Walking onto the Grand Canal from Santa Lucia Station you are immediately thrown into the Venetian way of travelling, by boat. The stunning rainbow of canal-side homes and architecture are exactly what you expect to see when visiting the city of art and love, yet the Mediterranean sun somehow makes it just that little bit more special. It’s so easy to be swept up in the magnificence of Venice, and you should, but a few insider tips can help make your visit just that little more rocambolesco.
When you’re in Venice, you are enveloped in a living museum curated by almost a millennia of food, culture, architecture and most importantly, art. You can feel it, see it, touch it. From carefully crafted architecture as you float along the Grand Canal, the four horses of Piazza San Marco and the smells of sweet pastry and tomato ragu to the countless number of galleries, it’s easy to feel inspired. So many culturally significant people like Dante, Bellini, Titian, Canaletto, Casanova, Napoleon even Charles Dickens have been drawn to Venice and allowed themselves to be inspired by the city, which brings me to the first tip:
See the Art
Seeing Venice without seeing the art is like seeing a film without actors, seeing Morcombe without Wise, seeing the Queen without a crown: not quite worth it. Without the art, it’s difficult to understand the history and the culture of Venice. Art, architecture and theatre are so intertwined with Venetian history it’s impossible to escape it; so throw yourself into the deep end and venture into one of the hundreds of museums in Venice.
For a crash course in Venice and its history, the Gallerie dell’ Academia is the place to go. Academia was one of the first European education institutions to ensure there was a gallery to show contemporary artists and writers some of the greats and learn from them. Get there when it first opens at 8:30, before breakfast, and start downstairs in the interactive gallery where you’ll learn all about Venice and it’s cultural beginnings.
Walk around Academia and cheap eats
While Academia isn’t the heart of the city, it’s definitely where you will find the soul of Venice. Walking the same streets Dante and Canaletto themselves once walked and being in the middle of where great art was inspired just makes you want to ‘be’. Not only can you find the best galleries and museums, you can also find the cheap(er- it’s Venice after all) eats. A lot of local cafes and bars don’t have a cover charge (coperta) and service is optional, a rare find in Venice.
Some of my favourites are Corner Pub near the Guggenheim for a great lunch and Da Gino Venezia near Ponte del Academia for a traditional Italian breakfast of cornetto and cappucio. Other great places to walk around and eat are Arsenal, walking distance from Piazza San Marco; and Lido, past Piazza San Marco.
Travel by Boat
Whether you can splash out on a Gondola or make do with the Traghetto (the local river bus) you have to do as the Venetians do and see the city by water, especially the first time. There’s something unreal about the Venetian waterways. It is literally the only way to get around and there’s no traffic or cars to run you over and you are limited by the speed of Venice or how fast you can walk, forcing yourself to slow down and take it all in.
Seeing the city unfold in all its glory on a boat is definitely a wonderful way to see the city for the first time. Take a Traghetto all the way to Arsenal and make your way back to the city on foot (or hop on another boat). It’s a long walk, easily a few hours, but there is so much to see along the way.
If you decide to hop on and off along the river and you’re there for a day or two it’s highly recommend getting a day or two-day pass. A day pass is €20 and it gets a little bit cheaper for each day you are there. The pass allows you to hop on and off as many times as you like, it seems a little pricey but considering a one-way ticket is €7.50 you can make great savings. If you’re under 29 however, you can get a three day Rolling Venice pass, plus discounts on museums and restaurants for €28, worth it even if you’re staying for two days.
Museums by day, walk by night
One of the fascinating aspects of Venice is that it empties after 8 pm. For some reason as the night draws in, people seem to make their way home. Compared to the thousands seen around lunchtime, it was surprising walking around Piazza San Marco after dinner, in the height of carnival celebrations, and only seeing around one hundred and fifty people enjoying the entertainment. After speaking to some locals, it was said it’s normal for Venice to slow down after dinner, especially during the winter months.
Walking around at night was wonderful. The freedom of going the speed you want, not having to worry about other people and your belongings and stopping to take photos in peace without hundreds of people trying to do the same is one not to be missed. The city has a different speed and a different, almost abandoned atmosphere that you can’t get during the day so visit the many monuments, museums and galleries that Venice has to offer like the famous clock tower, Ponte di Rialto and many boutiques offering a range of masks, costumes, confectionary and souvenirs.
Carnival is such a great time to visit Venice, it’s not bitingly cold and people are dressed in costumes from the 13th century all the way to the 19th century and Venice is a ray of colour and excitement not to be missed. If you are after a short break absorbing history, culture, great food and a slower way of life, Venice should definitely be on your list of places to go, you won’t regret it.
If this little guide to Venice helped you and you enjoyed the read or have any more questions about Venice, please leave a comment below and share with friends and family. If you have any more money saving tips for Venice, I’d love to know and so would others.
Over and Out!