I am sure lots of you have dreamed at least once of wandering through Venice and and its winding streets, maybe hiding yourself behind a mysterious carnival mask, and of course as a cherry on top… taking a ride in one of the traditional gondola’s! Not without reason has this beautiful city served as the decor for movies like The Italian Job, Casino Royale, The Tourist, and many more… Nobody can resist Venice’s charm and beauty, and the mysterious atmosphere that is hanging there, making you feel like every minute you might be the witness of a masked murder.
I have to admit that I landed in Venice rather accidentally, since my 41 Euro (!) open-jaw ticket for New York had Venice as the final destination, but not for a second did I regret this detour. Even though February is not the best month to visit this wonderful city, still covered in a blanker of winter sleep – but even though, it irradiates the elegance of the Sleeping Beauty. If you have the choice though, I would say the best time is to visit in spring or autumn: avoiding the heat of a city in the summer months, and the big tourist flows.
Or, if you’re a bit less on a budget – just book a hotel at Lido (the place where the yearly Film festival takes places!), the 11 km long beach strip of the Venetian archipelago.
I was lucky to arrive just before the big Venetian Carnival, so part of my time in Venice consisted of just glawing at every second shop display at the breathtaking carnival masks – some clearly for the tourist, others minutiously made by Venetian artesans, accompanied with the fitting price tag.
One of the must-do’s in Venice is just getting lost in the little streets. Just relax, and wander around without having any destination – the streets will surely lead you to some surprise! Don’t worry – this activity won’t even require too much effort, probably you will do it anyway since the streets here are like a labyrinth 🙂 But yet it is a nice idea to just keep an afternoon free to wander around the city, without hurry, and cross at least 36 bridges while doing this – and discover little treasures of the city.
|Rialto bridge, Venice|
In some cities, it would be a good idea to skip the most touristic attractions, but nothing is less true in Venice. You absolutely MUST visit Piazza San Marco with its huge dove population, go inside the gorgeous Basilica, visit the Palazzo Ducale (The Doge’s palace) on the inside. The latter has the highest concentration of gold inside one palace in entire Italy, if not entire Europe, and gives you a sight on the Ponte dei Sospire where the soon-to-be-executed prisoners were passing by a last time, a couple of centuries ago.
The Rialto bridge is also one of these classics, with a wonderful view on the Grand Canal of Venezia. You can also enjoy a view on the channel from the water, while crossing it by “traghetto” – the gondola’s who bring you from one side to another for about 2 Euro. Since there are only 2 fixed bridges to cross the Channel by foot, this is probably the most used public transport to be found in Venice. So no worries, even if you don’t have the money to take a real gondola ride, for 2 Euro you can feel like the king… euh, Captain of the boat – at least for a little while!
|Basilica San Marco – St. Mark’s Basilica|
Another typical Venetian passtime is to admire all the beautiful gondolas that are passing by in every little channel – some of them are worth thousands of Euros, and are truly a work of art. I couldn’t take my eyes off some of them, and the temptation was big to just give in to the tourist trap and pay way too much to just be able to sit in one of them.
But now that we are talking about gondola’s…
I have to share my ultimate favorite recommendation in Venice concerning these charming, little boats. To get aride in a gondola, you will be paying at least 80 Euro for 30 minutes, and this is already a price you will need to negotiate. Of course, it is romantic to be rowed around by a gondelier, BUT…… actually, there is a way cooler way to have a ride in a gondola, and that is by learning how to row one yourself! Row Venice offers this opportunity, including a Venetian-Australian teacher, Anna, who will show you all about the “voga alla veneta”, or the specific Venetian way of rowing standing up, and take you on a 90 minute trip around Venice, fulfilling your dream to row through the Grand Canal or to get lost in the narrow dark little channels that are barely large enough to pass.
The price is 85 Euro for 1-2 participants, but for the same price as a gondola ride, you get so much more in return… and will be able to say that you know how to steer a real Venetian Gondola, which is just priceless!
If you have a couple of days more, you could also cross the water to Murano or Burano, the other islands. Murano is the place where the authentic Murano glass sculptures and jewelry are designed, and you can go on an excursion to visit a glass factory and see with your own eyes how glassblowers make their creations. Murano glass has been presented as a possible cultural element to be classified by Unesco as world heritage.
Where to eat?
A very important question in a mainly touristic city like Venice is where to eat – and especially where NOT to eat. I would suggest to be very very careful with any restaurant close to the touristic area in San Marco. The prices are high, and the food is far from delicious. Every place that needs a guy outside to try to get you in, in general is not a good place you should go to. One of the best things is to download the Tripadvisor application – I am generally not a big fan of walking that road, but in Venice it could save you a terrible meal. If you’re in front of a restaurant and you are having doubts, just take a quick look on Tripadvisor. Or, the best tip that I always use is to ask a local, for example one of the owners of a bar – while you are taking an “aperitivo italiano” before going for dinner. Locals will always tell you about good places where local people go, and therefore the owners need to serve good food so the people would come back – unlike with tourists, who come for a few days, and might never be seen back. The client retention rate is a very important consideration here.
My favorite place would be Cantina Do Spade, a hidden gem in the little streets of the San polo neighborhood, serving Venetian style “tapas” accompanied by good wine. You can choose your freshly prepared tapas at the counter, and therefore see the food before you make your choice – not saying that this makes it any easier to choose, though!
How to get there?
Ryanair and other low cost companies are offering cheap flights from most European cities for as little as 50-60 Euro, or even less if you are flexible in your dates.
No reason to not take a weekend off and enjoy this little city gem!
Where to stay?
There are many cute little hotels that you can rent without going bankrupt, though I must warn you that REALLY cheap hotel rooms don’t exist here. This is one of Europe’s – not to say world’s – top touristic destinations, and the hotels know this too well. In the case you are on an extremely strict budget – last years, a couple of hostels have opened up in Venice, with beds in shared dorms starting from around 15 Euro. Also Airbnb is settling down more and more in Venice, as an alternative.
Back in 2013, I got hold of a nice promotion for Casa Fenice for less than 50€ a night, but depending on the season, these prices may be double or even more. They have very cute, Venetian-style decorated rooms, and are located in the central San Marco neighborhood.
What’s most important while looking for any accomodation, is the location: double check on Google Maps if your hotel is on the main island (San Marco & San Polo are the most central neighborhoods, but also Cannaregio and Dorsoduro are very good options) – because in the contrary case, the gondola transport from the other islands could quickly double up your accomodation price.
Ci vediamo a Venezia – See you in Venice!