Have you ever dreamed of going to Venice? Is the city of canals and singing gondoliers on your travel list? Or maybe you have a trip booked and are heading there this year?
One of my dearest friends is getting ready to take her first trip to Venice. I wanted to make sure she didn’t miss anything so I started making her a list of things to see and do in this most magnificent city. The list grew and grew, and then more people wanted to see it, so in the end I turned it into a blogpost so everyone can share the love I feel for this glorious city on the water.
Buon viaggio Dani!
|Venice is so moody in the rain
|Venice, September 2014
Nothing but nothing prepares you for that first overwhelming glimpse of Venice.
To quote Marlena de Blasi ~ you just don’t know where to put your eyes.
|exploring the canals in Venice, 2012.
The visual impact of this waterbound city is staggering. No matter how many pictures you have seen, or how well you think you know her, that first moment takes your breath away.
Every. Single. Time.
Make sure you scroll all the way to the bottom of the post to get my bonus information PDF!
|Everywhere you put your eyes you find magic. I love Venice.
Shortly thereafter the sounds, smells and tastes weave their way into your consciousness, and once again she has you under her moody, sultry spell.
She is complex, exceedingly beautiful, mysterious, and perhaps the most unique city on earth.
Venice is also the perfect place to travel alone. It is one of the safest cities to walk around at night, in fact violent crime is virtually unknown here.
|you feel safe walking around Venice, day or night.
But Venice can also be the ultimate tourist trap if you don’t know what you’re doing.
With fleets of cruise ships not only mauling the lagoon and blighting the horizon, but disgorging thousands of tourists for their kodak half day Venetian experience, you can easily find yourself in a mall-crush, overpriced, kitchy, waterlogged tourist hell.
Between 25 and 30 million people visit Venice each year, of which 80% are in the city for 8 hours or less, and 90% of whom head directly to Piazza San Marco. The average cruise ship tour is 3 hours long and includes a 30 minute gondola ride along with photo ops outside of the main attractions at Piazza San Marco, limiting the tourists’ experience of Venice to a postcard image.
As such the area in and around San Marco is full of vendors selling junky souvenirs made in China, and overpriced food.
To sit at a cafe in the piazza and drink a coffee you will pay around 15 to 20 euros – 12 euros to be seated and up to 8 euros for a coffee.
|Step away from the madding crowds and you can have the streets to yourself…
|5 minutes walk from St Marks Square Venice becomes your own. She is beautiful in the rain.
Corinna B’s World Glam Italia Tour 2014
And yet if you venture 5 minutes in any direction from the Piazza san Marco you will find a whole new world. One where you can grab coffee for 1 euro, one populated by very few tourists. This is the magic Venice that you need to explore and become well aquainted with.
But you cannot go to Venice and not see Piazza San Marco. Plan to get it out of the way quickly, and then move on. There is so much more to see and do in this spectacular city.
|Of pigeons and weddings… Piazza San Marco 2014, Corinna B’s World Glam Italia Tour
|I would die if a pigeon landed on me!
Others love it though
Get to Piazza San Marco early.
You have to experience Piazza San Marco, the Basilica San Marco and the Palazzo Ducale (Doges Palace). The problem is if you are there with the teeming masses you won’t really get to experience it either. ***
The key is to get there early. Or late. I always think before 9am (be there at 8am if you can!) and after 5 when the tourists aren’t around in such force.
Walking through the Piazza San Marco when there’s no one round is just pure magic. I love it when the restaurants that line the piazza are just setting up for the day’s business, or when the blue hour hits and the crowds are thinning and you can meander along and soak it all in.
While at Piazza San Marco you need to visit the Basilica San Marco. This is the spiritual heart of Venice as well as being one of the world’s finest medieval buildings.
The present Basilica (the 3rd to be built on this site) was built between 1063 and 1094.
The dimly lit interior can be completely daunting. Built in the shape of the Greek cross, it’s five sections are topped with 11th century domes. The walls and the domes are covered in mosaics. 4000sq m/ 430, 500 sq ft of mosaic work, completed over a span of 600 years. The golds alone will stop you in your tracks.
Do your best to get there before the crowds.
|Mosaics inside the Basilica San Marco, Venice
Corinna B’s World Glam Italia Tour 2014
|The mosaics inside the Basilica San Marco will take your breath away.
Image from the Corinna B’s World Glam Italia Tour 2014
The Campanile sits opposite the Basilica. On a clear day you can see for forever from the top of the Campanile, and get a fantastic feel for Venice, but on a hazy day your view is restricted, and perhaps not worth the climb.
Either way, if you are planning a trip to the top make sure you are there before 9am to avoid the tourist madness (and endlessly long lines).
|I saw these lovers getting shelter from the rain outside the Doges palace, and decided lovers, long dresses and rain are perfect in Venice
“Perhaps no one ever gets to know Venice as much as they remember her, recall her from an episode in some other dream.
Venice is all our fantasies.”
~ Di Blasi
Take an audio tour of the Doge’s Palace/Palazzo Ducale, one of the most astoundingly oppulent palaces in all of Europe. For centuries Venice was the heart of world trade, and the wealthiest city in the world. As such the home of it’s leader (The Doge) and it’s government had to have an awe inspiring impact on all who came here.
You get to see more of this palace than most palaces in Europe. Walk up the golden staircase to the Doge’s apartments, meander along the unbelievably ornate hallways each of which is more lavish the the last, and try to catch your breath as you gaze up at Tintoretto’s The Triumph Of Venice on the ceiling of the Sala del Senato.
|The Triumph Of Venice, Senate Room of the Doge’s Palace, venice
Beyond this you will see the armory, the court rooms and across the Bridge Of Sighs (Ponte dei Sodpiri) to the prison and torture chambers.
Note: there is an amazing 75 minute secret itinerary tour of the palace which gives you insight into the inner workings of this secretive government, which is well worth taking. the tour english takes place at 10.30 in the morning, and you need to book in advance
Okay, now that thats done, lets go exploring.
The following comprise a list of great things to do and see, in no specific order.
Make sure you check out all the links I have put into this giant post. There are entire posts on each of my favorite places in Venice embedded in this main story. There is some fabulous information, and so many things you absolutely do not want to miss!
|View from a bridge, Venice 2012
Get Your Bearings:
First let’s understand Venice. Venice is a series of 117 islands linked by a network of canals and bridges, broken up into 6 neighborhoods or sestieri.Cannaregio, Castello, San Marco, Santa Croce and San Polo, Dorsoduro and Guidecca, and the Lagoon Islands.
Buy a map or bring a guide book to help you navigate your way through the siestri so that you don’t miss any of the magic.
The artery from the Rialto in San Polo to Piazza San Marco is by far the busiest, and in my opinion, the part that you spend the least time.
At the bottom of this post I have links to my blogposts on my favorite sestiero,
The Dorsoduro, trips to The Lagoon Islands, The wonderful palaces of Ca D’Oro and Ca Rezzonico.
|Everywhere you look there is something magical! Get away from the main tourist areas and go explore Venice.
Get Lost In Venice
Everybody does. And getting lost in Venice as you meander along the smaller canals and cross endless little bridges is just one of the loveliest experiences you can have. Whether she is bathing you in sunshine or dousing you in rain she is spectacular at every turn, and those moments of being lost within her leave you feeling like you’ve found your own private, very magical Venice.
|I get lost in Venice all the time. And that’s when I find the very best things.
Somewhere in Venice, 2013
The city is quite small, so you can’t really get that lost. I have found that my greatest discoveries in all of Italy, as well as in Venice, have happened when I have somehow become lost.
What To Eat
Venice is a city of seafood. Inspite of the lagoon getting churned up by unending cruise ship traffic, it still is full of fish, as well as all the seafood gleaned from the surrounding area in the Adriatic.
A walk through the Rialto Market (in San Polo – you can’t miss it!) will show you a dazzling variety of seafood, some you’ve probably never seen or tasted before. Local restauranteurs shop here, so you are previewing what you will be eating later in the day. You will also find an unbelievable array of spices in the mercado ,having made their way here centuries ago dating back to the spice trade. ** Spices from asia and northern africa accessed the rest of the world via the world trade center, Venice.**
Make sure you try fritto misto, a mixture of deep fried squid, octopus and prawns. Unlike the heavy, oily deep fried seafood you’re used to, Venetian chefs are superbly light handed, creating a divine misto that doesn’t weigh you down.
Venetians are also celebrated for their cakes and pastries. Step up to the bar in a coffee shop, order a caffe (espresso to non italians) and enjoy a baicoli or a busolai, little local light biscuit/cookies.
|Venetian pastries and cookies
One of the most fun ways to enjoy eating in Venice is to go bacari hopping.
A bacaro is a bar. Stop in for the local drink, prosecco, and pair it with a tapas like snack known as cicheti. These are little finger foods, perfect with a light drink. If you are like me, a total lightweight when it comes to drinking, you can order un’ombra (a shadow) or smaller taste of wine. I find that by stopping here and there for cicheti I wind up eating far less than if I’m stopping for full meals. Plus it’s much more fun, especially in the early evenings when all the locals are out and about, stopping to socialize on their way home.
Another thing you will see is people sipping on sunset colored drinks, normally red or orange. These are the famous Venetian spritz. White wine with a splash of campari (the red) or my favorite, with Aperol (the orange). The loveliest way to end the day and welcome the early evening is to sit outside a bacaro with a spritz and some snacks and watch the world go by. Avoid Piazza San Marco (as it will cost the same as your car payment!) instead head into the other neighborhoods, such as Cannaregio, and join the locals. The people watching is much more fun here! Read more about it in my post on Ca’ D’Oro (linked here)
|Spritz Aperol and people watching in Cannaregio at the end of the day
Surprisingly Venice is quiet at night. The bulk of the tourists are only here during the day for a few hours so the streets empty out quickly. Locals head home and all is quiet.
If you are looking for some evening fun head to Campo Santa Margherita in the lovely Dorsoduro. This town square is full of bars and restaurants, and is also populated by students from the nearby university. This is where everyone goes, and it is fun! Read more about Campo Santa Margherita and the beautiful Dorsoduro in this separate blogpost (linked here).
The Dorsoduro is my favorite part of Venice and I have some great information on it for you.
The other great area for nightlife in Venice is the Rialto. The daytime market clears out and the fun bar scene takes it’s place.
|Santa Maria della Salute seen from the vaporetto in 2012.
I can look at her 100 times in a day, and she will still take my breath away every time.
Buy a day pass or multi day pass for the Vaporetto. These ferry-like water buses are going to be your main mode of transport. Be wary of water taxis – they are super expensive.
|Things you see from the vaporetto ~ Venice 2012
Make Your Own Vaporetto Tour Of The Grand Canal
I love to take a little vaporetto tour along the Grand Canal later in the day, starting at the train station and working backwards towards San Marco. I start at the train station because everyone else is heading in the opposite direction, going home from work, heading back to the cruise ships or heading out of town on the train after a day visit. They get to be in the human crush, I on the other hand, get a non obstructed view either from the front of the boat or in a window seat. With a guide book in hand, or Rick Steves’ fantastic podcast (I really recommend this) learn the stories behind the palaces that line the Grand Canal.
|view from the vaporetto on the grand canal in Venice, 2012
I have frequently had the wonderful luck of finding myself seated next to a retired local who has given me a running commentary on what we are seeing, and has told me glorious stories of the history behind various palazzi along the way. Stories I have never seen in guide books. Which of course just adds another layer of magic to the experience!
|Magnificent Ca D’Oro in Venice
Venice is full of incredible palazzi (palaces). They line up along the Grand Canal in all their glory. Actually they are everywhere, but there is something so magnificent about seeing them along the banks of the Grand Canal. I sincerely recommend reading up on some of them before you arrive, and taking the time to go visit them.
One of my personal favorites is the Ca’ D’Oro in Cannaregio. I go visit Ca’ D’Oro (the golden house) every time I am in Venice, and because I have so much to tell you about it, I have written it’s own blogpost linked here. Make sure you take the time to read this separate post as it is full of great information, and tells you a little about Cannaregio too!
The Blue Hour
If I could give you Venice for a single hour, it would be this hour
~ De Blasi
While on your little home made private tour of the Grand Canal keep an eye out for where you would like to be for the blue hour. The blue hour is this magic time just after sunset when natural light and artificial light mix together creating a dramatic effect that turns the world blue. Venice is one of the most amazing places in the world to photograph the blue hour – the network of canals and the spectacularly beautiful buildings make it ridiculously photogenic. Blue hour only really lasts about 20-30 minutes so you want to plan out where you would like to shoot it, and allow yourself time to get there.
Check out photographer Jeff Bell‘s blogpost on the blue hour in Venice (click here) his images will inspire you! This is one of Jeff’s blue hour photos below:
|Blue hour in Venice captured by photographer Jeff Bell.
Check out his blogpost linked above.
Walk At Night
I listened to a podcast recently where the gentleman talked about getting up and walking around Venice at 3am. At that time the streets are empty, the fog is rolling in, bathing her in mystery, and you can stroll unimpeded, feel the city, photograph everything with no one in your way. I’m not sure that I would necessarily get up at 3, but I do adore Venice by night. Remember there is almost no violent crime, so you feel safe as well as somewhat self indulgent, walking around having this incredible place all to yourself. Sometimes during the day the crush of the tourist crowd blocks your ability to feel Venice and her history. By night when she is all yours you can literally feel the past seeping from her walls. If you have studied up on some of the history behind the various palazzi you can almost hear the lavish 18th century parties going on inside. Or maybe thats just the prosecco talking…
My love of Venice comprises far too much information to put in a single blogpost, so I expanded different parts of this blogpost into their own little stories.
Read more about the lovely Dorsoduro here
Read more about the Lagoon Islands here
Read more about Ca D’Oro here
If you are like me and have a love affair with Venice, (or think you might have one if you go there), you must read 1000 Days In Venice by Marlena Di Blasi.
If you have enjoyed this post and it’s sub-posts, please share it on your social media, and with any friends who may be interested in traveling to Venice.
You can follow me on Instagram here @Corinnamakeup
I have an Italy travel board on pinterest here
and I am on facebook here
Most of these photos are my own, from my various trips to Venice over the years. Please do not use them without my written permission.
August 2018: I have made a downloadable PDF with my Top 10 Secret Places In Venice. These are my favorite restaurants, my favorite place to get an icy cold prosecco with a view, far from the crowds. (Keep your eyes open – the Clooneys go there!) Also on the list you will find my favorite places to go for a walk and some pretty amazing things to see, all of which are off the tourist radar. CLICK HERE to get your free Venice PDF