A day in Venice (and on the joys of skipping the sights)
We’ve been to magical Venice before, lining up to see the main attractions and doing all the other tourist highlights – all the stuff you sometimes feel you have to do because you may never see the place again. This time, 8 years later, we decided to just enjoy Venice: ie. walk around, take some photos, look at people and sit on a square having a Spritz.
That’s exactly what we did.
If you want a bit of history and a recap of the highlights of Venice have a look at our previous post. But if you just want to see a whole bunch of photos that show off Venice’s beauty just continue on this post…
Related: A Local’s Travel Guide to Italy
A few photos of St. Marc’s Basilica. The interior is, in our opinion, not as impressive as the Doge’s Palace. But still a must-see in Venice. The lines however are long….we were happy to not have to line up this time around.
I talk of “skipping the sights”. But there are 2 sights you HAVE to see if it’s your first time in Venice: Doge’s Palace and St. Mark’s Basilica. This 2 hour skip-the-line tour lets you see both. Then you can go back to relaxing and eating gelato.
We stayed at the Hotel Cannaregio 2357, which is a bargain in Venice. Recommended.
Venice’s Marco Polo Airport (airport code: VCE) is 8 km (5 miles) north of the city center.
On the joys of skipping the sights
Our day made me question something. Ever feel that having to enter all the tourist sights can detract from the pleasure of visiting a place? On the one hand you can’t miss Mark’s Basilica and the Doge’s Palace. And the views from the Campanile are great. They’re “must-see’s” in Venice. On the other hand, dealing with crowds and lines can be really stressful. And having travelled full time now for 2 years (and seeing lots of museums) we often feel “Museum-ed out”. We find we often just can’t take the crush of people and the long waiting times in line. It was actually a relief not to have to enter the main sites and to just enjoy the city. I wonder if people sometimes feel the same way but feel an obligation or guilt to see certain sights when visiting a destination? I’d be curious what people think.
Related: Venice, Rome or Bologna – which should you Visit?
Related: Padua (Padova) and why it makes for a great base in the Veneto region
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I’ve been dreaming of a Venice and Slovenia getaway, then randomly decided to check your page for posts I may have missed. I feel like I say this every time, but your photos are just breathtaking. And it just tempts me to blow my budget and hop a plane right now!
And yes, sometimes I do feel that seeing the main sites can put an undue burden of stress when traveling. But I mean, you can’t go to Rome and not see the Colosseum, right? Or maybe not? Perhaps why I love Germany so much is because our schedule is so laid-back, big on living and less on touring.
Thanks so much Katrina! Exactly, that’s always the dilemma isn’t it? Can make travelling seem like a job at times. And you’re right on Germany (one of our favorite countries)
Tanja (the Red phone box travels)
I’ve been to Venice many times. it’s special and beautiful but it just somehow doesn’t touch me that much like some other places do:)
Maybe the tourists? I really think it’s a place thats special early morning (after sunup) and in the evening. Just more atmospheric without the tourist hordes.
Ah… to see the tourist sites, or not to see them. The big dilemma. For me the answer is: it depends. Tourist sites are often famous for a reason. That said, I only go to the ones I’m personally interested, and skip the ones I’m not so interested. I haven’t been up to the Eiffel Tower but went to the Louvre. I visited the Angkor temples but did not watch dolphins in the Mekong. When I was in South America I was “museum-ed out” (liked the term!) but did go to Casa de la Moneda in Potosí (Bolivia) because I was interested in the history of the mines/ city/ country.
I haven’t been in Venice yet but I think I’d spend my days walking around small streets and canals. It looks wonderful. I believe it’s magical 🙂
Thanks for the tip about NOT ordering coffee in Piazza San Marco… charging 50USD for the live music, oh my!
Yes, I think you have the right idea. I know in the past when we travelled on vacation we felt like we had to see everything, now that we’re full-time travellers we are much more relaxed about things and will often (especially) skip museums.
I think your plans on Venice exactly right. Much more enjoyable doing it that way. But if you have a little extra time the Doge’s palace and Campanile are worth it (if the lines not too long..)
Sand In My Suitcase
Totally gorgeous photos! You make us want to go to Venice again, just to get lost again and see where we end up! Venice is perfect for ambling without a plan and people watching and sitting in a little cafe in the sunshine to simply soak up your surroundings :-).
I agree with you 100%. We didn’t even have a map and got lost, despite it being our 2nd time there. I forgot what a maze Venice is. But yes, even if accidental it is the best way to see Venice.
I like walking around cities. Maybe have a rough plan but just go with it and you can really enough a city that way. Always take a hotel card though in case you get lost.
HA! Yes, you are so right Tom. And that hotel card particularly handy in Asia. I remember staying at the YMCA in Hong Kong, it said “YMCA” in huge letters. When I wanted to take the taxi to get back there the driver looked at me totally confused and I was “Duh, of course they can’t understand the English version”. So I remembered the hotel card (which had the Chinese characters that looked something like 我需要去厕所) and he understood. But it was one of those things I never thought of beforehand. But you’re right, whatever language, wherever you are, you can always get home if you have a hotel card.
Venice is like you said “magical” and just wandering the streets feels like being part of something special. There are interesting buildings, little bridges, fascinating history in every corner. I only spent 48 hrs there and stayed in a shabby chic hotel ( more shabby than chic really) by one of the canals, by the evening many of the tourists have left and it is great to wander around and see more of the real Venice.
You’re right Gilda, we did the same (staying in a very small hotel by a canal) for 3 days when we were here 8 years ago and walking around in the evening was really special. Totally agree.
ok STOP! enough! Im working 100 hrs a fortnight and getting far too jealous. what a magnificent place it is
Yep! I am kind of past the point of visiting every touristy place. It’s not a race as Federico is always fond of saying. We just got back from Copenhagen yesterday. Everybody was like “you must visit the Tivoli gardens”.. Meh! Passing by daily and seeing the crowds wanting to enter into what looked like a mini Disneyland was not my idea of fun. Instead we looked for places to eat and people watch..haha! Lovely images of Venice you have here. I was laughing at your $50 coffee. We ventured like way in the little streets to eat and drink much cheaply. One of our friends still simmers every time he remembers his $18.50 can of coke. The size they give you on the flights.. 150ml! Haha!!!
Yes, felt pretty stupid about that coffee. On the other hand, I wasn’t getting up, I got my money’s worth of music 🙂
Ha, I get about your friend. Those kind of things burn me up as well, it’s like “we’re not only going to screw you over, we’re totally going to f*ck you over. You’re always going to remember getting f*cked over by us”.
Good point by Federico.
You got some great photos! I especially like the second one.
We can only travel a few times a year, so we try to see as much of a place as possible. We always come home completely exhausted! However, I’m not big into museums and tend to just breeze through them (and then I’m left waiting at the end for Mike who likes to read almost everything!) I much prefer to wander the streets, enjoying both the architecture and natural landscapes.
Yeah, I know where you’re coming from! Thanks Rhonda.
Thanks Frank for posting this photo essay about Venice, especially that I’m going there in 2 weeks! And I couldn’t agree more with you, the crowds of people can destroy all the amazing places. I am a person that like to see everything so I always try to get a glimpse of the typical landmarks. And then, I like to leave the beaten path and have a look at the local life. I’m getting exited about Venice although it has never been a destination that I really wanted to see.
I think you’ll love it Tom, there’s a lot of beauty. But you have to be thick-skinned with the tourists, it can be overwhelming…
I just returned from Venice. It is absolutely beautiful, but… it was the most touristic place I have ever been to. Those groups of Asian tourists with the flags and fluorescent, crazily colorful jackets can spoil any site. I’m sure it used to be amazing before but now, it seems no locals even live there anymore. The prices are crazy, we had horrible food there, the gondola ride was 100 EUR for 30 minutes! I left the San Marco square and the Rialto bridge area and got lost in the little streets, as you said, it was so enjoyable 🙂 I also went to another island – Burano – it’s so close from Venice and so beautiful with its colorful houses, sleepy atmosphere and very few tourists! Have you seen it?
I love the way you describe it Tom. You are absolutely right in everything you say. Wow, gondola rides have gone up in price! But that’s supply/demand and with all the tourists I guess they’ll get that price. That’s crazy.
We’ve been to a few good local restaurants recommended by locals but the majority are as you say, bad.
Would you ever go back? Or was once enough for you? Did you get in line for any of the museums?
No, we never went to Burano.
I do not like museums too much – I much prefer to see the real city, the way locals live or the archaeological sites in their original locations rather than exhibitions. I also love to take photos and decided to wait in the line for the bell tower at St. Marco plaza in order to get the panorama of Venice. It was around a 30 minute wait and I almost gave up but actually when I got to the top the view was absolutely spectacular – all the red roof tiles and the coast, the plazas and churches looked amazing. I don’t regret it at all 🙂
I would definitely go back to Burano – it’s the way I love – unique atmosphere, less tourists, colorful houses like from a fairy tale. It’s so close – you just take the water bus and in 45 minutes you’re there. We almost missed it – we discovered it by pure chance. It’s a little gem 🙂
Thanks for the feedback on Burano. I don’t know if we’ll ever go back to Venice – probably not after having visited twice – but if ever we do we’ll make sure to see Burano.
Museums can be a chore 🙁 But I remember the Doge’s Palace being totally worth it. I went up the campanile the 1st time and you’re right, IF the line not too long it’s for sure worth it.
Sarah (JetSetting Fools)
Funny you should bring up the sightseeing question, as I’m currently writing a post based on seeing the sights (through the eyes of my mother and sister who did just that – and only that – on their recent trip to Europe). We like to travel with some sort of balance. It’s incredibly difficult to pass by major sights, but seeing them from the outside is usually good enough for us. We find equal – and sometimes more – enjoyment in experiencing the lesser-known part of cities, lingering over coffee at a sidewalk cafe or just aimlessly walking. We aren’t much in the way of ‘museum’ people anyway, so that automatically cuts out sights in many cities. And we seldom travel in the high-season, so we rarely encounter crowds or lines. Sometimes we let our budget determine what we will see. $20 to get into a sight or $2 glass of wine at a local bar? – for us, there’s no question which we would rather do.
Love your pictures of Venice…I haven’t been there since 2000 and your photos are luring me back 😉
Another great comment!
I remember before we started travelling full-time that we travelled much like other people – taking 2 or 3 weeks and making sure to see everything (we often came home needing a vacation from a vacation). You don’t want to go somewhere and sit in the hotel room and watch tv, right? The same could be argued for sitting somewhere drinking beer while that tourist site is right across the street. Now, as we blog about our travels, wouldn’t it be incomplete if we wrote that St. Marc’s basilica is a highlight but finish that off by saying that we didn’t actually visit but instead chose to have a beer? 🙂 Even before we started blogging we felt kind of guilty missing a site.
But I also totally agree with you and I’d even add to that that about 80% of the time lining up/paying/jostling with tourists was a waste of money and time. We’ve been disappointed many, many times by must-see sights (but have also been really pleasantly surprised by a few). Maybe you’ve got the right formula – ie. set a budget and prioritize. We’re still trying to figure out our strategy.
Venice is pretty incredible. And the 3 sights I mentioned ARE worth it. Just try to plan it really early in the day and also away from weekends. They’ll still be people but it won’t be crazy.
Thanks for the comment Sarah!
I agree, Frank, sometimes it feels like we are obliged to ‘do’ the sights and can so easily miss the little pleasures of just exploring and looking, sitting… relaxing. I had intended to buy a canoe for our trip to Europe last year and pondered whether one would be allowed to paddle oneself around the canals of Venice! Never did buy a canoe or find out… Loved your photos, brought back super memories of pottering around Venice with the kids…
You make me laugh Jane, you’re crazy adventurous. I can imagine the face of the gondoliers seeing you plop your canoe in a canal and paddle off…You should do it for that alone 🙂
Your – by now standard – beautiful photos reflect what must hv been a beautiful visit Frank ! Yes, when visiting cities for the first time, there is always the impulsion to see and take in as much as is physically and metally possible – and then some – and as soon as possible. We hv long tried , on a first visit, to get more the orientation, “feel” and ambiance of the place. Usually, you know within a short time if its the sort of city you will like to visit again – or will visit again- and if it is, things can be planned and undertaken in a lot more leisurely manner. And definitely on first visits, make sure to “ration” visitng the must-see and big- billing sights and attractions . They will always be there, and they always tend to be a lot more enjoyable at some other time, on other visits when you are more relaxed, less stressed or excited, and have more time and interest anyway to see them then . Our suggestion for first time visitors to any city , and if they like the place, is to take the time just to soak the place in, watch the parade go by, and try and become a native as soon as its possible….”slow” travel of course, lends itself perfectly to return visits, but even for the average traveller, multiple visits to favourite cities is often common practice. Seeing and visiting natural sights and attractions however, usually has to be tackled somewhat differently…
Great photos – and memories for us too, Frank !
Thanks Tony – yes, totally agree! I think there’s often a fear for the first time visitor that this may be their only visit and that they would regret missing any highlights. I get that. But I also think that part of experiencing a place is to just enjoy it (which is maybe easier said than done). A couple of times over the past year though we’ve arrived somewhere, seen a line and said “screw it”, and just sat down to watch the action. In the end probably more fun 🙂
Tanja (the Red phone box travels)
beautiful photos! I like exploring Venice off season and definitely try to see other alleys not just the main sights!:)
I’m with you! My first trip to Europe was a 22 day nightmare of too much too soon. We started at the train station in Amsterdam after spending 1.5 days, heading to Paris for 5 days. Then south to Florence for a few day, then Rome! By the time we were queuing at St. Peters square I had zero interest to see any more of the Vatican and bailed from our party. I ended up walking around Rome for hours and finally stumbling upon the Villa Borghese. I spent the rest of that day hanging out watching a 5 man crew of stone masons build an intricate patterned footpath by hand! Later that evening while catching up with my travel companions we exchanged stories, theirs was what you would have expected! Now I can’t speak to how beautiful the inside of Vatican city is but I can tell you how relaxing it is to wander through a 2000+ year old Roman Villa nearly alone! Same thing happened to me my first trip to BKK, hit the river and wanted to check out the Palace and various Wat’s. As soon as I saw the endless lines I about faced, got back on the river ferry never returned! I’ve been to Thailand now more than 20 times and I’ve yet to see the floating gardens or Jim Thomsons home. I have been back to the Palace, Wat Arun and Wat Pho, Once on a Tuesday afternoon during low season, but would I ever go during a weekend or high season? Hell NO!
If you do your research most of the must do’s (like scaling the Eifel tower?) you can kinda guess as to if it’s going to enrich the experience of that destination or not? Do I love Parris? YES, but not because I endured the lines to take a 2 minute lift ride up to a crowded platform for a few minutes of city views. You learn to love places and learning takes time…Most times > 2 weeks 😉
That’s a great comment. You know, what you say reminds me of those Rick Steve’s Tours (I’ve seen them advertised) where you hit about 12 cities in 10 days. I can only imagine what a wreak someone must be at the end of that, having really seen nothing of ‘real’ life and instead just being ferried from one tourist-packed place to another. Totally agree with every point you make.
We base ourselves in one place for a month+ but will often have excursions to places around. In this case we used Padova (Padua) as our base for 28 days and explored Bologna, Verona, Venice and Rome. And some places are well-suited for a 1-2 day visit…but others really aren’t, especially if you’re going to see all the highlights. What you end up doing is hitting up every spot that every other tourist hits up. And you mention Rome (which is my next post) where we spent a weekend walking the city going from highlight to highlight. We actually enjoyed it: it wasn’t “too” busy (mid-April) and in between some of the really popular sites (Colosseum, Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps) there were quieter moments. In Rome many of the sites were free, outdoor things so no lines…but other places, like Venice and Florence include a lot of churches and museums that require lining up, paying a ticket, and jostling with crowds.
Anyway, it’s something we always struggle with. I think it comes down to balance, seeing the highlights that are important to you and also trying to get off the beaten path. I’ll keep Villa Borghese in mind for our next trip to Rome because I’m sure we’ll be back.
What a wonderful trip down memory lane through your photo essay Frank. I didn’t go into any of the tourist attractions when I was there. I only had 8 hours and didn’t want to spend them standing in line, so my daughter and I did what you guys did… enjoyed Venice. We wove our way through the alleys loving being lost in this magnificant city away from the crowds. One day I’ll get back there and see the inside of Doge’s Palace etc, when I have the time to take it all in…preferably in low season 😉
Yes, 8 hours is about what we had this time around (in mid-April). Last time we were there 3 days and really saw everything, got in lines etc…We were amazed but at the same time it was overwhelming and almost a relief to leave.
But yes, it’s one of those few places on earth where you almost HAVE to enter the highlights. The best you can do is plan for when there are the least amount of people…
Paul and Carole
We are not a lover of queueing to see the sites you are supposed to see on a visit, we love just wandering with a loose plan. Chasing round a city like you say can be so stressful and doesn’t make for an enjoable experience. We inevitably end up finding a bar with a view so we can people watch is one of our favourite things to do! We are hoping to see a lot more of Europe over the next couple of years and Venice is on the list. I have been before when I was about 16 on a school trip, that was a few years back now and the memories are a bit fuzzy, so would live to return one day. Great post and photos!
Thanks for taking the time to comment Carole. Honestly, for the most part we find ourselves disappointed with main sites. Especially museums. And those entry fees really add up. But then once in a while it is really worth it: recent examples were Peles Castle in Romania, the Colosseum/Forum/Palatine Hill ticket in Rome, and the Euphrasian Basilica we just saw yesterday in Porec. You’re right, just relaxing with a beer and watching people is a great way to get a feel for a place. I’m a bit on the fence with the whole thing – but more and more I think that we’ll really just visit museums if they really can’t be missed and that when we do we’ll make the extra effort to plan so that we go when there’s the least people possible.