A quick guide on the city of Venice, Italy, for first timers.
The city of Venice is unlike any other city in the world. Many has tried to replicate its essence and none has quite captured its intricacies. Back in April, I spent a couple of nights in Venice. I though the weather was perfect; cool enough to stave off the mosquitoes and sewer smells, yet warm enough for a light coat.
1. Walking is the Best Mode of Exploration
Venice is a walking city. That said, plan out your routes if you’re travelling with luggage. The roads are rocky, and with the bridges, not the most effortless to travel with. I walked over seven bridges with my hefty 17kg suitcase. Phew. The easier alternative was to take the vaporetto, but the journey alone would take 45 minutes. My little workout took 15 minutes.
2. But the Vaporetto is Pretty Cool Too
To take in the full sight of the Grand Canal, hop on the vaporetto, or the water bus. I walked everywhere, but decided to take the vaporetto on my last day back to get to the airport. A one-way ticket costs an expensive 12 Euros. If you want to use the vaporetto often, you’re better off purchasing the day passes. The tickets can be easily purchased from convenience stores. The vaporetto runs on a more leisurely schedule, so it is not for those on a tight schedule. The vaporetto services the islands around the lagoon too, including Murano, Burano and Lido.
1. Join One of the Many Free Walking Tours
As a first order of business, I highly recommend going for a tip-based free walking tour. Venice is such a historic-filled city, that if you leave without a snippet of information, it’s such a damn waste. You might as well not have gone. If anything it would give you a good directional bearing in the city. I went with “Free Walk in Venice” – chill, small group, knowledgeable tour guide.
2. Budget Gondola: Traghetto
I get it: have you really been to Venice if you didn’t partake in a quintessential gondola ride? But if, like me, you don’t feel too comfortable bombing 80 Euros on a 20-minute gondola ride, then take the public gondola. Also known as a traghetto/traghetti, you only pay 2 Euros per ride on a shared journey with other people. It lasts less than a minute, but hey, it is a gondola experience nonetheless.
3. Piazza San Marco
The Piazza San Marco is where you’d find St Mark’s Basilica. I didn’t enter the cathedral but I was lucky enough to witness a parade celebrating Su e Zo Per I Ponti. The event, which amusingly translates to ‘Up and Down the Bridges’, is described as a day to celebrate friendship and enjoy spending the day with each other. It also looks to be some sort of cross city race for people of all ages that ends at Piazza San Marco. In short: It’s a day for everyone to just come out and hang out together. Bless your hearts and colourful tights, Venice.
4. Rialto Bridge
The Rialto bridge bears significance for being the oldest bridge across the Grand Canal. The view from the Rialto Bridge is always a colourful cacophony. Although the best part of the always-crowded Rialto bridge may be the view, do not miss the amazing gelato located nearby at SuSo.
5. The Ca’dario
The Ca’Dario is infamously known as Venice’s most haunted place. Many people died there, and those who purchased the building after have all died under mysterious circumstances. Legend has it that if you stare long enough when dusk falls, some of the lights of the abandoned building will turn on and off intermittently.
6. Venetian Mask Shops
My favourite mask shop while in Venice was the Ca’Macana, located in the Dorsoduro district – Beautiful mask shop with artisanal mask pieces. Starting at 49 Euros, these masks are not the cheapest souvenirs around. I only took photos. Shop staff were very friendly and not pressurising. They left me alone with my trigger happy camera. From what I can tell, they also organise mask-making courses, which might be a fun family activity.
7. Punta della Dogana
The Dogana is located at the tip of the Dorsoduro district, where you can also get an almost 360 panaromic view of the Venetian waters. The sculpture atop the Dogana building moves with the wind. It served to remind sailors to be cautious always; like the wind, your luck can change at a whim.
8. Cicchetti by the Grand Canal
Cicchettis are your Venetian version of tapas. These snacks are meant to be pre-meal bites, but I’ve gotten several cicchettis at a go and that becomes a full mean for me. My favourite cicchetti is at Al Squero.
9. Spotting Lopsided Buildings
A lot of the buildings in Venice have lopsided windows, due to the deteriorating foundations below the water. And this is not a big deal for Venetians. It became a fun activity to spot lopsided windows.
10. Public Water Fountains
Venetian water fountains are littered all over the city, and the water is perfectly safe for drinking! According to our walking guide, it’s common for shopkeepers to tell you that they’re not safe for drinking so you’d buy a bottle of mineral water (though I did not encounter one). So FYI, it is safe, and is in fact encouraged by the government to cut back on litter.
11. Venice Sunset
Venetian sunsets are pretty and best viewed over one of the bridges over the Grand Canal. Something about the turquoise canal waters that reflects the sunset differently.
12. In General, Photo-Op Sessions EVERYWHERE
I usually make a physical photobook after every trip, and my Venice compilation was, by far, the most vibrant. The colourful buildings against the canal is iconic and the I wouldn’t leave my camera behind for this particular city.
A couple other notes
1. Venice is Crowded
The first thing you would notice is the massive amount of people concentrated within this tiny island. Venetian residents number about 50,000. The number of tourists that walk the constricted alleyways of Venice on the daily? A whopping 60,000. One time I was funnelled into these paths that I was literally pushed into an open church door. Intense.
2. Venetians are Friendly
Floating about the internet-sphere are a host of murmurs of locals being cold towards and generally annoyed at tourists because we’re “invading their space”. I’ve only ever encountered nice, civil and even very helpful Venetians. The only one time I had a nasty encounter was when a tourist screamed in my face asking for directions to Piazza San Marco without so much as a please and thanks. Basically, if you’re a jerk, you’d be treated like a jerk. Same rules apply everywhere.
3. Lookout for Pickpockets
As with anywhere that is perpetually crowded, pickpocketing is a common hazard. Practice caution and keep an extra lookout for your bags and belonging.
WHERE TO STAY
I stayed at the Dorsoduro district and I thought it was the perfect location. Close to the action but away enough for peace and quiet at night. Some attractions here include my favourite ciccheti location (I need to shut up about this at some point) in Venice, the Santa Maria della Salute and the Punta della Dogana. I was staying at the Santa Margherita Hotel. Nice, clean space with friendly staff and efficient communication with the owners – no complains.