Venice will forever be one of Italy’s gems and one of the top European cities to visit evidenced by the crowds that fill the narrow streets and bridges. Classic gondolas drift through the maze of canals lacing through the city which are connected by quaint cobbled streets. Often with destinations this popular a city fails to meet expectations of the grandeur envisioned, yet Venice certainly exceeds all of the hype.
Small gelato shops and street restaurants that conjure up images reminiscent of Van Gogh’s Café Terrace at Night painting, tempt tourists in for a tasty treat while they stroll through the medieval architecture and cross ornately decorated bridges. The small fish shaped island has been the set for dozens of famous flicks including The Italian Job and Casino Royale. It is easy to spend several days exploring, but here is a list of what not to miss, where to stay, and how to maximize your visit to one of the most romantic cities.
The Ponte di Rialto (Rialto Bridge)
One of the most iconic views is also one of the first to come across when arriving via train or plane at the Rialto Bridge. Its ornate designs make it the perfect place to snap a photo or ten and the small shops lining the bridge meet all shopping needs. It is the oldest of the four bridges that span the Grand Canal and has been rebuilt several times. Similar to the Eiffel Tower in Paris, it has been both widely praised and critiqued for its appearance and monumental size. Get a spectacular rooftop view of the Rialto Bridge and the Grand Canal for free from the adjacent Fondaco dei Tedeschi luxury mall, but be sure to book online before arriving especially in the height of summer.
Catch a Panoramic Rooftop Sunset
With Venice as the backdrop, it is difficult to take a bad sunset photo in the city. Several restaurants around the city offer different vantage points with sweeping views of the canals and squares. Rather than spending only one evening enjoying the sunset, check out hotels on the basin waterfront that provide the same views! Instead of shuffling through other people trying to take the same shot, staying in one of the hotels provides a chance to relax and enjoy a more peaceful moment overlooking Venice as the sky fills with color. Some places like Hotel Locanda Vivaldi offer stunning views of the San Marco basin that are perfect for sunset or sunrise!
Piazza San Marco
No trip to the city would be complete without a visit to Piazza San Marco. This medieval piazza is arguably one of the most beautiful in the world and contains some of the most famous buildings in Venice including St Mark's Basilica, the Doge's Palace, the Museo Correr, and the Campanile (the tall bell tower). If you want to visit all four, arrive early and select one of the inclusive museum passes to get a discount. This is the heart of the city and the focal point of the numerous festivities that are hosted in Venice throughout the year. If you want to enjoy the city without the crowds, set an early alarm and arrive at daybreak for peace and quiet. If you don't mind the crowds, spend an evening at one of the restaurants to enjoy the magnificent square and the live music!
Explore the Museums
The museums in the Piazza are certainly some of the busiest, but Venice also boasts several famous art museums well worth visiting. The Peggy Guggenheim and the Gallerie dell'Accademia make it is easy to spend a day strolling the south bank of the Grand Canal admiring world class art collections and masterpieces of 20th-century European and American art and masterpieces of Venetian painting up to the 18th century.
Ponte della Accademia
Another of the famous bridges spanning the Grand Canal, the Ponte della Accademia is a beautiful wooden structure connecting the banks. It is not quite as famous as the Rialto Bridge or the lovely Bridge of Sighs, but it does offer one of the most popular views of Santa Maria della Salute Church that graces many postcards and calendars.
Murano & Burano
In the chain of small islands surrounding Venice, two of the other most famous destinations are Murano and Burano which provide a perfect opportunity for a more cultural immersive experience to witness firsthand the continuation of traditions being passed down through generations. Murano has been well known for its world-class production of glass blowing since the 10th century and the masters of this art form have remained at the top of the practice since the Renaissance.
Similarly, Burano artists have made an enduring name for themselves by perfecting their craft in hand making lace. Grandmothers trained in the craft pour hours into each piece of work and are dedicated to preserving the craft and tradition. Both islands are also well known for the brightly colored fishermen's homes that surround the small canals.
Where to Stay- Hotel Locanda Vivaldi
Located in the heart of Venice beside San Marco's Basin is the elegant Hotel Locanda Vivaldi. This boutique hotel is the former residence of Antonio Vivaldi, one of the greatest Baroque composers and conductors. The fully renovated lavish rooms appear to be royalties quarters from the era which are complimented by the Murano glass chandeliers. Enhancing the experience are the remarkable views from the terrace which provide incomparable setting to enjoy San Marcos Basin.
The terrace was simply the best place in town to wake up and enjoy breakfast at the private restaurant and to unwind after a long day with a classic Aperol spritz. A unique service Locanda Vivaldi offers is their valet parking to avoid the difficulty of booking a parking space in one of the public car parks in Piazzale Roma and the transfer into the city. Another highlight of the stay was getting to travel in style on the hotel's vintage boat which is a fully restored Celli from 1956. Climbing on to the gorgeous wooden boat felt like stepping into a James Bond movie and sailing off into the sunset. After several visits to Venice, this was by far my favorite and most memorable!
The best time of year to visit tends to be in September or October after the height of the tourist season and heat of summer. However if you are willing to brave the crowds, every February the city transforms into a stage filled with masked Renaissance characters. Carnival celebrations began in 1162 but were eventually forbidden by the church. However, the traditions were brought back in 1979 and Venice continues to host a two week celebration filled with performances in the stunning Piazza San Marco and masquerade balls around the city. Any time of year though, Venice will prove to be a city that is easy to fall in love with!