Venice is one of the most romantic cities in the world. Yes, it is highly commercialized and touristy but if you look in the right places you can still enjoy your time in the city of canals. When we first arrived in Venice the sight of people and crowded boats took me by surprise. It seemed as if there were two kinds of people in Venice – tourists and the people who run businesses for the tourists. It is hard to get a sense of what life in Venice must be like considering it has turned into a massive tourism hot spot. A part of us felt sad because when you go to a new place you want to get a sense of culture and life from the locals which is hard to experience in Venice. But, the city is so charming and unique that after a time you get used to the crowds and learn how to soak in the spirit of the city. So, read on to know how we spent our Venetian vacation
1. Take in views of the Grand Canal and St. Mark’s Square early in the morning: The best time to visit this crowded city square is early in the morning, preferably before 10 a.m. Jet lag resulted in us waking up early but it was a blessing in disguise since we were able to discover St.Mark’s minus the crowds and hawkers. We also managed to get into Palazzo Ducale smoothly despite not having made online reservations. [Note: Most of the palaces,churches in Venice have an online reservation system which allows you to cut through long lines. Do avail this option]. We spent some time just gazing at the water, gondolas and the beautiful structures in the square. It felt peaceful and serene because there weren’t many people. This is also the best time for photography enthusiasts to set their cameras rolling otherwise getting a picture without a person in the frame is next to impossible.
2. Take a Secret Itinerary tour at Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace): Everything in Venice is grand, from the intricacy of the architecture to the rich artwork gracing the walls. But Doge’s Palace takes the cake when it comes to being the grandest of them all. Room after room filled with works from great Italian artists that give you a sense of history about Venice and its rulers. There is a grand courtyard at the center of the building which gives you a glimpse of the size and scale of this palace. Most paintings and room carry descriptions in multiple languages and we ended up spending more time than we had initially thought, lost in the time travel through Venice’s glorious but turbulent past. We were bummed that we could not get tickets for the Secret Itinerary Tour, something which was highly recommended by everyone. Tickets for this tour can only be purchased online and there are limited seats and time slots, so do keep this in mind while planning your trip.
3. See views of the square from St. Mark’s Basilica: We had fortunately booked our tickets online for the basilica (from our hotel the night before. Free Wi-Fi for the win), so thankfully there was no standing in the sun or waiting in a long queue! This Basilica consists of an ornate church on the ground floor and then leads up to a museum on the first floor. The climb up is short but the steps are steep. The highlight though is the balcony on the top floor that gives you unbeatable views of the entire square and the sea.
4. Visit the Rialto bridge and eat pizza at Antico Forno: Rialto bridge is in a sense the heart of Venice. It is the oldest bridge spanning across the Grand Canal and also serves as the site for umpteen souvenir shops. Always bustling with activity, in part thanks to the vaporetto station, the bridge in itself may not be much to write about but the places around it are always busy. You can find some great fresh fruit and Venice’s specialty masks in shops here.
Once you are done exploring the area, head on to a wonderful pizza shop called Antico Forno. As someone who loves pizza, I can vouch for the awesomeness of this place which serves fresh pizza in multiple flavors through the day. You can either grab a piece or stand inside the restaurant and eat but rest assured that the warm, fluffy crust of the pizza and the fresh vegetables will keep you coming back for more.
5. Gondola Ride through the canals of Venice: I fought the idea of taking a gondola ride on our first day because I felt it would be a disappointment. The experience is entirely dependent on the gondolier you pick or end up getting. Do not expect to be serenaded by beautiful Italian songs. It is just a boat ride at the end of the day and costs 80 euros! But it is one of those things that is so synonymous with Venice that if we didn’t do it, after having traveled for almost a day, it would be a shame, really. So we took the bait like most tourists do. Our gondolier did not speak a word the entire ride and when we tried to make small talk he would give one word answers, so we gave up. The canals are quite crowded so you do not get a romantic vibe either. I think the gondola rides in Venice are over hyped, over priced and inconsistent. So, if you get a better deal or find an interesting gondolier go for it, otherwise skipping it is not a bad idea.
6. Gorge on some of the finest Pasta at Dal Moro’s: Venice is an expensive place, period. So, when our close friend recommended we try this take out place also known as Alfredino’s, we did not think twice. Little did we know that the pasta we would have here would be one of the best we had ever tried. Freshly made pasta, yummy sauces, tomatoes and cheese to top it all off, all at a price of 7 euros! Unbeatable deal if you ask me. We loved the food and service so much that we ate there twice in two days. We would take our pasta boxes and sit beside one of the canals near the streets as gondolas would pass by. Considering how commercial most restaurants are in Venice, Dal Moro’s is a god-sent gift. We were so busy devouring our pastas that we forgot to take pictures !
There is no city in the world quite like Venice. The canals, gondolas, narrow cobbled alleys, brick houses give it a distinct feel. But, it is crowded beyond words and commercialized beyond measure. Pick the right season to avoid crowds so that you can get a better feel of the place. We discovered romance in Venice when we walked through the streets and bridges of Venice away from the hustle and bustle of tourists. That was my favorite part of the trip. What was yours?