Even by Italian standards, Venice is a renaissance oil painting of a city.
Its idiosyncratic charm has enraptured and entranced visitors for centuries. It’s teeming streets and emerald coloured waterways have been rhapsodised about and woven into works of art and fiction from Ben Jonson’s “Volpone” to The Italian Job. Since the 1600s it has led the way in art, culture, literature and architecture to become one of Europe’s most fascinating and beautiful cities.
Visiting this great city, one feels like they could wander the streets for months without imbibing everything there is to see, hear, touch, smell and taste in this wonderfully idiosyncratic place.
But for many of us, our time here is fleeting and it can be difficult to know which of the city’s many delights are best sampled when we only have a day or two.
Worry not, for here you’ll find a handy guide to how best to sample the unique flavour of Venice and leave completely satisfied without overstaying your welcome or breaking the bank.
Put the map away
Venice’s infrastructure of winding streets and intricate alleys make it virtually impossible to follow by map. Besides which, one of the best ways to imbibe Venetian culture then to walk the streets. In fact, I’d recommend spending your first few hours in the city wandering away from the thronging masses. There isn’t a nook or cranny in this amazing city that isn’t beautiful and charming so if you’d rather wander round some beautiful, quiet piazzas than struggle against a scrum of tourists there’s nothing quite so enjoyable as some aimless wandering.
It’s virtually impossible to get lost in Venice and even harder to stay lost. Even if you do find yourself off the beaten track, it’s relatively easy to put yourself back on it in a few minutes.
Gondolas… You pretty much have to
A gondola ride through the grand canal is one of the most unique and beautiful moments a traveller can experience. But if time’s against you, you might be tempted to deprive yourself of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
If time’s against you, then the good news is that there are numerous tours that incorporate a gondola ride. This saves you time bartering with the numerous gondoliers vying for your business (there will be many), and waiting in endless queues for the best ones.
Foodies will be delighted by the Venice Food tour which combines the vaunted gondola ride with another quintessential Venetian experience; Cicchetti (a selection of small savoury snacks) and Bacari (wine, glorious wine), but not before a decadent Prosecco breakfast.
Italians take their food and wine incredibly seriously and nowhere is this truer than in Venice, so why not incorporate some unique snacks and tipple into your gondola experience?
St. Mark’s Square and Basilica
There really is no excuse for avoiding Venice’s most popular tourist trap, so you’re probably wondering why it’s so far down on this list. The *Patriarchal Cathedral Basilica of Saint Mark (to use its Sunday name), is one of the most beautiful and unique works of architecture in the world. People come from all corners of the globe to see this masterpiece of Italio-Byzantine architecture, which means that essential as it may be… It’s also likely to be busy.
The square is lined with classy cafes and restaurants, though as fun as it is to people watch while sipping an extortionately overpriced cappuccino, those on a budget might want to avoid these as you’ll be able to get the same quality of food and drink at a fraction of the price a few minutes’ walk away.
If crowds and long queues have a nasty habit of sapping the enjoyment out of your holiday then I’d heartily recommend visiting this quintessential landmark later in the day, when the crowds have thinned somewhat.
If you’re on a budget, you’ll be delighted to know that entrance to the main part of the Basilica is free and if you’re super savvy, you can pre-book an entry time online. This will enable you to bypass the thronging masses even at busy times. The basilica even boasts three paid museums. If you don’t have time for all three then you should hopefully be able to make time for at least one.
As the sun sets, though, there’s something wonderful about wandering St Mark’s Square at night. Venice isn’t a huge nightlife city and things tend to get pretty quiet by the time the restaurants close. There’s a wonderful serenity to the piazza when quiet, though if you’d prefer some light for taking photos and such then you’ll get the same experience first thing in the morning.
The Venetian Lagoon
If you feel that you’ll had your fill of the city itself then why not take a brief excursion to the three major islands on the Venetian lagoon, all of which are easily accessible by vaporetto.
Murano (the closest and therefore easiest to visit) is famous for its glass-blowing demonstrations and though the studios can get busy, if you’ve never seen a glass blowing demonstration, it’s certainly worth checking out. You might not think that you came all this way to see glass but when you see some of the unique and beautiful glass creations in the Museo del Vetro you’ll be happy to change your mind.
There’s more than Murato to glass, though. There’s also the stunning Basilica of Saint Mary and Saint Donatus; far more modest than that of St Mark, but no less beautiful and charming.
Burano is quieter but further away and is best known for its lacemaking and brightly painted houses. If seeing unique and beautiful scenery is one of your holiday essentials then Burano is fantastic camera-fodder. Those searching for a chance to be at one with nature then the remote and sparsely populated Torcello is a great place to centre yourself in contrast to the bustling streets of Venice proper.
A quick trip to Venice should be like a shot of Italian espresso; short, intense and delicious. By adhering to these simple hints and combining your pleasures where possible, you’ll get the most out of your time in this beautiful city without wasting a single second.