La Serenissima, Queen of the Adriatic, Floating City
Such a wonderful surprise was to find one of the best airfare deals ever to one of the most stunning cities in the planet, Venice. More even considering it was almost 10 years apart since the first and only time I was here. The excitement was even higher considering the time of the year, December, and the weather conditions so totally different to that glorious days of summer the first time I step on Venice.
I admit I have a great memory for the places I travel to, however, remembering absolutely everything as in this case, like the little streets I once walked, or where I had food and that great ice cream was priceless. The only most clear difference was, as mentioned earlier, the weather. Now I can gladly say I have enjoyed the city in the summer when it’s hot, sunny and nicely clear skies yet hordes of tourists in almost every possible piece of land; and the city during the Christmas period; cloudy, cold and rainy but experienced something unique, the acqua alta. That’s the phenomenon where the city gets flooded with the rising levels of water reaching some meters in height at some points. This usually happens between winter and spring months.
This city has so much to see in so limited space that it’s incredible how could it be built since the very beginning like this, in the middle of the lagoon with the houses on top of wooden pillars stick to the mud below the water level. Engineers knew about the tide (acqua alta) since the very beginning, and that was not a problem. The issue arise only in the recent decades as it is getting worst and worst with levels reaching score heights, hence the terrible damages it cause. This fate is due to hopefully change for the better once the lagoon barriers are fully operational in order to control the water rising in the city.
Experiencing acqua alta is nothing of a hassle nevertheless. They lay over the flooded streets high walkways therefore you will be walking everywhere with your shoes dry without the need for any special shoe as the locals do in fact use. Also the same way the level rises, it decreases and disappears. It only lasts few hours of the day. Make sure you notice the impressive drainage system when the water levels are decreasing. It’s only a matter of few minutes and all is gone back into the lagoon.
Just as a note, if you are coming to Venice for the very first time and you do not take a gondola, then as harsh as it sounds for my words, it’s a crime. Yes, they will unfortunately quote you high prices, perhaps exorbitant during the high-season holiday months but if you are in a group, it’s the best you can by sharing and offsetting the cost. Prices depend on time and if you share with others or not, never mind if strangers of your own group, its your choice. BUT, and here is the bright side note; there is a way cheaper option instead of a gondola, this is, a vaporetti (water bus) along the Grand Canal. You can take it from the beginning of the route until the end, and you will have spent only 7 Euros instead of 40 )if lucky) and up much more. Sure I understand it is not the most romantic way if you are a couple, but hey there are your options for everyone.
Where to eat can be challenging and I only mean this because of the amount of overpriced restaurants everywhere. With so many millions of tourists coming here, it is a very lucrative business, therefore finding anything down to earth more Italian local is almost impossible. As a way around you have of course every western fast food chains and small trattorias where to get some pizza slices. However if dinner is what you’re up for, then nothing can beat the “happy hour” places where you buy a drink and get a food buffet included! They call it apericena, and it’s wider across Italy. OK, do not expect having a huge choice of food, but it is great enough. Here in Venice might be a bit more difficult to find these places, and you will need to move away from the highly touristy areas, but they do exist. For around 8 Euros for a cocktail as an example, then you can eat until you wish, although the general will be around 10 to 12 Euros. A fantastic alternative to a proper restaurant, and in truth, a much better way to chill out with friends or rest after a long sightseeing day.
For more information about the city check Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. Italy’s currency is the Euro (EUR). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Venice
With almost every single building a sight in its own, Venice is one of the most beautiful cities in the world retaining intact such an impressive collection of architectural masterpieces, remnant of its rich past. I concentrate here below on the major sights as I will not go deep noting single entries for each of the churches, basilicas and palaces.
- Piazza di San Marco Without doubt icon number one in the city. Seen in the movies, documentaries, adverts, magazines and painters pictures like those of Canaletto. Around the square you will find also some of the finest and important buildings.
-Basilica di San Marco The current structure was built in 1073 and ever since although it has been modified over the time, the shape is still much the original. It is the greatest example of Italo-Byzantine architecture. Among its jewels is the Greek Hellenistic sculpture of the gilded bronze horses captured in 1204 in Constantinople and brought to Venice. The current ones on display are a reproduction of the original ones. The Tetrarchs Roman sculpture was also looted in Constantinople and brought to Venice and are ever since located on the west corner of the Basilica. The interior upper levels are completely adorned with mosaics. The Treasure has an unique collection of Byzantine portable objects in metalwork mostly looted from Constantinople.
-Campanille Arch-known symbol of the city, originally built in 1514, the current one dates from 1912 after the original one collapsed in 1902. From the top you will get the best views of the city, the lagoon and nearby islands, but incredibly, you will not get to see any of the canals from the top. Entrance fee 8 Euros.
-Clock Tower Torre dell’Orologio An early renaissance style building from the last decade of the 15th century. The arch underneath the tower makes way into the main street in the city, Merceria, linking the square with Rialto. You can climb up the tower for nice views over Saint Mark’s Square and the city but you must book the tour in advance.
-Doge’s Palace Also known as the Ducale Palace, is another of Venice’s landmarks; the former residence of the Dodge of Venice. Construction pre-dates to the 9th century, although the current building started construction in 1340 and finished in 1442, with changes over the centuries due to the three fires it suffered. The building you see today is from the 16th century.
-La Fenice Theatre A perfect reconstruction of the original opened in 2003 after the fire of 1996. You can tour the inside when there is not any concert at the fee of 7 Euros.
- Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute Located on the tip of land marking the entrance to the Grand Canal and in front of Saint Mark’s Square, makes one of the most picturesque corners.
- Bridge of Sighs Ponte dei Sospiri Venice has lots of arch-known monuments, and this is without doubt one of the most picturesque. It connects the New Prison to the Interrogation Rooms over the Rio di Palazzo. Built in 1602 it was the last view the convicts would see before imprisonment. Located on the main front to the right of La Fenice Theatre.
- Grand Canal The heart of the city and major water traffic corridor, busy at all times. With almost 4 kilometres in length on a S shape, the incredible wealth of Venice’s past can be seen from the hundreds of palaces and imposing mansions on both sides of the canal.
-Ponte Rialto From 1591 is a masterpiece in its own and one of the most recognisable icons in the city. At both sides of the bridge you will find jewelry shops.
-Palaces along the canal From Venetian-Byzantine, Venetian-Gothic to Renaissance and Baroque styles. among the most beautiful are Ca’ Rezzonico, Ca’ d’Oro, Ca’ Vendramin Calergi, Ca’ Barbaro, Palazzo Cavalli-Franchetti, Palazzo Bembo, Palazzo Labia, Palazzo Grimani di San Luca and many more. The best way to enjoy this rich architecture is from a vaporetti or a gondola.
- Canals There are more canals than walkways in the city. They are the reason why Venice is Venice. Since the very beginning, the city was built in the water. You will enjoy the hundreds of views either if in a gondola or walking the little streets. Vaporettis cannot navigate through those canals, only along the Grand Canal.
- Murano Is a small island in the lagoon world famous for the glass originally produced here, although nowadays factories are elsewhere while in the island all is left are hand made local business. You can reach the island using a vaporetti.
There are 2 airports serving the city, both international. While Marco Polo is literally across the bridge in mainland in the city of Mestre and serves most of the international routes, the farther airport is 25km apart in Treviso and serves low cost airlines. Both airports are greatly communicated by bus, train or even boats as its the case in Marco Polo. The bus from Treviso to Venice costs 13 Euros return while from Marco Polo to Piazzale Roma in Venice is 6 Euros single or 11 for a return ticket. A much cheaper option is the local bus which runs between Mestre and Piazzale Roma for 2.5 Euros return or the commuter train between Mestre Station and Venice Centrale.
From elsewhere in Italy, the city is connected to pretty much every major and important place via trains and buses. To name a few in the nearby you have Padua, Ferrara, Ravenna, Rimini, San Marino, Florence, Pisa, Modena, Parma, Verona or Milan. Also direct overland routes to Ljubljana in Slovenia and Zagreb in Croatia.
Within the city the only transport available are vaporettis, which are water buses running along the Grand Canal, the nearby islands and other places along the coast in the lagoon; and the obvious gondolas, which are for rent and prices will be quoted depending on distance, time you want to spend and how many people will be in your party.
The fare for a vaporetti is 7 Euros, and does not vary depending on distance. Therefore the best you can do is getting a travel card which comes in many options depending on how many hours you want it to be valid (12, 24, 36 and so on). 12 hours is 18 Euros while 24 is 20 Euros. Since you can walk everywhere in Venice because its not big, the best you can do is either taking a 12 or 24 hours card and enjoy riding the vaporettis in order to have the views of the city from its canals.
Hotels in the city of Venice itself are expensive overall. Since space is so limited and tourists like to stay in the lagoon rather than mainland, this makes for the prices to rise even more and specially if it’s high season. In the other hand, just minutes away you can enjoy much better choice at lower prices. Honestly, for just having a place to sleep and unless you want to be romantic, save yourself the hassle of finding any available room and the unnecessary cost. It is only 15 minutes from Mestre to Venice Central Station. A good and reasonable point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engine such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo or Ebookers.
In the most recent visit we stayed in Mestre, at the modest Hotel Regit. Simple but comfortable and conveniently located minutes away from the railway station, just across the road/rail bridge connecting to Venice Piazzale Roma where the Central train station is. The choice of hotels here is great and prices really competitive and all it takes is 20 minutes at most either by bus or train.
Back in 2001 I stayed in Lido di Jesolo, which is the resort area where most of the hotels are, the beaches and the largest night life. On the other hand, you require of a vaporetti to move in and out of Venice city.