“If you read a lot, nothing is as great as you’ve imagined. Venice is — Venice is better.”
– Fran Lebowitz
“I came down the steps of the railroad station and was at once astounded and elated by the gleaming band of water at their foot…I was besotted with the idea and the reality of Venice, and that besottedness has never quite left me…”
– Erica Jong
Upon my first arrival in Venice many years ago, I had this exact same experience…Venice was better than anything I could have imagined…and I, too, have remained in her spell…besotted by La Serenissima, the serene one…
You will be hard pressed to find anyone who has been to Venice and doesn’t have a “love it” or “never again” opinion. I’m obviously in the totallycompletelymadly in love category, but why not experience Venice and decide for yourself?
As one of the most visited cities in the world, serene is an adjective seldom used to describe a visit to Venice! Throngs of tourists wander the maze-like calles and squeeze onto the vaporetti. With maps in hand, they often appear befuddled and more than a little lost. But what better place to lose yourself?
Just her mere existence is a story in itself and demands our respect and admiration! Built on a delta and marshes, one million acres of pine tree forests stripped to create the foundation, this is a city that was willed into existence.
My most recent visit was this past June…I hadn’t been to Venice in almost a decade. (How did that happen???) Every time I leave, I vow to return soon…this time I mean it! For me there just isn’t an adjective, adverb, photograph or painting that can encapsulate the experience of being in Venice. For me, it’s an overwhelmingly visceral emotional response of pure heavenly bliss!
There’s so much to see and enjoy in Venice. You can read about all of it in the travel books. So, I just want to highlight and share some personal “not to be missed” favorites:
- Ride the vaporetto (the Venetian metro) along the Grand Canal from one end to the other. There may not be a more stunning ride anywhere. Enjoy …several times…
- Consider: Enjoy the same ride during the day and at dusk or early evening…bellissimo!
- Consider: If you’re going to be here more than 24 hours, get a public transport (Actv) pass. Passes can be purchased at Hello Venezia, Venice’s tourism centers. Go to: www.hellovenezia.com for details.
- Be prepared to WALK a lot! Put on your comfiest shoes, grab a map, your sense of adventure and off you go. Venice is comprised of six sestieres (neighborhoods). All are worthy of exploration. I suggest that you concentrate on exploring one at a time starting with the most famous, San Marco. (You will probably spent most of your time here and in neighboring San Polo and Dorsodouro.)
- Piazza San Marco… Bellissimo! WOW! OMG! Just stand there, look around, it isn’t a photo in a book, it isn’t a movie…you are standing in one of the most famous piazzas in the world! And it does not disappoint. No image or description can quite capture La Serenissima. Soak up the magic and grandeur of this extraordinary and unique treasure. The Columns of San Marco and San Teodoro welcoming us into the Piazza…the Campanile bell tower, the Torre dell’Orologico,..and, of course, the Basilica San Marco and the Doge’s Palace…magnifico!
OK, I wax poetic…now, back to practical matters…
- Get to major sites EARLY to avoid long lines. This definitely includes the Basilica San Marco and the Doge’s Palace, two centerpieces of Venice’s glorious and extraordinary past. Consider both a MUST do!
- A few words about the Basilica San Marco: Named after the patron saint of Venice, entrance is free. Even if you see a line, don’t be discouraged, it moves quickly. Millions of pieces of glass pieced together into a stunning mosaic masterpiece…simply mind boggling! Bring a few extra euros so that you can view the equally mind boggling Pala d’Oro, an altarpiece of gold and precious jewels like nothing you have ever gazed upon.
- A few words about the Doge’s Palace: OK, one word, incredible! This was the seat ofpower of Venice (and most of the Adriatic) for over 900 years. There is an admission fee and there will be a line. Get the audio tour and spend the next few hours immersing yourself into centuries of captivating history and intrigue.
Yes, there’s more…much much more …
- Gallerie dell’Accademia: This treasure trove, spanning five centuries, is the largest known collection of Venetian art. Veronese, Bellini, Tintoretto, Canaletto, Titian…need I say more?
- Scuola Grande di San Rocco: Aptly nicknamed Tintoretto’s Sistine Chapel. Be prepared to be dazzled. (They provide mirrors so that you can truly appreciate the ceilings!) Again, the audio tour is well worth it.
- Rialto Bridge and Market: Once the center of international trade, Rialtois busy, crowded, bustling and wonderful!
- Lagoon Islands of Murano and Burano: Murano, long famous for its glass making, and colorful fishing village, Burano, are short boat rides from Venice. Both offer friendly locals offering inviting and charming trattorias, gelaterias and shops.
- Palazzos: To really get a taste of the grandeur and wealth of Venice at her peak, visit a palazzo or two. Grandly restored and open to the public; Ca’Rezzonico, Ca D’Oro and Ca’Pesaro are all worthy of a visit.
- For a glimpse into the serene side of Venice and to escape the crowds, find your way across the Grand Canal and wander through the pleasantly quiet side streets and neighborhoods.
- Still have time? If you enjoy modern art, go to the Guggenheim Museum; for more Veronese, Titian and other masters, visit St. Maria dei Friari and St. Maria della Salute; and if you’re lucky, there will be Venetian concerts offering Vivaldiat various venues…be sure to go !
- Consider: If you’re going to be in Venice more than 3 days or so, consider the Venice Pass. Go to www.hellovenice.com for details.
OK, you’ve had enough history and sight seeing…don’t forget to budget time and euros for some other quintessential Venetian pastimes and attractions:
- Go on a gondola ride: The ultimate view of Venice…from the water …absolutely a must! Can you imagine what it was like before the sound of motor boats or even electricity? Wow… talk about romantic! (Remember, this was where Casanova …well, you know!)
- Salute! Enjoy a spritz, a glass of prosecco or a Bellini at any one of the iconic cafes in St. Mark’s Square (Caffe Florian and Quadri’s being the most famous) or venture over to the famous Harry’s Bar, Hotel Danieli or Hotel Cipriani for a signature cocktail or nightcap.
- Enjoy cicchetti: Sample Venetian tapas and a glass of vino or a cold beer at the famous 400 year old Cantina Do Mori or at one of the other local trattorias or osterias.
- Buy a souvenir: A mask, Murano glass jewelry, something unmistakably Venetian…
- Grab a gelato and stroll…anywhere…
- Be prepared to take lots of pictures: Venice is one of the most photogenic places you will ever visit…
- Plan on: Getting lost.
- Plan on: Enjoying getting lost!
- Accept Venice on her own terms…
Scroll back to the top of this blog, you’ll find the YouTube link on the right…
or just click here
Turn up the volume, sit back, and enjoy…
Some of My FavoriteZ
The Inspector Brunetti detective series by Donna Leon
City of Fortune: When Venice Ruled the Seas, Roger Crowley
In the Company of the Courtesan, Sarah Dunant
The Venetian Affair, A.D. Robilant
Vivaldi’s Virgins, Barbara Quick
Bread and Tulips
A Dangerous Beauty
guideZ & mapZ:
Eyewitness Travel “Top 10 Venice” : user friendly, small enough to carry, includes a pull-out map & guide, excellent overview of major sights
Eyewitness Travel – Venice and the Veneto: A more in-depth and detailed travel guide with outstanding historical information, colored photographs and maps. Excellent resource. I copy pages to take with me.
“Streetwise Map – Venice”: Streetwise maps are laminated, easy-to-read and easily fit into a purse or pocket.
To those of you who have been and I left out your Venice favorite, my apologies…Venice is too grand a topic for a blog…
Please “Send Me a Postcard”: Share your insights, recommendations, favorites, and experiences…