Two American tourists on the adjacent table in a pizzeria a sunny piazza in Venice were planning their time in the city. The gist of the conversation was that once they’d visited St. Mark’s Square, including the Bell Tower, the Basilica San Marco and the Doges Palace then they’d pretty much done the city.
It’s fair to say that if you have a limited time in Venice, then these are the top three sights on most people’s wish list. But if you spend a couple of nights in the city, buy a 72 hour water bus pass and a guide book and you’ll be kicking your heels within half a day unless you lengthen the list a little. So, where to begin?
Venice is a feast for the eyes. Every corner is unique and even a glimpse down a tiny narrow street, or through a courtyard door, reveals a picture so exquisite, it’s no wonder that so many artists have captured the city on canvas. In Venice even a list of three can be three attractions too many as it’s entirely rewarding to simply wander aimlessly – you’ll soon come to a bridge, a church, a canal or a bar that’s worth lingering over.
The two American tourists could have added a gondola ride as one of their `to-do’ activities in Venice, but with the official rate now €80 for a 40 minute ride (and €40 for a further 20 minutes), it’s a fairly steep way to enjoy Venice’s canals.
For a couple of euros you can still experience a gondola, albeit stripped of its brocade chairs and luxury trim, by taking one of the gondola ferries, the `traghetti’, that cross at seven points between the railway station and St. Mark’s. The rate is 50 cents, increasing to 2 euros for tourist in January 2013.
Any good guide book will list the numerous museums, churches, galleries, palaces, restaurants and bars to visit while in Venice, but if you want to experience the city without tourists, try getting up at dawn and enjoy a quiet stroll through the quiet streets, when the Venetians have the city almost to themselves.
Another way to experience Venice like a Venetian is to hop on and off the tank-like, clumsy, cream-coloured water buses, short-cutting the city’s myriad of tiny streets. A 72 hour water bus pass currently costs 39 euros, while those aged 14 – 29 should consider buying a Rolling Venice card hat brings the cost down to just 22 euros. Both passes can be bought at the airport, at the information desk just outside `arrivals’.
When it’s really hot in the city, the water buses offers a welcome and cooling break from the crowds, though be prepared to be packed in like sardines at times, particularly on the routes around St. Mark’s basin.
If St. Mark’s is the place to head for the time-strapped tourist, then those with even a few hours longer can easily weave through the streets that lead away from the square, to the Rialto Bridge, marked en-route by yellow signs.
The arched stone bridge, built in the late 1580’s, is still lined, as it was been historically, with shops. Originally they would have been selling silk and spices, metal and textiles brought by Medieval traders. Now they sell tourist souvenirs, Venetian masks, jewellery, bags and glass.
Leaving St. Mark’s behind, descend from the bridge and walk through the souvenir stalls to the riot of colour and life that is the open air Rialto fresh produce market, with its adjacent fish market hall. Prices are what the locals pay and a bag of fruit is an inexpensive way to eek out the time between meals. Look out too for bunches of colourful red and yellow chillis sold like a flower posies, costing just a couple of euros.
A day in the city is exhausting, so make use of the water bus pass and head for the Lido, where the Venetians go for a day out by the beach. The Lido di Venezia is an 11km long sand bar straddling the area south of Venice between the Venetian Lagoon and the Adriatic Sea. There are both public and private beaches, mostly along the south side of the Lido, and a top tip is to hire a bicycle, or a four or six person `bicycle’, and enjoy a gentle cycle ride along the length of the island towards Alberoni, ending up in aromatic pine forests by a wide open sandy beach.
Accommodation in and around Venice is pricey, particularly in high season, so a real gem of a place to stay is the Palazzo Guardi. It sounds grand, it’s pretty close to the Grand Canal and the rooms are fairly grand too, in a scaled down way.
Palazzo Guardi is an original Venetian residence dating back to the XV century. It was named after a Venetian painter, Francesco Guardi, whose paintings in the nearby Galleria dell’Accademia are said to have been inspired by the panoramic view from the Palazzo’s windows.
The Palazzo is on the Dorsoduro, one of Venice’s six districts, and is linked to San Marco by the Accademia bridge, and although it’s an expensive area a double room here costs just 90 euros / night, including a generous breakfast of toasties, cereals, croissants, ham and cheese and juices.
For cruise guests it’s in a great spot too as it’s close to Venice’s new cruise terminal, and just a short walk from the waterfront Zattere area, with its bars and restaurants and vista onto the Giudecca canal.
Also within a short walk is the social hub of the Dordosuro region, Campo Santa Marguerita, one of the largest campos in Venice and a traditional cobble-stone town square. There’s no need to wander into the more expensive St. Mark’s area for lunch or dinner, the Campo and the surrounding piazzas and streets, have plenty of choice until the early hours of the morning. A personal favourite is Ai Sportivi, which the DK guide claims serves the best pizzas in Venice, best enjoyed sitting at a table out on the pavement outside this pizzeria while all life goes on around.
So when in Venice, try doing as the Venetians do, or just throw away the rule book, and enjoy one of the world’s most unique cities.
A night’s stay at the Palazzo Guardi can be booked with www.hostelbookers.com, who offer rooms in affordable hotels and hostels in 3,500 locations worldwide. Prices are around 90 euros for a double room, with breakfast.
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Kirker Holidays for holidays and trips to Venice.