After adventuring in the Julian Alps for a week, I was a little worried about going back to the hustle and bustle of a city, especially one as well-known as Venice. In my head, the narrow streets would be packed due to being in the height of summer and it would not be a very pleasurable experience. Thankfully, I was very wrong.
The moment we stepped out of the train station, the outskirts of Venice were spectacular. I was in awe of the beautiful architecture along the water’s edge. While waiting for a water taxi, (there are numerous stops right outside the train station, so it is easy to get around the city), I grew very excited about the next 2 days we were spending in Venice. If this was the area by the train station, I imagined the rest of the city to be even more picturesque.
As I am sure everyone is aware, Venice is famous for its extensive canals. They are literally everywhere, running throughout the city. So one of the things you have to do is take a gondola ride. The gondola, what most people dream about going on, is the icon of Venice, which takes you along the Grand Canal and smaller waterways.
Although it seemed so idealistic and a one-of-a-kind experience to try as a couple, the fact there are so many gondolas travelling one behind the other made the boat ride seem less private and romantic. In addition, the 80 Euro daytime price or 100 Euro nighttime cost for a 40-minute gondola ride really did sway our decision to not go on one. However, if a traditional gondola ride still appeals, you could find other travellers to share the ride with, as these boats can hold up to six people and therefore you can split the cost.
To be honest, all we really wanted to do is just have a go in a gondola and we found the perfect and cheapest way to do that. This was to take a 2-minute ‘Traghetto’ across the Grand Canal. Traghetto just means ferry in Italian and that is exactly what a Traghetto does, it ferries you from one side of the canal to the other.
Although not decked out with any luxury fittings, it is a fantastic money-saving way to experience a gondola ride. We picked one up from outside the Rialto fish market. On the Traghetto, you get two oarsmen – one closer to the bow and the other who stands behind the passengers like a traditional gondolier – and it only cost 2 Euros each- bargain!
During peak season (we were there during August), the main areas are crammed with tourists who get dropped off from their cruise ships to spend 5-6 hours in the city. However, we found that by heading away from St Mark’s Square and the Rialto Bridge (the tourist landmarks) and just ‘getting lost’ down some of Venice’s narrow winding streets, was a great way to leave the crowds behind and really get a feel for how utterly beautiful the city is.
Venice is much larger than I expected and it is a fantastic place to explore. We walked for hours, wandering around the streets, over small, picturesque bridges.
It was amazing to take a random turn down a quiet corner of the city and stumble across an art gallery or hidden café for a traditional coffee like a true local.
Relax With A Spritz
We had heard of a drink enjoyed by the local people of Venice called an Aperol Spritz. This classic Venetian aperitif is a mix of Aperol (sweeter), white wine and sparkling mineral water. During our exploration of the city, we found a cute street-side bar and enjoyed one each in the shade of the heat, watching the world go by. The perfect, refreshing way to spend the afternoon.
Live Like A Local
Venice has some amazing restaurants and cafes for both lunch and dinner, although we love trying to live like a local, even if it is for just a couple of days. This meant staying in self-catering accommodation and visiting the local stores to buy our own ingredients for cooking with. I love going to a supermarket when abroad and seeing what sort of food you can buy. In addition, it works out so much cheaper to buy and cook your own food and booze too.
On our first night, we ate fresh spaghetti with vegetables, along with a couple of glasses of Barbosa (only 5 Euros for the bottle) and some Peroni beers, which went down a treat. For the second evening, we made spaghetti bolognaise and thankfully, still had some drinks left, so sat on our balcony and enjoyed our home cooked in the warm evening sun.
Go Up The Tower
A visit to Venice would not be complete without a view of the city from above. The best view has to be from St Mark’s Bell Tower (campanile) located in St Mark’s Square. From about 10:30-4pm, this monument is extremely busy with tourists, so we found that the most enjoyable time up the tower was in the morning.
The tower opens at 9am; however, queues have already started to form at this time. We joined the queue about 8:45am to be sure we would get up to the top easily and quickly. The 99-metre tower cannot be climbed by any stairs; all visitors are taken up and down by a lift.
Once at the very top, you can really see why the tower is so popular amongst tourists. Looking down on the vast city below is a spectacular sight to see. With its 360-degree panoramic views across Venice, going up to the top of the tower is a must when in the city.
Obviously the main sites are the canals stretching across and around the city. However, if you do have time, there are so many other things to see. One of the most impressive has to be St Mark’s Basilica on St Mark’s Square.
See The Sights
This impressive cathedral is beautiful both outside and in, demonstrating amazing Italo-Byzantine architecture, displaying very opulent, gold mosaics and statues. This is one place that the queues can be absolutely enormous, therefore make sure to get there at least 45minutes before opening time and do not bring a bag or wear shorts/show shoulders, else they won’t let you in. There is a free left luggage place down a side street, round the corner from the entrance, which we made use of before visiting the cathedral.
Whilst inside, we headed up the steps by the entrance, to the museum above and onto the fantastic balcony. Here you can see the amazing Horses of Saint Mark-Lysippos up close, positioned at the front of the cathedral.
I loved St Mark’s Clock tower too, which can be seen from this balcony. Hinged at the waist are two bronze figures, which strike the hours on the bell.
We walked around the balcony, enjoying the fantastic views of St Mark’s Square and the Grand Canal in the distance. The Basilica really is an awesome place to visit.
Venice is full of lots of independent shops, displaying so many Venetian souvenirs. You can get locally made Murano glass jewellery and ornaments (make sure it is authentic though and not made in China) and some interesting carnival masks, plus off the main areas, we found some unique boutiques, art galleries and studios, bookshops and vintage stores too.
Wander Venice At Night
We were very lucky to be spending a couple of days in the city. This meant we were able to explore Venice at night, when all of the cruise ship tourists had left.
The city is much calmer as dusk hits and the streets are illuminated in ambient lighting. It is so pretty to see Venice in such a different way. We thoroughly enjoyed exploring, getting lost and trying to find our way back to St Mark’s Square in the dark.
It is a great time to visit the main monuments too as you can actually get photos of them without hordes of people blocking your shot. As mentioned before, definitely check out Venetian cuisine – ask a local for their favourite places to eat as this will definitely be the most traditional food.
Overall, we absolutely loved Venice. It has everything you would want from a city break: beautiful architecture, fantastic cuisine, a unique location and just great culture and history. It has always been on my bucket list to visit and I would definitely recommend anybody going. It is well worth the hype.