It is really unique and I would add: romantic. Once you go to Venice you always want to come back. There is a “je ne sais quoi” that makes every moment of your stay enjoyable. Allow yourself to be a dreamer, floating in one of the most incredible city in the world.
Standing in the middle of the magnificent piazza San Marco is an experience in itself: Napoleon referred to it as the ‘drawing room of Europe’, It appears that much of Europe’s population is crammed into this great square. But it’s St Mark’s basilica (Basilica di San Marco), often seen as the living testimony of Venice’s links with Byzantium Doge’s Palace, once Venice’s political and judicial hub; and Torre dell’Orologio, a clock tower built between 1496 and 1506, that are, not just the square’s, but some of the city’s main attractions.
No trip to Venice would be complete without a punt down one of the city’s picturesque waterways in an iconic gondola.
Venice is a unique and precious repository of art. From the late Middle Ages until the mid 18th century, artists of the highest caliber left thier mark all over the city and works by Venice’s grand masters Titian (1488-1576), Tintoretto (1518-1594), Canaletto (1697-1768) and Tiepolo (1727-1804) can still be viewed in situ today. See Titian’s glorious ‘Assumption’ above the high altar at I Frari, Tintoretto’s epic masterpiece ‘Crucifixion’ at Scuola Grande di San Rocco, and Tiepolo’s monumental frescos at the Pietà and Ca’ Rezzonico.
At almost 99m (325ft), the Campanile is the city’s tallest building, originally built between 888 and 912 (in July 1902 it collapsed, imploding in a neat pyramid of rubble. It was rebuilt exactly ‘as it was, where it was, as the town council of the day promised). Holy Roman Emperor Frederick III rode a horse to the top of the original in 1451; these days visitors take the lift. The view is superb, taking in the Lido, the whole lagoon and.
A wonderful way to take in the Grand Canal is on board a vaporetto. The canal may no longer be teeming with merchandise-laden cargo boats, but it is still the main thoroughfare of Venice, and only a little imagination is needed to understand its historical importance. The three and a half kilometre (two-mile) trip from the railway station to San Marco provides a superb introduction to the city, telling you more about the way Venice works, and has always worked, than any historical tome. Every family of note had to have a palazzo here, and this was not just for reasons of social snobbery. The palazzi are undeniably splendid but they were first and foremost solid commercial enterprises, and their designs are as practical as they are eye-catching.
Venice may not seem huge but it is and is made out of different boroughs.
The most famous is the area comprising the 118 islands in the main districts that are called “Sestieri”: Cannaregio, Castello, Dorsoduro, San Polo, Santa Croce and San Marco, where the main monuments and sights are located. Other main districts are Isola Della Giudecca and Lido di Venezia. Some of the more important islands in the lagoon include Murano, Torcello, San Francesco del Deserto, and Burano.
The Most Serene Republic of Venice dates back to 827, when a Byzantine Duke moved its seat to what is now known as the Rialto, and for the following 970 years, prospered on trade and under the rule of a Roman-style. Senate headed by the Doge. In 1797, the city was conquered by Napoleon, a blow from which it never recovered. The city was soon merged into Austria-Hungary, then ping-ponged back and forth between Austria and a nascent Italy, but Venice is still a monument to the glory days of the Renaissance, and historical culture still throbs powerfully in the old Italians’ veins.
Acqua alta (high water) has become a fact of life in Venice. The lagoon water level occasionally rises above the level of the squares and streets, flooding them. This can happen several times a year at irregular intervals, usually in the colder months. Acqua alta usually lasts a few hours and coincides with high tide. You’ll see raised walkways in side alleys ready to be pulled out when acqua alta hits. When the city begins to flood, sirens will sound to warn residents and businesses. Normally the tide rises and falls in six-hour cycles.
Venice, the world’s only pedestrian city, is easily walkable, and the absence of cars makes this a particularly pleasant experience. However, walking and standing all day can also be exhausting so it is best to pace yourself. The Rialtine islands, the ‘main’ part of Venice, are small enough to walk from one end to the other in about an hour, provided you don’t get lost (a common occurrence).
Near the Rialto bridge there’s a row of restaurants with tables by the canal where you can have the quintessential Venice experience of dining by the canal lights. Although they have waiters outside bugging you, some have pretty acceptable quality for price which is almost always expensive anyway.
The unfortunate side-effect of the quaint back-alleys which make Venice such a delight to visit is that it is remarkably easy to get lost. Even maps provided by hotels are frequently inaccurate, and the maze-like structure of the city can become very confusing indeed. The tight cluster of little islands that comprise Venice is completely surrounded by the Lagoon, so it is not possible, no matter how lost you become, to leave Venice on foot. Sooner or later you will come upon a piazza that you can locate on your map.
I think the easiest and most pleasant way to get around Venice is by walking but the Grand Canal only has a few bridge crossings and taking a ride on Venice’s water-buses is a fun transport method. Even beyond the practical reasons for taking a vaporetto, however, there’s the fact that the slow #1 vaporetto that runs the length of the Grand Canal is the ideal equivalent to a city bus tour
Right next (and partly connected) to St. Mark’s Basilica, the Doge’s Palace is arguably the second most important “attraction” in Venice after the basilica. While there are several good reasons to pay the hefty admission fee to tour the Doge’s Palace, probably the most popular stop on the tour is when you get to walk over the famous Bridge of Sighs. You can see the bridge from the outside without buying an entry ticket, but the only way to walk on the bridge yourself is as part of a Doge’s Palace tour.
One of my favorite cafe where I get some pastries with a hot chocolate of a rose tea is the famous Caffè Florian, an essential presence under the Procuratie Nuove in St Mark’s Square. It is considered the oldest Café in Europe, a symbol of the city of Venice. It was opened on 29th December 1720 by Floriano Francesconi as “Alla Venezia Trionfante” (To the Triumphant Venice), although the clientele subsequently rechristened it “Caffè Florian” in honour…
While the finest wines and coffees from the Orient, Malaysia, Cyprus and Greece were being served inside, history was unfolding outside. Its windows witnessed the splendour and fall of the Serenissima Republic of Venice and the secret conspiracies against French and then Austrian rule; later, its elegant rooms were used to treat the wounded during the 1848 uprising. Right from the beginning, Caffè Florian has had a glittering clientele, including Goldoni, Giuseppe Parini, Silvio Pellico and many others.
Besides being the most famous coffeehouse, Caffè Florian was the only meeting place of the time that admitted women, which explains why Casanova chose it as his “hunting ground” in his continuing quest for female company. The Florian is still very much a living part of the Venetian life and tradition.
Spend a day on the islands, mainly Murano, Burano and Torcello. There are boat services to all these islands at scheduled times, including between the islands themselves. Be prepared for long lines and long waits for the boats between islands.
If you need a hotel in Venice, see my post about the Hotel CA’ Maria Adele…