Venice has been my dream travel destination since I was little. I remember being amazed that they had canals instead of roads and boats instead of cars. I couldn’t wait to see this place for myself!
We just returned home from Matt’s graduation trip, and even though we are still a little jet lagged, I can’t stop day dreaming about Venice. We didn’t spend a lot of time in Venice (only 3 days), but you don’t need to be there long for this beautiful city to steal your heart.
Where To Stay
I had three requirements for all of our Italian hotels… free wi-fi, our own bathroom, and air conditioning. Oh, and Matt said he wanted each hotel to provide breakfast! We were so pleased with Locanda al Leon! Venice is notoriously expensive, but Locanda al Leon is reasonably priced and in a great location. This hotel is over 500 years old, but has been renovated to include modern amenities. Our bed was comfortable, and we had the cutest room key! It’s a family owned business so the customer service is top-notch. The staff was quick to assist us with directions, a map, or just a sincere “buongiorno!” We even received a bag of cookies on our last night… so thoughtful! Locanda al Leon is located just a few blocks from St. Mark’s Square, which was perfect for us since most of our tours were near there as well.
Our only complaint about this hotel would be the noise level. Since it’s in such a great location, it’s across the street from a popular restaurant/bar with outdoor seating, so we could hear people talking and laughing until 3 AM. Normally that doesn’t really bother us, but since Venice was our first stop in Italy, we weren’t used to the time zone change, and we had trouble sleeping anyways. Besides that, we loved this hotel, and we would definitely stay here again.
Type A Tidbit:
To truly experience Venice, staying in the city is a must! Venice turns into a totally different town after the cruise ships pull out of the harbor and the day trip tourists leave. You definitely want to be around then! Once the crowds leave, Venice transforms into the sleepy, quiet fishing village that it’s been for hundreds of years. It’s the perfect time to take a walk through St. Mark’s Square or explore the canals.
What To Do
St. Mark’s Square
St. Mark’s Square, known as Piazza San Marco to the Italians, is the central square in Venice. The political (Doge’s Palace) and religious (St. Mark’s Basilica) centers for the city lie on either side of the piazza. If you’ve seen pictures, then you’ve probably seen all the pigeons that invade during the day! Don’t worry, getting pooped on by a pigeon is considered good luck in Italy. The square is extremely crowded during the day due to the massive amount of tourists that descend upon Venice, so go very early or in the evening for the best experience. Street performers and musicians entertain throughout the day, but our favorite was the “dueling orchestras” in the evening. Grab a seat at one of the cafe’s outdoor tables and listen to the orchestra play. When they take a break, the orchestra at the cafe across the square starts up their performance. I couldn’t believe how talented these musicians were, and it was so fun to watch them play songs back and forth.
Type A Tidbit:
Don’t walk in between the giant columns! It’s considered bad luck because public executions used to be held between them.
Large crowds are easy targets for pick pockets. Watch your bags and wallets at all times!
St. Mark’s Basilica
St. Mark’s Basilica is the most famous church in Venice and it’s located in St. Mark’s Square. Mosaics cover the outside, and the architecture is stunning. Unfortunately they don’t allow any photos to be taken in the interior, but trust me when I tell you that everything shimmers with tiny gold mosaic tiles. Don’t miss the Pala d’Oro installed on the high altar. Images from Jesus’ life are featured on the altarpiece using gold, silver, pearls, and hundreds of gemstones.
The Doge’s Palace is where the Doge (or Duke) of Venice lived. The inside is crazy! Every room (walls and ceiling!) is covered in these gorgeously painted frescos. Because the palace was also considered the “courthouse,” it connects to the jail by the Bridge of Sighs. Criminals would walk across the bridge to stand trial or await sentencing. We were able to cross the famous bridge and see the jail cells. The conditions were horrible in the jail, while just on the other side of the bridge, the Doge’s Palace was the epitome of Venetian wealth.
Type A Tidbit:
Watch your head! People were much shorter when these buildings were built!
Bridge of Sighs
The Bridge of Sighs spans the canal between the Doge’s Palace and the jail. We were able to see it from the inside during our Doge’s Palace tour, but we also got an up close view when our gondolier took us right under it.
Climb St. Mark’s Campanile
The Campanile, or bell tower, in St. Mark’s Square gives you the best view of the city! I use the word “climb” loosely since there’s an elevator, but the view is fantastic no matter how you get to the top.
You’re going to get lost in Venice so you might as well enjoy it! There’s no avoiding it. We got lost every day. We even walked down a street on our map only to find it dead-end at a canal. Give yourself extra time to get places and don’t be afraid to ask for directions. Everyone was very friendly to us and always eager to help. Bring your camera because every corner you turn is postcard worthy!
The Rialto Bridge is the oldest and most famous bridge that spans the Grand Canal. It was completed in 1591, and is now known as one of the top tourist attractions in Venice. There are a few shops along the bridge, but once you’ve taken your pictures, there’s not much else to it.
Do not talk yourself out of taking a gondola ride! It is so expensive and overpriced and worth every penny. Matt and I bought a bottle of wine for our gondola ride and had such a relaxing time. Our gondolier took us to the quiet, smaller canals and then he finished up our ride by taking us out to the lagoon and returning via the canal under the Bride of Sighs. A gondola ride is the quintessential Venetian touristy thing to do, but I don’t even care. We loved it!
Libreria Acqua Alta
I had seen pictures of this cute little bookstore, and I really wanted to try to find it. It’s hidden away down a narrow alley that opens into a courtyard. Because of the tendency for flooding, all of the books are piled in bathtubs, gondolas, or anything to keep them from touching the floor. There’s no organization to the store, but this is the kind of place that doesn’t need organization. On the back patio, they’ve made a staircase out of books. If you climb the book “steps” to the top and look over the wall, there’s a great view of the canals.
I’ve heard all of the horror stories about Venice (it stinks, people are mean, food’s gross), but we never experienced any of that. I’ve smelled worse things in New Orleans, the Venetian people were proud to show off their culture, and oh em gee, the food!!! To read about all the restaurants we ate at in Venice click HERE! Thanks for reading!