Venice to me feels like stepping back in time, there is something slower and just beautiful about this place. Beware it can be crowded as this is the hub for starting a Mediterranean or Greek Isles cruise, but it’s also a great city to end a trip in Europe. The romance, mystery, and just overall ambiance in Venice is just something unforgettable.
Getting There: The main airport is Marco Polo (VCE) and depending whether you where you are staying you will either take a land taxi or a water taxi to your hotel. If your hotel as a water entrance you can take a water taxi, if not you will take a land taxi and be prepared that you may have to carry luggage over bridges to reach your hotel (pack light!).
Where to Stay: There are so many options from very pricey to affordable in Venice, I have stayed on the Grand Canal near the Rialto bridge in the heart of Venice which is lovely but can also be very noisy as well as off the Grand Canal further away from it all which is quieter with no view. No matter where you stay expect anything and realize with a Vaperetto (water taxi) pass you can easily get anywhere in Venice. I have stayed at the Best Western Hotel Olimpia (reasonably priced but nothing romantic) and Al Ponte Antico (excellent location but noisy) and enjoyed both for different reasons.
Getting Around: You can easily walk to most places within Venice, but it is also very easy to get lost and turned around – which is part of the fun for me! In addition as I mentioned above you can purchase a 24-36 hour Vaperetto pass and enjoy scenic rides up and down the Grand Canal while easily getting to the major tourist attractions.
Gondola Ride: This can be very costly and during peak times it’s noisy and nothing like the romantic ride you might have imagined. I think it is something to experience at least once, but pick a time that feels right for you. We took a ride late at night during the off season just before the gondoliers were retiring for the night and paid around $80 Euros for about 30 minutes (this was a real bargain!) and he did a great job of taking us down several side canals and pointing our interesting details and even explained the significance of the iron detail at the front of the gondola (which he also told us indicated the gondola was “authentic”), this iron part on the front is required to balance the weight of the gondolier. It is in the shape of and “S” to represent the twists of the Grand Canal and the six teeth represent the six Sestieri (neighborhoods) of Venice.
Things to Do: There are some lovely sights to see in Venice, but it’s also a great city to just walk around and feel like you are stepping back in time. Below are the highlights and things to be aware of.
Rialto Bridge: The oldest bridge in Venice dating back to 1591 it also the in the heart of Venice, great place to view and take pictures of the Grand Canal. Beware that everything is expensive in Venice but especially near and on Rialto, if you are planning on taking a Murano glass keepsake back take the trip to Murano island (20 minute water taxi ride) and don’t purchase in Venice.
Doge Palace: This Venetian Gothic palace combines art, architecture, and history. Give yourself 2-3 hours to completely tour all the rooms. You can book tickets in advance at www.palazzoducale.visitmuve.it including special tours offered, Hidden Doge Tour (gives additional background on life of Doge) and Secret Itineraries Tour (access to locked and hidden parts of the palace that are not part of general admission) – note the special tours must be booked in advance.
Saint Mark’s Basilica: This beautiful cathedral is full of mosaics painted in gold with columns galore. Be sure to visit the upstairs to see the view over the Piazza and the real horses (the four horses outside are replicas). Outside you can grab a table and pay for an overpriced coffee but the ambiance is worth it just to enjoy the atmosphere in St. Mark’s Square (Piazza San Marco). You can also visit the bell tower which is located here as well, and when the tides are high see the waters from the Grand Canal flood the Piazza!