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City Guide: Venice, Italy

This post is part of my series of city guides, designed to give you a bit of an introduction into the city in question: activities, accommodation, transport, restaurants, food and nightlife. It’ll also basically act as a contents page for everything I’ve ever written about the place.

On my third trip to Italy, I finally made it to Venice. I was looking for somewhere to go over the Easter Bank Holiday, with one my Berlin travel buddy and, after flicking through the Ryanair website, we settled on Venice. I was there for three nights and three full days and we packed a lot in. Although there were a couple of things I would like to go back and see, I don’t feel like I missed too much.

Activities

Free walking tour:

I love taking these tours as you can see a lot of a city in a few hours with someone who knows the history and who can give you recommendations of places to go. On this occasion, the tour went to places including Piazza San Marco, the Doge’s Palace, the Jewish Ghetto, churches, a hospital and a bookshop (see below for more details) and various streets and bridges. In this case, my guide gave me several recommendations for cheap and tasty eats. I didn’t take this tour until my second day and I wish I had done it straight away as my guides tips were really useful and turned out to be spot on. I could have used them earlier!

Piazza San Marco:

Usually Saint Mark Square is filled to the brim with tourists but, when I first saw it, it was night and it was empty. As I fell out of one of the side alleys, I pretty much gasped. Unlike the narrow lanes, the square is big and airy. It’s surrounded by beautiful architecture, the stunning basilica, the bell tower and a lot of pigeons. This is probably one of the most famous sites in Venice and there is a reason for that.

St Mark’s Basilica:

It was a long queue to get into the basilica but it was, a) generally free entry, and b) a relatively fast moving queue. The outside was beautiful and the inside more than matched it, with golden imagery across the ceiling. I can’t even describe it really, you need to see it for yourself.

Campanile (Bell Tower):

There was another big queue to go up the Bell Tower. Unlike the Basilica it wasn’t free but, like the Basilica, it was worth it. It was freezing and windy at the top but you got panoramic views across the city. I have to admit I was happy to get back down and out of the cold once I’d taken my photos. Thankfully, and perhaps surprisingly, there was a lift- otherwise that would be a lot of stairs.

Doge’s Palace:

If you’re an art fan, this is as much of a must as any of the galleries in Venice. Not only is the architecture amazing but it is full of rooms covered in Renaissance paintings. The rooms were pretty huge so I can’t even imagine how long it took to paint those bad boys. I sadly didn’t leave enough time to explore it properly. Oh well, something for next time.

The Bridge of Sighs:

Venice pretty much feels like a museum. Along the waterfront, south of Piazza San Marco, there is a row of bridges and canals. As people walk along the front, over the bridges, they turned and took a photo of whatever was there. Then, they carried onto the next one, turned, took a photo and moved on. Down one of the waterways was the Bridge of Sighs. There are many, many bridge in Venice but this was my favourite. It is made of white limestone and has some history behind it as well. The bridge goes from the Doge’s Palace to the prison and is named after the apparent sound made my prisoners as they took a last look at their family and their city.

Libreria Acqua Alta:

In most cities, I wouldn’t put a bookshop on a list of must-go-to-places but, on this occasion, I am. It is probably one of the most beautiful bookshops in the world and certainly one of the most interesting. There are shelves and stacks of books everywhere, including a book staircase outside and a gondola full of books inside.

Scuola Grande di San Marco:

Much like the bookshop, a hospital is really something I would usually recommend. This one, however, is different. It was originally used as a religious building, before being converted in 1488 and comes complete with a beautiful facade. This pretty much epitomises Venice: nothing is the same.

Rialto Bridge:

The Rialto Bridge is a particularly large bridge that goes over the Grand Canal. It is beautiful bridge and a very touristy spot. That means there are a lot of expensive restaurants in the area but I was surprised to find that you really don’t have to travel too far away to find cheaper places with good quality food.

Guggenheim: 

I was surprised to be able to find the Guggenheim when it’s so easy to get lost in Venice. I didn’t know exactly what to expect when visiting my first Guggenheim museum but it expect what I saw. The building was modern and the art included cubist and expressionist paintings. My visit also coincided with a tour and a group of us were taken around the minimalist exhibit by a guide who explained the images to us.  It was certainly worthwhile, minimalism has never been a genre that particularly appealed to me but the talk made me look at it in a different way and understand more as to how it works.

Murano:

I had heard tell that one of the Venetian islands had lots of multicoloured buildings and, from the photos I had seen, it looked pretty. I thought that island was Murano. It wasn’t- it was Burano. Murano is an island famous for its glass factory and, apart from the factory itself, the main thing to do on the island is shop for glass trinkets. For me, there wasn’t much there, but if you’re into that kind of thing then it’s worth a visit.

Ca’ D’oro Museum:

As I wandered around Ca’D’oro yesterday, I noticed an interesting looking museum so I decided to take a proper look. The student tickets were only €3 and there were a couple of floors. The first reminded me of Berlin’s Bodes Museum, with lots of religious art and small sculptures and the other had a variety of art including paintings and frescoes. It was good and enjoyable but I didn’t love it.

Redentore:

I’d been told to see as many churches as possible during my stay and I hadn’t really done this. So, on my last afternoon, I tried the church close to my hostel- Redentore. I was in-and-out quite quickly but it was beautiful and certainly not like any other church I’d seen before. It seemed part temple and part mini-gallery, crossed with a church.

La Casa dei Tre Oci:

This building was close to my hostel on Giudecca was built in the neo-Gothic style in 1913. During my visit, it housed the Genesis exhibition by Sebastião Salgado, which displayed dozens of photographs of untouched landscapes and ancient tribes. I don’t know how long this exhibition was in Venice for but it was one of the highlights of my trip. I’d imagine the building is often used for exhibitions as it was a lovely space.

What did I miss?

I did try to go to the Accademia gallery but it was my last day, there was a queue and it seemed to be closed at that time. With that in mind, I went elsewhere, but if I went back then I would probably make a second attempt. Obviously, I would also try and successfully make it to Burano- not Murano.

Nightlife

On my first night, as I walked across the main island from my bus station to Piazza San Marco, I stumbled across a square called  Sotoportego del Banco Giro, close to the Rialto Bridge. It was buzzy and full of people and noise, as well as the odd bar. I made a mental note to go back. Venice didn’t really seem to be a place for clubs but if you like spending your night sitting with a glass of wine then this is your city.

Muro:

Just off Sotoportego del Banco Giro, I spotted a bar as I was getting my lunch from Al Merca. It seemed to be a popular choice for drinks and food so I returned later for my evening drink. It was a good choice. The bar was busy but I was still able to grab a table outside and sit with my €2 wine. I was a happy chappy.

Accommodation

Generator Hostel:

I left booking a hostel until the week before my trip and little seemed to be available. I couldn’t tell whether this was because there are limited hostels in Venice or because the Easter weekend was particularly busy. Either way, I ended up with a good option.
Generator was warm, cosy and clean with quirky decor, free wifi (that worked best in the lobby) and a nice common area.  Unfortunately, my 16 bed dorm room was typically noisy- snorers, people sleeping through their alarms, slamming doors and loud conversations- so it felt like I barely slept during my stay- but I can’t blame that on the hostel. Price-wise, it worked out at about £30 a night, which is more than I had hoped to pay but seemed to be pretty decent for Venice.
The hostel came with a bar and also offered breakfast and you could eat as much as you wanted for €4. It wasn’t amazing but it set me up to start the day. However, there were other options and €3.50 bought me a good coffee, orange juice and a very chocolatey croissant. 
The only issue was that it was on Giudecca, which was separate from the main island, meaning that we had to pay for a ferry to get there and back again.

Transport

Walking:

In Venice, travelling by car is not an option: there are no roads. That’s not really a problem though- Venice is small enough that you can walk across the main island if you have the time. On my first night, I arrived at the bus station on one side of the island and I knew my hostel was on an island opposite Piazza San Marco on the other side, so I walked across the city. It was night, it was mild and the streets were small, windy and, most importantly, empty. It felt like I could actually explore Venice better that way. Of course, I later realised there was a ferry port next to the bus station and another right by my hotel but it was okay, Venice is a city you should get lost in.

Vaporetto: 

If you’re not up for walking everywhere then the vaporetto, aka ferry, is the best way to go. There are water taxis but these will be more expensive. I treated myself to a 72 hour pass during my stay because my hostel was on a separate island to the main tourist attractions. I don’t think me anymore than it would have if I had bought two singles each day for my three day stay. Having a pass meant that I could come and go from my hostel as I pleased, instead of leaving in the morning and not coming back until after dinner. Besides, if you want to cruise the city’s canals without forking out for a gondola then this is obviously the way to go.

Gondola:

The gondola is Venice’s famous method of transportation. However, that makes it a big tourist activity and not a cheap one at that. If you’re in Venice with your significant-other and fancy drifting through the narrow waterways, just the two of you, whilst a gondolier serenades you then I can’t really offer any other alternative. If, however, you just want the experience/a gondola selfie then I have another option. There are a few ports around the city- including at Santa Sofia- where you can pay a couple of Euros to hop in a less well decorated gondola, with however many other people want a ride at that time, and be taken to the other side of the Grand Canal. If may only be a minute or two but it totally counts. 

Food

Pizza:

This is Italy, obviously there will be pizza. Sadly, mine was not all great. It is hard to navigate in Venice so I didn’t even try and track down any of the restaurants I had heard recommendations for. Instead, I wandered hungrily until I found a place near the Rialto Bridge on the Grand Canal. It was touristy and the menu was expensive but the pizza was cheap. It was cheap for a reason and I was disappointed, although the setting and the wine made it worth it. The next day, however, I stumbled across a place that did slices of pizza to-go and I finally found the pizza I expected to find in Italy.

Pasta:

This is another obvious choice: you can’t go to Italy and not have pasta. I didn’t actually eat much of it on this trip, apart from as part of a buffet. Then it was cold and covered in a light, cream sauce with some bits and pieces thrown in. It was simple but it was delicious.

Cicchetti:

You may think that Italian food is all about pizza and pasta. That is a definite highlight but you wouldn’t want to miss out on the other options, like cicchetti- Venetian tapas. This is how you eat in Venice on a budget. I was happy to find the small portions remarkably filling, from meatballs to filled bread rolls, bruschetta, pasta and risotto.

Restaurants

Taverna Del Campiello Remer:

My free walking tour guide pointed this out as an excellent option for dinner. They do good food and cheap deals that means you can eat on a more than reasonable budget. When I went it was all you can eat cicchetti for €5 and that also came with a drink (which could be wine). The options ranged from bruschetta  (I think) with various toppings- tomatoes, olives, fish and other spreads- pasta and risotto. The restaurant is tucked away so you do need to look up how to get there first but when you do find it, you will also find a little secluded dock where you can sit with your wine, where you can see the Rialto Bridge and watch the sun go down over Venice. 

Trattoria Ca’ Doro alla Vedova:

This place was recommended to me twice. A friend from home recommended it as a bar and my free walking tour guide recommended it for their meatballs. It appeared that I wasn’t the only person to have heard about it. I went one afternoon and the tables were filled with people having meals and others were milling about the bar with wine and cicchetti. That was where I set up, with umbro (local wine) and the meatballs. I never knew meatballs could taste that way, and I have eaten a lot of meatballs. The salmon was pretty good as well. This is somewhere you should go.

Al Merca:

This place, close to Sotoportego del Banco Giro square and the Rialto Bridge, was where I first discovered the price of wine in Venice. It was cheap, generally around €2-€4 for a glass. That was a nice surprise in a generally expensive city. I also found mini bread rolls stuffed with meats and cheeses and I think fish too) for around €1.50 each. As I sat on the ground by a wall nearby, I sipped away on the Spritz I treated myself to- a Venetian favourite- made up of wine, a liqueur like Aperol and finished off with sparkling water and ice. 

Rossosapore:

I found this place on one of the alleyways close to Piazza San Marco. There were people milling around the front, where there were slices of pizza to-go for about €3 and a couple of tables. I took the small crowd as a good sign and I turned out to be right. This was some good, cheesy, tomato-y pizza.

Brek Ristorante:

I needed to find somewhere to grab a light dinner around Piazzale Roma and Ferrovia- the areas where the train and bus stations are. It wasn’t cheap but my sandwich- with some kind of crusty, doughy bread with cheese prosciutto and courgette- was good. It came to over €7 with an iced tea (soft drinks seem to be more than wine) but it was my last meal in Venice so I didn’t mind too much. 

Particularly handy blogs

Five money saving things you should know about Venice
The food of Venice
The Seven Wonders of Venice

… and the rest

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13 Comments

  1. This post looks like a chapter out of Lonely Planet… so useful and comprehensive info, especially for backpackers 🙂

    Thank you so much for sharing…

    Like

  2. Another great roundup! I love Venice and agree completely – getting lost (and then easily un-lost, via helpful signs to San Marco or to Rialto) is the best way to see the city.

    Like

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