Venice is arguably one of Europe’s best preserved cities. A majestic, fairy tale city in every sense of the word, it is held together by hundreds of bridges and alleys with international tourism in its blood. With a population of 65,000 people and 500,000 in the greater Venice area, it is surprising to know that Venice does not have any real streets! Instead, it is a maze of small alleyways and canals clustered with small apartment unit complexes, hostels, and shops.
Sights you can’t miss:
- The Prestigious St. Mark’s Square: Surrounded by regal, historic buildings that reflect the Renaissance and Baroque style, St. Mark’s Square is a testament to the classical – with a large square about the size of two football fields with plenty of small cafes and shops along the periphery. Smack in the middle lies St. Marks Basilica, an 11th century masterpiece that is a reflection of Byzantium style architecture. Inside, you will see 43,000 square feets worth of mosaics and marble statues.
- San Marco Museum – Upstairs in the same St. Mark’s Basilica building, there is an enjoyable mosaic exhibition with bronze horse displays that are throwbacks to the days of Alexander the Great.
- Doge’s Palace – This is the seat of the Venetian government. It shares a Gothic style structure and it is rumored that the Greek Gods governed here for a time.
- Murano, Burano, and Torcello – These islands off Venice can be reached by gondola or vaporetto (ferry). With a vaporetto pass, you can jet to Murano – home of world renowned Murano glass. Here, you can see glassblowing exhibitions by artisans on a tour and even get to make glass yourself. Murano also has a Glass Museum which honors Venetian glassmaking tradition with modern and ancient glass art exhibits.
- Gondola Rides – These romantic boat rides cruise along the canals and waters, commandeered by experienced boat men who are known to be smooth talkers. Try to find a “gondolier” who speaks English well and can tell a story. Expect to pay around 80 euro for a 50 minute boat ride during the day and 100 at night. If you want cheaper prices, try looking for single gondoliers to haggle prices with along back alleys instead of those around St. Marks Square.
Where to stay in Venice:
Venice hotels are heavily booked during the Carnevale season between January 28 and Feb 9, Easter, and on the weekends all year. Peak season includes April, May June, September, and October. Make sure you reserve a room immediately after finding out when you’ll be in town.
If you want to remain around St. Mark’s Square, check out Hotel Riva and Locanda al Leon. Many Venice hotels hold 18th century style rooms with beautiful views of the square. If you want cheaper accommodations, head out of the city and take a 10 minute bus ride into neighboring Mestre – an industrial center with plenty of non-descript hotels and hostels.
A Taste of Venice Festivals:
Venice’s most famous festival is Carnavale. Italy’s version of Mardi Gras in the States, this fabulous events spans from January 28 to February 9 and first started out as a two month long party leading toLent. In the 1700s, people used to wear masks (to conceal their social status and identity) and do pretty much anything they wanted with anyone. Today, it’s a quieter, more festive celebration that is lit up with fireworks on the Square and plenty of costumes.
A Word On Nightlife:
Venice’s nightlife is practically non existent, with many people heading back towards neighboring Mestre after a long day. If you visit a top class hotel, you should pick up the free and popular Leo Bussola magazine that comes out twice a month in Italian and English which details all of the nice parties and events going on at any particular time.