Visiting Venice, Italy
Venice (Venezia) was once a mighty city republic which still dominates cultural taboos and stereotypes when speaking of Italian customs. When we think of Venice we think of Venetian masks, beautiful Renaissance architecture, Casanova, good wine, and good food - so in my mind most of the things that embody all the great Italian traditions! The islands that comprise central Venice have been occupied since Roman times, and eventually gained independence from the Byzantine empire in the middle ages. Venice saw the height of its wealth and power during the 14th century, and for a time was one of the leading cultural centers of the known world- actually holding the title of printing capitol of the world at one point. Absolutely bursting with picturesque beauty around every corner, Venice truly deserves its status as one of the greatest cities of the world.
As a UNESCO world heritage site, the entire central area of Venice is itself an entire attraction. When in Venice the central area is definitely where you want to be.The central islands, out of the total 118 that make up Venice, is where you'll find the iconic small canals traversed by beautiful bridges in the hundreds. The central area is split in two by the 'Grand Canal,' which is traversed primarily by the beautiful marble Rialto Bridge (pictured above). The thing to do in Venice is just walk around exploring the maze of bridges and canals, neat little cafe's on the banks of the water, small passageways leading into hidden piazzas, and just the awesomeness that is Venice.
Now getting around Venice can prove difficult to even the seasoned traveler. The clearest way to describe the urban planning in the city is organized madness. Basically, you must navigate in relation to certain districts as well as main squares and piazzas. On many of the buildings and passageways you'll find pointers toward certain places like 'San Marco', which for example would take you to San Marco Square. The problem of course is not all the random streets and tiny passageways through buildings are marked, so getting lost at some point is going to happen, just accept that. Luckily the central area of Venice is relatively small, making it difficult to get yourself impossibly lost. If you find yourself truly lost just ask someone how to find San Marco square, from which everything really radiates, and someone will surely be able to point you in the right direction. Just enjoy the uniqueness and craziness of the Renaissance city.
Venice is a city awash with historic landmarks, ancient basilicas, and beautiful secluded piazza's, there is simply to much to list. Your best bet is to make sure to see the main highlights, and then just spend the rest of the time wandering as you will often bump into stunning scenes that you swore you once saw in a move (which you may have).
You will find that a majority of Venice's most visited attractions are in very close proximity to each other- with a handful actually being in the same square. Most of the daily action centers around Piazza San Marco (St. Mark's Square), which sees many millions of visitors each year.
- Ponte di Rialto- Separating the inner part of Venice in two, the stunning Renaissance stone bridge traverses the Grand Canal and serves as the center of pedestrian traffic. Loaded with local shops bursting with standard Italian energy as well as offering unparalleled views Rialto Bridge stands as probably the greatest Venetian icon.
- Piazza San Marco- St. Mark's square is basically the focal part of the bulk of tourist activity in Venice. The large square has within close proximity a great deal to see, eat, and do, and serves as a great focal point for spreading out and meeting back up.
- Basilica di San Marco- St. Mark's Basilica serves as the cathedral for the archdiocese of Venice, and stands a beautiful testament to Byzantine architecture. Littered with gilded Byzantine mosaics, the cathedral church has gained the reputation of 'Church of Gold', and well worth the crowd, if not just to see the stunning gilded ceilings.
- Palazzo Ducale- The Doge's Palace was the official residence of the Doge of Venice, who served as the supreme authority over the Republic of Venice. Located on the banks of the Grand Canal in St. Mark's Square, the beautiful Venetian Renaissance building dates largely to the 14th and 15th centuries.
- Ponte dei Sospiri- Made of white limestone and completed in 1602, this famous bridge connects a prison to old interrogation rooms in the Doge's Palace. This bridge would be the last that prisoners would see before they met their end, which is why it received its name as the 'Bridge of Sighs.'
- Scuola di San Rocco- The Church of St. Roch is one of my favorite buildings in Venice, and in many ways emanates the Renaissance vibe that radiates throughout the historic city. The Roman Catholic church dates to the late 15th century, but the entire front facade was reconstructed in 1765 and remains unaltered to this day.
- Isola di Murano- If you're in the mood for something different from the history and architecture of inner Venice, then take the water bus a mile north to Murano Island, where you'll find local artists blowing glass in all shapes and sizes.
- Vaporetto- This is what Venetians call their water taxi, which takes pedestrians up and down the Grand Canal for just a couple euro. It's a great way to skip the never ending twists and turns by walking if you're in a hurry, and also proves a unique photo opportunity that gives you great views of the city from the water.
You will definitely want to stay somewhere in the central area around the Grand Canal. The area of San Marco or San Polo are the most traversed, and are typically the liveliest. They are also both in closest proximity to many of the main sights. You'll find a plethora of hotels, B & B's and cheap hostels in these areas, but make sure to book early (especially in the high season- early summer) as the cramped space only has so much room to store people!
Locanda Latina: This is the hostel I stayed in while I was in Venice. It was cheap, clean, centrally located, and the staff was friendly. Good enough for any backpacker.