Gondolas on the Grand Canal

With a reputation for being the world’s most romantic city, Venice has a lot to live up to. Maybe it’s because of those high expectations that some visitors report disappointment. But as far as Teddy is concerned, Venice is one of the most magical cities in the world.

Venice is unique. Not just because of those incredibly picturesque canals and bridges, but because so much of it’s incredible history remains intact, accessible and in use. There are unique and beautifully decorated buildings dating back centuries, and quiet laneways where you’d swear you’d been transported back to the fifteenth century. All of this is contrasted with a city quite at home in the twenty-first century – with some of Italy’s best eateries, and accommodation to match any in the world.

All of this, unfortunately, comes at a price, as such popularity can often be its own worst enemy. Visitors to Venice must deal with the many downsides of the massive, universal appeal that Venice holds – including:

St Mark's Square

Towards St Mark’s Square

  • Large numbers of tourists. Some days the Piazza San Marco (the main square outside St Mark’s Basilica) can just be a sea of people, especially when the large cruise ships dock and unload. The area around the Rialto Bridge has similar problems. Of course, these are two of the main tourist attractions, so that’s to be expected. Early mornings in the piazza are usually fine, and there are many other attractions away from these areas where you’ll find fewer tourists.
  • Lots of tourism-focused outlets. There are souvenir shops on just about every street and every corner, and often the prices are excessive. There are also several stalls in the Piazza San Marco. Generally these shop-keepers are helpful and friendly, and not at all pushy. However, be careful for some of the itinerant sales-people. These are usually illegal migrants who wander the streets with brandname rip-offs, gimmicky toys or over-priced, shoddy souvenirs, and they can often be pushy to the point of harassment. Stay well clear.
  • Expensive shopping. While Venice is blessed with outlets from some of the world’s iconic brands, these are not discount outlets. You’ll be paying full price, or even a premium on many goods. If shopping is your thing, you’ll love Venice. But don’t expect a bargain.

On the plus side, though, the people of Venice  – especially the restaurant and hotel staff – are extremely lovely people – always pleasant, smiling, and helpful. You won’t feel like a number in Venice.

Be careful of:

Coffee in St Mark's Square can be expensive

Coffee in St Mark’s Square can be expensive

  • The price of things. For example, for the first time in his life, Teddy paid €15 for a cup of coffee. It was just an ordinary cappuccino, too. What made this one so expensive was that it was at night, outside at the Florian coffee shop, while the band was playing. Technically, the coffee itself was only €6 – but the Florian charged Teddy an extra €9 cover charge for the jazz band. Of course, like dozens of others, Teddy could have just stood out in St Mark’s Square and listened to the band for free, so Teddy wonders why he was charged and not those others.
  • The stench of things. Once upon a time, Venice was well known for smelling really, really bad. Napoleon fixed up a lot of that (like moving cemeteries and stopping people dumping waste into the canals), but as recently as the eighties and nineties people were still saying there was a bit of a smell. Teddy had no problem at all with that – the air was clean, the canals didn’t stink, everything was sweet. Except for one day – Friday. That’s the day the sewerage barges arrive to pump out the septic tanks. They’re noisy and smelly, but it was only for a few hours on one day, and it meant that the city didn’t stink of sewerage the rest of the week. Small price to pay.
The Campanile across the Piazza San Marco

The Campanile across the Piazza San Marco

Places you must see:

  1. The Piazza San Marco. At times it can be the busiest place in town, but it is the historical and political centre of Venice. Take in the view of the Basilican San Marco and the Doge’s Palace. Watch out for pidgeons, hawkers and pickpockets.
  2. The Doge’s Palace. As the political and cultural centre of Venice throughout its history, the Doge’s Palace is an excellent example of architecture as art. Glorious decorations and amazing splendour at every turn.
  3. The Basilica San Marco. This is easily one of the most beautiful and awe-inspiring churches in all the world. Some of the greatest artist’s in Italy’s rich artistic history contributed to its decoration.
  4. The Rialto Bridge. In all honesty, the bridge itself is nothing spectacular, and even the shops and stalls along its length have nothing out of the ordinary. But it is the most famous bridge across the Grand Canal and is a “must see” on any tourism checklist.

 Things you must do:

  1. Take a ride in a gondola. You may think its cheesy and just another tourist trap, but you’d be wrong. These gondolas are works of art in themselves, and the gondoliers are all highly-trained experts, often with generations of experience (its a heavily regulated and licensed career). The prices are generally fixed, so there’s little point shopping around (although the experience will be different, depending on where you start your ride).
  2. Experience the Venice Film Festival. Held every year for about two weeks from late August, this is one of the world’s premier movie industry events. The main office (and ticket sales) is located on the Grand Canal a little way behind the Piazza San Marco, though the event itself is held on the Lido (near the lagoon’s outlet to the sea). See some amazing films and be one of the beautiful people!
  3. Visit a Murano glass factory. When you hear of Venetian glass, you’re really hearing about Murano glass. You must see the world’s most celebrated glassblowers and artists in action.

(Teddy has lots more pictures of Venice on the desktop backgrounds page, and the iPhone background page.)

Piazza San Marco from the Grand Canal

The Doge’s Palace looking over the Grand Canal

Venice is much easier to get to these days than it once was. The lagoon was the main reason the original settlers flocked there – it was a great natural defence against the various invaders. Now there is a viaduct connecting the mainland to the main island that carries Italy’s luxurious trains straight to Venice.

There are still no cars on the main islands, but water travel is now down to a fine art. Apart from the romantic gondolas, there are water-buses (an excellent, reliable, regular and affordable way to get around) and water-taxis (more expensive, but they can get you about anywhere). A trip from the fantastic Marco Polo Airport (on the mainland, and more and more airlines will fly you straight in from almost anywhere) to Venice island by water-taxi will cost around 120 euros.


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