Getting to know Venice, Italy
|Getting to know Venice, Italy, and some of the top attractions to see in this timeless, legendary city on the lagoon. All photography is the property of EuroTravelogue™ unless noted. Unauthorized use is prohibited.|
It mystifies, it enchants, it intrigues—this is Venice, Italy, a city floating in the Adriatic Sea that has been frozen in time for centuries! When viewed from above, it's a brick-red mosaic of more than 100 islands that collectively resemble a giant fish with the Grand Canal, Venice's "main street" so to speak, snaking for 2 miles through its interior from the mouth to its tail, and lined with Gothic and Byzantine architecture harkening back to the days when this once mighty maritime empire controlled the flow of all trade between the east and the west. Upon closer inspection, we find Venice is laced with a vast network of canals and labyrinthine alleys linked together by more than 400 ornate bridges that beckon for exploration; and don't worry about losing your way because getting lost in Venice is a rite of passage to this city and the best way to experience it! If you haven't yet visited, then Venice should be at the top of your "1,000 Places to See Before You Die" list, to borrow the title from one of my favorite travel resources.
The Lay of the Land and Getting Around in Venice
|Bird's eye view of Venice's sestieri or neighborhoods. Photo: WikiMedia.org.|
Venice is divided into six "sestieri" or neighborhoods from San Marco, home to Mark’s Basilica, the Doge’s Palace and all the tourists; to Cannaregio and San Polo in the north; Castello, my fave place to stay in the east; and Santa Croce and Dorsoduro to the south. And to the south is the platter upon which our fish of Venice is served or better known as the Giudecca!
Getting Around in Venice
|Looking out from our balcony at the Palazzo Priuli on Fondamenta de l'Osmarin in the Costello neightborhood of Venice.|
Getting around in Venice is accomplished by just two modes of transportation–boat and your own two feet since automobiles have no place in this city. How is that even possible? Venetians have been living like this for more than a millennia and it’s what makes the experience of living and visiting Venice unlike any other city in the world!
|The vaporetto or water bus pulls alongside the Accademia Museum stop on the Grand Canal in Venice. Photo: D&S McSpadden.|
Most visitors get around the city on vaporetti, or “boat buses” that offer express and local service up and down the Grand Canal as well as to the outer islands in the lagoon including Murano, home to Venetian glass; Burano and Torcello; as well as Giudecca and the Lido barrier island to the south. You can purchase individual tickets or multiday tickets that allow for unlimited transportation during your designated dates. Renting boat taxis can be quite expensive but it's the ultimate in convenience, especially when traveling to or from the airport. The pièce de résistance and something everyone should indulge at least once in their lives despite its hefty price, a ride through the charming canals aboard Venice's iconic gondolas steered by gondoliers who introduce you to historic places such as Marco Polo's home as well as serenade you with the sweet melodies of la dolce vita!
|The pièce de résistance when it comes to getting around in Venice—the legendary gondola.|
|A mix of Venetian transportation from the gondola to the private taxi to the vaporetto in the background.|
|Venice by land—a walk along the fondamenta and over one of the 400 bridges that link together this ancient city.|
On land, the alleyways (calli), fondamente (pavements alongside canals), and the squares (campi, "piazza" is strictly reserved for Saint Mark's) and the bridges over the canals provide plenty of opportunities to experience the city. Meet the Venetians, step into the shops and talk to the owners who will be more than happy to tell you their stories of Venice; indulge in the savory culinary delights; explore the art galleries; the churches; the music of San Marco or Saint Mark's Square as well as the more formal concerts conducted in celebrated halls painted by Tintoretto and the like. Venice invites you to be her guest and once you're here, you're under her bewitching spell—this fascinating Venetian culture—there's simply no other way to experience the city of love!
|Venice does not smell badly but of the sea which cleanses the canals and lagoon twice daily.|
Contrary to popular belief, Venice does not smell badly, it smells of the sea which reminds me of a phenomenon known as acqua alta or high water. Occurring mostly in the winter months when prevailing winds from the south force the Adriatic tides to flow inland more than usual, acqua alta occurs and the southern islands of Venice flood from a couple of inches to more than a foot in some areas. You know the water's on its way when when you hear the city sound the alarm—sirens to warn everyone of the impending tidal surge.
On my last visit, we were having dinner just northwest of Saint Mark's when the waters started to rise. Up from the pavement grates, the waters gurgled and flowed and suddenly shopkeepers and restaurateurs made haste to close up shop. Needless to say, we were rushed through our main course and dessert was no longer an option but nevertheless, the experience of all of this was quite fun. By the time we left, we had to find an alternate route home and at one point, shoes and socks came off as we waded through the waves. Thank goodness it was a warm September evening and while some may be inconvenienced by this, we reveled in every moment nonetheless! When we made our way past Saint Mark's, we saw the planks erected above the water to ease passage through the square. If this happens to you on your next visit, have no fear for it will pass!
Speaking of nighttime in Venice, be sure to pay a visit to Piazza San Marco to people watch. It's a fascinating experience that you must indulge on your visit. Also, head to the legendary Harry's Bar located 2 blocks away from the western side of the square and along the edge of the Grand Canal.
|Visiting Dorsoduro sestiere while on our Grand Canal tour.|
What to See in Venice
Basilica di San Marco or Saint Mark's Basilica
|The unmistakable Basilica di San Marco or Saint Mark's Basilica in all its Byzantine glory.|
Venice's iconic Saint Mark's Basilica is a must see on all visits to Venice. The most famous of all the city's churches, this stunning example of Byzantine and Gothic architecture was consecrated in 1650 and until 1805, it was known as the Doge's Chapel. Inside, behold the dazzling mosaics on the ceiling bathing the interior in magnificent golden hues. Like Florence's Baptistery, the golden tiles owe their luster to the gold leaf painting on the back side of each of the tiles—quite stunning to behold. I suggest booking a guided tour with Avventure Bellissime or Viator, I have done both, for an informative introduction to Venice with walking and Grand Canad tours. Plus, they expedite admission to the basilica and the other popular sights. Not booking a tour? Please know that the queues can grow enormously and you'll spend a lot of time standing in line.
|All that glitters IS gold inside Saint Mark's Basilica. Photo: WikiMedia.org.|
|Be sure to ascend the campanile in Saint Mark's Square for commanding views of the city and lagoon.|
Just outside the cathedral and the Doge's Palace, stands the Campanile. For a nominal charge, a lift will carry you to the top for stunning views of Venice and the lagoon. Originally built in the early 10th century, the campanile we see today is just over 100 years old after the aging tower collapsed into the courtyard below and an exact replica built in its place, down to the spire and gilded angel at the top.
Palazzo Ducale or Doge's Palace
|The fairy-tale Gothic architecture of the Doge's Palace is one the finest examples in the world.|
One of the finest examples of Gothic architecture in the world, the Doge's Palace is another stop on all Venetian itineraries and included in one of the tours I mentioned above. Once home to the Doge himself, the palace was the central hub for the head of state; all of the offices of the government including councils, committee rooms, assembly chambers, foreign affairs; and finally the prison accessed by the Bridge of Sighs. When I was there, we toured the Doge's apartment and upon the ceiling of the staircase descending from the apartment to the government offices, is a fresco of Jesus being carried across the waters by Saint Christopher. The Doge believed that this was his blessing by God each day and he crossed from his private life to public. There is so much history here and it's best to be on a guided tour to get the full experience.
|The most ornate and oldest of the four bridges that span the Grand Canal, the Rialto Bridge is named after the centuries-old commercial center of Venice.|
Spanning the Grand Canal between San Polo and San Marco, the Rialto Bridge or Ponte di Rialto is the oldest of the four bridges that stretch across the Grand Canal and was completed in 1591. The architecture of the bridge itself is quite stunning but the two rows of shops on each side of the central walkway leave a lot to be desired. You won't find the treasure of Florence's Ponte Vecchio here but it's worth a stop nonetheless.
Peggy Guggenheim Collection
|The Peggy Guggenheim Collection is located in what was to become Ms. Guggenheim's palazzo on the Grand Canal.|
An art museum located on the Grand Canal, the Peggy Guggenheim Museum is comprised mostly of her personal collection. What was once to be her palace on the Grand Canal, this museum is home to an extraordinary collection of modern art including Cubism, Abstract Expressionism, Surrealism and much more; by the masters Picasso, Dalí, Polluck, Rothko, Severini and countless others. For admission to this and other museums in Venice, I suggest getting a museum pass. Both of the sites mentioned above feature these as well.
|The newly restored auditorium of La Fenice Opera House. Photo: WikiMedia.org.|
A tour through Il Teatro La Fenice or the Fenice Theatre will reveal the grandeur of this Venice opera house recently restored to its former glory before the devastating fire on January 29, 1996, when this centuries-old grand dame of Venice burned to the ground. The entire reconstruction / restoration effort directed by "Save Venice" yielded magnificent results and you'll stand in awe when you tour the lobby, the salons and the theatre itself recreated down to the last detail. If you plan to visit the Fenice, you will need to schedule a tour at least a day in advance. Don't plan on walking up and touring the theatre on the same day.
|Spend the afternoon touring Murano—the island of glass. It even has its own Grand Canal!|
I strongly recommend an afternoon excursion to Murano—the island of glass just east of Venice where Venetian artisans have been crafting exquisite hand-blown Murano glass for more than 1,000 years. Just hop onto a vaporetto or for a few extra Euro, a water taxi for a thrilling ride across the lagoon. Beware of hotels offering "free" rides to Murano unless you're prepared to be swindled into spending exorbitant amounts of money on Murano glass displayed in impressive showrooms, and prepared to refuse very aggressive salesmen who simply don't want to hear the world "no." Admittedly, we fell prey to this on our last visit and while the private taxi ride across the lagoon was certainly a thrill as well as seeing how glass is heated, blown and crafted into exquisite pieces, it wasn't worth the grief we suffered at the end of our tour when we had to convince the salesman that we weren't interested. Needless to say, he was not a happy camper and practically chased us out of his shop. Upon reaching Murano's Grand Canal, we strolled along the canal and met honest glass merchants with realistic prices. And since the vaporetto runs to Murano, our return to Venice was not a challenge at all.
|Byzantine Gothic architecture is the prominent style throughout Venice and quite exquisite experience in person, especially on palaces that have been standing for more than 500 years.|
This is but a short list of some of the best things to see and do in Venice, Italy, and I could have continued on for another few thousand words as well but wanted to provide you with a starting point from which to begin your research and planning. Please share your Venetian experience with me upon your return! Arrivederci from Venice!
|One of Venice's iconic gondolas docks alongside the tiny fondamenta that leads from the entrance of our Hotel Palazzo Priuli above to our room to the right in this picture. Note the name of the bridge that led us to our hotel.|
Peter Ackroyd’s “Venice: Pure City” – a fascinating read for historians and travelers alike. Ackroyd takes us on a journey through time from the ancient Venetians retreat to the lagoons in the fourth century, through Venice's rise as a mighty maritime empire, through the experience of Venice's art, culture, wartime, scandals, to the present-day as one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. Loaded with 1,600 years of meticulous detail and facts, Ackroyd’s “Venice: Pure City” is the penultimate encyclopedia about this ancient city!
|While waiting for our afternoon Grand Canal tour, I looked up and found this stunning view of the campanile in Saint Mark's Square or Piazza San Marco.|
Another fantastic read is John Berendt's "City of Fallen Angels." Berendt recounts the story of that fateful day in January 1996 when a fire ravaged La Fenice Opera House and burned it to the ground. It's an insightful read into Venetian society as well including historical facts, socialites and scandals. I reveled in every word of it!