What to do in Venice, Italy
Somehow I was sure I would be disappointed with Venice because I knew it too well from watching Death in Venice, Don't Look Now or The Italian Job.
How wrong I was!
However well you think you know Venice before you arrive, you can be sure of being surprised and astonished. Overwhelmed, even.
Gondola ride in Venice
It's not just the famous sights of Venice, though goodness knows they are impressive enough. It's the way that you can meander through theseemingly endless maze of backstreets and then find yourself in the most enchanted square, completely alone and at ease even in the busiest time of summer.
It's the way that you can relax in small bars on, say, Campo Santa Maria Formosa, eating your cichette - small tapas-like portions such as a stuffed tomato or some mortadella on a toothpick - and drinking your chianti, watching the world go by, and feeling totally content.
It's the way that you can jump on what must be the most spectacular public transport system in the world - the vaporetto, or water bus - and pay 5 dollars to float down the Grand Canal alongside the gondolas which make the same journey for 150 dollars!
But let's consider some of the treasures for which Venice, Italy is known around the world, and which make the city one of the most popular of all tourist destinations. The good news is that the city is only about 4.5 kilometers long, and although it is really 117 different islands, you can walk around it easily.
So, where should you go?
Obviously, there are some ‘must see' places that are emblematic of Venice.
- If you arrive by sea, the first recognizable feature for you will be the unmistakable Doge's Palace, perhaps the city's most famous individual building, and one which rises more like a castle out of the waters. This imposing structure, which played a key role in the city's history, is a Gothic masterpiece.
- Nearby is the Basilica of San Marco - Saint Mark's Cathedral - a mixture of Byzantine, Roman, Venetian and Gothic styles, full of columns, arches, gigantic domes and the incredibly precious Golden Pala, an altarpiece with sapphires, emeralds, pearls, amethysts, rubies, agate, topaz and garnets -1927 stones in all - inlaid into gold leaf. No visit to San Marco, of course, would be complete without going to the top of the 325 foot campanile, or bell tower, to see the spectacular city and lagoon laid out at your feet. And, if you can't face the climb, there is an elevator now!
- Saint Mark's Square itself, Piazza San Marco, the focal point of Venice's transport system, is also the hub of the city itself. Its patterned floor, outdoor cafes, women shaking their bags of maize for you to buy to feed the pigeons and its surrounding architectural glories will live in your memory for long after you've departed.
Explore Venice, Italy
- The Rialto Bridge (Ponte di Rialto) is another truly memorable sight. If you're really lucky, the first time you see the bridge will be when you are on a vaporetto - I know the number 1 comes this way and I suspect others do - and you turn a corner in the Grand Canal and the bridge is there in front of you. It's an arched bridge, lined with shops - the price hike is horrendous here, though, so be careful - and has been exactly as it is now for about 400 years.
- For something a little different, I suggest you go over to the island of Murano, which is where you can see Venetian glass being blown in the traditional manner. You can see, and buy, all kinds of mementos made from the multi-colored glass. It is possible to buy a ticket for guided tours which includes the boat trip out to the island but, personally, I would suggest jumping on a number 71 vaporetto ( you'll have gathered, I'm a big fan! ) and you then can do things at your own pace.
- A similar experience can be had visiting another small island, Burano, where the most delicate Venetian lace is still being handmade.
- In the evenings, I can recommend the area around Campo di Santa Margarita, which has a lot of upbeat bars, student haunts and good restaurants. My favorite here is L'incontro, which serves Sardinian cuisine rather than Venetian, but it is sensational.
Of course, you will want to take a ride in a gondola and be serenaded by a handsome young Italian in a striped shirt but the 150 dollar remark earlier wasn't a joke, I'm afraid, so be prepared for it.
For me, the best time to visit Venice, Italy would be in the spring or autumn, when the weather is milder and the streets less crowded. But even in the busy season, you can escape the crowds on smaller streets, and early in the morning -- check out Venice Italy in the morning. Bottom line, whenever you decide to go, the important thing is to make sure that you do!
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- Siena, Italy - Favorite Things to Do in Siena
Useful links for Venice, Italy
- Venice, Italy - Planning your trip to Venice
Useful info in planning a visit to Venice
- Venice webcams
From the official site of the city, webcams of Piazza San Marco, the Rialto Bridge, or a couple of other locations
- Venice - Wikipedia
Has an extensive history of the city, as well as descriptions of local landmarks you'll see today.
- Venice Travel and Tourist Information
Venice guide for visitors, all sorts of useful information if you're visiting.
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