Venetian first; Italian second.
Just as her people proudly proclaim themselves natives of their city over their country, Venice is a city that transcends history: not quite Italian, but something mystical, unique. Venice is born of the ocean and taken by the ocean, caught in a push and pull with time, faced with her own mortality constantly, yet immortal – and perhaps this is why so many are drawn to her flooded shores, drawn by the sense that she has survived so long only to possibly disappear with our generation, drawn to meet and fall in love with this immortal city before she vanishes into dreams.
Here are some tips for your visit to Venice – a city of endless duality, mystique, and beauty.
Enjoy an Apertif in Piazza San Marco
The most popular location in Venice, Piazza San Marco is a vast square that looks on St. Mark’s Cathedral; across the square, pigeons dive onto tourists for crumbs of bread, strands of classical music float from scattered stages, children run, chasing the birds, tumbling across the rough cobblestones. The tables robed in white cloth with tuxedoed waiters offer a perfect viewpoint for the frenzy of activity. While there, step into the magnificent St. Mark’s Basilica and marvel at the age old, gold-lined soaring ceilings covered in art from across the centuries. Climb the next-door tower for a view across the canals and bridges and alleyways out to the ocean.
See Her Most Famous Bridges
Any must-see list of Venice includes a “tale of two bridges” that have captured visitors’ attention for years: the Rialto Bridge and the Bridge of Sighs. The Rialto Bridge is the oldest bridge on the Grand Canal; built between 1588 and 1591, the bridge is a stunning arch with detailed stairs on either side leading into a soaring portico where lovers snap selfies and every language can be heard crowding into one another. The Bridge of Sighs has a far sadder tale – built in 1600, the window of this corridor bridge was the last view convicted prisoners had of Venice before being led into the dark jail cells of the next building.
Visit Murano and Burano
Any visitor to Venice will find the storefronts littered with glistening bits and bobs of glass. If you would like to see the origins of the famous Venetian glass – ferry to the island of Murano. Take an hour or so to wander the empty backstreets, many stores, and glass making tours; there you will see the most masterful pieces, created by men trained in the creation of glass as an art. The island seems dark even in the afternoon light with spots of sun darting through onto the streets and alleyways, but the glass is truly a marvel, the bright spot on this little island.
A word of warning: always ask where the glass is from or look for authentication tags in any Venetian store, many of the small or cheaper looking pieces are imported from China and passed off as Venetian.
Burano is Murano’s vivid sibling: this little island is jam-packed with rainbow colored houses, bubblegum pink melting into turquoise into marigold – one house after another after another of seemingly brighter and brighter colors. Even the laundry seems to be in on the island’s color scheme, dancing in the island’s breeze: starch white and fire red and daisy orange and sky blue. Cross the bridges and soak in the quaintness of this little island in comparison to the crumbling grandeur of Venice.
Both these islands are easily reached via an inexpensive ferry.
Ride in a Gondola – or Water Taxi
What better way is there to pass the crowds flooding through the pedestrian only streets than to hop onto a gondola or water taxi and tour the city underneath its leaping bridges and towering buildings. The gondoliers know their city well and are always ready for a laugh – when you are walking across a bridge, watch out for a friendly poke in the leg from one of their oars! I adore Venetian water taxis and usually hop on one from the airport into Venice. They race across the open lagoon, as fearless as NASCAR drivers. For the full effect, stand in the open back of the boat and let the wind whip around you as the city grows closer and closer.
Explore the Peggy Guggenheim Museum
Peggy Guggenheim’s former home, an 18th century palazzo on the Grand Canal, houses her extensive modern art collection. This striking white stone museum with overflowing greenery houses pieces by Miró, Picasso, Pollock, Magritte, Calder, Dalí, and Ernst (her former husband). Step out onto the back deck, look across the Grand Canal, and imagine living within this pale palace and possessing such a grand view.
Tour the Jewish Ghetto
Venice’s Jewish quarter was the first instituted ghetto – in fact, the word “ghetto” stems from Venice. Jewish citizens were forced to live in this quarantined area until their liberation by Napoleon. Visit the five synagogues that spot the ghetto; this niche of Judaism in highly Catholic Italy still thrives. Try traditional Jewish cuisine at Gam Gam – my favorite restaurant in Venice and Number 5 on My Top 30 Meals Around the World. This historic area is perfect to spend a lazy afternoon meandering and losing yourself in the twisting streets.
Take a Walk
Parco delle Rimembranze sits on the waterfront, a spot of green amidst the deep variegated browns of the city. Meander along the bridges and paths on the waterfront – this park is a straight-shoot from St. Mark’s and a welcome refuge from the heat and crowds that drown the city in summer.
Marvel at Santa Maria della Salute
She is impossible to miss – on the Venetian skyline, in the paintings of artists like J.M.W. Turner, on post cards in shops across the city. Santa Maria della Salute was built after a severe bout of the plague that wiped through Venice in 1630 and is a baroque style church of towering white walls and pale blue domes. The inside is as awe-inspiring as the out, with paintings by the likes of Tintoretto and Titian. Sit on the steps and look across the Grand Canal and at the people surrounding you, both Venetian and tourist, old and young, singles and couples – Venice is a city of duality, yet dark and light, like and unalike mingle despite all odds.
Are you looking to make a European tour out of your Venetian venture? Slovenia is a hop, skip, and jump away and a perfect antidote to the bustling streets of Venice, read here on why to visit Ljubljana before it becomes a must-visit destination. Or perhaps drive down to Florence, a sister of Venice as a capital of Italian fashion, architecture, and art throughout history.
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Venice: Must Sees and Mystique