I’m somehow managing to skip out the whole first part of my holiday and jump straight to my last 2 days, possibly because Venice is just so strikingly beautiful that I just have to share it! Venice is somewhere I’ve always wanted to see for myself – I think you just have to at some point in your life. It’s so unlike anywhere else.
We spent 2 nights in the floating city but only had 1 whole day there. We’d spent the week beforehand in the mountains of Austria so had a drive of around 250 miles that we expected to take about 4 to 5 hours, with at least one rest stop along the way. What we hadn’t anticipated was that a vehicle would break down in one of the tunnels that was the only way out of the mountains we were staying in, causing a traffic jam of around 10 miles. A traffic jam that didn’t even move an inch for an hour. A traffic jam which led to us reserving off the motorway on a slip road…highly illegal? Possibly. Slightly scary? Definitely! Nevertheless, we finally got on our way a while later and after that small(ish) hurdle, got on our way.
Getting to Venice
We decided our best course of action for getting to Venice was to leave my dad’s pick up at Marco Polo airport and catch the shuttle boat across the lagoon to the island. We’d bought 2 day travel tickets for Venice in advance under the impression that these would include the boat from the airport across to Venice, but it turned out that they didn’t – they only included the bus journey which we didn’t particularly want to do. We decided in the end to pay a little bit extra and get the boat across anyway. This was a good experience and a great way to enter the city, although I wouldn’t recommend it if you’ve just had a long flight – we were on the boat with a group of tourists who had seemingly just flown in from the US and were exhausted. The boat took around an hour and was very noisy and quite warm, so you’re not likely to get much rest on it!
Depending on which boat you take, you’ll end up at different places, but most of the lines stop at all the main places to get you to your accommodation. We stayed on to Arsenale which was one of the further stops then got a water taxi (vaporetto) to take us 2 more stops to S. Elena where we were staying.
We stayed in the Best Western Hotel Sant’Elena which is on the far eastern tip of Venice, although technically is on a separate island, Sant’Elena – Venice is made up of 117 small islands!
My dad found this hotel and it was definitely a good choice. It was originally a Venetian convent and the hotel now retains many of the original architectural features such as the high ceilings and courtyard where you can have a drink and where we ate breakfast.
It was a really easy walk from the S. Elena water taxi stop – about 2 minutes – or you can easily stroll along the sea-front path towards St. Mark’s Square. This walk apparently takes about half an hour, but we only walked about as far as Arsenale (2 stops on the water taxi) from the hotel in any one go.
Sant’Elena is a good choice for staying in Venice if you’re not used to the crowds or city life. It’s far enough away to be peaceful and more relaxed, plus is situated in the only really green bit of Venice, but is close enough to get where you want to be quickly.
What to see
This was the question I was set by the family as it was my decision to go to Venice! I decided that since we only had the one day there, we had to see all the main sights and take in a bit of the atmosphere.
St Mark’s Square
We started with the famed St. Mark’s Square – you can’t go to Venice without visiting it, no matter how busy it is! I was actually surprised to realise that it doesn’t face the lagoon as I expected it to. In fact, only the Piazzetta with 2 massive columns between the Doge’s Palace and Jacopo Sansovino’s Biblioteca faces the water. The Piazza itself is home to St Mark’s Basilica, the Torre dell’Orologio (Clock Tower) and the Campanile. I didn’t get great pictures of it as it was so packed and busy but was really interesting to see.
FACT: It is said that there used to be 3 columns at the entrance to the Piazzetta but one fell into the lagoon. The remaining columns were brought from the ancient city of Tyre in 1125. One holds up the symbol of Venice, a bronze lion.
FACT: The Campanile (pictured above) fell in 1902 and was reconstructed in 1912. Miraculously no one was hurt in its collapse as the Venetians are so used to buildings collapsing on their sinking city that they recognised the groans in the days leading up to it and stayed clear!
Bridge of Sighs & Doge’s Palace
Entering the Piazzetta of St. Mark from the eastern side, you’ll cross a canal and see the Bridge of Sighs. It connects the Doge’s Palace interrogation rooms to the prison and is apparently so called because the prisoners, seeing the beautiful sights of Venice for the last time before going down to the cells would sigh as they passed over it. I somehow managed to snap a picture without a single person in too despite being absolutely crowded by a tour group that I got stuck in the midst of as I took it somehow!
If we’d had longer in Venice, I would have loved to go inside the Doge’s Palace but there was so much to see!
Gondolas & Gondoliers
Or “Gorgonzolas” as my sister kept accidentally calling them! We didn’t take a gondola trip (too expensive, too hot and I feel like it would be slightly awkward?!) but watch out for these iconic little boats winding through Venice’s canals.
The Grand Canal & Rialto Bridge
The Grand Canal is Venice’s biggest and widest canal, heading straight through the middle of the city. We took a vaporetto down it to the Rialto bridge but promptly got back on again. I wanted to see the markets but it was SUPER busy in the heat of the day so we headed further along to get a drink in a cafe.
As you can see, the Rialto bridge is currently under renovation and covered in a massive Diesel ad who are sponsoring it. It’s a little sad that you don’t get to see this iconic bridge!
If you were going to Venice and asked where you should go, Murano would be the place I’d recommend. It was much quieter than mainland Venice, a lot less crowds, and was slightly cooler with the breeze. It’s the home of glass blowing so you can visit shops and factories where Venetian glass was made famous. Unfortunately it was a Sunday when we were there so most of the glass blowing places were closed but we visited lots of small shops.
Where to eat
We had 2 evenings to eat in Venice. The first night we asked in the hotel for their recommendation and they suggested somewhere close by that we had actually bookmarked from Trip Advisor. It was a very small, family run restaurant on Sant’Elena called Osteria da Pampo. The one thing I wanted to eat in Venice was Spaghetti Vongole but sadly they were all sold out of it! Instead I chose Fritto Misto (mixed fried seafood – see above) which was really yummy! The waitress in there was very rushed though and unfortuntely my sister’s lasagna was forgotten!
On the second evening, we chose a restaurant that was further away on the other side of Venice called Ristorante Terrazza Del Casin Dei Nobili. We chose this one as we wanted somewhere overlooking the water that had a good menu so it seemed to satisfy everyone. Unfortunately the service was definitely lacking – we had a waiter who could only be described as rude (and quite scary, he hovered behind us after giving us menus while we were trying to choose!) and the food was only mediocre. I finally got my spaghetti vongole (above) but it was only okay sadly!
We found the poor service to be a theme in Venice. It’s renowned for being expensive to eat there, but the poor service was a surprise – I’m guessing it’s because of the amount of tourists they have and how busy they are, and I’m sure we could have found somewhere they were a bit happier to see us, but in general, we noticed we were rushed and that the service wasn’t friendly.
A few more tips and fun facts!
- You can (and should!) drink the tap water in Venice – in fact, it’s encouraged! The number of tourists visiting the city every year can number up to 20 million – now imagine if you were drinking only bottled water in Venice, how many would you get through a day? In the heat of the summer, maybe 5 or 6 bottles, possibly more. And Venice already has a problem with waste disposal. So in 2008, the government encouraged tourists to drink the water from water fountains found around Venice in reusable bottles that they were given at the Piazzale Roma along with a map of the 122 fountains in the city. The water is safe, is cold and tastes lovely – it’s piped in from deep wells on the mainland of Italy and is so good it’s been given it’s own name: Acqua Veritas. We drank it and definitely recommend it!
- Get a guidebook to read as you wander – we used this as our own guide (I was given this role!) and it really helped to figure out where we were, what was going on and what there was to see in specific areas.
- Venice is sinking at a rate of 2mm per year, although estimates are saying it could be even more.
- Venice is supported on wooden stakes driven into the bed of the lagoon. These decay at a slower rate than usual due to being submerged in the lagoon waters which mean that Venice is still standing over a thousand years later!
I’ve got a few more Venice photos still to share (outfit photos!) but I think that’s enough for today – this was a mammoth post! If you’re looking for some more “hidden gems” in Venice off the tourist track, Sunset Desires has shared some wonderful ones here.
Have you ever been to Venice?