Venice had been on my bucket list for a long time, so I was very excited to be able to tick this one off the list in Sept of 2019, and it did not disappoint.
There isn’t really a way to do Venice on the cheap as all of the hotels are pretty pricey. If you stay on one of the many islands surrounding Venice, then it may work out a little cheaper but wanted us to stay in the heart of Venice. I found a great hotel right by the infamous San Marco Piazza. Hotel Diana was £385.56 for the both of us (the us on this occasion is myself and my boyfriend) for 3 nights, this price included breakfast (cereal, fruits, croissants etc – the typical continental fayre). The room was clean and spacious and decorated with typical Venetian furnishings. Its location was perfect.
We flew from Stanstead to Marco Polo airport. The flights were £235.56 for the both of us with priority boarding and chosen seats, Ryan air do like to bump up the price with little extras such as choosing to sit together so keep that in mind when cheap flights sound too good to be true, lol. Once landed we opted to take the water bus into Venice. This is the cheapest way to reach the city, but it does take around an hour to get there. You can take a private or shared water taxi which is pricier but direct. There is also a train that runs to the edge of Venice, but you’d have to make the rest of your journey on foot or via water taxi. Note there are no cars on the island at all; the only way to get around is via water bus/taxi or on foot. A return ticket is 15 Euros.
We got off the water bus at San Marco and walked to our hotel which took less than 10 minutes but it is something else to consider when choosing a hotel, we travelled light but if you have a large suitcase it may be a bit cumbersome to lug about. Some of the fancier hotels do have their own docking stations though, so if you take a water taxi it may be able to take you directly to your hotel.
We were keen to get out and explore the city so after checking in and getting changed we head straight out. We fuelled ourselves in a restaurant opposite our hotel, sharing a pizza and I enjoyed an Aperol Spritz.
We then went to check out San Marco Piazza and the stunning marble Basilica of the same name. We had a little look inside, it’s free to go in but there are small charges to see certain parts of it such as the treasury and bell tower. There were long queues inside for these, so we decided to skip it. Note: all churches will require you to be covered up so if you are wearing shorts or strappy tops take a shawl with you.
We had no real plan for the rest of the afternoon, we just wandered the pretty streets to see where they would lead us. Many streets are cobbled, many are narrow, there are many steps and bridges (around 400) so wear comfortable shoes, you will be doing a lot of walking. We looked in some beautiful mask shops, there are many of these as to be expected all over Venice, but they never failed to blow me away, the masks truly were works of art. Some shops invite you to try them on and take photos, but some prefer you not to so please respect that. There are lots of lovely leather shops around too and handmade paper shops full of beautifully bound notepads/ books that make unique gifts.
After a couple of hours strolling around, we went back to the hotel to change and head out for dinner, stopping for a drink at the Hotel Splendid first. We then decided to go for a gondola ride. Some might see this as a little cliché, but I think sometimes it perfectly acceptable to be cliched. Where else in the world can you go on an authentic gondola ride? Now this isn’t cheap, but I think splurging occasionally is also fine. You can pre purchase gondola rides online from companies such as GetYourGuide and Viator, but you will need to go to particular starting points to find your gondola and join a queue. You can also book a shared gondola to keep costs down, but I think that takes the romance out of it. The main places to start your gondola ride are along the Grand Canal by the Rialto Bridge or Calle Salvadago just off Piazza San Marco but you will see many moored up along the quieter canals too. You can get on any of these and your tour will end at the same place. There is a set price, haggling will not work. We paid 100 euros (they only accept cash so make sure you have some on you) as it was an evening tour but it’s a little cheaper during the day. Expect the tour to last around 25 minutes. It was a lovely relaxing experience and a great way to take in the amazing sights of the city, especially as the lights start to dim, you really start to get a sense of a city that hasn’t been touched by time. Another thing I want to mention is that before going to Venice so many people said to me how smelly the city is due to all the canals and I just want to state that simply isn’t true. Apparently it is more of a problem when the tides are low so maybe we were just lucky.
We found a lovely restaurant called Osteria L’Olandese where we dined al fresco before heading back to our hotel for some well-earned sleep.
We were up really early the following morning; this was largely because I wanted to take some photos in San Marco Square before it was mobbed with tourists and pop up stalls selling the usual souviners. My plan worked, there were very few people about, just as and some pigeons. Another bonus was that we got to see the sun rise over the square, it was just beautiful.
We then made our way to the Rialto Bridge whilst it was still early and then we set off across the city with no particular plan. It’s the perfect city for wandering aimlessly in, with every street being postcard perfect. Don’t worry about getting lost, there are plenty of signs to lead you back to either San Marco or Rialto. We literally walked until our feet fell off, stopping for the occasional Aperol and cannoli and then late afternoon we returned to the Grand Canal to sit by the Rialto Bridge and wait for the Regatta Storica to start. This is an annual water pageant that starts with very grand gondolas and boats with people dressed up in costumes, and ends with various races. We had no idea this was going to be happening until the day before we went but those wanting to see it, book your trip to cover the first Sunday in September. It gets very crowded and there aren’t many places along the canal where you can actually sit, so you may have to stand, we got very lucky. It’s totally free but there are some stands where you can pay to sit and watch which is a good option if you know you’re going to need to sit. Remember it is likely to be hot, so make sure you have water, sun cream and a hat and/or fan.
We had a little chill out back at the hotel after the pageant before getting ready for dinner. This time we decided to walk along Calla Larga, where all the designer shops can be found, we continued on towards Campo Santo Stefano, a large square with many bars and restaurants. We went to a little place just off the square called Osteria Al Bacareto where we sat at one of the small number of tables outside. The service was great, and the food was lovely, I highly recommend it.
The next day we had planned to take a little boat trip to some of the neighbouring islands but first we decided to have some tea at one of the pretty cafes in San Marco square. These can get very busy in the afternoon and the tables outside also have an added cover charge if the musicians are playing. There is no charge to stand and watch them though. We chose to drink in Caffe Florian, a beautifully preserved neo baroque tearoom dating back to the 1700s. A pot of tea for 2 set us back 22 Euros. We had been warned prior to going to Venice that food and drink were pricey but other than this pot of tea in the main square, we found prices to be pretty reasonable. We didn’t mind paying over the top for one drink just for the experience. Again, the service here was great.
We took the water bus from San Marco Vellanesso. Tickets cost 20 Euros each and this covered us for a semi-organised tour to Murano, Burano and Torcello. Our time on each island was free but we had to be back at the waterbus for set times in order to move on to the next destination. If I was to visit these places again, I would take a general water bus so we could explore in our own time without restraints. We arrived at Murano first where we were invited to watch a glass blowing exhibition. This is completely optional but worth the watch, the process was explained to us as watched them make a vase and a glass horse. You exit the demonstration through their store but there is no pressure to buy. Unfortunately, after the demonstration we had had around 30 minutes left to explore Murano so couldn’t wander off to far. From here we caught the waterbus to Burano. We had around an hour here. This is such a lovely colourful town and again, I wish we’d had more time to look around and stop for a drink or some lunch. There are some lovely little shops there too. The last stop was Torcello and in all honesty I felt this was a waste of time and i would have rather spent that time on either of the other islands. We only had 40 minutes here but that was more than enough as all there was to see was a 7th century cathedral that you have to pay to enter. There are a couple restaurants too but there wasn't time to eat or drink. We left there feeling a little deflated.
We arrived back in Venice starving so decided to have an early dinner then returned to the hotel to refresh for our evening out. We had purchased tickets to watch a Vivaldi concerto, but we had a couple of hours to spare first, so we sat in a square near Chiesa di San Moisé and enjoyed a drink, people watching for a little while. We browsed around Bel-Air fine art gallery; this is a free gallery with a good mix of sculptures and paintings to see.
We then purchased a ticket to go up to the top of Campanile di San Marco, the bell tower in the piazza. We timed this perfectly to watch the sun set over the city and hear the bells ring out at 6pm. They are loud! The bell tower at 98 metres high is the tallest structure in Venice and has great views from every side. It was well worth the 8 Euro entry fee.
The concert was in the Chiesa della Pietà – Santa Maria della Visitazione, a beautiful church a short walk from San Marco. Hearing classical music live in such an amazing setting is something so special I just can’t find the words. Again, I had that feeling of being in a different time zone. The tickets were just 20 Euros each which i felt was great value for money. There are several churches around the city that have live classical concerts and I definitely recommend going to one, it’s money well spent.
We then went for a night cap in a beautiful bar in the hotel next door to the church, Hotel Metropole. I didn’t know this at the time, but this hotel was once the Pieta orphanage where Vilvadi once lived and worked. The bar is beautifully decorated in a subtle oriental style and although the drinks were pricey the candlelit ambience was sumptuous, our host was polite and helpful and we were served some delicious complimentary bar snacks; nuts, dried fruit and chocolate. Take a moment to walk around the hotel lounge and lobby too, it’s a beautiful hotel.
On our last morning we decided to skip breakfast at our hotel in favour of eating by the Grand Canal. We chose Café Saraceno by the Rialto bridge, sitting in their outdoor terrace overlooking the canal. Then we set off a wandering again, exploring more of the beautiful Venetian streets and canals. I honestly felt like there couldn’t be much more to see but looking at an app my OH has that traces our steps we barely saw much at all, lol. I’m not going to pretend to know all the streets that we walked but at some point, we were along the Rio delle Tetta canal and discovered the most adorable second-hand book shop, Libreria Acqua Alta. This shop is full to the brim with stacks of old books displayed on old boats and in old tea chests with cats sleeping idly across them. There is a small courtyard to the left where the walls appear to be made from stacked books. Another small courtyard is at the back of the shop where more books form a staircase to give you a great vantage point over the canal. In the 2nd room to the right there is a chair literally set in water by a door that opens on to the canal and obviously I took of my shoes and sat for a while. We also saw the hospital with a row of ambulance boats outside, and even a boat hearse which was morbidly fascinating. It’s amazing that literally every mode of transport is on the water.
We stopped for some lunch and continued to wander, crossing over the Grand Canal on the Ponte dell’Accademia bridge that offers brilliant views down the canal. This side of Venice was so lovely and quiet with far less tourists roaming around. We found our way to the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute, which sadly wasn’t open, but it was lovely to see it up close. We then went back over the bridge and located the infamous Harry’s bar which wasn’t what I expected. It was closed however for a private event so we weren’t able to have a drink there even if we wanted to so we made our way back towards our hotel to collect our cases and enjoy one last Aperol before heading back to the airport.
We set off a little earlier than we needed to which was just as well as our water bus seemed to be experiencing some sort of trouble and I thought it was going to break down a couple of times but all worked out well in the end and we made it to the airport with plenty of time to spare.
Venice totally lived up to my expectations. There is so much to see although it sounds like we mostly just wandered the streets but that in itself will fill hours of your time and not once feel like a wasted opportunity. There are many churches to visit, many galleries (we went in a few of both, but I can’t remember all their names). Most of these are free to enter. There is also the Doge palace which we started to queue for but decided to bail, we didn’t want to waste precious time standing in queues to visit a place that was clearly going to be packed inside. I would definitely go in if I was to visit Venice again but would make an effort to get there for when it opened. There are many walking tours on offer, including a ghost tour. I often said that the city would lend itself to some brilliant ghost or vampire stories so the tour might be worth investigating.
Venice is a truly amazing and extraordinary city to visit, nowhere near as expensive as I was led to believe and far more beautiful than I could have imagined. My only disappointment with my visit was that there simply wasn’t enough time to eat in all of the places I wanted to eat in. Italian food is simply the best.