Venice is like eating an entire box of chocolate liqueurs in one go.(Truman Capote)
Venice, oh how I love you! The best city in the world to get lost in, and believe me, it’s not difficult to find yourself in a really beautiful spot and have actually no idea where you are! I visited Venice quite a few times during the last ten years, and each time I discovered some new great places. Of course Ponte Rialto and Piazza San Marco are a must when visiting the city for the first time, but the true beauty of the town can be found in the smaller squares (campi) and streets (calli), so my number one tip for this city is to avoid following the horde of tourists that take the shortest way from Santa Lucia station to Ponte Rialto and then to Piazza San Marco, but get lost in the side streets, where there are far less people but equally gorgeous things to find.
1. GET LOST, and I don’t mean that in a rude way, but you will discover the authentic Venice only by leaving the main paths and venturing into the side streets. It is a city to explore on foot as everything is within a walking distance, so wear your most comfy shoes and be prepared to spend the day climbing stairs, as you will cross many of the 417 bridges on the 150 canals. Don’t worry if you have no idea where you are, if you want to go back to the the main tourist spots just lift your eyes when at a junction and more often than not you will find a sign pointing you to San Marco, Rialto, Ferrovia (Santa Lucia Train Station) or P.le Roma (bus station). But be prepared, you will hit many dead ends and suddenly find yourself facing a canal with no bridge to get to the other side.
2. VISIT LESSER KNOWN AREAS. Most tourists spend all their time in the area called San Marco, but I say it again, there is so much more to see! Dorsoduro, Santa Croce, San Polo and Cannaregio are equally beautiful and less crowded. I once slept in a hotel on the Giudecca island, and it was simply amazing. The most recent time I visited we rented a flat in the Dorsoduro area, near the Zattere, and it was equally wonderful.
3. STAY FOR THE NIGHT. Many people come to Venice just for the day, thousands of tourists arrive in the morning and leave in the late afternoon, which means that in the evening and early morning you get the town nearly to yourself. Ok, not really, but it does make a difference. Also walking along the canals at night is pretty memorable, especially during the warm summer nights. Unfortunately hotels are really expensive.
4. GET THERE BY TRAIN. I usually go to Venice by train and coming out of the Santa Lucia station for the first time is an extraordinary experience. You can watch out of the train window as much as you like, nothing prepares you for the unique sight that awaits just in front of the station. BAM, just like that you’re in the middle of Venice as you know it from the books and movies, right on the Canal Grande, with churches, palazzi and gondole all around you. Another great option is to get there by boat, for example from Punta Sabbioni. In that case make sure that you arrive directly to San Marco/San Zaccaria and you will see the Campanile of the San Marco square from very far away, and the nearer you get, the more magnificent it all becomes.
5. SPEND TIME ON THE CANALS, of course on the Canal Grande, but the smaller ones are pretty charming too. If you have the money take a ride on a gondola, if you’re on a budget don’t worry, there are cheaper ways to enjoy the canals. Traveling by vaporetto could be one option, though that’s not cheap either, but for only two euros you can use the servizio traghetto which takes you from one side of the Canal Grande to the other (just look out for the green signs). It’s a very short trip but quite an adventure as the ride is really rocky and on the canal there’s often heavy traffic. Or just find yourself a nice dock and sit on it, relax, and enjoy the view.
6. VISIT A PALAZZO to get an idea on how people used to live in Venice many years ago. I recently visited Palazzo Zenobio (or Palazzo degli Armeni) which can be seen in Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” video clip. It was a surreal experience, the palace is in a pretty bad state and it wasn’t easy to find the entrance. But then we found somebody sitting in a little office near the door and after paying a small fee he let us in the main room and simply told us to close the door when getting out. So we were completely alone in this magnificent room, soaking it all in and imagining big masquerade balls and elegant dinners.
7. CICCHETTI E APERITIVI. Sometimes food in Venice is a bit meh… especially if you just walk into the first pizzeria you see. It’s easier to find a good restaurant in less crowded squares, like Campo Santa Margherita in the Dorsoduro area, or down at the Zattere if you want to have a pretty view of the sea. Near the Zattere, on fondamenta Nani, you will also find the Cantinone Già Schiavi, a good place for a nice aperitivo: a glass of wine or spritz with some little snacks, often fish based, to eat standing outside the bar, just by the canal. Many other small restaurants offer cicchetti which are excellent if you want to have a light cold lunch, just order the chicchetti misti and you’ll get small portions of grilled vegetables, fish and meat all on one plate.
8. CRUISE SPOTTING. Seeing the huge cruise ships passing through the Canale della Giudecca is just unbelievable. I still can’t imagine how something so big and heavy can float. You will most likely see some big cruises getting into Venice in the morning (around 8 or 9 o’clock) and leave in the late afternoon or evening.
9. BIENNALE DELL’ARTE. If you’re interested in modern art don’t miss the biennale dell’arte which takes place every two years from early May to late November. In the Arsenale and the Giardini area you will find hundreds of artists displaying their art, some bad, some good and some amazing pieces. Also, all over the city you will find more art, inside the palazzi, churches, museums, on the squares and even along Canal Grande.
10. SPEND A FEW HOURS IN BURANO. Most tourists go to the island of Murano to visit a glass factory, but personally I think that a visit to Burano is more interesting. Burano is a charming little island famous for its lace and the colourful houses. Spend a few hours on the island, browse through the shops and have something to eat, maybe even try Burano’s won biscotti, and then head back to Venice, maybe even stopping in Murano for a few more hours.
Well, that’s it! Have you ever been to Venice? What did you like best?