Venice is magical and unlike any other place you will visit, built on water, dominated by canals and bridges with stunning architecture. There’s no such thing as just getting a cab, you will either walk or take a vaporetto (small ferry). You can also get a water taxi, but this is an expensive way of getting around and not that convenient depending on where you are located.
We stayed on Venice Lido and used a private launch (courtesy of Gary Manners, see below) to get into the city. Line number one begins at Venice Lido and it takes 15 minutes to get to San Marco and 40 minutes to the Rialto Bridge. It takes just over an hour to get to the top of the Grand Canal where the train station is. A good way of getting your bearings is to go the full length of the Grand Canal. Buy vaporetto tickets from shops marked as “Tabacchi” and always validate your ticket in the machine before you travel. You may want to consider buying a pass for a few days depending on what your plans are. These are not overly expensive, at just €43 for four days, with unlimited usage.
The main attractions are San Marco, the Rialto Bridge, the Basilica, the Bridge of Sighs, the Doge’s palace and the Campanile which is the city’s tallest building. The view is superb, taking in the Lido, the whole of the lagoon and on clear day the Dolomites in the distance.
These will be on most people’s lists to visit and all sorts of tourist information is readily available. If you book organised tours you will skip the long queues, at the Basilica for example. We chose not to and enjoyed just strolling around the city discovering it’s piazza’s and alley ways full of real bars and restaurants occupied by venetians rather than visiting tourists.
Whilst it is expensive to drink in St Mark’s Square, you should do it at least once. Sit outside the cafés/bars and listen to the orchestras playing and just soak up the atmosphere. A new phenomenon that appeared on our most recent trip was people selling bird seeds to feed the many pigeons – we politely declined! Be aware that the larger, famous venues (Florian) will cover charge you €6 per person just to sit down and listen to the live orchestra. Drinks are also very expensive. A unique experience however, and we loved our time there.
Generally, Venice is not a city with lots of nightlife such as clubs and late bars. We found that the city closes around midnight. However, over the years and on more recent trips we have noticed that it is becoming more like other destinations with people eating and drinking later in the evening. We saw a hen do when we last went – not something seen regularly in Venice.
There is the main core of the city in the centre of the lagoon. The islands - Murano, Burano (personal favourite), Torcello and Cimitero di San Michele are to the north. Venice Lido is on the southern side of the lagoon and Giudecca is just to the south of the main core.
We enjoyed an Aperol Spritz (or two – the Venice cocktail) at the Skyline Rooftop Bar at The Hilton (amongst several others) on Giudecca which has a panoramic view of the city of Venice. Check out (Google) where to eat the best Cicchetti in Venice – these are local finger foods served in small local bars (Bacari) in the Lagoon frequented by locals. Usually early evening – apperitivo time.
The famous Harry’s Bar is perhaps the most overrated place in Venice, having said that it doesn’t do well in any current reviews. This is because it is quite an ordinary looking bar, with disdainful waiters and the celebrated Bellini is overpriced at €22 for a small glass. It isn’t the best – certainly not that I’ve ever tasted. They also insist on a dress code so no cut off pants or trainers for gents. However, we wanted to experience it and we’re happy that we can say we’ve been to Harry’s Bar in Venice but wouldn’t rush to go back.
We haven’t got any favourite restaurants in Venice, our hotels have been in all different parts of the city and therefore we have eaten in different parts of the city. We’ve tended not to take note of the names even although we’ve sometimes ended up in the same place on other visits. We’ve found that wandering and finding the places as you go is the best way to experience the eateries of Venice. If you do want a list of best restaurants, it’s easy enough to Google and your hotel is likely to recommend places.
It’s worth mentioning The Hard Rock Café in Venice. Whilst you may think - why go there when in Venice, it’s an alternative to traditional Italian fayre and it’s in a great building in a great location overlooking Bacino Orseolo which is one of the main Gondola gathering points. The restaurant has a unique Venetian stamp with a very impressive Murano glass chandelier. Good if you can get a seat overlooking the canal.
You’ll struggle to find poor quality food anywhere in Italy and Venice is no exception. Even food to go is in abundance and of very good quality. In the very central tourist streets around St Mark’s Square there is good quality food to be had whilst more expensive than in areas further away. Also, you may find it is served by disdainful tourist-wary waiters or ones that are keen to get you in but equally keen for you to go once they have got your business. It is a judgement call! There is lots of variety and there are plenty of vegetarian options although not designed to cater specifically for vegetarians, it’s just that plenty of Italian dishes don’t contain meat.
It is a treat to have a meal in a restaurant along the banks of the Grand Canal, prices vary and be mindful that some meat or fish dishes are priced per 100g not per course.
Whilst there is the usual tourist tat on offer in Venice, there are loads of wonderful shops with amazing window displays selling genuine quality Venetian goods. If you are buying glass, make sure it is genuine Murano glass because there are lots of Chinese imports. The masks are amazing, and some places offer mask making workshops. There is a high-end fashion area selling top designer gear this is quite close to San Marco. There are also the usual high street names like Zara, H&M and even Clarks shoes.
Lots to see and do, you won’t do it all in this one trip. Part of the charm of the city is letting it reveal itself as you wander around and frequently end up in dead end streets but always with something to see.