Venice was my first taste of Italy. It was a place I had only read about in literature and seen recreated in films. I immediately fell in love with the boats, the hazy canals, all of the prosciutto sandwiches, and the wine. What’s my favorite part about Venice? The fact that there are no cars! There are only two modes of transportation: water taxi or your own two feet.
Headed off to Venice soon? Here are 11 things to see/do in the wonderfully vibrant city.
Canale Grande/Ponte di Rialto
Rialto Bridge is an iconic place in Venice. It’s one of the maybe two bridges that connect the main islands of Venice, one side historic, the other financial, so you’ll be climbing those steps over and over again.
Leg day is every day in Venice.
Piazza San Marco
One step into the beautiful Piazza San Marco and you’ll think to yourself “omg, I’m actually in Venice.”
Basilica di San Marco
Even though it’s an already stunning facade, the entire inside is painted with gold. Really. It’s gold from the bottom of the walls, all they way to the curved ceiling. Rich mosaics sparkle with life in the candlelight – there are hardly any windows. The air is thick with frankincense. There’s an altar with illuminated holy objects underneath the biggest glistening dome. Even the ground is a sea of colorful marble slicked smooth by the millions of feet over hundreds of years.
Sadly, photos are prohibited once you step inside, but they wouldn’t have done justice anyway. It’s just a place you have to see to believe. It’s one of the most beautiful basilicas I’ve ever seen. And I’ve seen a lot of basilicas.
Ponte dei Sospiri
The Bridge of Sighs is an enclosed bridge made of white limestone that connects the old interrogation rooms in the Doge’s Palace to the “New” Prison. Legend says that convicts would sigh, taking in their last view of the beautiful city as they were marched over the bridge. Then they would be lead down into the dark cells to never see daylight again. In reality, the time between the New Prison and the construction of the Bridge of Sighs doesn’t really match up and Lord Byron actually coined the phrase, which is why there’s something so poetic about it.
The 5th floor rooftop of T Fondaco dei Tedeschi by DFS
Our local host recommended this city lookout. Venice is very flat and, unless you have access to a private villa or want to pay to climb the tower in Piazza San Marco, you won’t be able to see the city in all of its glory. Venice is also foggy city, so we had to wait a few days until the weather was right . . . so, about an hour before we had to hop on a train out of there. Entrance to the luxury department store is free, despite the daunting looking security guards posted at each door. I don’t think there’s an elevator (and if there is we didn’t find one), so be ready to walk up a lot of stairs. But the view is so worth it.
Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo
It’s not as grand or as popular as its cousin, the Basilica di San Marco, but the Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo is in a quaint square and right across from a spectacular trattoria. Attached to it is a lovely blue and yellow marble chapel that was one of the first hospitals in the city.
With waiters dressed head to toe in crisp white tails and string music from the piazza streaming through the open windows, Caffé Florian is nothing short of any coffee lover’s dream. It’s a maze of rooms with plush red sofas and detailed gold walls. You have to climb a creaky staircase to get to the restroom. They sell everything from handcrafted pastries to lavender perfume. It’s also the oldest coffee house in Europe that’s still in operation and has attracted many historic celebrities. Perhaps you’ve heard a bit about some of these people . . . do Carlo Goldoni, Casanova, Lord Byron, Marcel Proust, Charles Dickens, Hemingway, and Monet ring any bells??
Fun fact: Caffé Florian was the only coffee house that allowed women (I see what you were doing there, Casanova).
Torre dell’Orologio (St Mark’s Clock Tower)
On the north side of Piazza San Marco, St. Mark’s Clocktower is impossible to miss. Both the tower and the clock date back to the 15th century and is above the entrance to the main street of the city, the Merceria. The two figures on the top of the tower, commonly referred to as “the Moors,” physically strike the bronze bell on the hour.
Piazza San Marco was also the place for your typical medieval executions. They’d make the scaffolding face the clocktower, that way you’d know the hour of your death – down to the exact minute.
Libreria Acqua Alta
Books are piled high in teetering stacks, shoved in bathtubs (for when it floods), and stacked in real gondolas. Take a picture by the canal entrance or climb the staircase made out of ginormous (and slightly rotting) tomes. There are a few house cats that roam the store and watch the tourists stream in and out while perched on the check-out counter. I wouldn’t recommend searching for a specific book because you’re not going to be able to find it.
It’s a bit chaotic – don’t expect to fit in a relaxing read at this bookstore – but it’s tons of fun. You may even find a cool souvenir or two.
Find those art galleries
Venice is full of modern pop-up galleries. They’re also usually in beautifully old Venetian palaces with peeling paint (you can tell it’s a palace if it has a boat entrance that’s right on the water). You can look them up in advance, or just follow the signs.
Ditch the map and explore
Venice is just one of those magical cities you want to get lost in. Wander the canals. Find hidden gardens. Sometimes you can discover the best places by just stumbling upon them.
Okay, maybe don’t ditch the map completely because even I got turned around a few times and my sense of direction is very good. Like, homing pigeon good. But in Venice, the roads just drop off into the canals or just stop altogether. Sure, your destination may be right there, but it could take 20 minutes to get to – unless you don’t mind getting a little wet.
Until next time,