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A Weekend in Venice
Enjoy the magic of Venice
Those going to Venice know exactly what they want to see, already. Many of us have been raised with the romantic imagery of the canals, the gondola, and the winding city streets that make the city famous. Indeed, there are few, if any, places in the whole world like Venice, built not just on one island, but more than a hundred pieces of land. But there’s more to the capital of Italy’s Veneto region than canals and we’re going to take a deeper look at what’s there to enjoy.
Getting in and around
As you might imagine, most the travel to, from, and inside Venice involves water in some water. Beyond the Grand Canal, there’s an intricate system of waterways that explore every depth of the city. When you’re arriving, you will most likely do so at Marco Polo Airport or Treviso Airport on the mainland. From Marco Polo in particular, it’s a very short trip (less than twenty minutes’ walk) to the Venice water taxi services. You can book these in advance much like any regular airport collections services and take a short trip across the water into the city proper.
These water taxis will also likely play a predominant role in helping you get around the city. It has no roads, after all, just its system of canals and because of that, water taxis are synonymous with travel.
Gondolas are available, but they are much slower, and much more a tourist experience than a real way of getting from place-to-place. One of the most impressive Venice Gondola ride, is a tour starting from Santa Maria del Giglio, through the Canal Grande. With as much water as there is, walking is still one of the best ways to get around the city. As mentioned, there are no roads, so there are also no cars, no trams, and no traffic to worry about.
The “main” Venice islands, the Rialtine, are small enough that it takes no more than an hour to get from one end to the other, by walk. While private hire in advance might be the best way to get a water taxi from the airport to Venice proper, within the city, the public transport option known as the Vaporetti is cheap and reliable enough to use on a day-to-day basis.
There are six main “sestieri” (or districts) of Venice. Cannaregio is the most popular and the most densely populated, making the city centre of the islands. Castello, on the other hand, is the largest and features a lot of the city’s more notable historic sites, such as the Arsenal. Dorsoduro is a popular tourist spot, with plenty of museums and atmospheric bars serving small lunches alongside leisurely drinks to share with the locals. San Marco and San Polo are both well known for their churches, while Santa Croce is primarily a link to the mainland and the one place in the islands you can find cars.
What to see
Venice is a city best viewed from the water, so renting out a gondola to wind down the canals is an experience that is a must-do for any traveller here. However, where you go is all up to you. Many of them offer tourist guides, and many of these will insist on seeing the Arsenal. It is a breathtakingly huge complex, making up a sixth of the entire city. Venice, despite its size, was once an independent power and one of the most dominant naval forces in the whole of Europe with the finest shipbuilders that the 13th century knew. Factories and assembly lines had been up and working here in the 9th century, hundreds of years before the rest of the world caught on. It has lots of old armoires, shipyards, and examples of the immense crafts that would be produced there every year. If you’re a history nut, then the Arsenal is Venice’s history, and demands a visit.
In the time when Venice was independent, it was ruled by the Doge. Names as famous as Enrico Dandolo stayed and ruled the Republic from this gorgeous building, with a well-preserved eastern side overlooking the lagoon and full of displays of 14th-century sculptures and the Doge’s apartments, opulently decorated with huge painted ceilings and grand fireplaces, now displaying artworks from some of the Venetian greats. If you like Gothic architecture, every curve, divot, and arch here speak of the city’s history.
The Venetians have always been well known for their arts, particularly as a centre of expression during the Renaissance. During and since that period, the city has presented greats such as Titian, Veronese, Tiepolo and Tintoretto. You can find works by all these geniuses and more at the Gallerie dell’Accademia. With twenty huge rooms, the scale of the gallery alone can overwhelm a lot of visitors and take up a whole day to explore if you’re not careful.
What to do
For those hoping to experience the premium European shopping experience, Venice’s retail centres might be a little smaller than most, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have its gems. In particular, a stroll down Calle Sant’Agnese (check some images here) takes you throw a sprawl of fantastic souvenir spots, where you can pick up anything from locally crafted glass earrings to a fantastical Carnevale mask. The Rialto bridge leads you to the city’s market, where you can find shopping that’s less expensive than the populous Piazza San Marco, with plenty of smaller boutique setups offering all kinds of fashionable finds for the aesthetically picky.
La Biennale de Venezia is the city’s best-loved cultural institution, with two major events throughout the years offering experiences in local art, architecture, theatre, dance, music, and cinema. For something a little livelier, however, the Carnival of Venice is one of the liveliest and weirdly wonderful times of the year. It’s at this time you can expect to see all those bright Carnevale costumes with masked locals revelling in ways they don’t for the whole rest of the year.
Tips for the traveller
Venice is easier to get lost in than you might imagine. Because there are no roads, it’s easier to get lost away from the main paths and squares of the city. If you’re renting out a gondola to ride on your own, then you better at least have an idea of where to go because the waterways and canals can be just as imposing a riddle to figure out. As with every water-facing city, seabirds are a-plenty in Venice, but it’s expressly forbidden by law to feed the pigeons or gulls. They can get more aggressive than expected, so it’s worth heeding that advice. Just as there are no cars or traffic in Venice, there are no bicycles, skateboards, or other kinds of wheeled transports. It’s a pedestrian city, so anything that gets in the way of pedestrians is treated rather seriously. As with all major tourist destinations, pickpockets are a problem. It’s not a dangerous city, especially compared to some other European metropolises, but keep your possession close at all times and consider investing in a wallet chain, as bags and other strings are easily cut by the knives some of these pickpockets carry.
Venice can be just as magical and wonderful a city to explore as you might think. So long as you’re careful not to get lost, there’s something new to see around every corner. If you have to decide on a specific time to visit, then it’s highly recommended you come when the Carnival of Venice is on. It might distract a little from some of the other sights of the city, but there are few displays as colourful and wonderfully absurd throughout the whole world.
In addition to the most typical attractions in Venice, mostly if this is not your first visit here, you can't miss:
Mercato di Rialto (fruit, vegetables and fish market at Rialto). Close to the Rialto Bridge you will find the most important street market in Venice. Fruits and Vegetables (from Monday to Saturday, between 7:30 and 13:30) and the fish market (from Tuesday to Saturday between 7:30 and 12:00); really impressive.
A trendy and romantic dinner at Fondamenta del Vin. Close to Rialto bridge and market, one of the “trendy” locations in the city, with several “Osterie” (restaurants) with Italian and Venetian traditional meals; also, suitable for an appetizer at midday or a drink at night. My favourite dish? Bigoli in Salsa (Spaghetti with anchovy sauce) and Spaghetti ai frutti di mare (seafood spaghetti).
Luxury shopping at Fondaco dei Todeschi. The old Post Office building, dated 1228, close to Rialto bridge in the middle of the city, this is one of the most important buildings in Venice, today converted into a luxury shopping mall. (opening from 10:00AM to 08:00PM every day). Here you will find the most luxury brands of fashion and accessories, beauty, watches and jewellery, food and wines. Inside the shopping mall you will also find the Event Pavilion, the art and culture space for special events. In the main floor, you can have a drink in the piano bar. Don’t forget your credit card! http://oma.eu/projects/il-fondaco-dei-tedeschi