I visited Venice in April 2013. Getting there was a nightmare as our flight to Bologna was delayed over 7 hours and was almost completely cancelled. When we finally made it to Italy, we got very lost in Bologna very late at night and experienced one of the most stressful days ever. Despite all that, we did eventually make it!
I did really like Venice, but I think it is somewhere that is best to visit as a couple as it can be a little dull as a group of 20 year olds in the evening. I’m sure there was more nightlife further into the island, but we found it so easy to get lost in the mad maze of Venetian street and canals and bridges that we were scared to wander in too far lest we never made it out.
That aside, here are my tips for some unmissable Venetian sights!
Piazza San Marco
An iconic image of Venice, you will definitely visit Piazza San Marco at some point when in Venice. As an example of the ever-changing weather, the first time I went to the Piazza we sat on a nice bench outside St. Mark’s Basilica, the next day we used the same benches to walk around the Piazza because of the foot deep flood water filling the Piazza.
Key places to visit here include the Basilica with it’s beautiful gold mosaics and grand horses and the doge’s palace which is lovely to explore, especially the courtyard area. My favourite place, however, was the Museo Correr from which you can see the most amazing views of the square. I also loved walking around the rooms of the house and thinking about how people actually lived in the amazing, beautifully and ostentatiously decorated rooms!
San Michele Cemetery Island
You might think this a macabre suggestion, but I would go as far as saying the cemetery island was the best thing I saw in Venice. I just could not get over the beauty of being laid to rest out here in the middle of the lagoon. Some of the tombs and memorials were incredibly over the top and massive and some were very touching and beautiful.
Even though we spent a while on the island, I don’t think we even managed to see a fraction of it and think we actually just skirted around the outside. I remember at one point peeking my head through a gap in a door when I thought I was deep into the island and seeing the water splashing around outside of the door; it really didn’t feel like you were on an island in the middle of the water, it was so peaceful and tranquil. What an experience!
Ponte Rialto & Masks
The Rialto Bridge is incredibly beautiful and very iconically Venetian at night as the lights reflect into the canal. During the day, it is a different story as it is slightly manic and full of mainly tourist shops like jewellers and glass blowers.
Whilst on the subject of tourist shops, I will also mention here about the masks. I am not a fan of masks in general (I think I accidentally watched some of Eyes Wide Shut as a child and it scarred me for life) but the Venetian masks all around the Islands are really beautiful. We did venture into some of the more famous mask shops and admired the unique and inventive creations, which I would definitely recommend.
Another island we visited was Murano. This is the glass blowing island and Burano is the lace making island. Both islands are quieter than the main Venetian islands so can be a bit of a relaxation from the busy tourist areas of the main islands.
The real reasons to go to Murano, however, is to see the glass! There are beautiful, creative and colourful glass sculptures everywhere, including amazing large outdoors creations like those in the pictures. There are a plethora of shops from designer glass makers where you are scared to touch anything to the factory shops where you can see the glass blowing in front of you.
I don’t normally bother with souvenirs but there are lots of places you can get small, inexpensive yet authentic pieces of beautiful Murano glass on the island.
Unless it is a real dream of yours, don’t bother going on a gondola. The ones I saw were full of tourists, bad singing and stupidly priced. It’s much more authentic, fun and affordable to see the city from Vaporetto.
Don’t give up the chance to spend some time just sitting by a canal and wait for some of the service boats to come – the mail boats, rubbish bin boats, police boats and ambulance boats all thrilled me every time I saw them.
Don’t think about going to Venice without a trustworthy map or maybe two (ours’ dissolved in the rain) and taking someone with you who is at least a competent narrator. Trust me, you will be thankful when you don’t spend hours trying to navigate by the same canal and church.
And from Venice, next stop Florence! 🙂