Whether long or short, relaxing or full of adventure, vacations have a way of sticking with us. They create memories to last a lifetime. Trips, and travel in general, teach us about ourselves, our likes and dislikes, other cultures, art and entertainment – and the list goes on. Travel enhances and enriches our lives.
I have been fortunate to travel a lot during my lifetime. When I was young I probably took it for granted a little, not stopping along the way to savor the moment, or really take in my surroundings so I could always recall them. A few years back during a dream Mediterranean cruise, as I sat in Capri, Italy I decided I needed to to do this. I needed to take in everything around me, really soak up as much as I could, so I’d never forget the trip, and could close my eyes anytime, anywhere and be right back in the midst of that vacation.
Thankfully, it worked. And today, I can recall my visit to Venice, Italy last year like it was last week. I may not remember names of landmarks, restaurants or museums without referring to my travel journal (mine is from My Travel Journal), but the sights, sounds and smells are ingrained in my memory. With all that’s happening with Coronavirus, it’s an odd time in our world to say the least, and international travel (even domestic) isn’t really an option at the moment – better safe than sorry – but it’s something we can still research and plan for the future. So, here is my guide to Venice, for whenever you may make it there. This guide will help make your visit the best it can be, one you will want to recall again and again. My suggestion on timing, wait until you can don a gorgeous Venetian mask as a costume, instead of a cloth mask to prevent a virus.
All The Basics:
- WHEN TO GO: I stated above it’s ideal to wait until this pandemic is, well, no longer a pandemic to make your way to Venice. All world craziness aside, I recommend avoiding the middle of summer, when it’s hotter than hot and the cruise ships come in throngs. With all that water in Venice, you would think there’d be plenty of options to take a dip and stay cool. Not so much! There is no swimming in the canals and only a couple beaches on nearby islands, and very few hotels with pools. Italy in the summer is hot! I went at the end of June, into July. On July 1 it was like a wave of people hit the island. Since their weather mimics that of the US, I think April, May, June, September or October are ideal times to visit.
- WHERE TO STAY: Venice is a maze of a city, of course broken up by the thousands of canals that also link it together. On top of that it’s broken up into “neighborhoods.” Santa Croce, San Polo, Dorsoduro, Castello and San Marco. I opted to stay in San Marco and could not have been happier. It’s the middle of all the action, easily walk-able to the other neighborhoods and has a ton of options for lodging. While San Marco is bustling by day, it’s calm and peaceful by night. The perfect spot in Venice! During my visit I stayed at the Antico Panada. It was a good price, in a prime location and offered complimentary breakfast (FYI in Italy this means croissants, hard boiled eggs and lukewarm milk). The staff weren’t polite but that wouldn’t deter me from staying here again. The room was charming – perfect for my friend and I as there were twin beds, each on their own level – and it even came with a real key (haven’t seen that in a hotel in ages). There are lots of options in this area, so you will have plenty to choose from. Just be sure to read all the reviews and check the policies.
- TRIP PREP: Any time I plan to explore a new city, I buy a travel book. Something small but loaded with all the recommendations I’ll need on lodging, dining, sight seeing, shopping and most importantly, one with MAPS! I recommend DK Eyewitness Travel’s TOP 10 VENICE. It’s small enough to take on the trip, easy enough to pull pages from and comes with a removable (pocket size) map.
- GETTING AROUND: It’s very important to note that transportation in Venice is literally all by boat. Some canals are small and not all boats can go down all canals, so remember that you may have to walk a ways with your luggage (rolling bags are great, but the bigger they are the harder they are to maneuver on cobblestones – trust me, I know from firsthand experience). You will have to take a water taxi from the airport, and they do stop running at night, so it’s a smart idea to book ahead. A private taxi will get you from the mainland to Venice much quicker and is worth the extra money. Once you arrive and are ready to explore, walking will be your best bet to get around. The bus system (aka Vaporetto) is an option, and cheap, but runs infrequently and in the summer months is VERY crowded. You can of course get private water taxis at any time, just know they are pricey, so you may want to save them for airport transfers and special events. There is always the Gondola too! These are more so tourist attractions as opposed to real transportation. The price will alert you to that right away. But, worth taking at least once while you are in Venice.
- FOOD: I used my travel journal to take lots of notes, but failed to document all of the places I ate in Venice. I won’t lie, I never once had a bad meal, and most of the places I dined were places that I stumbled upon. Everything is more fresh in Europe and it’s obvious in the great taste of all the foods. I have to eat Gluten Free in the U.S. (thanks to our over processed wheat which my tummy can’t handle), but in Europe I can eat limited amounts of regular pizza, pasta and bread with no problem. And oh my gosh is it good! Venetians enjoy a slower pace of life, so waiters allow you time to sit and relax after a meal. It’s common to have to ask for the check when you are ready to leave.
- MONEY: It’s always good to have local cash on hand while in foreign countries, so I definitely recommend having Euros to spend. However, Venice is much more tech savvy than it may appear and most places do accept credit cards, so you should be okay with those as well. Just be sure to check your card beforehand to find out what international spending fees you may incur.
What To See & Do:
- Correr Museum: Museum of Venetian Arts & Antiques (You can get a $3 pass at the visitor center in Piazza San Marco.)
- Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana: Didn’t make it here, but it looks gorgeous. A classic old world library and likely a good place to step out of the heat and relax for an hour with a good book (probably in Italian though).
- Doge’s Palace: Probably one of the most famous facades in all of Venice, holds equal beauty within it’s walls. Inside you can explore the Senato (Senate room), Armoury, Prisons and even go inside the gorgeous Bridge of Sighs (where prisoners would sign at their last glimpse of the sea and sky while crossing over from palace to prison). Either book your ticket and time of visit in advance or head to the visitors center in the piazza San Marco to get your tickets and avoid the long line at the palace.
- Piazza San Marco: The most famous piazza in Venice and for good reason. It’s bustling with people exploring during the day, as it’s the home base to many other famous sites. By night, it’s twinkling with lights and full of music from all the live bands and orchestras playing at the restaurants. While I was in town they held a big festival and were setting up for a movie to be filmed – so you never know what you may stumble upon in the piazza. (This was just steps from my hotel Antico Panada – see above for more info.)
- Basilica San Marco: This is a timeless piece of architecture and a gem to the Catholic church and the history of Venice. The line to get into the church is very long, like hours long. To bypass this, visit St. Mark’s Museum. It’s atop the basilica, with views down inside the church (if you visit during mass you can even hear the music – we did and it was beautiful), lots of history, ancient artifacts and a balcony you can see the whole piazza from. (Again, go to the visitors center for your tickets.)
- Campanile Tower: The best views of Venice can be seen from the top of this tower in the middle of Piazza San Marco. It does require a ticket, but is inexpensive. I found the best time of day to visit the tower is about 20 minutes before it’s closing. There won’t be a line of people waiting to get to the top and once you’re up there you will pretty much have the place to yourself, with gorgeous sunset views as far as the eye can see.
- Rialto Bridge: This massive bridge is one of the most famous bridges in Venice. It’s a beautiful piece of architecture and a hot spot for shopping and dining. The Rialto is situated along the Grand Canal, the largest canal that runs through Venice. It’s always bustling with boats, just like the Rialto is always bustling with people.
- T Fondaco Department Store: While there are plenty of cute shops and markets on and around the Rialto bridge, there is also a fancy (duty free) department store too. Not only can you buy high class pieces here, you can get high class views as well. Atop the T Fondaco is a viewing deck with a rooftop “experience” and awesome views of Venice. It is a semi well known spot, so make reservations in advance or get there early to book for later in the day then explore the Rialto until your time is called.
- Take the Vaporetto to Murano & Burano for a lovely day trip that will leave you filled with awe and wonder – and really happy from all the colorful homes and beautiful jewelry you will see. Check out my guides for Murano and Burano for more info.
- Ride the Vaporetto: I know I told you earlier it’s a hot, crowded ride on the Vaporetto, so you will want to avoid it for the most part. But, it is the best way to get the full lay of the land and see all of Venice, as well as the cheapest option to do this. I recommend getting on first thing in the morning, before the locals and tourists alike flood it, and riding it around once. You will figure out where everything is and get to take in Venice from all angles.
- Get lost! It’s not too hard to do with all the winding streets, endless canals and countless bridges. Just walking around is the best way to explore Venice and see parts of it that may not be number 1 in the tour books. Within a matter of minutes you can go from crowded streets full of shoppers to a wide open piazza with no one in it. Wandering around day and night I felt safe in Venice, which adds reassurance when your whole intention is to “get lost.” (And don’t worry, you’ll easily find your way back by following signs for the well known sites.)
Whenever you make your way to Venice, expect to have a wonderful time and to come home with memories and photographs to last a lifetime.
Signed with Style,
Save the pictures below to Pinterest for future inspiration and ideas!