Did you know there are thirteen places named Venice in the world? Eleven of them are in America alone! In addition to places actually bearing the name Venice, there are canal cities all over the world that are known as Venice of the North, East, West, etc. There are at least fourteen such places that bear this description.
My Venice visits count is currently at three. I’ve been to Venice, Italy, Venice, California, and Venice, Florida where I just so happened to call home for a brief time in my teens.
The allure of singing gondoliers, and the famed Rialto Bridge and Grand Canal, top many traveler’s bucket lists and it was the very reason we added Italy to the tail end of our around the world itinerary.
Venice, Italy was exactly as I envisioned, thanks to the Venetian in Las Vegas. The whole time I was there I was thinking I might really be in a casino. Kudos to the Venetian for nailing it! Now, if only the gray skies that plagued our visit could be adjusted with the turn of a dial.
It is well known that Venice has a finite existence as it is slowing sinking. It is predicted that in the city will be completely underwater within this century. Regular flooding does not stop the pace of daily life, instead, Venetian existence as we know it is threatened by a flood of tourists.
Over twenty-five million visitors a year come from land, air, and ship to choke the narrow cobbled streets of Venice. Cruise ships alone can bring up to 30,000 visitors a day in peak season. This influx has driven up housing prices to the point that locals can no longer afford to live on the island and have moved to outer islands. About one thousand Venetians per year are packing it in what they refer to as Venexodus.
While strong tourism may seem like a boon, the city is in such a fragile state that there have been talks of capping visitor numbers and this year UNESCO will vote on whether to add the city to the World Heritage in Danger list. Knowing this, visitors should expect that the charm and romance of the city might be overshadowed with frustration depending on the influx of visitors.
Luckily for us, a rainy forecast might have kept some day trippers at bay during our visit in late October. Main thoroughfares were busy but nothing compared to what the peak summer months must look like.
-Tables awaiting tourists in St. Mark’s Square-
Venice By Foot
We kicked off our visit with an afternoon tour lead by Venice Free Walking Tour. In a new city, we always enjoy a guided tour to explore a little off the beaten path and get great recommendations and ideas for places to visit.
Our tour through Venice took us to the home of Venice’s most famous explorer, Marco Polo. Speaking of Marco Polo, remember that game we played in the swimming pool as kids? If you are looking for an address in Venice you might find it easier to locate using the same game. We learned finding a street address without a landmark is nearly impossible as there are multiple streets with the same name.
We passed over bridges where courtesans once stood and stood outside shops were carnival masks have been made for centuries.
Along the way, we got tips on where to have a spritz for happy hour and even found some blissfully empty lanes.
All the while, we enjoyed window shopping.
What would a trip to Venice be without a trip down the Grand Canal?
I was all set to fork over a full day’s budget to take a romantic gondola ride but a steady drizzle of rain put a damper on my dreams. Next time, no excuses.
Instead, we took to the canals using public transport, the ACTV Vaporetto. Line One took forty-five minutes to zig zag the canal from Piazzale Roma (home of our bus stop, not a pizzeria), to Piazza San Marco (home of Doge’s Palace).
The back of the boats have open air, covered seating which was perfect for snapping photos of the Rialto Bridge, bobbing boats, and centuries-old buildings lining both sides of the Grand Canal.
With every wooden speed boat that passed, I kept an eye for George and Amal Clooney.
Located in St. Mark’s Square, the imposing Doge’s Palace appears to be the highlight of the city.
For us, it was anything but.
After waiting in line for an hour exchanging political sympathies with some Brits we made it to the ticket booth. Handing over our driver’s license as security deposit we secured a headset for a self-guided tour.
One cavernous room of gilded splendor after another started to get a little boring, as did the audio narrative.
By now you might be wondering who this Doge is and why he has the same taste in décor as Donald Trump. The Doge is not just one person, there have been 120 over the period of 697-1797. A Doge is elected for life to serve as the chief magistrate or leader of Venice. In today’s terms, we’d call him The Dude.
After doubling back through the palace to find the apartments we missed we found out the standard admission ticket did not cover this area, bummer. We did get a chance to walk through the Bridge of Sighs, named for the sound prisoners made on their way to the dungeons.
The armory display was my favorite room and came complete with a knight on horseback. How’s that for romance!
We might have been more impressed with Doge’s Palace had we booked one of the two guided tours the palace offers, Secret Itineraries or Hidden Doge’s Treasure Tour. Sadly, these were fully booked on the day we planned to visit.
Our Doge’s Palace admission ticket included entrance to Museo Correr, located just across St. Mark’s Square. Museo Correr is a museum of Venetian art and antiquities.
Here we toured the lavishly decorated residence and took a few minutes to read about each exhibit on the notecards as we passed through.
We spent about two hours taking in the exhibits and found it more interesting than Doge’s Palace. Visitors short on time might be wise to dodge Doge’s but Museo Correr is definitely worth a visit, if only for the aerial view of St. Mark’s Square!
Saint Mark’s Basilica
The long line outside of Saint Mark’s moved very fast and in a matter of minutes, we were standing inside what was once the Doge’s private chapel.
The basilica was built to house the relics of St. Mark the Evangelist whose remains were smuggled out of Egypt by Venetian merchants in the ninth century.
Saint Mark’s has free admission and is not to be missed. In just ten minutes you can take in centuries of splendor. Unfortunately, no photos are allowed.
After seeing tourists dragging luggage through the crowded cobbled streets of Venice I was so happy we choose to stay just outside of town on the mainland.
We booked a points redemption at the Hilton Garden Inn Venice Mestre San Giuliano. We stayed three nights for 30,000 points per night and had a bountiful breakfast buffet included with the room. The property is located on the mainland a short bus ride from the Venice Lagoon.
The bus stop is located right in front of the hotel and the front desk was helpful in providing instructions and tickets for public transit. The bus station in Venice is safe, well located, and there were always other hotel patrons taking the bus which meant we didn’t miss our stop!
We found a great grocery store in Venice and carried back a few items to our room for dinner but the hotel also offers a few meal options at a convenience store and a sit-down restaurant.
There are a few other hotel point redemptions in Venice that I was considering but I felt this was the best value and I would stay here again given the chance.
12 Tips for a First Time Visit to Venice
- Don’t let crowds sully your experience. Set your expectations accordingly and if possible avoid peak summer travel season.
- Skip pizza and try some of the seafood that Venice and Northern Italy are famous for.
- Rest your feet at an outdoor café where you can sip on a discounted spritz, Bellini or prosecco during happy hour while taking in the sites and sounds of Venice.
- You won’t be missing out by booking a room on the mainland in Mestre Venice instead of the island which is lined with cobblestone and crowded with tourists.
- If Doge’s Palace is on your list, look into booking one of the two guided tours on their website well in advance.
- Don’t miss a chance to snap a great picture of St. Mark’s Square from the second story vantage point at Museo Correr. Admission is included with your Doge’s Palace ticket. Also, consider buying your Doge’s Palace ticket at this location to possibly save some time standing in line.
- Allow a minimum of two nights, preferably three, to take in the sights.
- Budget-conscious travelers should avoid dining in St Mark’s Square (Piazza San Marco) where prices are inflated.
- If you are looking to save some money on food check out Coop Rialto, a grocery store located on the Grand Canal near the Rialto Bridge. They have meats, cheeses, salads, and spritz to put together a perfectly Venetian self-catered picnic.
- Venice Free Walking Tour is a tip based tour that provides a great tour plus a detailed map of free wifi hotspots and dining recommendations around the city. Be sure to book in advance of your visit as space is limited.
- While in Venice, budget half a day to visit the islands of Burano and Murano, my favorite part of our visit.
- If you have some extra time take a short train ride to Verona, home of Romeo and Juliet.
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