Venice, the city of canals, romance, and getting lost (over and over again). Venice is a beautiful city, overrun by tourists from all different nations. The city that is slowly sinking, amidst rising water levels. Go to Venice, before it is gone.
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How We Got There
We took a Bla Bla Car from Milan to Venice as this was our fastest and cheapest choice. Bla bla car is a like an Airbnb combined with uber. If you are heading somewhere, such as Milan to Venice, you can rent out a seat in your car. Bla bla car helps you set a price, provides extra insurance, and is a platform for long distance ride sharing. We had a great experience with both the cars we took! The meeting spot was very convenient, usually by a train station or metro stop and the ride was smooth. We talked to the drivers and they said they do bla bla car a lot because they have to drive back and forth a lot to visit family and what not. Italy has a lot of rolls on its highways so selling the seats help cover those costs and cover costs of fuel. Plus it’s way more fun to drive when you have people in the car along with you!
Where We Stayed
Venice is a very expensive place to stay, difficult to navigate, and will take awhile to get your stuff to your hotel (unless you take a water taxi and your accommodation is right on the water). We stayed in Mestre, the industrial city that connect Venice to the mainland. This is a good place to stay if you want something cheaper and not as crowded as Venice. Beware that the area by the train station is a little bit sketchy, so only stay there if you aren’t scared and have a buddy. Our hotel balcony overlooked the corner “owned” by what we concluded was a prostituted. The next corner over was covered in Nigerians and the sweet smell of herb. The main square of Mestre is a lot safer and touristy. But if you use your better judgement, you should be fine in the red light district.
There are other towns nearby such as Padova and Treviso. You can get to Venice in around 40 minutes, plus they are great towns that are safe and just as fun to explore.
The “metro system” of Venice is a fleet of ferries known as the Vaporetto. They have designated lines and routes like a bus, but are in water and a bit slower. It’s nice to take a trip down the grand canal or go to one of the islands with them (more on that below). The price is pretty hefty. 7.50 euro a person per ride or 20 euro for a day and 10 additional euro per day after that.
Very expensive, but does make you feel like a sophisticated being. These boat taxis are motorboats with wooden paneling and act like a regular taxi, but even pricier. We didn’t take one, but we did admire them from afar.
People don’t often use gondolas to get around, they’re mostly for tours and the experience now a days. The boats cost 20,000 euro and have a lifespan of about 20 years. They are beautiful and fancy and you will want to get in! We went and thought it was lovely… and short. The ride was fun, but it’s not something I would do again I think. Pretty costly and it doesn’t feel much different than being in a canoe, except you’re not rowing yourself. Rowing a boat down a canal or river is pretty hard, judging by that time I went punting in England.
Buy a really good map, look for signs, and bring an extra battery charger for your phone. Venice is a maze. If you want a good pay-what-you-want walking tour I would suggest the Venice Free Walking Tour, we had an excellent guide who was a local venetian and told us about the history of Venice, how it was built, the future of Venice, and other fun stories. Highly recommend!
What to do
Spend some time researching what you want to do in Venice. The city is a maze and there are no straight paths anywhere. Try to get familiar with the basic layout of the city using a map and mark a couple places you want to go. Make sure you have your phone charged because you’ll most likely need google maps all day long.
St. Mark’s Square.
One of the most crowded places in all of Venice, people everywhere, expensive and overpriced restaurants lining every side. The St. Mark’s Basilica lies here, along with the Doge Palace (and a few others).
Doge Palace was really cool, and is something worth checking out. All of its walls are lined with paintings and sculpture and art. It’s breathtaking at first, but does get old after you’ve seen 20 rooms that all look (almost) the same. The coolest part is getting to walk over the Bridge of Sighs and into the prison. You can actually walk into the room where Casanova was jailed and kept.
You get a ticket to 3 other museums with the Doge Palace ticket, so if you have time, might as well pop into those. We didn’t and we ran out of time, but from what I’ve read online, we didn’t miss much.
Venice is made of several districts. Spend some time walking around each one. There was a church built on every island before the bridges were built. Plus there used to be even more canals before the Austrians came and filled in a bunch of them. You’re bound to find many churches covered in sculptures. Visit the San Pantalon for the largest painting on a ceiling, and the Santa Maria dei Miracoli, which is the only all marble church in Venice.
The northern part of Venice is where the Jewish ghetto lies. It’s not a slums, like the word ghetto would imply, but instead just an area where a minority (the Jews) live. It’s interesting to walk around, you’ll see lots of Hebrew souvenirs, shops, and synagogues. There’s even a Jewish museum to check out if your interest.
The southwestern part of Venice is another good place to visit. Here it’s not as touristy and it’s quieter, but still has an assortment of cheaper shops and restaurants to go to.
Walk the Main Path
Similar to getting lost but with more of a goal in mind. Through the center of Venice you’ll see signs directing you to St Marks or the Rialto Bridge. These are each located on one end of the island, so even if your map gets torn to shreds or your phone dies, you can still find your way to a main landmark.
On this path you’ll see lots of Venetian mask shops and souvenir mask shops. Real handmade masks start around 25 euro and you can usually see the crafter in the shop making masks and attending the shop. This is how you know your mask is legitimately made in Italy. Most other masks are imports from China, shop local right?
Restaurants & Food
Word of advice: If the restaurant has a picture menu, or someone at the front telling you to come in, don’t sit down. According to locals these joints are overpriced and don’t have great quality food. Instead try to find somewhere off the beaten path that is filled with people and has a mostly Italian menus, with maybe a few English menus to supplement.
Beware of cover charges!!! They are higher here than the rest of Italy. You’ll be charged around 15% of the total bill, this is essentially your “sitting down fee.” We went to a bar and ordered takeaway and try strictly forbade us from sitting down on one of their tables.
Foodwise Venice is supposedly know for the origin of Tiramisu. True or not, its coffee dessert is absolutely delicious, not too soggy, not to dry, but a perfect combination of creamy and moist. Another typical venetian dish is the “Sarde in Saor,” which consists of sardines or anchovies, topped with onions, pine nuts, and raisins, in a sweet and sour sauce. I didn’t try it, but Jake seemed to like it.
Islands of Venice
There are several islands you can travel to via the Vaporetto. Mainly Murano, Burano, and Torcello. We didn’t make it to Torcello, but if you have some free time, it would be worth it to check it out it.
We visiting the island of Murano first, known for its glassblowing and glass factories. We walked into some cool glass stores with fancy chandeliers made of glass along with glass of all colors, shapes, and designs. We wanted to learn more about the glass of Murano, so we walked to the Museo del Vetro. I would NOT RECOMMEND this museum, it is overpriced and you can get the same experience watching a video on YouTube and walking through the glass shops of Murano. We each paid the student price of 7.50 euros and walked out feeling cheated. Our favorite part was this video showing the process of making certain glass designs. The rest of the museum was a timeline of glass styles. We were really wanting more information on the process of glassmaking along with reasons why Murano is so big for glass. Stick to YouTube.
I essentially had to drag my boyfriend to Burano. He told me he didn’t want to see any more “pretty houses,” but he ended up really enjoying the island. We finally found a grassy park, which there is not much of in the Venice region, and sat for an hour watching the boats go by on the sea.
Burano is such a happy island, it’s hard to be grumpy when you are surrounded by bright colors everywhere you go. It also has more of local vibe vs touristy feel. There was a festival di Ragazzi happening in the main square. An organization hosted activities for kids somewhat like a carnival. Looked like fun for them.
Burano is also known for its lace, but beware of the “Made in China” lace. If the price is too cheap, it is probably imported. There are plenty of stores that sell only lace, some stores sell clothing, overall it is a good mix of stores with diverse choices. Definitely visit this island if you get a chance.