Venice is in our humble opinion the ultimate bucket list city for any traveller. It is perhaps the most spectacular city we have ever visited, and it could be argued that it is one of the most spectacular cities in the world.
Venice, in Italian Venezia, is a major seaport, and capital of both the province of Venezia and the region of Veneto, northern Italy. An island city, it was once the centre of a maritime republic. It was the greatest seaport in late medieval Europe and the continent’s commercial and cultural link to Asia. Venice is unique environmentally, architecturally, and historically, and in its days as a republic the city was given the name la Serenissima, meaning the most serene. It remains a major Italian port in the northern Adriatic Sea and is one of the world’s oldest tourist and cultural centres. The history and spectacular gallery of people who have inhabited and visited this ancient metropolis are as epic as the city itself. From Marco Polo to Casanova, they have all seen and been amazed by this beautiful city with canals serving as streets, it is so nice that other cities have copied the name to try and emulate its beauty.
Here is our advice for a visit to Venice and a summary of our experiences during our 3 nights stay. We chose to travel in mid-May to avoid the summer heat and the largest of the tourist crowds.
Arrive in style!
We highly recommend getting a private water taxi from the airport to the city centre and your chosen hotel. We hired a classic mahogany water limousine. What better way to arrive Venice than with a glass of cava in you hand while sitting in a plush leather seat in the back of a mahogany dream boat? The sightseeing on the canals on our way to the hotel was worth every penny! Seeing the Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s palace) and St. Mark’s square with the red bell tower of St. Mark’s Basilica from the sea, was just as epic as we had imagined.
Splash out on a luxury hotel!
Since this was out first visit to Venice, we decided to splash out on a bit of luxury. Arriving at the hotel lobby by boat was a new and very cool experience. The Bauer hotel was just as sumptuous as we hoped, and the breakfast restaurant had possibly the best location ever! Sitting on the edge of the Grand Canal looking over the water towards the Basilica di Santa Maria Della Salute was just amazing. We did not want to leave our table! Seeing all the boats bringing goods to shops and hotels, and the water buses and the gondolas packed with tourists glide past our table was such an unforgettable experience.
Pre purchase tickets!
If you are going to visit the biggest attraction in Venice, the Doge’s Palace, you need to pre purchase tickets! And do so via the official channels. The queue to get into the palace is long and hot, so be as prepared as you can. It does help that you are queuing in the most epic of squares in the shadow of the bell tower of St. Mark’s Basilica but standing in line is still a pain in the ass.
We chose to pre book a behind the scenes tour of the “secret” parts of the palace. We always enjoy going down the paths less travelled, and this tour was just for a small group of people, and we got to see some of the coolest parts of the palace. Starting in the raw, damp, and claustrophobic prison cells in the cellar, we worked our way up to the attic, where the cells and torture chambers for the more “prominent” guests were situated. Perhaps the most famous guest of these cells is Casanova himself. Imprisoned here, he also escaped this highly guarded prison under the lead roof of the Doge’s Palace.
The tour ended by entering the offices of the Spanish Inquisition by secret doors hidden in the walls, the tiled floors made in 3D effect were designed to freak out the prisoners who were brought here to be interrogated, and, we must admit, they also had the same effect on us… A great tour and a great experience that we highly recommend!
We pride ourselves in getting lost as much as possible. It is a great way to see a new city, just walk in a general direction, and you will find hidden plazas, local coffee shops and maybe get a glimpse of everyday life. There are of course lots of must sees in Venice, and we too walked across the Rialto bridge, fighting with thousands of others who had the same idea.
However, we also found tranquil spots where the general tourists with their maps did not come to, and we enjoy those moments immensely. We had a great day walking along the embankment to the Arsenale area in the eastern part of Venice – it is more residential and has a nice green park.
The Arsenale itself with the old shipyards was cool and had some great bars outside the gates to sit down and have some refreshments while looking at old statues and architecture. If we should mention one of our favourite places to have a coffee, it must be the Campo Santi Givanni e Paolo with its church and picturesque canal.
Another favourite was the hidden pedestrian street gem where Rio Santa Ana dead ends into the Via Guiseppe Garibaldi southeast of the Arsenale itself. The vibe here was very local with a greengrocer’s boat filled with fruits and vegetables, and an excellent espresso bar where we had a great rest in the sun.
Do not go for the food!
Venice was a bit of a let down when it came to gourmet food experiences. It is possible that this is due to the high number of day trippers coming into town in the morning and leaving in the afternoon. We found it hard to find any good dinner restaurants that were not overpriced and underwhelming.
We did however find some cool local cafes and bars that had good Italian food, and we discovered that Venetians have their own version of the Spanish pinxto bread slices. Several bars in more “local” areas had a great bar selection of slices of bread with different kinds of Italian local spread on them. Choose as many as you like and sit down to gorge yourself on simple but delish Italian hams and cheeses.
What was it like?
Venice was an epic travel experience, a once in a lifetime bucket list moment for sure. The lack of cars, the old architecture that is unspoilt by new buildings, it is like walking around in a Hollywood movie set. Sometimes it is hard to differentiate what you have seen in movies and what is reality while walking the canals and squares of the city.
The crowds of people during the day are mind-blowing, we can see why the locals are a bit fed up with their city being besieged by cruise ships and day-trippers. It is calmest in the early hours of the morning, and in the evening, you can have the alleys and streets for yourself late in the night. If we go back, we will probably choose an even more off-season time, like February or March, just to see what it is like with even fewer tourists visiting. And if we go back, we will for sure visit some of the other islands surrounding the city of Venice.
The highlights of our visit were the boat transfer – arriving by boat to Venice and our hotel was awesome – but most of all walking around at random and discovering small hidden gems, like campos with a church and a coffee shop with some tables outside, was just so cool.
An espresso has never tasted so good! Walking along the canals and seeing the hustle and bustle of the boats, the boat traffic jams and the gondolas carrying tourists down narrow alleys filled with water was fantastic.
Venice is beautiful, a world heritage city, like no other city on the planet. To have been able to visit is a privilege, and we hope that some day we will be able to come back to this most magic of cities.