17 May The Best Things to do in Venice
How popular do you think Venice is? Have you seen any pictures lately? Or perhaps in a movie? I bet you would have laid eyes on those lovely canals with primitive buildings on both sides. And then there is a gondola passing beneath a charming bridge with decorative balusters.
I am sure it looks magnificent. And I will give my word that it is! Venice is one of its kind and you cannot compare it with any other place in this world. But there comes more with fame and rarely does anyone talk about it.
Let us start with what made Venice so popular. As you know, Venice is a picturesque city in the northeast of Italy. You can characterize it as a group of islands connected by small bridges.
Venice was primarily a town of merchants who used their strategic location to trade with the empires in middle-east. In turn, it made Venice rich during the 13th century. To be clear I am talking about the filthy rich.
Travelling to Italy? Check out our Italy travel itinerary from 7 days to 3 weeks
The city was then governed by members of the noble and wealthiest families known as ‘the Great Council’ who elected a ruling member called a ‘doge’ or duke. They also built obscenely extravagant palaces and buildings which are today the most popular tourist spots of the city.
Venice declined later in the 15th and 16th centuries due to a number of political and economic reasons. Although, during the 18th century its popularity rose again as a destination for luxury, indulgence and entertainment.
In the 19th century, with the opening of more popular trade routes to America and the East, Venice lost its strategic importance. It later became an attractive tourist destination for people all around the world. In recent years it has hosted over 30 million tourists annually. It makes Venice one of the most visited places in the world!
How To Reach Venice
If you are someone who has their eyes on experiencing Venice you have many options to reach there. If you are flying directly to Venice from overseas you can land at Marco Polo airport. It is 14 km away by a short bus or ferry ride. Treviso is another airport which is around 31 km away.
Make sure you get down at Santa Lucia train station which is inside Venice city island. Do not get down at Venice Mestre which is there on the mainland. Tronchetto is the Bus stop on Venice island.
From there you will have to walk. Note that there are no vehicles in Venice city and a lot of steps and bridges. So you will have to carry your luggage on your own and on foot. Porters are extremely expensive so pack light.
Even if you get suitcases with wheels, you still have to lift them quite a lot. You can reach anywhere in the city in not more than 30-40 minutes on foot.
Care for a recommendation? Also check out our article on a full-day tour to Tuscany
Stay In Venice
I will propose that you stay in the city even if it is for a night and not visit like a day tour if you have the budget for it. It will definitely be more expensive. But if you do want to splurge on something during your vacation, staying in Venice is a great idea. If you are booking a stay make sure it is in the island city and not in Venice Mestre (which is the mainland).
The reason I am emphasizing this is that tourists completely swarm Venice during the day. The cruise ships which visit and halt at the port bring in thousands of day-trippers to Venice every day. Venice between 10 am to 5 pm is usually extremely crowded. You may find yourself bumping into people every now and then.
You can experience the best of Venice in the early morning (5 am to 8 am). Evenings from 5 pm till 11 pm are also a fantastic time after all the day tourists are gone. Venice becomes quiet.
With a handful of inhabitants, you can have all those alleyways and canals to yourself with a lovely skyline. If you are looking to take great photographs, this is when you shoot.
We booked an Airbnb and I think it is affordable and one of the best ways to stay in Venice. The locals are nice and welcoming and most of them will share some of the best places to see in Venice that you may not find online.
What To See In Venice
Like any other Italian city, Venice is also a treasure chest of art, architecture, and culture. While I will give you a list of the most famous places to see, I will suggest picking what interest you most because visiting the popular places will take a chunk of your time due to long lines.
St. Mark Square or Piazza San Marco
After your stroll through the cramped alleyways of the city, Piazza San Marco may feel like a large breath of space. It’s the largest and most important square in Venice. And you will find it jam-packed with tourists during the daytime. It has long been popular as a meeting point for locals and tourists.
If possible, visit a second time once it’s dark. The piazza is lit up and looks fantastic. The piazza encompasses almost all the famous buildings in Venice. You can also go up the bell tower and have an aerial view of Venice.
Bascilica de San Marco
It is perhaps the most popular tourist spot in Venice where its grandeur calls for popularity. It is a blend of the European style of architecture with that of the Byzantines and Islamic states since Venice had great relations with them. The whole place is done in lavish and intricate gold mosaics.
The basilica holds a rich collection of carpets, tapestries, paintings, and sculptures. Some of them were brought back from Constantinople after its fall
But then again, it’s crowded. You can get a guided tour which will take you all around St.Mark’s square with skip-the-line tickets. They may be slightly expensive but they will save you a lot of time.
If you want to understand the prosperity of any place in Italy, look at the ceilings. Another beloved palace of the Venetians is that of Doge’s or Duke’s. It clearly shows how bountiful and wealthy Venice was at one point in time.
There are humongous rooms with gold decorative ornamentation and frescoes done by the most famous Venetian artists. Take either a guided tour or an audio guide to understand more behind the scenes. Or it may just turn into a photo-clicking experience.
You will anyway end up crossing the Rialto Bridge if you are taking a tour on foot since it’s the only way you can cross to the other side of the great canal.
It’s a 400-year-old bridge and is huge in size. It gives you a lovely view of the Great Canal as you stand right above it. There are lines of shops on the inner side of the bridge. I will suggest you avoid shopping from here as the products are usually overpriced.
The bridge is usually very crowded so if you want a really great view come early morning before 7 am to have the place to yourself
Mercati di Rialto or Rialto Market
If you are actually getting up early to see the Rialto Bridge club it is with the local market of Rialto. The market is a great place to see the everyday life of Venice. There is amazing seafood, fresh fruits, and vegetables up for grabs. The market is only open till 2 pm so keep a close watch on the time.
Murano is one of the islands of Venice just 1.5 km away and is extremely popular for its Glass. The glassware from Murano at one point in time was an exquisite export of Venice. It actually is extremely rare and beautiful to look at, don’t forget the expensive part.
If you are in Murano you should visit the glass-blowing factory. You can see the local craftsmen make lovely articles. You can also purchase from there if you want something from Venice. Shops outside may have a lot of knock-offs from China. You can take a waterbus from St.Mark square’s stop S.Zaccaria for 6.5 Euros to reach Murano.
Burano is another small fishing town near Venice. It has become so famous on the internet because of its brightly coloured houses. Each house in Burano is in different colour like bright yellow, red, green, purple, orange, blue and so many more.
The tradition started when the fishermen painted the houses to spot them from far while returning back and then it stuck. It is a 30-minute ride from Venice and you can take a water-bus to Burano as well.
You can also take a Venice island tour which is like a package deal, and extremely convenient for tourists to see a lot in one day in the nearby areas.
Get lost in Venice
If you have read more on Venice you must have come across this phrase of getting lost in Venice. Venice is a really small city and has a complex network of houses, streets, canals, bridges and alleys. There is just so much beauty in every nook and corner. Spending time on a map is simply not worth it.
Just take the pressure off and start walking without an agenda. Stop by the shops where you find great food or just have a pizza on the go. You will find beauty in unexpected places.
What Not To Do In Venice
Don’t get stuck in line – while I am sure it is a necessity to visit most tourist places I will suggest either taking a tour guide who can help you skip the line. You can skip visiting those places altogether. Because if you are in Venice for only a day, there is so much more to do. You can also just pick one or two spots you really like, enjoy it to the fullest and forget about the rest.
Think before taking a gondola ride – If you are in the mood to splurge, go ahead. But if you are a budget traveller check before taking a gondola. It costs 80 euros for around 40 minutes for 6 people which rises up to 100 euros in the evening.
You can look at taking shared gondola rides if you want which cost less than half. Water-bus or Vaporetto could be great modes of transport with awesome value to experience the canals
Check before you sit down for a coffee – It is very common in Italy to charge service fee or cuperto on top of your regular bill if you sit down at any place to have a meal or even a coffee. It is usually the places around main tourist area.
Sometimes they simply charge for the view. But mind this for in Venice it can go absurdly high to even 6 euros per person. Although it sure will make it a very memorable meal
Behind The Scenes
While you and I had a really great time on the beautiful island gazing at the grandeur of the buildings and our photoshoots on the small bridges, the locals are about to be evicted from their homes and the city is drowning not just in water but also in debt. But Why?
Cost of Living
At the current rate, an average of 2 Venetians leave their home every day. The influx of tourists on the island has led to an increase in the price of the property as well as consumer goods. A large number of the Venetian population who do not own property but were born and brought up here find it extremely hard to afford to house.
Many homeowners are increasingly putting up their properties as hotels or Airbnb. It gets them more rent. In turn, they ask the local population to evict. A large number of people are also leaving town because of a drastic increase in the prices of consumer goods. Most of the goods come from the mainland and there are very few shops left on the island.
Taking about shops, most of the local shops which at one point in time sold articles like a regular functioning city have converted into retail stores or souvenir shops. You will find hundreds of shops with rich Venetian masks and bright Murano glassware for sale. But buying fruit is a challenge.
Infrastructure and Debt
While the medieval-style buildings look lovely in pictures, a lot of Venetian infrastructures is crumbling. Many buildings need repairs and public housing has been almost shunned since there the city is deep in debt to maintain infrastructure.
Venice is millions of dollars in debt, corruption adding most to its woes. Local politicians and authorities have drained a lot of cash out of the city’s treasury. Today, Venice relies heavily on tourism for money. This has led almost no bars on tourist practices and extremely lax rules and regulations.
Cruise ships are another major concern as their colossal size creates waves when they sail too close to the island. This, in turn, harm the infrastructure of the island. The local authorities react little on this since they need the money that comes with the tourists.
Badly Behaved Tourists
While Venice does make most of its money from tourists. And it may be the case that a lot of Venetians did not sign up for this. For many tourists can be unruly, littering on the streets in the canals, urinating in public places and even in the canals.
While it is a romantic city, some tourists go as far as having sex in lone alleyways or under bridges. The local population consider this extremely disrespectful and frowns upon such activities.
Being loud and noisy after dark is another thing that the locals do not appreciate. It is often the case with tourists drinking and walking through the city at night boisterously.
Aqcua alta already plagues the city. It means that water floods most parts of Venice occasionally. As a result pavements and streets submerge completely. Cruise ships further intensify the situation by sailing very close to the city.
Acqua alta is a common phenomenon during the months of November-February. As many as 100 times a year. This shows a very dark picture of what the city is expecting in the next few years.
While there are challenges for the city, it doesn’t mean that no one must go to visit Venice. The people are really nice and helpful and the there isn’t another place like Venice in the world. So I would suggest go soon and be respectful, for travel should always be a great experience to everyone involved, the tourists and the hosts.