Venice: The Floating City
If you’ve been keeping up with our instagram stories you’ll know that last weekend we had a mini break to Venice to celebrate Mr S’ 30th Birthday. Everyone I spoke to who had previously been told me what an incredible place it was but you really have to go to experience the magic for yourself. Venice is magic.
By popular request, but also because you know I was gonna do it anyway, I’ve listed our personal top tips for Venice. In no particular order but all are not to be missed (in our own humble opinion). It’s worth noting that we aren’t loaded (obviously, or our recent kitchen makeover would have included more deVOL and Crittall rather than paint and UPVC) and so these are tips based on a relatively budgeted trip. I read several other blogs about things to do in Venice before we went and my dream would have been The Adventures of Us but being neither a successful travel blogger nor absolutely loaded, we had a slightly different experience. If you are loaded, do their’s. If you aren’t, try ours!
It’s also worth remembering that this is based on our visit in February. I can’t guarantee these would all be great things to do in the height of summer. I can fully vouch that February is a fantastic time to visit. It’s chilly, especially in the shade, but with a warm snuggly coat on you'll be just fine and the winter sun, after months of grey skies in the UK, feels like heaven. Sat in San Marco Piazza one afternoon I even burnt my face - classic Brit abroad I know. I also have it on great authority that the amount of tourists in Summer is extreme, it was still busy in February (I imagine it always is to a point?) but it wasn’t that busy and I have a few tips on how to avoid the other tourists, if only for a little while…
I know I said no particular order, but this for sure is number one; WALK. Just walk. Put some comfy shoes on, turn off Google Maps and just go get lost. Venice is like a maze; tiny alleyways that lead to beautiful bridges over canals or open onto squares of cafes and shops or simply dead ends. You almost never turn out where you expect to. Then you carry on or turn around, go another direction and explore some more. We did this every day and found some incredibly beautiful parts of the city. Could I tell you where they were now? Not a chance. But that’s the fun, right?
Mr S’ personal favourite was the rooftop terrace on top of the department store Fondaco Dei Tedeschi. First of all, the department store itself is beautiful - think Terrazzo floors and designer handbags (drool) and definitely worth a nose. But the highlight is the 360 degree view of Venice (right next to Rialto Bridge) from its purpose built rooftop terrace. It’s completely free but you do need to book your 15 minute slot, and they are pretty strict with the 15min bit, via their website here . We went for the first slot at 10.15am and had a great, clear view of the city. I only wish we’d have gone back in the evening now too, to see it all lit up.
Venice is expensive. Especially for food. So be prepared. But there are ways to do it a little cheaper. There are so many take-away pizza and pasta places and they are all delicious, our favourite thing for lunch was to grab something to-go and sit on a jetty at Rialto Bridge, enjoy the winter sun and people watch. Little tip; if you sit on the jetty closest to the bridge (on Marco side) and look out towards the Grand Canal, the second jetty is where everyone poses for their photo with the bridge, possibly the most entertaining lunchtime we’ve ever had. Doing it for the ‘gram fo sho. We also learned that it costs more to sit down in cafes, restaurants and bars so food to go, or stood at the bar will save you a little extra. And you’ll also look totally Italian. Maybe.
Sorry that I can’t offer much in the way of restaurants for evening meals, we just chose local little places in the backstreets that I can’t even remember the names of. We aren’t really night people so it was a case of carb refuel (think all the pasta, all the pizza, all the cheese) and an early night ready for an early start. Don’t judge ok, we are both 30 now after all!
PHOTOS & AVOIDING TOURISTS (KIND OF)
If photos are what you are after (and to avoid the other tourists for an hour or two), Get. Up. Early. I managed to persuade Mr S to get up at 6.30am on his actual birthday so that we could watch the sunrise at San Marco Piazza I’m so pleased we did, it was probably my favourite part of the trip. To be in the centre of Venice, with barely anyone else around and watch the sun rise over the Basilica felt really special. It doesn’t hurt that we got some gorgeous photos either.
Mr S suggested that we wander down to Rialto bridge after this, we grabbed coffees and croissants on the way and ended up eating breakfast (at about 7.30am) as the only two people on the bridge. Actually crazy!
Another tip for fab photos with the landmark Rialto bridge, is to head over to San Polo side. Everyone seems to take them at the same place from San Marco and there is always a queue and you get the same picture as everyone else. If you walk over the bridge from San Marco to San Polo, on the right hand side there is a little jetty that no-one else seems to be aware of (I found it whilst stalking other ‘grammers photos!) and you can get great photos with no queues (see below). Again, this would be better at sunrise but we did sunrise in jammies so that was out for us!
SAN MARCO PIAZZA
Everyone told us not to eat on San Marco Piazza. So what did we do? Yep. We ate on San Marco Piazza. And it cost us a fortune (56euro for 2 sandwiches, a bottle of beer and an apple juice to be exact). However. We had walked for miles and miles and we didn’t want to sit (or even worse stand) inside a little cafe when it’s so beautiful outside. Unfortunately most of the outside seating away from the square was in the shade (aka cold) and so we decided to suck it up and grab a table front and centre at Caffe Lavena. We ended up sitting there for almost 2 hours, soaking in the atmosphere and the sun (this is when I got burnt). They didn’t ask us to leave or make us feel uncomfortable for staying and sitting after we’d finished eating which I was surprised about. I even went and bought gelato and bought them back to our table! And you know what? We don’t regret it one bit.
Another ‘contrary to what everyone tells you to do’ - we didn’t have a gondola ride. I was certain that we would before we went and I loved seeing them gliding down the canals but you know, everyone on them looked a little, ummm.. cold?! I think had it have been Summer and we could have relaxed and maybe enjoyed a bit of sunbathing, we’d have definitely done one. However, at 80euro a ride, when it was pretty cold stood still, we decided against it. Had we have decided to have one, I’d have been requesting a singing gondolier FOR SURE. And to see if he’d let me have a go at paddling (rowing, steering, gondolier-ing?). Mr S wasn’t overly keen on either of these things. Or the amount of photos I would have made him take of me. We were lucky enough to hear a signing gondolier on one of our explorations and it was probably the most ‘Italian moment’ of the trip. If you do decide to do one, and in warmer weather I definitely would, I believe where you start from can influence the experience you have - catch one on the Grand Canal and you’ll experience the main hustle of the city, pick one on a little backstreet and you’ll have a more relaxed and intimate experience. I’d say choose wisely but as all of Venice is beautiful, I’m not sure it would matter either way.
WHERE TO STAY
The view from The Gritti Palace is breathtaking. And so is the price. If you aren’t able to afford to stay (like us), we found that most hotels are ok with you nipping in to have a nosey at the decor/architecture/views etc. and it’s totally worth doing if you’re an interior nut. Hotel Daniele is another one I’d recommend to visit. Whilst our budget wouldn’t stretch to stay in a fancy hotel, we did go to grab a second (and considerably more costly) breakfast on Mr S’ birthday at the Gritti Terrace but unfortunately they had just stopped serving and were setting up for lunch. However, we got a fabulous table right on the water and were in perfect time to watch the parade (16th Feb - 5th March is Venice Carnival which you can read more about here , we visited 15th-18th Feb and didn’t really experience much other than the parade, so if you want carnival atmosphere I’d say to visit later in the month - but I imagine it gets busier?) on the Grand Canal. For free! Didn’t event have to purchase a 15euro coffee. That’s a score in my book!
So if we didn’t stay in a fancy hotel, where did we? Well, we Airbnb’d it. We were lucky in that I booked last minute and the accommodation we chose had reduced their usual fee. We paid £275 for 3 nights and stayed here. I don’t have any photos as the apartment itself was basic but it was clean, spacious and warm. The highlight - and the most important part for us - was the location; less than a 2 min walk to San Marco Piazza. We would both thoroughly recommend for this reason alone. Just be warned about the bells - see my Venice Instagram highlight for more about that (and videos of the parade!).
To pre-empt a few questions;
No Venice doesn’t smell - on the whole. There were a few occasions where I had a faint whiff of sewerage smells but nothing extreme and certainly nothing to put you off going. Again, could be different in summer?
The Alilaguna Ferry is the cheapest way to access the city from the airport by boat and it’s 15euro, per person, one way. The “Water Taxis” are speedboats and cost considerably more, but are considerably cooler. Don’t get the two mixed up if you’re on a budget. I believe there is a bus (6 euro pp) that will take you to Piazzale Roma and then you can walk, water taxi (again, speedboat not the cheap option) or Vaporetto (which is a cheaper option) to where you need to be. Be aware that the Alilaguna takes about an hour and 15 to get from San Marco to and from the airport. Make sure you factor that in for your return journey.
We were recommended to take the boat trip to Murano and/or Burano. We received conflicting views about which we should/shouldn’t do. We left it until the last day to head to Burano (we decided this sounded more like us - brightly coloured fishermen’s houses over glass) but didn’t realise that the boat took an hour and a half to get there, which would be 3 hours total on a boat. As we were going home (via another hour and a half boat journey) the next day, we decided against it. Personal choice, lots of people have said it would have been worth it.
We didn’t pay to go into any of the main attractions - San Marco Basilica, Guggenheim Museum etc. just because we both hate to stand in queues and prefer to explore for ourselves. We did, however, make a point of going into every church that we passed, that was open. They are free but you can make a donation to their upkeep if you wish - which we did. No queues, much less people, still all the beauty.
I hope that gives you a little insight into Venice and more importantly encourages you to visit. It really is somewhere you have to visit once in your life and we personally do think once is enough. Will you be visiting romantic, melancholy, magical Venice? Let me know in the comments!
K, love ya, bye x