Piazza San Marco
Piazza San Marco is the hub of activity within Venice. Situated here is Basilica di San Marco it’s Campanile, and Palazzo Ducale complimented by stunning views out over the Grand Canal. Climb the Campanile for a view over all the city. This imposing redbrick bell tower was constructed in the 12th century and has since been utilised as everything from a lighthouse to Galileo’s observatory. With a lift to conquer the impressive 99 metre ascent, it is accessible for children and the elderly (wheelchair users should contact the tourist office to assess suitability). Heed the warnings that the view from the top is cold and windy.
Basilica di San Marco is the main event. As a functioning church, opening times vary and a dress code is enforced. For more information, please check on the official website. This stunning Byzantine cathedral is adorned with decorations of gold and azure, present both on the internal and external structure. Entry into the church itself is free but be prepared to spend a little extra to view certain collections.
For example, the viewing of Pala D’oro, a breathtaking mosaic of gold and precious gems, will cost you an extra €2 per person- well worth the supplement. Viewing from the Basilica roof sets you back an extra €5 but is great for snapping shots of the square itself. Photography is prohibited inside the building, although this doesn’t seem to stop voracious tourists. Beware, here, of beggars thrusting cups in your direction and confusing you with their Italian, politely decline with a “no scusa“. Keep an eye on your valuables too, pickpockets operate in the area.
Basilica San Marco
There have been an estimated 120 Dukes or Doge’s of Venice, reigning supreme from 697 to 1797, they acted as both generals and heads of state of the municipality. Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace) was home to these pseudo-presidents since its construction in 1309, this tradition only interrupted in 1577 during it’s restoration after a devastating fire. Boasting an internal courtyard, armoury, and a even a prison, attending this museum is an excellent way to immerse yourself in old world Venice.
In a similar style to the Chateau de Versailles, opulent rooms and sumptuous apartments are open for public viewing. A full price ticket is €19,50, although concessions can be applied. It is advisable to purchase a ticket online before visiting. Pick up an audioguide in the lobby (for €5) to get the most out of the tour. Make sure you set aside 2 – 3 hours for the full experience and be prepared to pay extra for the privilege of viewing certain quarters.
Ponte Di Rialto
Ponte di Rialto, this unavoidable bridge is the oldest in the city and is only one of four that connects North and South Venice over the Grand Canal. You will have to dodge fellow tourists but it makes a picture perfect postcard if you can snap it at the right time. For a panoramic view of the structure, take one of the popular public ferries which cruises right underneath A mix of shops line the bridge too, from big name brands like Diesel to cute, independent jewellery stores. Be sure to stop by a few and see what treasures you can unearth in all the hustle and bustle.
Grand Canal from Ponte dell’Academia
Le Macchine di Leonardo is a must see for travellers with children or a keen interest in engineering. Informal and hands on, this museum displays replicas of da Vinci‘s inventions based on his blue prints and his genius. Interactivity is encouraged. Set in Chiesa di San Barnaba, the collection is small but fun, perfect for children and those with short attention spans. Pay on the door (€8). Take a half hour out of your day to visit and learn.
Galerie dell’Academia is a must see for Venice-bound art enthusiasts. Canvases within the walls of the Scuola Grande of Santa Maria della Carità influenced much of European art as the world knows it. A mixed media collection of 14th century pieces, Renaissance works by Bellini, Carpaccio, Giorgione, Veronese and extending as far as the 1900’s is presented. Tickets are only €15, and some lucky travellers can get in free of charge providing they meet requirements. Guided tours are available from €4 but only run in English at 10.45am on a Saturday and Sunday.
Scuola Grande di San Giovanni Evangelista
Piazza San Marco seems to be the epicentre of Venetian retail with souvenir stalls and leather boutiques becoming more frequent the closer you move. Beware the knockoff appeal and forgo the stands dotted around the square itself. Instead, head inside the Basilica and stop at the gift shop on your way out. Choose from a host of ornate, delicate rosaries, and picturesque postcards.
Just off the piazza lies the designer quarter at the intersection of Calle Larga 22 Marzo, Calle Frezzeria and Calle Vallaresso. Housed here are traditionally Italian brands such as Fendi, Missoni and Prada as well as French classics like Hermés, Céline and Chanel.
For something a little different stop at Emilio Ceccato on Ponte di Rialto. Yes, that’s right, on it. This store is host to the Gondolier Association of Venice official merchandise and sells darling and chic clothing for all ages and genders. It’s a little pricier than you run-of-the-mill souvenir shop, however the products are high quality and versatile. They’re a practical investment for everyday wear and a subtle momento of time in the Floating City. While in the area, check out Ruge dei Ores for more cost-friendly alternative.
Take a trip out on the Lagoon to not only discover the island and it’s Mediterranean vibes, but to get your polished hands on some Murano glass. An export of Venice for centuries, Murano glass is rich in blue and gold hues and makes a lovely souvenir for friends and family. Being such a versatile material you it comes in a variety of shapes and sizes from chandeliers to Pandora charms. Pick up some pretty ditties for you loved ones for instant success.
In Italy, food is indivisible from culture, with it’s quaint independent restaurants and it’s 3 hour pausa pranzo. For waterfront dining, check out of Riva degli Schiavone in the San Marco district. Being a popular spot for tourists, crowds are common and lasagna prices are high. It’s worth the hassle however, as many of the restaurants offer outdoor seating from which to watch the world float by. For only €10, Al Gabbiano serves gratifying thin crust Sicilian pizza with traditional Mediterranean flavours of succulent anchovies and tangy olives.
Gelateria’s can be found around every corner. Historic Gran Cafe Chioggia dishes your favourite flavours combined with al fresco seating in Piazza San Marco. Here you can bask in the glitter of the Adriatic and the majesty of Basilica San Marco simultaneously. Gelato Di Natura in San Polo is a luxury choice for the long trek back to your hotel. Try the coffee and tiramisu flavours for a bittersweet Italian treat.
For a people watching, try Restaurante Rialto, overlooking the Ponte di Rialto. Become immersed in Hollywood’s Venice here. Gondoliers in their Breton’s paddle down the Grand Canal as fashionable elderly ladies walk their Spinones along the bank. Titters of “grazie” and “ciao” litter the air, the smell of carbonara and coffee wafts, warm, in the spring morning. Splash a few euros on a latte and pretend you’re starring in a Wes Anderson movie.
As such a popular destination for short haul holidays, Venice is served by two local airports – Marco Polo and Treviso. Budget airlines like EasyJet and RyanAir offer daily flights from London for around £30, the cabin baggage only restrictions more than ample packing space for a long weekend in the city. Shuttle buses run transport from the airports to local hotels and train stations as well as to the central metropolitan area. I used the Barzi service from Treviso, which offers both scenic and direct routes to central Venice, via Mestre.
If commuting from any outlying villages, buses operate between towns, such as Mestre and Piove di Sacco, and the Venice Bus Station in Piazzale Roma. It costs a flat rate of €1.50 each way. Make sure to purchase a ticket before boarding, which you must then activate when in transit . We purchased ours from a little convenience store across from our hotel. For information on where to buy your tickets check this point of sale map from Actv.
While the magic of the city can only be discovered by walking it’s hidden streets, the waterbus or vaporetto offers a more practical route from A to B. Bypassing the maze-like streets will save time, should you only be visiting for a long weekend. The ferry also offers low cost, no-booking-required trips across the Lagoon to some of Venice’s surrounding islands such as Murano and Burano. For more information check out the Actv website.
Aeroporto di Treviso A. Canova
Mestre is a great option for peace and quiet. Hotel Deflino’s 4* desk staff were infinitely helpful and polite, no matter the time of day of night. A fact tried and tested when we were given directions, with a smile, at 4am. The rooms were chic and well appointed and bed linens clean. It boasts a restaurant and a bar, a parking garage, and free wifi from €55 per night. Best of all, the public bus stops right outside the hotel. The air conditioning system is somewhat baffling, and thus rooms tend to be on the warm side. Bring you’re own toiletries. Although the hotel offers a selection of dinky travel sized haircare products, they’re drying and make your hair coarse. Combine this with the sun, seas and wind, and your hair will need some serious TLC. Instead pack some hair first aid, like this Moroccanoil Repair Travel Kit.
For a decadent option, Ca Maria Adele offers accommodation on the canal front perfect for a little Venetian romance. With room service and a Moroccan Bar and Terrace, it’s tempting to never leave the hotel. However, just across the canal from Piazza San Marco, you’ll never be short of adventure. From €180 per night.
For a quirky, budget-oriented option try Generator Venice. A hostel with beds from only €23 it lies on the island of Giudecca. The location may be quieter than more central locations in Venice and you are right opposite Piazza San Marco. Though not recommended for families, group and backpackers will appreciate it’s modern, clean amenities and it’s generous price tag.
Campo Santo & Fondamenta Garzotti
- Look Up – With Galleria dell’Academia on the banks of the Grand Canal, there’s no shortage of masterpiece in the Floating City. However much of it’s beauty can be found above eye level. Make sure, when wandering Museos and Basilicas to look to the heavens, where you can often find murals upon the ceiling that rival even the most stunning of canvases.
- Fashionable but Functional – Boats are the public transport and the streets are inaccessible. Protect your feet against the pains of your tourist curiosity by wearing comfortable shoes. Pack a pair of versatile flats like these foldable Yosi Samra suede flats in grey. The closed toes will be respectful to a church dress code, while the soles are padded and flexible. Equally, Venice is at the mercy of the Adriatic, it can get cold and blustery in the evenings. Layer up with a jacket like this Smythe navy one button blazer.
- Map It Out – While much of Venice’s charm is hidden in the backstreets and secret piazzas, it’s all too easy to get lost in the Labyrinth. Invest in an annotated, pocket-sized street map and mark out your can’t miss landmarks, most importantly, your hotel. Familiarise yourself with the general layout of the streets and plan out journeys before you set off. The walk will take you longer than you think.
- Don’t Expect Dominos – Italian food is not what you expect. Carbonara is more egg-based than you think. Pizza is thin crust. Although the flavours will be familiar, don’t be surprised if your coffee is a little stronger and your olives are saltier.