What to do in Venice
Venice, it is a magical and unique place in the world, steeped in history, culture and is a world of its own.
Venice is located on the edge of Italy in the northeast next to the Adriatic Sea. It is a city built on the water, in the heart of the Venetian Lagoon made up of 118 Islands and contented by 400 bridges. The city has been an strong seat of power for centuries being the capital of the Republic of Venice. From the medieval period to Renaissance and right through to the Napoleonic Wars it was the Queen of the Adriatic being a hub for Commerce with silk, grain and spices from the East, Naval power as they expanded their empire all the way to Constantinople, great Artwork coming out of Venice and bringing artist into the city and Venice was even the capital of the printing press at one point too.
The Republic of Venice expanded across the Adriatic Sea along the Croatian coast where you can see history left over (the Lion symbol was in a lane way on Hvar), down along into the Western Coast of Greece and all the way to Cyprus.
Venice’s strong foot of power began to crumble during the 15th century and kept crumbling up until the Republic being lost to Napoleon, then was given to the Austrian Empire until it officially became Italian in 1866. In between the city was demolished by the Black Death, the trade capital changing to Portugal with the discovery of the New World and trade with the East and the continually lost of their holds in other parts of Europe.
Venice is now known to be the city that floods, a city that is falling down, too many tourist and smelly. I have to say don’t believe that at all, you just need to be at the right place at the right time to experience what Venice is really about. It is magic….
We have landed in Venice, finally after all these years and it being on our bucket list to return, we are here. As soon as we stepped off the plane the mist was low we had butterflies in our stomach that we will get a truly Venetian experience, then we stepped onto the dock at the airport onto our Water Taxi feeling like we where in a Bond movie skating over the lagoon into the Grand Canal. Ah Venice, we saw all these Palazzo’s sitting on the waters edge, the Rialto Bridge and the cherry on the top was having our amazing hotel right on the Grand Canal and stepping off the boat into the hotel. I can not believe we are in Venice; it has been 21 years and my Mother & I have been speaking non stop for years about returning to Venice and this was the moment we were waiting for. Come join me as I show you the highlights of our trip to Venice.
Piazza San Marco
All pathways lead to Piazza San Marco. We were dying to get back here as we remember it so clearly from our first trip, as it is a huge area with such iconic & beautiful architecture, that the Square leads off onto the waters edge with Gondolas and I will never forget running through the Square while it was floated.
We got to see Piazza San Marco in a new light as we where there for Venice Carnival, there was a stage set up, people walking across the Square in Mask and an incredible atmosphere with excitement in the air. It is a must view in Venice as it was the most important square in the city, with the Basilica, the Doge’s Palace, the Torre dell’Orologiothe and now a museum of artwork being housed above. It is great to stroll at any time of the day to soak in Venice.
San Marco Basilica
I think this was the place I was most excited to visit. It left such a strong impression on me when I was a child. The outside was golden & domed, but what I remember the most was the flooring. The floor is extremely uneven as the original floor is held up by wooden pikes to help it not sink into the water, creating a wave of mosaics to cross. The Basilica is 1000 years old and is a mixture of Italo-Byzantine Architecture with Catholicism. The Basilica is a must see in Venice as it shows off the history of Venice with the use of golden mosaics covered for ceiling to floor, an altar with thousands of gems and golden leaf (must see), the winged lion of Venice and the patron Saint; St Mark on the gable and the thing we had been looking forward to since our trip in Istanbul. During the 4th Crusade the Venetian’s plundered the Hippodrome and took 4 bronze horses and placed them atop the Basilica over looking San Marco Square, the originals are now in the ceiling mezzanine of the Basilica; it is a must visit atop, especially as it looks over the whole Basilica and the views over San Marco Square. Something to find on the outside of the Basilica is next to the exit of the Doge’s Palace is the Tetratchs, this was too stolen was Constantinople which shows off the finest gowns of the Byzantine Emperors.
The Basilica is free to enter, but to visit some of the important places you need to pay around €2 to enter but it is worth it. It is best to go earlier in the morning to miss the crowds.
What an unique feet of Architecture, this clock tower guards the entrance to the Square. Built in the 15th Century, it is the perfect unity of time, the zodiacs, religion, the winded lion and the grandness of Venice. On the clock you can see atop 2 men known as the Moors ringing the bell every hour. Below the bell is the iconic Winged Lion of Venice (the emblem of Venice) behind a blue starry sky, followed by the actually time. The clock itself is like nothing I have seen before, it isn’t a clock face or hands but a mixture of a digitally clock almost but also in Roman Numerals. The hour is in Roman Numerals but the minutes are in modern numbers but for every 5 minutes. It is really werid and wonderful, I couldn’t believe my eyes as is unique ingenuity. It has the Virgin Mary and Son guarded the time and as you lower your eye line the Astronomical Clock, is a world of starry skies with the zodiacs guarding it. This was one of the highlights for me to witness this 500 year old wonderful of technology.
You are able to visit the clock with a guided tour, check out the website to prebook your experience.
The next large iconic place to visit in San Marco Square is the Doge’s Palace known as the Palazzo Ducale. Established in 1340 it was the seat of power for Venice throughout the generations. It was the home of the Doge who governed the Venetian Republic. It is a wonderful example of Gothic Venetian Architecture especially with all the arch windows that look out onto the Lagoon, it is in most photos of Venice. Inside the Palazzo it is a labyrinth of rooms that all had important roles during its height of power. Each room is a fantastic art piece from the floor patterns to the wooden carved walls and the ceilings covered in frescoes. It is an incredible place to discover as each room is unique, the staircases are master pieces and a chance to cross the Bridge of Sighs and see the last view prisoners would see including Giacomo Casanova. The Doge would never leave the Palazzo once appointed into the seat of power so this had to be a village for him to live in and you can see that as you experience it all.
The Palazzo Ducale tickets can be bought on the day of visit or beforehand online. You are able to get single tickets or combined tickets for multiple museums in San Marco Square. It is always best to go earlier in the morning but not too early as it does open at 8.30am.
Bridge of Sighs
The Bridge of Sighs is one of the most famous bridges in the world, I remember it clearly as a 8 year old and my father trying to scare us saying only bad people go through there. He was half right as it was the Bridge that connected the Doge’s Palace to the prison for the worse people in Venice. It was the last view the prisons saw of Venice and after walking through it, it is awful view but it is iconic to stand on the bridge below it and take in this feet of architecture that has stood there since 1603.
Campanile di San Marco
This bell tower in the heart of San Marco Square is seen from most angles in Venice from high and low. It has had a long history since the 9th Century, either as a watch tower, a bell tower, from being struct by lighting many times or being set on fire and right down to it collapsing completely in 1902 but by 1912 they rebuild it to what you see today. (it was inaugurated in 1912 exactly 1000 years after the first stones were laid). Today it is the beam that helps you find your way to San Marco Square, a place with panoramic views but most importantly were the Angel takes flight during Carinvale.
You are able to view the top of the bell tower, tickets can be bought online beforehand to save you standing outside and you can walk faster up to the top of the tower.
As we exit San Marco Square and hop on a Vaporetto up the Grand Canal, you will get the perfect view of the Rialto Bridge. Built by the uncle of the man who made the Bridge of Sighs, it has been around since the late 1500’s being one of the few bridges to content districts of Venice. It is wonderful in every view you take, either from a boat or the docks or a cafe or even standing on it. It is not to be missed especially some of the shops being wonderful. Check out my blog on where to shop there.
You are truly not in Italy without a trip to a food market, all the varieties of fresh produce from the area making your mouth water. If you love food, living a life of being Italy it is a must see as you witness shopping in this area you can only imagine what it was like for the Venetians for all these hundreds of years. It is open from 7am - 2pm every day so go see what your taste buds think.
T Fondaco dei Tedeschi
I had seen this place in passing now and then online, I knew I had to find it. Inside a Palazzo near Rialto Bridge is one of the most fancy shopping centres I have seen, such grandeur but for the cherry on top you must go up to the Rooftop Terrace. It gives you the most incredible views of the whole of Venice, the rooftops with washing blowing in the wind, the many towers and palazzos, Rialto Bridge and not forgetting to mention the view of San Marco Square in the distance, it really showcases the incredible life of Venice below and how it hasn’t changed
It is best to prebook a slot beforehand as this place is now becoming a known visiting spot, it is free to visit so do not miss out on this view.
Santa Maria della Salute
I have seen this Minor Basilica for an age all over my TV Shows, especially in an iconic scene in A Discovery of Witches (worth watching fyi). We decided to head over and check it out, it is an unusual style for the city, reminding me a lot of churches in central Italy. The Church came into being in 1631 after a wave of plague washed over the city. It stands on the finger of the Dorsoduro district, built in the baroque design after the Republic of Venice vowed to build church dedicated to the Lady of Health. Inside the church houses many objects that refer to the Black Death that was occurring. Today it is a lovely place to stand still and look across the Grand Canal towards San Marco Square, the locals like to sit on the stairs and take in the glorious sunshine when it pops out. It is a unique church to visit and walk around and roll your eyes as you imagine what the church thinking was that this church would stop the plague in Venice.
I know I have only shared the highlights to see in Venice, those are just the little experiences to have thoughout the day to experience the culture and history of Venice, but the real Venice is walking the streets and seeing how the locals live. It was the highlight for us being able to turn corner upon corner to see the grandeur of the city.
Some things I have learnt about Venice that the city is not sinking, do not be scared to visit if you believe that (also climate change is making the world sink) if you get stuck in a float embrace it like the Italians do. Where big boots and walk over platforms, they is just part of everyday life.
The city does not sink, the canals are all tidal so in some places the water might just seat and not move until the next tide comes along.
It is best to visit Venice during the colder months as the tourist on the cruise ships during the summer peak season over whelm the city, making the small streets impossible to walk around it. So Italian heat, small streets and hundreds of people, not for me. If you really want to experience Venice do it when you can be like a local and enjoy the street atmosphere and the fog descending.
Enjoy the walking, as the city of Venice actually doesn’t have any place for cars to drive away. You will be able to disconnect with the world, enjoy the simple life of being in this magical world and thinking of all the steps you are doing to help you eat more delicious Italian food.
Water Buses are your friends, either from catching the water bus from San Marco to the train station for a day trip it is the easier way to get around if you need to go long distance and around the islands. Either getting a Vaporetto, a Water Taxi from the Airport or a Tragetto (gondola bus) , it is the perfect way to across the lagoon. * I personally didn’t go on a Gondola as the average cost it €110 for 30mins. I much perferred getting a Tragetto or a Water Bus up the Grand Canal for my water experience in Venice.
Buy from Local Artist, either a Mask for Carnivale, leather handbags, hand made books, lace work from Burano or Glasswork from Murano. You will know when you have the real deal in your hand, as well as most pieces having authetic markings on them. Ask the shop keeper, check the stamps and avoid street stalls. It is better to support the artist that have been learning and creating these unique and iconic works of Venice for hundreds of years.
Venice is an easy place to get to in Italy, either via train from any city (which are super fast) or flying into the Marco Polo Airport, there is no excuse not to visit this amazing city in the middle of the lagoon, with its long and colourful history to discover. If you want to discover more about places to eat, shopping, and living a life in Venice check out my blog to learn all about being a local in Venice.