Wednesday, November 5, 2014

top 5 things to do in venice

The charm of Venice is in the mystery. It seems to be an impossible place, a foggy dreamland coalesced from a Renaissance prince's wild imagination. It's enchanting and strange, masked and mazed and magical.
I have been to Venice twice, once as a child and again as an adult. There are a few things to know and prepare for before you go, and I'm hoping this post enlightens you before your journey to the painted isles of Venezia.

1. Buy A Mask

Is it a tourist move? Of course it is!
But there's truly no better way to get into the spirit of Venice than to stroll through the many, many masquerade mask shops and carts to find the one that speaks to you the most. Rialto Bridge is by far the most known shopping point around Venice, and it's always swarming with tourists and shop owners. It's a fun treat to walk around and see everything there is to see before deciding to buy anything. Colored glass, trinkets, clothing, art, leather, and especially the masks.
Sometimes while you're walking around the less crowded parts of town you'll stumble upon an artist's shop of masks, handmade and hand-painted and devoid of anything cheap or trappy. They'll take your breath away. They're beautiful, many of them so stunningly detailed and elaborate that you find yourself getting a bit lost in your admiration of them. And there's nothing better than getting lost in Venice.

2. Eat Whenever and Wherever You Want To

Prepare to splurge. Venice is not a place for the careful and frugal. If you are naturally one or both of these things, allow yourself to be someone new for a day or two. Place that masquerade mask over your eyes and breathe in the color of freedom. Start from scratch. You won't find the best food or gelato in Italy here, but you can't beat a bistro on the canal with cozy gondolas swimming by. There is a lot of seafood. Everything is expensive, so prepare thineself.

People often complain in Venice (and even Italy in general) that service is terrible or that waiters or rude, but always keep in mind that Italians eat very long, leisurely meals. It's fairly normal to have to request the check to signal the end of a meal. Otherwise they will generally leave you to the enjoyment of your food. Don't be shy if you want more food or coffee/dessert. You ain't in Kansas anymore, Toto.

If you're truly stumped and have to have a food plan, try a place like Pizzeria VesuvioOrder pizza and you won't be disappointed. It's not terribly expensive and was close to our apartment, which was a plus on our first night there. There are guidebooks and blogs about the food in Venice, so you can always search around for specific restaurants to schedule in, but I prefer Venice on the fly.
You can also opt to stop in at the numerous cafes around town for breakfast. Most of them are standing only (it costs more to order and sit), but they have a nice selection of delicacies to try. It's a quick and cheap(er) option for tasty pastries and cappuccinos in the morning.

3. Libreria Acqua Alta

There is a lot of charm in Venice, and some of it is lurking in corners that you may never find on your own. I happened to read about this shop before we went to Venice, and luckily we were able to find it. (I wrote about it in a previous Wanderlust Wednesday post). It's the weirdest, most adorable bookshop that I have ever seen. The owner is boisterous and lovely, and he loves cats, so they are hiding in all corners. The merchandise is stacked in haphazard piles in tubs and gondolas to keep them safe from the flooding every year. It is a wonderful place to explore! Especially if you want some cat-themed posters and souvenirs, which of course I did.

4. San Marco Square

This is a given. Everyone who is anyone goes straight to San Marco Square to see the sights there, but there are a few things to do here that may not be known to you. First of all, you have to go inside St. Mark's Basilica. That's the obvious one. The golden-tiled mosaics are absolutely glorious. You must go at the right time of day, though, so that the sun is shimmering through the windows and setting those tiles on fire.

If you're like me and desire a tourist shot of you covered in nasty pigeons in the center of the square, I applaud you!

I would also recommend going to the top of the Campanile, which is an agreeable 6 euros per person and allows you unparalleled views of the canal town below. The lines are usually reasonable, too.

You can also arrange a tour of Doge's Palace, which is a great way to explore the passageways and artwork of Venice leaders. You actually walk inside of the infamous Bridge of Sighs, the only covered bridge in all of Venice. If you're interested in that part of Venitian history, I would recommend fitting that into your itinerary. 

Lastly, you can leisurely amble through the square at night. Take your time. The crowds are gone, it's eery and beautiful. There are a few (insanely expensive) cafes that remain open, and even occasionally some patio tables surrounding nighttime musicians! You can stand and listen for free, but if you sit you have to order something. I believe it was close to $20 for one cup of coffee, but if you have your mask on and are drinking in the Venician life, just go for it!

5. Take the Scenic Route

Although it sounds like the cheesiest thing in the world, follow your heart. 
One of the greatest things about Venice is that it doesn't demand hardcore sightseeing like other Italian cities (namely Rome). You don't have days and days worth of world-renown monuments or ruins to see. The most exquisite sightseeing is found just by being there, walking along the canals and seeing the paint-chipped buildings of this majestic water city.Venice is known for its architecture and art, so you can be confident that wherever you go you'll be stunned. There are plenty of museums, churches, and ornate buildings to see.

Follow your instincts and allow the city to whisper to you. Be more spontaneous than you've ever been in your life. If something looks good, try it. If there's a painter creating a masterpiece, sit there and watch it unfold in each brushstroke. Buying local art is one of my favorite things to do in any city we go to, and Venice is no exception. Art is a wonderful souvenir from a city like this.

Don't be in a hurry, and don't plan too much. The best part of Venice is getting lost and finding that secret garden, or that quiet courtyard with all the lovely colors. There is a lot to be said for those quiet moments in a city cloaked in age-old mystery.

Other good ideas:

  • Ride in a Gondola before dark. It's cheaper, and you can always hop in just before sunset to have the best of both worlds. Begin with the sunset and end with twinkling lights!
  • Use the water taxis to travel to some of the neighboring islands. Water travel isn't cheap, so use at your own discretion. (I will say that there aren't often people checking or paying attention to whether or not you pay at the kiosks - you just hop on. But do so at your own risk because the fines for not paying are very high. I will neither confirm nor deny whether we did this). The island of Murano is the most popular, known for its glassmaking. It's very expensive but the further in you go, the less touristy it gets. It's worth a visit if you're really aching for a special glass souvenir. You can also visit Burano for lace and colorful houses or Torcello for quiet nature walks. There are a lot of options. 
  • Check out for places to stay! We have used it for every trip, and highly recommend it. Use your best judgment in selecting an apartment, as it's very true that you get what you pay for. But I couldn't imagine a better way to experience "living" in a new city for a few days. 
  • Read The City of Falling Angels by John Berendt. I read this book after we got back from our trip, and it gave me an entirely new perspective on Venice! It made me want to go back and see everything with a brand new set of eyes. 


  1. Great post, a few other must do's... Doges Palace was a blast! the Nutella Gelato changed my life, and you must buy some local art. The artists there are amazing and sell their paintings of Venice on the streets. My painting of Venice was the best souvenir I bought.

  2. Yes! Buying local art is such a great tip. I added in a little sentence about that. :)
    It's one of our favorite things to do in any city we travel to, the perfect souvenir.

  3. I love your wanderlust post :)