the city is.
Venice is so compact it is possible to get a real sense of the place in a long weekend. If you have time, we thoroughly recommend heading to your nearest vaporetto station and catching a boat to the nearby islands of Murano and Burano. Murano glass is world famous and many of the workshops offer viewings to see the glassblowers in action. This was a real highlight of the trip – it was amazing to see such delicate objects crafted by such unwieldy tools. A further 30 minutes or so up the lagoon is Burano, a beautiful, tranquil island whose claim to fame is the brightly coloured houses that line the banks of the canals there. Burano is a great place to grab some food too and if you book in advance, Trattoria al Gatto Nero is particularly good for lunch. If you’re slightly less organised or are spending the day on the island, we can also highly recommend Riva Rosa, which has a great selection of fresh seafood and pasta dishes (and a pretty good Tiramisu).
In fact, as you may have guessed, if fish is your thing, then Venice is a great destination to catch a bite (sorry, terrible pun intended). The Rialto Market is situated just alongside the famous Rialto Bridge and is well worth a visit first thing in the morning. If you’re staying at an apartment as we were it’s a great place to get some fresh food (and cheaper than eating out), with everything from fish, meat and bread to delicious fruit and vegetables in all shapes, sizes and colours. Venice can be expensive if you choose to eat in tourist hotspots like St. Mark’s Square. A coffee at the famous Cafe Florian will set you back a good €10 or so (not to mention the cover charge for the musicians playing outside), but this should all be considered an experience, rather than just coffee and refreshment. It is easy enough to get by without breaking the bank.
A little off the more well-worn tourist track, there’s plenty of things to see without paying a penny. In particular we can recommend Libreria Acqua Alta, an old bookshop hidden in amongst the side streets of the Castello district, which – as the name suggests – is subject to frequent flooding and rammed to the roof with books of every kind you can imagine. On the other side of the city and a short walk from the Accademia Bridge is the Gondola workshop at Squero di San Travaso, where if you time your visit right, you can watch craftsmen at work building the gondolas.
Venice is unlike any place we’ve been before. It’s a city that you feel like you already know so much about thanks to it’s famous landmarks and yet there is still so much to explore and discover. One last quick tip from us; make sure you take a camera when you visit, you won’t be able to put it down.
Patches & Flash x