Venice was the first city I visited in Europe, and I was instantly struck by the magic of the city. Though it’s touristy, it’s famous for a reason and deserves a list on a traveler’s Italy list.
1.) Cannaregio–After taking the water taxi down the water highway to our hotel and checking in we went right to the vaporetto, or the water bus, and got off near Cannaregio, or Venice’s Jewish Quarter. This neighborhood is a much quieter area of the city, and the two of us used this spot as our starting point from which we wound through streets and canals and got lost in the city.
2.) Piazza San Marco–Though it’s filled with a lot of tourists and even more pigeons, this square is home to the Basilica di San Marco, the Palazzo Ducale, and the Campanile. Both the Basilica and Doge’s Palace are worth the tour as they’re filled with great art and architecture. Also, you can go to the top of the Campanile, or the bell tower, for great views of the whole city. It’s beautiful at night, but be careful of the people who try to hand you or force you to buy flowers and glow-in-the-dark toys. There’s usually a band playing at Caffè Florian at night also. This cafe is pretty popular with tourists, but it’s really expensive to get a table, and we skipped it and didn’t feel like we’d missed anything. If you want to enjoy some food on the square, there are a couple of gelaterias nearby.
3.) Peggy Guggenheim Collection–We went to a lot of art museums during our trip, and the Guggenheim Collection is small enough to be able to see the whole collection. There was a special bike exhibit on display when we were there which was pretty unique. The collection also houses works by Dalí, Picasso, and even Guggenheim’s daughter Pegeen Vail, among many others.
4.) Ca’ Macana–After a morning of walking, we found this mask shop which Roxy recommended. Because Venice celebratesCarnevale, comparable to Mardi Gras, a lot of tchotchke souvenir shops sell masks, but Ca’ Macana makes authentic masks right on the island. We enjoyed looking at all of the elaborate masks, and the one I bought is definitely my favorite souvenir.
5.) Da Mamo–This restaurant was a bit of a walk for us (but on the way we walked down an alley that Vesper sneaks down in Casino Royale), but we enjoyed it so much that we went twice–the gnocchi al sugo di pesto was excellent. Seating was a little tight, but the service and food were well worth it. A word to the wise: get directions before you go. Nobody has heard of this restaurant to tell you where it is. On a return trip to Venice, I asked a handful of Italians where I could find it and nobody knew and will even swear it doesn’t exist.
Here are some of my other picks:
- Rossopomodoro–Decent pizza place near Saint Mark’s Square
- Bar Ai Artisti–Another decent pizza place but closer to Ca’ Macana. Venice isn’t the best place for Italian food
- Ca’ Rezzonico–After visiting the Guggenheim Collection, we made our way to this lavish palace. The rooms were decorated with elaborate Murano glass chandeliers, and there are also paintings and exhibits open for viewing. This provided a good glimpse into the life of the wealthy in the former merchant republic.
- Libreria Acqua Alta–a tiny bookstore right on the water overflowing with books: the owner has cats wandering all over his store, and you can even climb to the top of a tower of books to view the canal.
- Gondola ride–this will set you back quite a bit, but if you can swing it, it’s a once in a lifetime experience
Don’t be afraid to get lost–the city isn’t that big and there are plenty of signs directing you to the major spots like the Rialto Bridge and Saint Mark’s Square, so it’s not too difficult to find your way around if you get a little off the beaten path. The city is pretty touristy overall, so wandering around during the day can be a nice way to relax (and work off all that food you eat). It’s also a good way to find less touristy restaurants.
- Murano and Burano–We went to Murano for a morning outing on a Sunday. There are a lot of glassblowing studios here, but they were mostly closed on Sundays. The island was pretty quiet, and the architecture wasn’t much different than that on the main island. Burano is known for more colorful buildings, but we didn’t get out there during our stay.
- Padua–a Ventian-feeling city without the tourists
Stay away from restaurants around Saint Mark’s. You can always spot a bad one when the menu is in upwards of two languages and service wants you to come inside for their Wifi and air conditioning.