Venice is as pretty as they say – even when the sky is gray and the streets are wet, there’s nothing dreary about this fascinating floating city of many names.
1. City of Water
It’s not only tour boats and novelty gondolas that busy themselves in the Venice canals. The city seems to be run and operated from the water. If you watch the canals long enough you will see trash boats collecting waste from homes & businesses, boats transferring cement mixers and building materials from site to site, fishing boats heading out to the Adriatic, police and ambulance boats racing by, boats delivering produce and supplies to restaurants, not to mention the flurry of passenger boats. Men with hand trucks and dollies dominate the narrow alleys as they move goods around – from boat to shore, from shore to boat.
There are no cars or motorbikes within the city, a fact that I didn’t even notice until Adam pointed it out to me. I was so enthralled with the sights and distracted by people passing closely with eye-level umbrella tips, that I didn’t realize how quiet it was. People get around in Venice on foot – local women in high heeled boots move quickly over uneven cobblestone streets and tourists pile up on the many bridges and stairways. Public transportation comes in the form of water boats called vaporetti which take you to stops throughout the city and out to several populated islands surrounding Venice. The “bus stops” are floating docks with a shelter – when the water bus clumsily bumps into the side of the dock and is briefly tied on to a cleat, that’s your cue to hop on and off.
3. City of Canals
Until we got to Venice, we hadn’t yet in our travels seen quite so many people openly studying maps. In our experience tourists tend to try for a little more subtlety when they’re totally lost. Venice is really hard to navigate because it’s a complex series of streets and alleys that dead end in the ocean. But seeing what comes from getting profoundly lost – which you’re guaranteed to do – is part of the fun.
4. Queen of the Adriatic
One of our favorite things to do while in Venice was to hop on a Vaporetto and ride it around for hours, hopping off every now and then. If the weather’s nice and you’re able to snag a seat outside, it’s cheap entertainment and provides you with a really cool view of Venice from the water. Plus there are several islands worth exploring.
Sometimes it’s really worth it to splurge for a nicer hotel. In Rome, we had a room with a shared bathroom but in Venice we wanted a room with a view of the Grand Canal. Instead of eating out at pricey canal adjacent restaurants, we stuck to take-out pizza, but enjoyed the view all the same.
- Venice is insanely touristy. I’d say, at first glance, the Las Vegas Strip is the closest comparison. It was touristy when I was there 10 years ago during the month of August and it was touristy in the rain in February. However, the city does a great job of purposely huddling the tourists into set paths moving throughout the city. This does two things, it keeps tourists all huddled together on streets lined with souvenir shops but also it allows the Venetian residents to move freely about the city away from the hoards of people. It’s actually quite ingenious. Cheat the system by keeping a map in your pocket and NEVER following the signs to landmarks. If you do this it’ll take you twice as long to get anywhere but you’ll avoid the repetition of carnival mask and souvenir shops and you’ll be alone on isolated streets and canals. If you do this, Venice will appear, as it should, as the most magical city in Europe.
- Walk the inner city early in the morning and take water buses to the outer islands in the afternoons. There are so many lovely islands to explore around Venice proper, it’s nice to explore them in the afternoon when Venice gets really crowded with tourists and day trippers. More information about water buses (Vaporetto) here and surrounding islands here.
- When we hit the road and travel to places like Italy or around Europe we live off of an average of 150 Euros per day, which includes everything: hotels, transportation, museums, food, etc.. In Venice we got a nice hotel room overlooking the water at Ca’ Angeli because we vowed to stick to pizza and we also saved money by staying in a cheaper place in Rome. This was completely worth it as we had lovely days watching the canal in the rain. Plus, Ca’ Angeli, a place I’d highly recommend, serves a giant and fancy brunch better than any breakfast I’ve ever had on the road. Go to Venice, spend a ton on the nice room with a view and just walk all day long away from tourists and you’ll absolutely love it.