Venice is the primary destination in the northern part of Italy and a beautiful one at that. I loved my time there, although I do have my critiques. Venice is a city of history, culture, and brilliant sights; however, the heavy tourism has degraded a lot of the city’s natural aura and it’s beginning to show. However, many of the places are still worth the experience and I would recommend going if you are in the area!
Originally, around 400 AD, Venice was founded as a refuge from the mainland of Italy, where Goths and Huns were a threat. The islands were a sanctuary, since their opponents could neither sail or understand the seas. Venice remained out of the turmoil of Italy for vast amounts of time and grew to be the 118 islands it is today, of which some are man made. Their community was led by a doge, who was originally elected by twelve people. Over the years, Venice became a center of trade, due to its position on the Adriatic Sea and eventually, in the 1200s, it was the most prosperous city in Europe, but that ended after other countries began to explore overseas and the plague became widespread, killing tens of thousands of people. In modern times, Venice is largely prospering from tourism, but the population of locals has heavily decreased due to high living cost. In this sense, this is the part of Venice that I did not enjoy as much: there is not a lot of genuine authenticity due to a lack of citizens who actually live on the islands.
However, Venice is touristy for true reasons, as there is much to see and do. The architecture of the islands themselves, as well as the buildings, is stunning and exceptionally detailed. Venice is also famous for glass blowing, of which you will see many fine examples of in the area, especially in the island of Murano. The food is also great and there are many opportunities for pictures if there aren’t too many tourists in the way. I was there in January, hence my photos were nearly empty of people since many did not want to endure the bitter weather.
If you are going to Venice by any other means than cruise (which hopefully that is true, since the cruise ships pollute the water and damage the historical city), the best way to reach Venice is by train, since no cars are allowed on the islands. Italian public transportation is super easy to use and cheap; just make sure to punch your tickets at the little kiosks to avoid any fines! The view from the train station exit is also beautiful and is fairly near the main attractions and other little places you might want to see.
Not sure what to do with your time there? Here’s a list:
PIAZZA SAN MARCO:
This is probably one of the more iconic sights in Venice besides the massive canals and rightfully so. Here you will find lots of little bars, cafés, designer brand stores, but the most interesting attractions are the Doge’s Palace, San Marco’s Basilica, and the clocktower. I have been fortunate enough to see many fine works of architecture and the Basilica is definitely one of my favorites, probably only rivaling Machu Picchu.
The Doge’s Palace was built for the rulers of Venice and now serves as a museum. It features Gothic architecture and actually connects to the prisons, where those accused could be taken directly from the courtroom to the cells. Here, you can find the Bridge of Sighs, where as legend has it, convicts would sigh during their cross because it was their last sight of Venice and the outer world. While there may be little truth in that statement, the Bridge is fascinating to look at, as well as the Palace.
San Marco’s Basilica is a massive church that is ornately detailed and built in a mix of European and Byzantine architecture styles. Its construction began in the mid-eleventh century and continued over many years, especially due to its beautiful mosaics. Part of the church is now a museum, that I would completely recommend entering because it is stunning and full of history. You also get a chance to see the artwork, which is a great opportunity to take a break from all the traditional frescoes that one sees across plenty of Italy and see the sculptures and mosaics that aptly give the building a nickname of “Church of Gold.” You can also take the stairs all the way up to the balcony, which gives an awesome view of the square and allows you to see the horses that tower above the plaza up close. Admittance the building only costs a few euros (usually between 2.50 or 5) and is totally worth it.
Some of the other iconic sights in Piazza San Marco include the clocktower named San Marco’s Campanile, a beautiful clock face with the Zodiac symbols, and many of the beautiful cafés and views. I loved the face and its beautiful decor. I wish I had more time to stop here and enjoy espresso or a spritz, but we kept exploring.
Rialto is the main commercial center of Venice and is home to many of the markets, and of course, the infamous Rialto bridge. Rialto is mentioned in many works of art or literature, including Shakespeare’s “Merchant of Venice.” The bridge itself is made of steps (be careful if you have wheelchairs or strollers!) and has shops lining its sides. You will also come across lots of tourist traps here; I wasn’t pickpocketed, but I did have people giving me roses and demanding money or people asking for money. However, despite its down falls, it is a must see area, especially if you are interested in markets.
OTHER ODDS AND ENDS
Losing yourself in Venice is one of the best ways to experience the city and the many things to do. You can easily stumble across many of the grand churches or bridges or museums from any direction you can go. There are plenty of places to pick up souvenirs and take phenomenal pictures. If you are interested in a particular sight, such as the cathedrals, there are many routes you can take that allow you to hop from sight to sight.
BITS OF ADVICE
- You will likely see this in other blogs or publications, but the gondolas, in my opinion, are overrated. Especially in the summer seasons, the canals can be filled with too many people and the rides are often super expensive. I never went on a tour because I didn’t have the funds to do so, but I seriously don’t think I missed anything. I know people who have and the majority feels as though it is a fun thing to say you have done, but didn’t feel like it was worth the amount of euros they forked over.
- I would advise eating away from central areas because the prices go up, but there is also so much to explore away from the common streets. Food in Venice is expensive as is, but it certainly increases the closer you get to some of the main attractions.
- Don’t fall for scams that I mentioned above, such as someone handing you a rose and then demanding you pay. This is also common for someone demanding pay for taking your picture, among other pickpocketing tricks.
- Definitely take advantage of some of the free tours that Venice offers. You can find some online and many will take you places that are off the beaten path. Our guide took us to a gorgeous pier where we could look across the basilica.
- I would certainly recommend bringing home some of the stunning glass pieces as well! Even the little animals are absolutely adorable and I bought a few to bring home as a gift.
Overall, I loved my experience in Venice, especially in regards to architecture, but it wasn’t exactly my favorite place I have been. It was so beautiful but it also revealed the true impacts of heavy tourism and how difficult it can be on a culture. I don’t know if I would return (aside from visiting family friends), but I think it is worth a stop if you are in the area for sure.