A journey around the floating city

As Lord Byron noted, whether or not you’re a fan, it’s undeniable that there’s nowhere like Venice. With the breath-taking main canal, mysterious side canals and beautiful run-down architecture, the gothic charm of Venice is something that should be experienced by everyone.

Gondolas in the Grand Canal. Venice, Italy 2009

Piazza San Marco (St Mark’s Square to us Brits) is the main tourist spot. It’s filled with quaint (although deceptively expensive) cafes and shops and houses the Doge’s Palace, arguably Venice’s most famous building. Filled with beautiful paintings, intimidating prisons and the Bridge of Sighs, it’s well worth the money. You can purchase a ticket that allows you entry into any museum in St Mark’s, including the Museo Correr, which offers an interesting history of Venice. If you aren’t afraid of heights, head up the bell tower, which offers spectacular views over Venice. The square itself backs onto great views over residential Venice, Guidecca.

If you’re an art fan, a visit to the Peggy Guggenheim collection is a must. It houses a unique collection and also provides the eccentric story of Peggy’s life. For photographers, the picturesque Rialto Bridge has wonderful views. But be prepared to pay a little more for the restaurants lining it.

A large part of exploring Venice is soaking up the city itself. Have some time to just wander round: you’ll find more hidden gems this way than searching them out. And, yes, you’ll get lost, but rather than getting stressed about finding your way, accept it as part of your trip. You’ll find your way eventually.

Charging roughly 80 euros a ride, avoid the gondolas – they’re a tourist trap and don’t offer any authenticity. Instead, stick to the vaporettis, the waterbuses, which the Venetians use daily just as Londoners do the Underground. A vaporetti ticket for 72 hours is 35 euros – a fraction of the price. They get busy in the mornings, but are empty at night, so make sure you take a journey up the main canal while it’s dark for the amazing views.

Surprisingly, Venice isn’t actually known for its food. The assumption that all Italians make great pizza isn’t true (shock horror, I know), and most Venetian restaurants don’t have pizza stone ovens due to the fire risk of the proximity of the buildings.

As a result, plenty of outlets overcharge tourists for something they could buy at Dominos. Research the well-respected pizzerias (a quick Google will point you in the right direction), or opt for the seafood risottos and spaghettis on the menu from authentic Italian trattorias, more known to Venice.

Don’t leave without trying a traditional Italian hot chocolate. It’s nothing like the English powder and milk variety, but thickened with corn flour and only comparable to melted chocolate. They’re seasonal, so if you’re struggling to find one try Café Florian in St Mark’s Square – pricey, but worth it.

Don’t waste your time heading to Lido (the beach of Venice) – it’s closed due to building works for the foreseeable future and the island itself offers nothing for tourists. Murano, the home of the famous Venetian blown glass is worth a trip and is filled with shops selling beautiful trinkets and fascinating free demonstrations of how it is made.

It truly is a unique place, so make the most of it. Avoid the tourist traps and opt for authentic restaurants on backstreets, stunning views down hidden paths and wonderful cafés dotted about, while getting sucked into the historic magic and charm of Venice.


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May 2022
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