The Ultimate Venice Travel Guide – An Enchanting City Miraculously Built On Water
October 07, 2017
Just the name, ‘Venice’, is enough to conjure up a host of images, even for those who have not yet set foot in Italy. Founded in the 5th century, and spread over 118 small islands, the city is an extraordinary architectural gem. It boasts world-class museums, and its 141 churches are galleries in themselves. If you find any neighbourhood overcrowding with tourists, just remember that you are only a bridge and an alley away from a more secluded spot. Here’s everything you need to know before exploring Venice!
9 Interesting Sights in Venice
I love getting lost in the city’s labyrinth network of islands and canals, and chancing on secret squares and incredible palazzi. Read on for 9 interesting sights in Venice (you don’t have to visit all)!
#1 : Doge’s Palace
A masterpiece of Gothic architecture, the Doge’s Palace is an impressive structure composed of layers of building elements and ornamentation, from its 14th and 15th century original foundations to the significant Renaissance and opulent Mannerist adjunctions.
The Palace was the heart of the political life and public administration of the Venetian Republic. However, when the Republic fell in 1797, its role inevitably changed. Venice was first subjected to French rule, then to Austrian, and ultimately, in 1866, it became part of a united Italy. Over this period, the Palazzo Ducale was occupied by various administrative offices and housed important cultural institutions.
By the end of the 19th century, the structure was showing signs of decay and the Italian government set aside significant funds for an extensive restoration. Many original 14th century capitals were removed and substituted and the originals now form the collection in the Museo dell’Opera.
#2 : Patriarchal Cathedral Basilica of San Marco
Also commonly known as Saint Mark’s Basilica, this stunning Italo-Byzantine architectural structure is the most famous church in Venice. It is connected to the Doge’s Palace. Do you know that there are more than 85,000 square feet of mosaic in Saint Mark’s Basilica? The mosaics were done over 8 centuries, mostly in gold. I recommend entering the basilica at different times of the day to see how the light makes the colour look so impressively different.
#3 : San Marco Campanile
One of the most recognizable symbols of Venice, the bell tower of Saint Mark’s Basilica is an imposing square plan tower about 99 metres high, crowned by a spire that was once a lighthouse for shipping. Of the five original bells, only the largest remains. The others, now replaced, were destroyed when the tower collapsed in 1902. You can ascend the belfry loggia for a spectacular bird’s eye view of Venice city, and the lagoon.
#4 : Ponte di Rialto (Rialto Bridge)
People often say that the true heart of Venice lies here. Constructed more than 400 years ago, isn’t it astonishing that this 7.5 metres arch built on some 12,000 wooden pilings still supports numerous people today? The bridge has three walkways – two along the outer balustrades, and a wider central walkway leading between two rows of small shops that sell jewelry, linens, Murano glass, and other items for the tourist trade.
#5 : The Grand Canal
The Grand Canal forms one of the major water-traffic corridors in Venice. It follows a natural channel that traces a large reverse S-course from San Marco Basilica to Santa Chiara Church, dividing the city into two parts. You can enjoy the magnificent views of the Grand Canal by affordable water buses (vaporetti), private water taxis, and gondola which comes at an exorbitant price.
#6 : Punta della Dogana
You’ll be able to see the Punta della Dogana from the top of San Marco Campanile. This contemporary art museum occupies a triangular tongue of land where the Grand Canal meets the Giudecca Canal. It was formerly a customs house, dating back to the 15th century. The building was restored, and the space is now divided into nine halls arranged transversely, complete with exposed brick walls, wooden beams and polished concrete floors.
#7 : The Island of Giudecca
Tourists are abundant in Venice, but very few visit the island of Giudecca. Apart from Palladio’s Redentore and Le Zitelle churches, everyone assumes that there is nothing else to see. But, if you are interested in learning more about the lifestyle of an authentic Venetian, this is the place for you. Moreover, in the past couple of years, the contemporary art scene on Giudecca island seemed to be thriving, and today, the island is a favourite stopover for international curators and collectors.
#8 : Burano Island
I’m super intrigued by Burano’s colorful houses that are reflected into the green waters of the canals. As I indulge in a cup of hot chocolate on the patio of a café, I noticed children darting around freely with their bicycles, elderly grandmothers checking on their multi-coloured flowers on their balconies, fishermen loading fresh fish from their traditional boats … The atmosphere was lively and sounds of laughing filled the air. Burano island is certainly a paradise!
#9 : Isola di San Michele
The island of San Michele, located in the lagoon close to Venice, has been the city’s cemetery since the early 19th century. As Venice is an island community, it’s not really surprising that its graveyard is also an island, although the notion may seem odd at first. This island is dedicated to the dead, and is occupied only by churches and by long ranks of tombs. There’s no need to visit this island, but you’ll come across it on your way to Burano Island.
If you time your trip well, be sure to catch the gorgeous sunset while you’re on the vaporetti. There are other popular islands such as Murano Island which is famous for glassblowing/glassmaking, as well as, the ancient Torcello island. Museums are aplenty, too many for me to introduce, so it’s best to plan ahead to get the best out of your trip in Venice. I hope the following tips will be helpful.
a) You should spend at least 3 days in the historic centre of Venice, and allow an extra day to tour the outlying islands.
b) Before buying a transit pass, plan your sightseeing to make the most efficient use of the time you’re paying for. Don’t be fooled by the grand gondolas as the price is ridiculous. Besides, you can easily travel from place to place by foot.
c) Remember to validate your tickets before boarding any transportation to avoid a heavy fine.
d) Skip joining tours unless you are pressed for time. There’s no need to spend additional money on tours as you just require a good street map of Venice to start exploring around.
e) Make sure your accommodation is easily accessible (especially if you have a heavy luggage) as public transport routes are limited to the main waterways, and footbridges everywhere require climbing stairs.
Arriving At and Leaving Venice
Venice Marco Polo is the closest airport to central Venice, while Treviso, 70 minutes by bus from Piazzale Roma, is used by most low-cost airlines. Both Ryanair and Easyjet run flights to Venice. The journey from Marco Polo to Venice can be made by road or water. The bus trip is quicker and cheaper, but the boat option is so much more Venetian. All tickets, for bus or boat, need to be bought in the arrival halls and stamped on boarding. A taxi to Piazzale Roma will cost about €35, while a water taxi to anywhere else in Venice costs €100 for up to five people with luggage.
The main station is Venezia Santa Lucia, right on the Grand Canal. On the mainland side is Mestre station, a busy hub with lines south to Bologna, Florence and Rome, west to Padua, Verona and Milan, and north and east to Treviso, Trieste and Slovenia.
Getting Around Venice
Venice has a decent network of water-based public transport. The vaporetti (water buses) loop around the main city, and shuttle out to the islands while the traghetti (public gondolas) cross the Grand Canal at regular points. You will come across many architectural wonders, museums, and art galleries. Click here for the prices. You can also get around via private water taxis and private gondolas but these don’t come cheap.
Venezia Unica City Pass
This tourist city pass is your best travelling companion. Imagine perks such as free use of water-based public transport, free admission to the museums, and many discounts on leisure, culture, gastronomy, and excursions … What more can you ask for?! Follow this link for the different types of Venice city passes available.
Best Time to Visit Venice
Late autumn and the first part of the winter are the best times to visit Venice if you want to avoid the crowds and take advantage of cheaper hotel rates. But, you must be prepared for icy temperatures and mists. In January and February, the two-week-long Carnival is one of Venice’s big attractions and this is when the crowds flock in. As the spring turns into summer, tourist numbers rise as well. Venice is sweltering hot in August so you might avoid this period too.
Here’s a fun game for you – see how many lions you can spot scattered around Venice (look at paintings and sculptures)! This animal is an important symbol for Venice. With so many sights to take in, and museums to explore, it’s better to spend a longer time in Venice. Besides, I’m pretty sure the madly coloured houses on Burano island will keep you and your camera busy for many hours. Venice is a city that never fails to disappoint. I’m looking forward to visiting this amazing city again!