Venice makes me think of the opening phrase of “Whose Line Is It Anyway?”, but with a twist. It’s the city where street names are made up and maps don’t matter. We tend to think that we’re fairly good at navigation (we’ve successfully figured out metro systems in multiple foreign languages), but we were woefully unprepared for the gorgeous, but maze-like, streets of Venice.
If given the chance, everyone should visit Venice at least once, but we recommend allowing plenty of time to wander the canals. Venice is better enjoyed with gelato in hand, strolling across bridges, exploring the shops, and taking in the beauty of Italy, rather than rushing to try to get to your next destination by a certain time. Expect it to take an hour to get to a spot only a mile away, but don’t let this bother you, it’s part of the fun. So enjoy your stay in Venice, lose track of time, and get ready to be lost in the picturesque maze of Venetian canals.
What To Do:
There are many attractions in Venice you will want to be sure to visit. We’ve listed some of our favorites below!
1. Grand Canal: It’s the first thing you see walking out of Santa Lucia Train Station and the largest canal of Venice. This canal winds throughout the entire collection of islands, creating a perfect route for water taxis and gondolas to reach every part of the city.If you want to take one of the legendary rides that lasts approximately forty-minutes, it will cost you around 80 to 100 Euros. If you are keeping to a tight schedule, or budget, there is a 2 Euro option, the traghetto, but you will have to be sure to catch him at the right time. These small gondolas ferry passengers across the Grand Canal from one of seven different locations, but often there are not more than two running at the same time.
2. Rialto Bridge (Ponte di Rialto): Right in the heart of Venice, this stunning bridge is the absolute best way to cross the Grand Canal. There are small shops around the back of the bridge that are fun to stroll along as you enjoy the weather. Speaking of shops, another thing to look out for are unique souvenirs. Since Venice is known for its Carnival, it is also famous for its masks. These make for a great carry-on sized gift to take home to someone special.
3. Libreria Acqua Alta (“The Library of High Water”): The self-proclaimed “Most Beautiful Bookshop in the World”, this library overcame the challenge of constant flooding from the canals by stacking its massive collection of books inside bathtubs, waterproof containers, and even a full-sized gondola. This whimsical, cramped bookstore has thousands of books piled from floor to ceiling and is every book lover’s dream. Pro-Tip: If you are looking for instagramable picture spots (as if the rest of the city isn’t good enough for this already), check out the far back window with the chair that peaks out at the canal.
4. Bridge of Sighs (Ponte dei Sospiri): For every canal in Venice, there are five different bridges leading you to a new destination. The Bridge of Sighs, not to be confused with all the sighs you hear as people cross the other bridges, is another beautiful bridge near St. Mark’s Square, but this one has a grim past. It connect the New Prison to the Doge’s Palace, and is said to be named for the sighs from prisoners as they had their last view of Venice before they entered the prison.
5. St. Mark’s Square (Piazza San Marco): The main square of Venice, St. Mark’s is the location of many famous Venetian attractions, such as St. Mark’s Basilica, St Mark’s Campanile, the Clock Tower, and Caffè Florian.
6. Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari: This beautiful basilica is home to many of the works of the famous Venetian painter Titan, and has the second tallest campanile in the city, after St. Mark’s.
Where To Stay:
There are many hotels and B&Bs located in the traditional center of Venice, but depending on the time of year you visit and your budget, it may be difficult to find affordable rooms. For our trip, we stayed on the mainland, in Mestre. It is only about 15 minutes by bus from Venice Marco Polo Airport, and it is just an easy 10 minute train ride to Venice proper. For the budget traveler, we recommend staying at Anda Venice Hostel. This hostel just opened in May 2018, so it is modern, clean, and accommodating. It has free wifi, a large continental breakfast, a bar, and is a less than five minute walk from the Mestre Train Station.
Where To Eat:
While we were in Venice, we had the chance to visit Caffe Florian, which is the oldest cafe in the world (seems fitting doesn’t it?). For almost 300 years, this unique cafe has served the locals and visitors of St Mark’s Square. It’s location can be easily distinguished by the live music playing outside, but be sure to not confuse the Florian patio with the competing cafe across the Piazza. Under the arches, you will see a door that directs you to the host, who will courteously give you the option between sitting outside in the plaza (be aware that this can be expensive…ask about the “coperto” or cover charge if you want to know how much) or inside the salotto. Either way, you will be within range to listen to the elegant sounds of the live orchestra. If you do not have enough time to take a seat and stay a while, make you way through the front doors and go straight to the bar. Don’t worry, you will see the espresso machines as soon as you walk in, if not, just ask to order “take away.” This is also a good place to wash up. Their bathrooms are up the stairs just across from the host’s desk. Pro-Tip: Order espresso or a traditional macchiato. The quality is impeccable.
As you explore Venice, we recommend picking one of the many street-side cafes (look for the ones with little pizzas, or calzones!). By doing this, you can order your food to take away, which will allow you to continue to explore as you fuel up for the winding roads. Pro-Tip: Sometimes when you order pizza, they fold an entire pizza into the shape of one slice! This is quite the experience if you are up for the challenge. If you have never been to Italy, or even if you have, you must try their pastries, or more specifically, their croissants. If it is lunch time, try one with brie and prosciutto or mozzarella and fresh tomato.
How to Get There:
From Mestre, take the train from Venezia Mestre to Venezia Santa Lucia, which is in the station in the traditional Venice city center. At the train station, you can buy your ticket for 1,30 euros either at the Biglietteria (Ticket Office) or at the self-service ticket machines. After receiving your printed ticket, be sure to validate it on the train platform at one of the small green and white machines. Pro Tip: These tickets are sold by time blocks, not by seat numbers. When leaving Mestre, feel free to ride any train headed toward Venezia Santa Lucia departing during your selected time block. On the way back to Mestre from Santa Lucia, check the departure board for regional trains, which will be indicated by the letter “R”. Every regional train travels through Mestre, so similar to your arrival, you can depart on any regional train leaving during your selected time block. (Just be sure to validate your departing ticket before you leave!)
Venice is such an exciting city, and a must-visit on your grand tour of Italy. As you get lost on purpose, and even not, remember to take it in. One of the best pieces of advice we ever received was to find the sun, close your eyes, and try to remember what it feels like on your face so that when you move on to your next great adventure, the warmth of the sun will remind you of your time in the previous city.
Planning a trip to Venice any time soon? Send us pictures! We would love to hear about your trip. And if you have any Pro-Tips, Pro-Mistakes, or tried out some of our Grounds for Travel advice, let us know how they worked out in the comments below or on Instagram and FaceBook.