Imagine a place where roads are replaced by rivers and wheels are replaced by oars. Similar traffic patterns and rules still exist, but the only acceptable modes of transportation float. This old city was once the trading capital of the world, sending ships with merchants to lands afar, and it bred such explorers as Marco Polo. There is only one place like it in the world and its name is Venice.
Life is so unique and different on this island from anywhere else on earth that it can only be understood by being there. Now during peak season the tiny island of only a few square kilometres hosts up to 100,000 new tourists every day. With so many people and so much history surrounding you, it can be very overwhelming but these 4 tips will help you see the best parts of Venice, Italy.
Get very, very lost
Venice is literally the world’s largest, life-sized labyrinth. There is no such thing as right angles or cardinal directions. Streets spiral into each other and canals create dead ends at every other turn. Narrow laneways disguise any visible landmarks that could give an indication of what direction you are going in. It is only by chance and many wrong turns that you suddenly escape the suffocating back alleys to reach an open ‘piazza.’
In the piazza you may find a small church, or an outdoor restaurant, or a fountain. Enjoy the fresh air and some of the nice boutiques, then choose the next off shoot alley and begin the process of losing yourself all over again. You could spend hours and never walk the same street twice in this floating city.
Venice is only a few square kilometers but all of the roads and canals put at length would span over 100 kilometers. All over the island you will see tourists twirling their maps in their hands trying to orient themselves and you will see others confidently turning down random alleys and enjoying the feeling of being completely lost. Be the latter tourist and embrace the complete confusion only Venice can offer and let the city enthrall you with its hidden treasures.
Climb St. Mark’s Bell Tower
If you have taken my advice of getting very, very lost, then you have no doubt probably stumbled upon St. Mark’s Square a few times. After winding through suffocating alleys, there is no feeling like rushing into the vast, open, bright space St. Mark offers. At one end you’ll see St. Mark’s Basilica and right in front you will see Italy’s tenth tallest structure, St. Mark’s Campanile Bell Tower. The line is always long, but the wait and the 8 euro ticket will offer you the best and most distinguished view of the labyrinth island that has entrapped you the last few hours.
From the top you can look over the whole island, deep into the Aegean Sea, and even see the towering Dolomites that sit a hundred kilometers inland. The orange roofs seem to run into each other with tiny slits that indicate a small canal or alley that cuts through the tight buildings. Directly below you get a unique view of the iconic roof of Saint Mark’s Basilica and the Doge’s Palace, while in the open square you will see the hundreds of pigeons being chased by children as they attempt to win them over with breadcrumbs.
Since most of Venice is so crowded and congested, it will feel amazing to feel the sea breeze at the bell tower’s elevation and is the only place in the city that will provide sweeping views of the unique island city.
Go to Accademia Bridge at Sunrise
The most iconic view of Venice is from the Accademia Bridge looking out at the canal’s outlet and the Saint Maria Basilica. Unfortunately, that is a widely known fact and that makes for a very crowded bridge. During sunset as the sky turns beautiful shades of orange and purple, the crowds multiply even further. With a little ambition and an early evening the night before, however, you could have that bridge, and most of Venice, all to yourself.
Rise up before the sun and you will get the most magical lighting, empty streets, still water, and cooler temperatures. The best part is that since the bridge is facing the east, the sky is so much more colorful and dynamic behind the basilica than during the evenings sunset.
While you are up early, make sure to walk around some of the other main sights in Venice and enjoy the quiet before the throngs of tourists slowly emerge and fill the alleys and canals.
Ride a gondola
Somewhere on most people’s bucket list is a bullet point about floating down the canals of Venice in a gondola. Ideally it is with a significant other and a glass of wine in hand, but even if you’re not with your loved one, a gondola ride will be one of the highlights of your trip to Venice.
With all of the streets so busy and crowded, a gondola can be a nice escape from the masses plus it offers a unique way to discover the little nooks and crannies of Venice that are only accessible by boat. While your gondolier navigates the canals, you can finally put your map down and enjoy your surroundings.
Occasionally you may escape the small back alleys and join the chaos of the main canal. Wakes will come up and slap against your boat as it rocks above the unsettled current, but then just as quickly you’ll be steered back under a tiny bridge to a quiet, peaceful canal.
The boat ride is not cheap, costing 80€ for only 30 minutes on the canal, so make sure you pick the right boat man. It’s best to avoid the main hubs and find a gondolier in the back alleys.
Have you been to Venice, Italy?
What were your highlights?