Perhaps one of the absolute musts of a trip around Italy is a visit to Venice: the city of canals and romantic gondola rides. Or at least that’s how it is marketed in many of the traveling advertisements. If you read travel blogs and forums you will come across strong controversy of the trip value and worthiness of this destination. So in between the peculiar water “streets” and the many weathering buildings, could one really find a charm to Venice? Here is my trip story and how I came to this conclusion: Venice is beautiful in its own way and should come high on your list of “Italian places to visit” but deserves no more than an overnight stay.
I arrived in Venice Santa Lucia train station on a Thursday early afternoon. As I stepped out of the station on my way to get a boat-taxi to the hotel, I got my first sight of the Venetian architecture and canals and was thrilled for the much awaited city sightseeing. Nobody can deny the first glances are special and make you smile. This also holds valid for the first boat journey I went on; looking at the buildings we were passing by right and left and the many other boats and gondolas cruising along the canals.It was such a happy start to my visit.
My first afternoon in Venice was dedicated to strolling around the main square of the city center, Piazza San Marco, its near canal promenade and the surrounding narrow streets. I was contempt with the beautiful golden mosaics of the Basilica di San Marco´s interiors and front façade, the arty Palazzo Ducale and mainly the liveliness along the Grand Canal. There were plenty of tourists coming back and going for the famous gondola rides, clicking pictures, sharing laughs, painters standing by their small painting stalls amidst the promenade and the many waiters trying to pull you in their restaurants. Despite the crowds, I focused on the area´s charm, making the most out of my time, soaking in the sunset light with an Aperol Spritz at one of the overly priced tourist terrace. It was all good for the first day in town.
The second day began early with a nice breakfast and a strong cappuccino at the hotel (I must say italian cappuccinos are delicious!) powering up for the upcoming city walks. Starting again at the main square of San Marco, I headed to the top of the Campanile di San Marco to take in the 360º views of the city (this is something I really like doing when I do city sightseeing; getting a full view of the place from above to orientate myself better). Let me start by saying the views are fantastic and worth the money but only if you have 8 euros to spare. Ticket fees in Venice are ridiculously expensive!
I continued the tour on foot heading towards Rialto Bridge through the many alleyways, observing the Venetian architecture and bubbly life. You know you’ve reached this bridge not only because the signs on the streets say so but because the crowd suddenly grows larger and your personal space gets invaded with the many selfie-sticks and tourists strolling around. I cannot say whether the bridge is beautiful or not because it was under renovation at that time. Having crossed the bridge, I made my way through the Campo San Giacomo di Rialto to reach the Rialto market to enjoy the freshness of the fruits and vegetables on sale. The many italian herbs were cutely packed to accompany the different types of pastas. I missed the fish market by an hour so all it was left at the time was the fishmongers clearing up the stalls and cleaning the fish traces. I am sure it would have been a beautiful fish display!
I continued zigzagging the narrow streets for a few more hours, passing by the Campo Beccarie, Campo San Cassiano, Chiesa Santa Maria Mater Domini, Campo San Polo, Basilica dei Frari, Campo Sant Margheria, Chiesa di San Barnaba, Chiesa di San Sebastiano and other interesting places. By the time we reached the canal promenade, it was nearly sunset and the clear blue skies were turning into golden/oranges shades, making the architectural profile of the Giudecca island very picturesque and photographable. Once I reached the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute, I sat on the concrete floor with my legs hanging over the water canal and witnessed the many seagulls dipping in the water to catch the fish and finger food other tourists were feeding them. The birds flying around were nothing out of the ordinary but this together with the continuous passing of boats, the sunset fireball and the chorus of church bells ringing simultaneously, made this afternoon time a tranquil special moment to remember.
I headed back to the San Marco area to continue enjoying the pastel colors covering the sky right after sunset through the bridge Ponte dell´Accademia, Campo Santo Stefano, Campo San Maurizio and Chiesa di San Moisé. Tourists had no fear of the dusk setting in the narrow streets and the area of San Marco was getting more crowded with visitors sitting at the terraces for evening drinks. I could still find the same charm to the area as the previous day but the highly tourist prices and hundreds of photobombs were getting a bit annoying. So I decided to spend my third day in town going to Verona for a day trip! (you can read more on my Verona trip here).
The fourth day in town and third in Venice was shorter as previous days as I had an afternoon train to catch to Vienna. Having checked out of the hotel and left my suitcase in the locker room, I decided to spend the few hours I had to visit the Gallerie Dell´Accademia, take a little stroll along the canals and have a light lunch on one of the many restaurant terraces enjoying the Sunday morning sunshine with my last Aperol of my Italian trip.
All in all, it was an enjoyable first visit to Venice where I exhausted my feet walking around everywhere I could. I soaked in the Venetian architecture, life by the canals and the romance of the city as much as I could, however, I would have preferred to experience more the real Venice lifestyle with not so many tourist souvenir stalls, gondoliers selling me gondola rides and massive crowds of visitors. This touristy feel was more predominant than the true venetian lifestyle and this is the reason why having seen it once, I don’t have the need for a second visit. I recommend a visit to Venice but time it wisely to avoid weekends or festive days. You will be charmed by the city but leave before you get overdosed with the tourist nuisance.