Few cities in the world have been sung, decorated, and built with as much style as Venice.
Few could have imagined that in the late seventh century, a handful of fugitives fleeing a barbarian invasion would create a city in a lagoon at the bottom of the Adriatic that would become known as the Queen of the Adriatic.
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‘Rich in gold and even richer in fame’, as the great Francesco Petrarca described Venice, through more than a thousand years of independence, it has become a city that transcends the borders of present-day Italy. Venetian sailors once ruled the Mediterranean, and today Venice is the capital of one of the wealthiest Italian regions. Despite its small size, it is on the list of the world’s most popular tourist destinations.
Venice is located on almost 120 islands, beautiful and asleep, slowly sinking into the soft ground, while hundreds of thousands of foreigners rush to discover the secrets this city hides. Fewer and fewer people live in Venice, and it is becoming a kind of open-air museum, but like many times over the centuries behind us, this tough city resists ruin and oblivion.
Cynics will say it is pricey and smells bad, that it is overcrowded with tourists, and that the merchants are rude. Although all of these critiques are valid, Venice is the only place in the world where you can breathe history on every corner, where every square and stone has a story that has been told for centuries.
This is a place that every traveler should visit to experience the centuries-old beat beneath their feet.
What to see in Venice?
Rive degli Schiavoni
It is possible to enter Venice from two sides. Across Mestre, the neighboring town, or the sea, between the lagoon islands. Given that tour guides refer to the symbiosis of Venice and Mestre as the marriage of the beauty and the beast, it is apparent that the sea route is the best option.
An ideal parking place is available outside Punta Sabbioni, opposite the old town. It offers boat travel to Venice and parking for cars and buses.
For car parking, it is necessary to set aside about 7 euros a day, and for boat transport to the city, there are several options. The most cost-effective is the Marco Polo boats, which charge 5 euros for a 35-minute panoramic ride, significantly cheaper than city boats, which charge as much as 7.5 euros for the same route. Also, Marco Polo’s boats are newer than the city’s, so the trip is more pleasant. There are several other similar private companies on the same route whose service price does not differ too much.
No matter which boat you take, the landing will be on the Riva degli Schiavoni, the place where it all begins in this city.
The several kilometers long promenade is a kind of shop window of this city. The waterfront, named after the Slavs from the eastern Adriatic who had their trade stands there, has charming buildings from various centuries that reflect its historical wealth.
The waterfront connects St. Mark’s Square with the Arsenal, the source of the former naval supremacy of the Venetian Republic.
An important note for tourists at this place is that you should never buy souvenirs on that spot. Shallow quality and high prices are a real mousetrap for travelers who have just arrived in Venice without becoming familiarized with the offer. Namely, food, drinks, and souvenirs are up to 20 percent more expensive on the Riva than in the neighborhoods in the interior of the old town.
Arsenal, Naval Museum and Danieli
Arsenal is the name for a once-revolutionary shipyard that has held the status of the largest mass production plant since the 12th century before the Industrial Revolution. Venetian shipbuilders were able to assemble a functional ship from ready-made components in just one day, which is almost unthinkable even today.
Galileo Galilei worked at the Arsenal as a ballistics expert. The reputation of this place is sufficiently evoked by the fact that Dante sang it in his hellish part of the Divine Comedy.
Today, various events are held behind the walls, including part of the program of the Venice Biennale.
The Maritime Museum is located at the end of the Arsenal and should be visited by everyone interested in learning more about Venice. The ticket price is 7.5 euros, and students have a 50 percent discount. It is interesting that since 2014, the entrance to the museums has been free every first week of the month.
More information at: http://teatriemusei.ovest.com/it/arsenale-museo-storico-navale-di-venezia.php
If you go from the Arsenal across the waterfront to St. Mark’s Square, important sites will line up one after the other. Although today covered with scaffolding, don’t miss the lovely church of Santa Maria della Visitazione, where Antonio Vivaldi reached his creative peak. Great classical music concerts are regularly held in it, and the memory of the ‘Red Priest’, as they called the red-haired Vivaldi, is still alive. You can purchase tickets online at this link and check the concerts scheduled in the church.
On the way to the Square, you will come across a gigantic monument to the first king of reunited Italy, Vittorio Emanuele II, and the cult hotel Danieli.
By the way, Danieli is not a typical tourist attraction, but no guide will fail to tell the stories that this place preserves. At the end of the Republic, the former palace of the respectable Dandolo family became a cosmopolitan hotel for the richest, where waiters spoke three foreign languages and chefs cooked oriental dishes. It is the place where the stars stayed, from Wagner and Byron to Steven Spielberg and Johnny Depp, who walked in his pajamas on the hotel’s roof during the shooting of the film Tourist.
Danieli’s room prices range from 550 to 8,500 thousand euros for two people. Even if you are not a hotel guest, you can enjoy their prestigious restaurant offer. Still, you should keep in mind that the place needs to be reserved, and they will likely ask for your card number when booking to ensure against potential cancellation or non-appearance. You can see the ambiance, menu, and prices at: https://www.terrazzadanieli.com
The Bridge of Sighs
While you are fascinated by the beauty of the lagoon, you will walk towards the Square and come across the most famous Venetian bridge – the Bridge of Sighs.
This place has been arousing the imagination of walkers for more than four hundred years. It was built in 1600 as a link between the Doge’s Palace and the New Prison, and back then, it was just one of many Venetian bridges. Still, its fame and mystique were brought by the melodramatic Lord Byron. His romantic ecstasy portrayed it as the last place where prisoners glimpsed the world before locking and saying goodbye to freedom with sighs.
Today, it is made famous by a legend that says that love will be eternal if you confirm it with a kiss in the gondola under this bridge at dusk while the bells on the tower of St. Mark are ringing.
A few things should be mentioned about gondolas. First, there are several places where you can rent your gondola, and the most popular starting points are St. Mark’s Square and the Grand Canal, as well as the routes that connect the two places. What’s good to know is that in 2019, the standardized gondola ride was 80€ for a half-hour day ride or 120€ for a half-hour ride during the evening hours.
You can find gondolier stations at this link: https://www.gondolieritravel.com/servizi-in-gondola/
The prices of such standardized excursions are fixed, so negotiation skills are unlikely to help you get a better price. However, you should still determine the duration and price with your gondolier so that you don’t stay short-sleeved later and pay more than necessary.
Since a good part of the gondoliers do not speak English, first try to find those who will give you the information in a language you understand.
St. Mark's Square (Piazza San Marco)
Not far from Daniel is the heart of Venice and its most magnificent part, St. Mark’s Square. At the entrance to this public space, which Napoleon called the most beautiful European salon, you will be greeted by two colossal pillars. These are the pillar of St. Mark, adorned with a winged lion, and the pillar of St. Theodore, the first patron saint of Venice, whom you will recognize by the saint standing on a crocodile.
These two pillars form a kind of city gate. In the past, executions were carried out between them, but there was also gambling between them – more precisely, gambling in Venice was allowed only on tables that were placed between these pillars.
St. Mark’s Square itself has a special status in the city. It is the only one that the locals call Piazza, while all other squares in the city are camps or fields. Such linguistic distinction is caused by the size and the importance of this place.
Like the theater stage, it is surrounded by important public buildings and is one of the few urban spaces in Europe where the human voice is louder than the noise of cars because there are none in Venice.
It is clear that the prices on the Square are the highest in Venice, so keep that in mind if you buy anything here. If you dare to buy something at the stalls on St. Mark’s Square or in the immediate vicinity, be aware that this place is under the watchful eye of local pickpockets who use crowds and carelessness. Keep your wallet in your inside pocket and your bags under your arm.
Also, there is a well-established trade trick in Venice that sellers use. If you pay a 7 euro bill with a 20 banknote, you will often get a change of only three euros, but if you warn the seller of a mistake, he will apologize and return an additional 10 euros. If you don’t notice it with that money, you can say goodbye the moment you turn your back on the merchant.
Along with cult places such as the Doge’s Palace, the church and tower of St. Mark, and the Procurator, there is one very convenient place on this square that you will easily miss, and it is the Café Florian. It is an elegant restaurant operating continuously for three hundred years. It is a place that Wagner was happy to visit. The famous seducer Giacomo Casanova was attracted by the fact that Florian was the only Venetian bar in his time that allowed women to enter. However, if you decide to drink coffee in Florian, keep in mind that it costs as much as 8 euros, and a stylish waiter will charge you for the service and playing live music that often plays in its interior.
We shouldn’t forget to mention that it is forbidden to feed pigeons on St. Mark’s Square, and if you decide to try it, you risk a fine of 50 euros. Namely, the city leaders calculated that cleaning cultural monuments from pigeon droppings costs almost three hundred euros per inhabitant. Hence, a few years ago, they decided to end that.
This magnificent palace is a place from which the Republic was governed and all its possessions.
When the construction of the Doge’s Palace began, Venice was the second most populous city in Europe after Paris. Still, even the French capital could not match its wealth, and the Venetians did not skimp on the construction of this magnificent building.
Throughout history, it was ruled by 120 doges, and in the last century, it became a museum, for the visit of which a hefty 20 euros should be set aside. For lovers of the past, a visit to this place will be an opportunity to get acquainted with the finest architectural achievements of the time in which the palace was built and see the works of great artists such as Tintoretto and Titian.
On the other hand, it will be interesting for the younger ones that the Doge’s Palace appears in the second part of the super-popular video game Assassins’ Creed.
Due to the long queues and the fierce crowds around this place, it is best to buy a ticket online at this link.
St. Mark’s Library (The Marciana)
Opposite the Doge’s Palace, there is another valuable building, the Library of St. Mark. This elegant building preserves perhaps the most extensive collection of classical texts globally.
The nucleus of the collection was created even before the construction of Marciana. In the 14th century, it also preserved the manuscripts of Francesca Petrarca, but in the meantime, they have been lost.
This beautiful building houses over a million books, tens of thousands of manuscripts, and almost three thousand incunabula.
Belltower and the basilica of St. Mark
Right next to Marciana is the bell tower of St. Mark. This almost hundred meters high tower is one of the city’s symbols.
El Paron, the house owner as the locals call it, did not have an easy life. The bell tower was often struck by lightning; it burned several times in fires, only to collapse in the morning of 1902. Miraculously, no one was killed in the otherwise crowded square due to the fall of this giant, except for the cat that slept in the loggia. The repair lasted for ten years, and today El Paron is proudly rising above its city again. If you want to enjoy the view from it, you will have to wait in line and set aside 8 euros for that pleasure.
As is often the case in Italian cities, the basilica and the bell tower are not connected, so the magnificent Cathedral of St. Mark was not damaged on that occasion. You may be surprised by the relatively small dimensions of this famous church, but the Church of Gold, as it is called, was not originally a city cathedral but a chapel of Venetian doges. With the time that passed and the wealth that grew, it became more luxurious and impressive, so some artifacts are even older than the city itself.
However, the most valuable thing that is kept in it is neither silver, nor gold, nor jewels, but the bones of the patron saint. The city has been under St. Mark’s protection since the relics of St. Mark were smuggled under pork carcasses by two merchants from Alexandria to Venice. However, it should be noted that the bones were lost twice due to weird circumstances, only to be found and safely stored at the beginning of the nineteenth century.
Entrance to the basilica is free, but if you want to visit the museum it will cost you 5 euros, and for the Golden Hall and the treasure of St. Mark an additional five. More information at: http://www.basilicasanmarco.it/informazioni-per-i-turisti/orari-di-apertura/?lang=en
Just a ten-minute walk through the narrow streets will take you to the largest Venetian canal.
It stretches along with the city in the shape of the letter S for over four kilometers, making the Canal Grande an actual aorta of this city. Numerous famous buildings are located on its shores, and for centuries it has been the busiest waterway in Venice.
Gondolas and vaporettes float in muddy water as rivers of tourists sweep their shores. Interestingly, although Venice has almost 400 bridges, there are only four across the Grand Canal.
The most famous and most beautiful is the Rialto bridge.
The big arch and the shops on both sides of the pedestrian part of the bridge were considered an impossible engineering endeavor. Even the great Michelangelo was skeptical about such a solution. However, the little-known Antonio da Ponte did not give up then, so today, we witness his life’s work.
The Rialto district, which stretches on the other side of the bridge, is known for its markets and beautiful churches and has been an important economic center for centuries. This neighborhood is also mentioned in Shakespeare’s Venetian merchant. It is attractive to tourists traveling to Venice today due to slightly lower prices of food and drinks than is the case with the central part of the city. Small tucked-in restaurants will entice you with tourist menus, but if you are on a budget, our recommendation is definitely ‘fast food’ pizzerias where you can always eat fresh and warm pizza for just a few euros.
In this neighborhood, the best choice if you are looking for quality, fresh and cheap is pizza at the pizzeria Antico Forno. On the other hand, if you want to have a drink and eat something in a pleasant environment, it is ideal to go to San Polo Square where cafes and restaurants have a special offer for tourists so that you can stay within the figure of 15 euros per person for a drink.
Apart from Rialto, you will find affordable food prices in generally expensive Venice in Giussepea Garibaldi Street. It stretches diagonally from the Riva degli Schiavoni to the San Pietro canal, a short walk from the Arsenal. Not so fancy part of the city and a place where you will occasionally meet local people, not only sellers and tourists.
Another essential item in the city on the water are the toilets. Generally, Venice lacks public restrooms, but several can be found in the most frequented tourist locations like Rialto. Usage costs 50 cents. You can find the whole map with marked locations of public toilets on this link.
Lagoon Islands in Venice
If you have a little more time on your trip to Venice, it is a great idea to visit the Lagoon islands where Venice is located.
Of course, that does not mean all the islands, but the most beautiful and most famous ones are Murano, Burano, and Torcello. Many local agencies offer various combinations that include these islands, and the usual price for a tour that includes all three is around 20 euros.
Murano preserves the centuries-old tradition of glass processing, which was brought to the city of St. Mark by the Byzantine master glassmakers after the Venetian conquest of Constantinople. The technique they used was so much appreciated that they were forbidden to leave the city without permission so as not to reveal the secret to anyone else.
Today’s Murano is a collection of seven connected islands. It is one of the most popular picnic areas where you can enjoy this ancient skill and buy original glass souvenirs made with this technique. Many glassmakers on the island also offer a demonstration of a unique glass blowing technique. You can find one of these here.
Burano has a slightly different reputation. It is located on the northern edge of the lagoon. It is popular because of the colorful fairytale houses and the beautiful lace created on these five connected islands. It is worth mentioning that the lace pattern from Burano was used by Leonardo da Vinci when making the altar of the Cathedral of Milan.
Today, with the rise of social networks, Burano is becoming more popular among influencers due to its photogenicity. However, keep in mind that Burano is even more expensive for food, drinks, and souvenirs than Venice itself.
If you want to buy the best Burano lace for one average tablecloth, you will have to pay at least 500 euros. Among the numerous shops that deal with this refined craft, the Martina Vidal manufactory has an exceptional reputation, whose family has kept this tradition for four generations.
Although not as famous as Murano and Burano, Torcello has a lot to offer. He shares the name with one of the merchants who stole the bones of St. Mark from Alexandria and considered it the parent island of Venice itself.
Namely, the island was inhabited for two centuries before the Queen of the Adriatic emerged from the water.
At that time, Torcello was the bishop’s seat and had a cathedral, and on it hid the Veneti fleeing from Attila and the Huns. One of the main attractions of Torcello is the stone throne that is associated with the great conqueror, although scientists claim that it is an artifact from later times.
Despite the somewhat strained legend, this island is definitely worth a visit.
Carnival and Biennale in Venice
Venice is much more than the sum of its architectural achievements and invaluable wealth. First of all, the cultural achievements that have been nurtured for centuries still make it unique.
Certainly, the most famous event in this city is the Venice Carnival. During the carnival, the entire splendor of Venice is displayed on the streets, squares, and canals, which are covered with traditional masks. The celebration is dedicated to some ancient and glorious times that are enjoyed by everyone from children to the oldest.
The Venetian Carnival is the second most prestigious in the world, surpassed by the newly naked bodies and hot rhythms of Brazilian Rio. However, keep in mind that you must be prepared for big crowds if you decide to visit Venice during the carnival.
While the carnival is a kind of national celebration, the Biennale has been one of the most prestigious cultural events in Europe since its founding almost 90 years ago.
It is a festival of architecture, dance, international music, and film. A concentrate of high culture and avant-garde is held throughout the city.
As has been written for centuries about Venice, we could write thousands more pages on this magnificent city and still not be able to communicate its charm and beauty. You must explore it for yourself. Grab your passport, you won’t regret it.