How Did We Get To Venice?
We flew to Venice from Zürich, as part of a 30-day holiday. The night before departure we stayed at the Radisson Blu Hotel, Zürich Airport. This meant that the next morning was not too hectic as no travel was needed. Check in at the Swissair desk was easy, but the line was very long. It took us nearly an hour to get to the head of the line. Breakfast during the flight consisted of a cup of coffee and a chocolate bar (Swiss chocolate of course).
After landing at Venice Marco Polo Airport, one of us was not feeling too well (might have been the chocolate for breakfast). We located a pharmacy and bought something to feel better. The pharmacist also gave us directions to the water bus terminal, and suggested not following the signs, which send you outside. Instead she said to stay inside in the air conditioning, until you reach the far end of the concourse and then taking the lifts down to ground level.
Tickets for the water bus can be purchased at the kiosks located near the water. If you are not sure what you need, or where to get off, ask the friendly staff.
The trip took us about 40 minutes to the San Marco ferry wharf. The trip was great for a first-time visitor. You get to see a lot of other boat traffic as well as Venice from the water as you approach.
Where did we stay?
There is a huge choice of hotels, of all qualities. Our choice was the Hotel Donà Palace. It was very nicely located near Piazza San Marco. The walk from the wharf with backpacks was easy and the desk clerk stored our luggage as we arrived before check-in time.
We found the room comfortable, clean and quiet and were very happy with our choice.
Remember there are no cars in Venice. Apart from transport from the airport, to the train station and to Murano Island, we walked. Everywhere is quite close, but there is always the water bus, if you are going to the outer islands or want to cruise down the Grand Canal.
We were told that one of the things you need to do in Venice is get lost. Well, we did that a few times without intending to and it was fun, as you run across places and sites you did not intend. Due to the narrow streets, our phones lost GPS a few times, but there are signs that point to the main attractions. So, if you know the general direction you want to go, it is easy to find your way back.
What did we do?
Well, this is pretty much what we did to get everywhere. It did lead us to some great unexpected spots, some good restaurants and nice quiet places away from Piazza San Marco. Several times when we were not in a hurry, we just randomly walked to see what we could find.
One of the unusual places we found was the Assassin’s Cafe, on Assassin Street!
One of the first Attractions we found was the Rialto Bridge, which spans the Grand Canal. During the day, it is extremely crowded. On the morning of our departure, at 6AM, though it was deserted and we were able to get a better look at it.
We had always intended taking a gondola ride at some time, and on one of our walks, we found one with no queue, so jumped straight in. There is a flat fare now, so no haggling over the price, despite what you read on some sites. When we were there, the price was 80 Euros.
It was early morning, so the canals were still empty (so the gondolier told us). Moving around the canals was very quiet, away from the crowds, especially in the little canals. We had a few waits at intersections, for other gondolas, and the water taxis had to stop for us (gondolas get right of way).
On another walk later in the day, some of the canals were jammed with gondolas, with what looked like a real traffic jam. This would not have been as pleasant a ride as we had.
The only problem was that at times the water was a little smelly.
Piazza San Marco
This is one of the major attractions in Venice and is bordered by the Doge’s Palace and Basilica. This combination makes it very busy. In the mornings and evenings when the cruise ship passengers were not there, it was far less crowded and a more pleasant place to be.
The restaurants at the Piazza are expensive and some of the staff tout for business trying to get you into their premises. Equally good food at a far more reasonable price is available just a few streets back. If you really want to sit and eat there though, expect a coffee to cost ten to fifteen Euros.
The is the oldest coffee shop in the world and has been in continuous use since 1720. You can sit at the tables for a very expensive coffee or stand at the bar and have an espresso for 1.50 Euro. It is located just off Piazza San Marco.
The Doge’s Palace is where the rulers of Venice used to reside. To really appreciate it, we took a guided tour with an expert guide. The grandeur of the place can only be experienced with an extensive tour. From the gold on the ceilings, the paintings and the architecture, the building was designed to impress visiting dignitaries. It still does this today
One of the highlights of the tour is seeing the prison that adjoins the palace. To access it, you go through the Bridge of Sighs, so you get a chance to look out of it at all the other tourists taking pictures from the outside.
Basilica San Marco
As part of the Doge’s Palace tour, we took up the option to see the Basilica after hours. The same guide showed us around and her passion for the history of Venice made for a great evening. The atmosphere inside, after everyone else has left is amazing and is highly recommended.
The sheer quantity of gold leaf used to decorate the interior is unbelievable. It was also interesting to learn that most of the material for the Basilica was taken from places conquered by the Venetians. As a result, nearly all the pillars are of different designs and stone. We didn’t realize this until it was pointed out and then it became obvious.
So that we could experience the back streets of Venice and see some of the more unusual sights, we booked a half day walking tour. We had a great time, going to places we did not know of and learning about the city from the perspective of a local. We crossed the Grand Canal in a traghetto, a type of stand-up gondola, went to the fruit and vegetable markets, saw many, many churches (each campo – square – has its own church) and ended on top of the old Hanseatic Warehouse which has now been transformed into a high-end retail store. The views of the grand canal and over the city were amazing.
A great way to spend a morning, talk to a local and experience the back streets of Venice.
One of the most famous buildings in Venice is the Opera House. If you can’t afford the price of an opera ticket, for about 15 Euros, you can get a self guided tour of the interior.
We spent a while walking around. As a bonus, you get to sit in the seats and pretend you are at the opera.
We took a water bus across to Murano to see the famous glass making up close. We had a front row seat to watch the master glass blower at work. Amazing how, on a hot day they work so near to a hot furnace. The skill displayed to make amazing pieces of art was fantastic.
Afterwards, we walked around a display room, and selected several pieces as souvenirs. Don’t be afraid to haggle. We were offered a discount for cash. When I showed we were a few Euros short of the final agreed price, it was dropped further.
The water bus stops at San Michele, which is the cemetery for Venice. We didn’t get off to look, but several others did. If you want to go on to Burano to see the lace making, the water bus goes there as well.
The Victor Emmanuel II Monument
This statue of the first king of Italy is located on the water front where the large cruise hips come in. Worth looking at for its historical importance.
Water Front at San Marco Wharf
If you arrive by cruise ship, there is where you will most likely disembark. The area is full of souvenir stalls and people selling all sorts of things. We walked through this to see some of the buildings further down.
If you go to the Ponte della Paglia there is a great view of the Bridge of Sighs. A little further down is the Victor Emmanuel II Monument.
Access to Piazza San Marco is easy, directly through the Columns of San Marco and San Teodoro. Just look for St Mark’s Campanile; the bell tower of St Mark’s Basilica.
Daniele Manin Statue
Our tour guide on the morning walking tour took us to this statue of the Italian patriot and champion of Italian unification.
This was another area our guide took us to. There is an amazing variety of fresh fruit and vegetables available here. A great place to buy something healthy, or just take in the sights and smells.
This tower wasn’t open to the public when we were in Venice, but there were plans to do so.
What Did We Think?
We loved Venice. It was one of the highlights of our 30-day trip. The hotel was excellent and well located. The tour guides we used were fantastic, enthusiastic and knowledgeable. Not to mention the city itself, which is really something special and unique. And of course, the food was magnificent.