I spent 2 full days in Venice, Italy. It is a fascinating city, considered to be one of the most beautiful and romantic cities in the world. Sadly though, it is also overrun by tourists and is slowly sinking. It is built on 118 small islands in a lagoon, and separated by 150 canals.
Hotel Mondial- located in an area called Mestre, a 20 min train ride from the central part of Venice. It’s much cheaper to stay outside of Venice. The hotel is just around the corner from the train station, and the airport bus stops right outside the door (score!). The lobby is nice, and the staff is helpful. My room was pretty basic….on the first floor, long rectangular shape. With a large sliding door that leads to a parking lot. Luckily it had a sturdy lock and a large thick curtain. Let’s just say my room would not appear on any sites promoting the hotel, but I’m sure they have better options?
Things to See:
San Simeon Piccolo Church – one of the first buildings you’ll notice when stepping out of the train station. I’m assuming you can go inside? I did not.
Rialto Bridge and market– one of the most popular sites to see. Rialto is the oldest bridge in Venice; it’s quite steep and has rows of shops under the covered sections. The views of the canals from the bridge are stunning. It is very crowded with tourists. The market runs from 730-1PM, and is closed on Sundays. I dint have time to fit this in, but it is said to be one of the most unique markets in the world.
St. Mark’s Square – you will definitely end up here at some point. It is huge, and full of tourists and pigeons (you are no longer allowed to feed them, as they have become a nuisance). Many restaurants and cafes have outdoor patios here…but avoid having a seat unless you want to pay upwards of $30 for one drink. My travel buddy insisted in treating us to a drink at one of these cafes, and I will say it was enjoyable. This is where you’ll find Caffe Florian, the oldest café in the world.
St Mark’s Basilica – located in St Mark’s Square and it is one of the most famous in all of Italy; beautifully opulent in its Italo/Byzantine style. Go inside – it’s even more stunning. The ceilings are done in gold glass tesserae, which makes them shimmer. Place some gold ground mosaics all over the walls and ceiling and you’ve got a winner. Since you’re only allowed to be inside for 10 minutes, it doesn’t take up much of your day! Free(unless you want to skip the line or visit the other displays inside).
Bridge of Sighs – another sight you’ll see on many postcards of Venice. It’s a covered bridge made of limestone with two windows, built in 1600. Stories say that this was the final lookout points for convicts before they were sent to jail. The bridge connects the Doge’s Palace to the prison. You can view the bridge from either side of the canal…expect a large crowd either way!
Doge’s Palace – gothic in style, built in 1600. Today it functions as a museum, which offers tours. I’m kicking myself that I didn’t do this. If you decide to have a look from the outside only, note the 2 red pillars among the white ones. This is where the Doge would sit and announce executions..Or just execute right there. Tours cost $40 and up
Two Columns in St Mark’s Square – one is topped with St Theodore, one with a winged lion(the symbol of Venice and represents St. Mark). Legend has it that convicts were executed in between these pillars, so don’t walk through them – its bad luck!
Clock Tower – also located in the Square above the entryway to the Merceria(shopping area). It is said that this was the last image those convicts saw before they were executed. So they knew the time. There are two statues on top that ring the bell – they represent time present and future.
Things to Do:
Wander around and get lost – who needs a map? You’ll find cool shops, places to eat, quiet canals.
Find some churches – while trying to find my way back to the train station, I accidentally came across two really cool churches. The “Frari” is a large brick Gothic Italian church. Scuola Grande di San Rocco houses Tintoretto’s finest paintings; I wish I’d have gone inside to check it out.
Gondola ride – it’s cheesy and overpriced, but hey, you’re in Venice….it’s a bucket list thing. Some of the gondoliers will sing for you too! $120 and up. If that’s too steep a price, hop on a vaporetto(waterbus) instead. Much less romantic, but you’ll get to see Venice from the water!
Climb the Campanile – the bell tower of St Mark’s Basilica. There’s always a line up, but it is worth it. It is 323 ft in the air, and the views from up here are spectacular. Prepare to go nuts with your camera. $12 fee
Visit Burano and Murano – a short boat ride to either of these islands. Murano is known for glass making, Burano is known for its brightly colored houses and its fancy lace. Easy to do this in a half day.
Places to Eat, Things to Eat:
Trattoria Al Gazzettino – one of the top rated places to eat in Venice. The service was great, atmosphere was fun. They offered lots of free sampling plates. I had a creamy tortellini with mushrooms. Best to make a reservation.
The food in Venice is a bit different from what you’d expect of Italian food. You could take a food tour to discover some of these regional specialties.
Pasta – of course you’re going to have pasta at least once while in Venice!
Seafood – since Venice is a coastal town, seafood is very prominent here.
Baccala mantecato – a famous Venetian dish, made of salted cod in a creamy garlic sauce.
Risotto – you can try the black risotto here(flavored with squid ink)
Risi e bisi – pretty simple….rice and fresh peas – a Venice classic
Baicoli – Italian biscuits, also originated here in Venice. Goes great with a cup of coffee, bring a box home for your friends!
Sarde in saor – fried sardine fillets, marinated in onions and vinegar.
Gelato – you’ve had it before. Now try it in Venice!
Things to Drink:
Bellini – Harry’s Bar is birthplace of the Bellini. A Bellini here will set you back around $25. I heard it wasn’t worth it, so I opted for a Bellini in a bottle I bought at a small food stand for around $5.
Wine – so much wine, so little time
Spritz- my favorite drink in Venice. It is prosecco(white wine) mixed with Campari or Aperol(aperitifs). We found a fun walk up bar in St Mark’s square that serves them.
Beer – while wine is more popular, beer is also a great option. Try Peroni, Morena and Moretti.
Things to Buy:
Murano glass – many options including animals, jewelry, lamps, vases, etc. Buy it in Murano, or specific shops to avoid fakes
Burano lace – made with a complicated technique, it’s more like a work of art. Buy in Burano, or special shops in Venice
Mini gondola – it’s a symbol of Venice…why not put one on your table?
Masks – so many to chose from and they’re all so beautiful and unique. I had such a hard time making a decision, but then I found one that I had to have. I wish I could tell you what shop it was; it was a miracle I found it again after shopping around.
Things I Missed But Would Do Next Time:
Peggy Guggenheim Collection – museum with displays of her collection of modern artworks. One of the most visited attractions in Venice.
Tour of Doge’s Palace – I saw pictures afterwards…it looks amazing inside and offers so much historical information
No trip to Italy would be complete without a visit to Venice. It’s one of those places that’s on most people’s bucket lists. Stay for a few days, have patience with the droves of tourists and long line ups to attractions(depending on the season). Ride a gondola down a canal, sip a spritz during happy hour, and get lost in the maze of a city that is Venice!