Venice is one among the most unique and picturesque places I have been to. This floating city is completely built on water and is interconnected via elegant winding canals. Famous for its rich history, Venice’s charm attracted close to 20 million tourists in 2018!!!
Where to stay in Venice?
Venice can be expensive but sometimes booking in advance can get you a good deal. We were a group of ten friends and stayed right in the city center at this Airbnb. Located 500 meters from St. Mark’s square, this airbnb costed us just 16 € a night! If you don’t find something that fits your budget in the city center then staying in the mainland is another option. The train from the mainland to the city center is just 1.5 €. Another thing to note is that tourists visiting Venice will also have to pay a city tax which may or may not be included in the Airbnb rent.
Travel in and around Venice.
I would highly recommend the Rolling Venice Card. It costs 28 € for 3 days and covers all transport required around Venice.
There are many discounts in combination with this card and the ticket also covers travel to little known islands like Murano, Burano and Torcello.
The best part about visiting Venice in the winter is comparatively less tourists and shorter waiting lines. The downside is the foggy weather. Carry warm clothes if you are visiting in winter since the real feel will be much colder than the actual temperature due to the humidity in the air.
One important thing to note about dining at restaurants in Italy is that you have to pay an additional service tax, the coperto, which may or may not be mentioned in the menu. This does not apply if you decide to pack a take away.
Day 1: Exploring Venice
We started exploring Venice with a free walking tour. The tour lasted roughly for 2.5 hours with the guide taking us through the winding alleys of Venice adding in interesting facts on the origin of the word ‘ghetto’, the magnificent synagogues, history of the early banking system, the fascination with gondolas and intriguing details of the masks used in the famous Venice carnival. The best part about walking tours is that you get to hear a lot of fun facts (sometimes made up!) that you won’t find anywhere else. The guide also had facts attributing to every bridge that we crossed by.
One of the stories that I can recall was on how the bridge called ‘Bridge of Tits’got its name. In olden times, the prostitutes would look down from their windows towards the deck below to lure passers-by with their breasts exposed. For the wealthy, this worked differently. The rich men would all come to the brothel door, the women would see them through a hole in the ceiling, and had the power to choose the man they wanted.
After the walking tour and a relaxed lunch break, we decided to try our luck with the gondolas. Like most tourists visiting Venice, a gondola ride was on our bucket list too.The gondolas plying the waterways of Venice is amongst the most iconic images in the world representing history, tradition, and romance. Although, a gondola ride can be really expensive, some bargaining can often help. We managed to get a 30 minute Gondola ride at 15 € per person for a group of 6 people!
Next up! The Rialto Bridge.
The Rialto Bridge is one of the four bridges that cross the Canal Grande, the main communication route of the city of Venice. The first passage on the Grand Canal consisted of a bridge of boats in the 12th century and then around 1250, was replaced by a wooden bridge with a central moving part and hence the name Rialto Bridge. The current single arch stone bridge, is filled with souvenir shops and gives a picturesque view of Venice. One can spend hours sitting by the bridge watching the crowd as the day goes by.
When in Venice, a must try, amongst many other desserts (especially in winter!), is hot chocolate. We tried ours at a small restaurant called ‘Chalice’.
Day 2. A day trip to Verona
Verona is an hour away by train from Venice and costs just 10 € one way (via italo). I would highly recommend the Verona Card which costs 20 € for 24 hours and covers all transport and entry to major highlights that Verona has to offer.
First stop in Verona was a remarkably well-preserved 1st-century amphitheatre, the Verona arena. It is also the venue for the city’s annual summer opera festival. If you are visiting Verona in the summer, make sure to spend an evening enjoying the opera under the stars.
Next, we took a walk to Ponte Pietra which is one of the prettiest bridges in the city which connects the old city of Verona with Teatro Romano and Castel San Pietro. We climbed the way up to Castel San Pietro. Unfortunately, the place was closed but the view from the top was worth the climb. I bet the view in summer will be much more prettier and would be a nice spot to watch the sunset over the city. For the way back we took the cable car that costed us just 1 €. (We could have used it both ways for just 2 € , had we known earlier!)
Verona’s biggest attraction, is Juliet’s balcony. Thousands of tourists cram into this small Square everyday to see the balcony and to have their picture taken with the statue of Juliet. The Juliet Club (secretaries of Juliet) has been taking care of Juliet’s mail for many years making Verona the world-wide known “capital of love”. Thousands of letters addressed to Juliet arrive from all over the world and the volunteers of the club reply to each and every one of them in the name of Juliet. You can visit the Juliet house museum with the Verona Card. If you don’t have the card I would recommend to see the place from outside (Juliet’s statue, the wall of letters and Juliet’s balcony) and not visit the museum since the inside is more of a tourist trap and doesn’t have much to offer for 6 €.
We had a few more hours in Verona and it was already dark. We made a quick stop by Piazza delle Erbe which is another busy spot in Verona. It’s also a great place for people watching, to go shopping, or to dine at an outdoor café if the weather is nice. Walking through the tiny souvenir shops, we spotted a tall clock tower (Torre die Lamberti) overlooking the Piazza. The elevator up the clock tower costed just 1 € and we got to see a wonderful view of Verona lit in the night. I would recommend to do this activity during the day to get a better view of the city in the daylight.
Day 3: St.Mark’s Square, Burano and Murano
Our first stop for the last day was Libraria Aqua Alta which is a beautiful library and a must visit place for both book lovers as well as non book lovers.
In this library, you will find a wide range of new and old books arranged in unusual shelves like boats, gondolas and canoes! You will also find interesting furniture modeled out of old books! Old encyclopedias and the kind of books that no one buys anymore have become steps in a staircase, or are used to cover the walls of the outer courtyards giving the library a complete different vibe. There are also three friendly cats that keep you company throughout!
Next stop was Saint Mark’s Square which is a five minute walk from the library. Often referred as “the drawing room of Europe” , Saint Mark’s Square gets its name from the stunning Basilica dominating the east end of the Square. One immediate observation you will make is that the Square is filled with pigeons! What distinguishes a true Venetian from a tourist is that the former does not dodge the pigeons, while tourists often lower their head when one swoops in their direction! If you have read Dan Brown’s ‘Inferno’, you can immediately spot the set of four bronze horse statues on a balcony above St. Mark’s Basilica. As Langdon notes, these horses were brought to Venice after the plunder of Constantinople in 1204. Entry to the basilica is free but you have to pay to access the museum at the top. The interior is stunning with elaborate mosaic kind of walls and the ceiling decor is not to be missed. Even the floors are beautiful.
Next, we visited Campanile di San Marco, the Basilica’s bell tower, which is one of the Square’s most recognizable landmarks. The entry to the top is 8 € and the view of Venice from the top is just incredible.
Next to the Basilica is another major highlight, the Doge’s Palace. Unfortunately, the waiting line was pretty long and we did not have a pre-booked ticket, so we just walked past it. At the end of Palace is the famous ‘Bridge of sighs’. The bridge was named by Lord Byron after the sighs of prisoners as they took their last look at freedom, and the beauty of Venice through the window, before being led to the Doge’s prison.
For lunch we packed a take away Pizza and then hurried to the boat taking us to Burano, the colourful island of lace. For those of you who haven’t heard of Burano, it is a pretty little island in the Venetian Lagoon filled with bright colourful cottages and famous for its lace making. It takes about 40 minutes by a water bus from Venice and people visiting Venice on a tight schedule often decide to skip it. But this amazing little island is a wonderful place to visit in summer as well as in winter and has never failed to delight anyone visiting it. After looking around and clicking loads of pictures, we took the boat to stop by Murano, an island famous for delicate glass work. We reached the glass museum, Colleoni at 6 p.m. only to discover that it has just closed. We requested to view a glass making demonstration since we would not be able to make it the next day. Considering our enthusiasm and the fact that we were ten people, the master made an exception! The entry ticket costed 10 €.
The short demonstration consisted of two parts. The first part was Glassblowing, where the master spent a few minutes to blow out a beautiful vase explaining every step of the process. The second part showed us a technique where the molten glass was sculpted into a horse in less than 60 seconds! It was amazing to watch the shape emerge out of a lump of hot glass. We were then led into the showroom which was well stocked with glass works of all prices and we could pick a glass souvenir worth 10 € which was actually complimentary for the ticket we paid!
With this, our short vacation in Venice came to an end. There is so much more to explore and I am sure I will definitely be back visiting this amazing island hopefully in summer next time!