VENICE, ITALY: WHERE TO STAY, WHAT TO DO, AND WHY YOU SHOULD GO
For a city that many people will advise you to skip, I was absolutely enchanted by the quiet canals of Venice that seem to echo with whispers of times long past.
I don’t know if it’s the lack of cars, or the old world charm, but Venice is one of the most peaceful, relaxed, and refreshing places I have ever traveled to.
If there is one thing you should know before traveling to this amazing city, it’s that 25 million tourists pass through San Marco’s Square every year, but most don’t venture far from the city’s heart and tourism hub. Just a ten minute walk away from the Grand Canal, you can find quiet streets, little cafés, incredible restaurants, locals going about their daily shopping at open markets, and a surprising amount of people walking their dogs.
There are 150 canals in Venice, it seems like a great shame that so many people only explore one.
(Also, if anyone tells you Venice smells, it does not. The city has cleaned up the canals a lot in the last 20 years, and the city’s notorious smell is gone.)
I spent 3 nights in Venice, two in the Carnival Palace Hotel and one in the Palazzo Veneziano. They are small beautiful boutique hotels with a luxury feel and the same ownership (they only operate these two). They are excellent. Both hotels are conveniently located near public transportation and plenty of things to do. Yet, neither is situated in a place that attracts many tourists.
The staff at these hotels was helpful and friendly, and they are dedicated to helping their guests truly experience the city. I highly recommend them.
The first day in Venice was mostly a travel day, so all we did was eat dinner. We ate at a restaurant near our hotel called Ristorante ai Tre Archi that was absolutely amazing. The people was friendly, and the place was home to some of the best pizza, pasta, parma ham, cheese, and wine I have ever had.
While staying at the Carnival Palace, we spent our first full day day visiting the islands of Murano and Burano and the Venetian Ghetto. The ghetto is a very short walk from the hotel, and the islands are easy accessed on public transportation.
Murano is world famous for its glass-blowing tradition, starting some time in the 12th century. On the beautiful island visitors have the ability to see master glass-blowers who are part of this ancient tradition at work.
Burano was an incredibly unique island famous for it’s brightly colored houses and lace. Residents started painting their houses bright colors when the lace-driven economy was booming in the 1800s. Now, if residents want to paint their houses, they need to send a request to the government, who will notify the resident of the colors available in their lot.
The island also had excellent shopping. A lot of the shops were filled with beautiful lace dresses, and linens, as well as some more modern stores with adorable clothes.
I would highly recommend leaving some time for Burano when traveling to Venice.
The Venetian Ghetto was another experience that’s passed over by many visitors. It’s a somber but important historical site that’s easily missed. This is partially due to the fact that it’s not very well labeled, and far from advertised.
The Venetian Ghetto is the oldest in Europe, officially instituted in 1552. In fact, the word “ghetto” may have derived from the Venetian term “geti.” At the time, Venice had 190,000 residents, including 900 Jewish people who were forced to relocated into the Ghetto. It is still the center of Jewish life in the city.
There are five Synagogues in the Ghetto, all established in the 1500s. That they have all survived is nothing short of remarkable.
Our third and final day in Venice we stayed in the Palazzo Veneziano, which is about a 20 minute walk to the most popular tourist cites— Piazzo San Marco, St. Mark’s Basilica and Campanile, The Bridge of Sighs and Bridge of Rialto, and The Doge’s Palace.
On the way to the main attractions, we took a gondola ride. We got on near the Academia Bridge. It is one of the four important bridges that crosses the Grand Canal, but it’s still a good distance from San Marco. It was a really lovely ride, and our gondolier was friendly and informative.
Because we were near an important bridge it was easy to get a gondola, but we were far enough away from the crazy tourist area that our ride was really peaceful. We went through small, quiet canals, and still got to see some really interesting things including where the gondolas are made. Our gondola also took us down the canal where The Italian Job and other movies were filmed. It was a significantly better experience than the gondolas you can find right by San Marco.
After, we made our way to the la Piazzo. There’s a reason these places get 25 million visitors a year. They are unbelievable.
Of course we walked around the square and went inside the basilica, which were too incredible for words, but outside of the main attractions, there are two things in the area I would recommend.
First, go inside the Doge’s Palace. Inside is very quiet compared to the hustle and bustle outside because people are deterred by the price. It costs about 25 Euros to get inside, but that includes admission to three other museums as well, including the National Library of St. Mark, which was established in the 1500s.
Visitors inside the palace have the opportunity to see the Venetian empire’s elaborate government building, which was once considered the crown jewel of Europe, as well as the Doge’s quarters, the armory, and the prisons.
Access to the prisons from the Doge’s palace is still the same as it has been since 1600— crossing the bridge of sighs. The enclosed bridge goes over the Rio de Palazzo, and passes between the interrogation room in the palace to the prisons. Thousands of people crowd outside to take a picture of one of Venice’s most famous bridge, but few actually walk through it.
The second thing I really enjoyed was sitting at the Gran Caffé Chioggia. The café opened in the early 1800s, and as far as I can tell hasn’t changed much since. The staff are all wearing black bow ties and white coats, and there is live music every day. It was one of the more “touristy” places we went, but the atmosphere and views were incredible.
Venice is an unbelievable city, and it’s hard for me to believe people don’t like it. My only guess as to why is that they only experienced the crowded parts.
I’ve been inspired to learn more about the Venetian Empire as well. From what I understand, the Venetians controlled one fo the most powerful economies in Europe for around 800 years. It’s not wonder what they left behind is so stunning.
I’d love to hear if any of you have been to Venice and what you thought of it, and of course if this helps anyone in their own trip planning I really would love to hear it!