Highlights of a trip to Venice, Italy
Every corner of Venice is another painting. Three days we walked the city, usually getting lost. Tons of alleys, little bridges over canals, squares with churches. The detail is everywhere and the beauty of Venice is that it hasn’t changed with time. This post covers the highlights of a trip to Venice, Italy.
You have to see the main sites (St. Marks’ Basilica, Piazza St. Mark, Doge’s Palace, Campanile, Rialto bridge) but much of the attraction is to just walk around and explore. The city is deceivingly large – in 3 days I would guess we saw 10% of the city, and that’s not including the other islands like Lido and Murano.
Venice: (very) brief history and interesting facts;
-The islands in the lagoon first inhabited by refugees from Roman cities fleeing invasions by Germanic tribes and Huns. -Venice officially founded in 421 AD.
-Rialto Island (the current location of Venice) became seat of the governor in 775-776. Palazzo Ducale (Doges’ Palace) was built starting in 814. St. Mark’s basilica was built in 832 – but the version standing today was built in 1063 after the original was burned down.
-Between 9th and 12th century Venice developed as a city state, capitalizing as a trade center between the western world and the east, especially the Byzantine empire centered in Constantinople (now Istanbul).
-Constantinople fell during the Fourth Crusade (1204), whereupon Venice gained much of the loot, including the 4 gilt bronze horses that were placed above the entrance to St. Mark’s Basilica (the ones there today are replicas – the originals, which we sculpted in 4 BC, were taken down because of air pollution. They are now on display inside St Marks’s Basilica ).
-By the late 1400′s Venice was the richest city in Europe as well as a military power. It was famous for its Navy and merchant fleet.
-Venice’s decline came in the 15th century when it’s importance waned following discovery of the New World and sea routes to India. Wars in the Eastern Mediterranean as well as the 1630 plague (which killed a third of its citizens) also weakened Venice.
-Venice lost its independence in 1797 when Napoleon conquered the city. It became an Austrian territory for a brief period. In 1866 became part of the Kingdom of Italy. It was never bombed during WWII, both sides respecting “the most gorgeous city on earth”.
Most impressive sites: Doge’s Palace was for us the highlight of all highlights. So many huge rooms with beautiful artwork. Best museum I’ve ever been to. St. Mark’s Basilica was also very impressive. The visit to the Basilica is free but you have to pay to see the museum within it – the most impressive thing here are the 4 bronze horses which are said to have been made between the 2nd and 4th century BC. The tower (the Campanile) had great views over the city and is a ‘must see’. We went to the Correr museum but breezed through it. Maybe we’ve just seen too much art on this trip. We saw the Rialto Bridge and the 10 million tourists hanging off it. I can appreciate the history but honestly didn’t do too much for us. We took a gondola ride which one has to do if visiting Venice. I was actually going to propose to Lissette on the gondola, thinking that every woman’s dream would be to be proposed to in Venice on a gondola. But Lissette wasn’t in her #1 mood (tired. We’d been doing a lot of travelling) and I suddenly got nervous. How humiliating would it be to propose and to be rejected on a boat, on a dirty canal, with another guy on the boat? It’s not like I could just say “screw this” and walk away. Where are you going to go? You’ll be forced to stay there, dwelling in the rejection while an Italian man looks down on you in disdain. So I aborted, deciding to wait for more ideal circumstances .
One thing we really enjoyed were all the little bars, restaurants, and gellato stands in Venice. Eating in Italy is a joy; unhurried we would start with a couple of glasses of Prosecco (Sparkling wine), have appetizers, go on to a litre of house wine, have a pasta dish. Finish with desserts and coffee, with a glass of grappa. Italy is the good life when it comes to eating.
We also appreciated the Italians who, despite the HORDES of tourists in Venice, are still friendly and helpful. They’ve made us want to see other places in Italy sometime in the future.
Related: 3 Days in Magical Florence
Summary: we loved Venice. It’s gorgeous. Sure, there are a lot of tourists and it’s at times exhausting. 3 days was enough. But we’ll be back sometime in the off-season when it’s quieter.
Tips and Practical information
– Accommodation. We stayed at the Hotel Cannaregio 2357, which is a bargain in Venice. Recommended.
– Tours (and how to pace yourself). We’ve been back to Venice several times and the one tip I have is to pace yourself – don’t rush to see everything or do every tour. It’s exhausting. Walk around, sit in a cafe, have a gelato…enjoy Venice. Having said that, make sure to at least see Doge’s Palace and St. Mark’s Basilica (see the last tour below. Recommended).
Related: Forget everything you’ve read because Rome is Incredible
Related: How we saved Big Bucks using Padua (Padova) as a base in the Veneto region
Related: Photo Essay: A day in Venice (and on the joys of skipping the sights)
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That’s very interesting to read, it looks beautiful. I will be in Venice and I heard so many different opinions – some love it, others say it smells bad, etc. I wasn’t visiting Venice for long time due to the number of tourists but now, I’ll have a chance as I’m going to meet my friends there. So I’ll see if I like it, I’ll try to be objective despite the fact that I don’t like typical popular places full of crowds 🙂
You know what? Venice HAS to be seen. I’ve been a few times and I haven’t smelled the bad smells…but hey, lots of really old things (and people) have bad smells. Cheese too but that doesn’t stop people from eating cheese. If anyone doesn’t see Venice because it’s ‘too touristy’ or it ‘smells bad’ in the end they’re the ones losing out because it is incredible. The best thing is to get up early, like 6 am, and walk the streets when few people are around. You’ll be transported back in time.
That’s amazing then! Now I’m getting excited, I did the same thing in Prague – I woke up at 5 am and took unbelievable photos of the famous Charles Bridge without any people on it. I really like Italy, but to be honest, I prefer smaller towns like Siena or Pitigliano – Florence was nice but it was way too touristic for me. Well, I think it’s a good thing to visit Venice now as some scientists predict it might disappear soon under water due to the climate change…
You’re right about smaller Italian towns, we also loved Siena (and Cortona).
But even some of the larger cities amaze me (but best seen in shoulder season when less tourists).
I agree with the proposal on a a gondola, and you made me laugh, the Italian man looking at you in disdain, so funny but true! The city is gorgeous! I’ve never seen a photo like the one of the gondola on the narrow street, maybe they were locals taking a gondola taxi home? I wonder if they have that service for them, they probably do, since they have to get around too. Very interesting and beautiful photos!!
Funny enough we were just back in Venice this week for a daytrip. The place is a MAZE Dee and I had forgotten how complicated the walk from the train station to Piazza San Marco is. They actually have ferries on the main canals to get you around…I wouldn’t use the gondolas because they are really slow – they’re just really for a romantic ride and the experience of doing something like that once in a lifetime (they’re also really expensive!)
As annoying as the tourist hoards can be, there is just no other city in the world quite like Venice. No matter how many times I visit the city, I find it difficult to put my camera away. beautiful picture and glad you ended up finding a better time to propose to Lisette…and that she said yes! Happy travels!
We have been to Venice for New Year years ago. And it was very very cold and no party outside in the streets for New Years Eve. But we enjoyed Venice a lot!
I imagine it must have been quiet that time of year?! Oh, how it must be to see Venice with few tourists…
I love Venice, and your photos make me want to go back so badly. Eight years is too long!
Thank you Laura. Yes, we’ll go back one too day but will be sure to make it off-season; just too many people mid-summer.
Wonderful article! I love the pictures you’ve posted here; they really make me feel like I’m right there with you in Venice! I agree that hordes of tourists can be exhausting. I’m glad that you were satisfied with three days in Venice; it definitely seems like you were able to see lots of beautiful sights!
Thanks for taking the time to comment Jessica 🙂
Valen-This Way Paradise
These pictures are great! I had some of my best times in Italy in Venice…
Great shots of my favourite city on the planet (for looks alone, not for getting to know locals).
Just as long as you go in the right season and begin your day early there’s no reason that you can’t have a great time with no tourists around and the best light for pictures.
You’re making me miss it!
You’re right on all counts Dale – hopelessly touristy, but the most impressive living museum anywhere.
It is much better than Lausanne, isn’t it, Frank? 🙂
Hi Victor – you must be referring to my post on Lucerne (I’ve never been to Lausanne). But yes, definitely!
Beautiful photos! 🙂
Venice can both enchant you and drive you crazy. Finding affordable accommodation fulfills most of the ‘driving you crazy’ part so I recommend staying on Lido island, just 15 minutes of so on vaporetto from San Marco. The standard of accommodation is much higher and it’s cheaper. Lido is a peaceful retreat from the crowds, there’s a public beach and if you stay near the vaporetto stop you get a view of Venice across the water.
Thanks Stephanie, that’s a great tip!
I also liked Venice and like you both much preferred it away from the tourist traps, though in saying that of course we did them. We inevitably got lost and that was the best thing as we ended up in a ‘very’ local cafe where they were not too thrilled to see us. They grudgingly let us in and we had the most awesome meal with what turned out to be very friendly people. I think they thought we might run in fright but we are made of tougher stuff! Fabulous photos and great post. Looking forward to reading more. Regards, Paula
Thank you for the comment and compliments Paula! Sounds like you had an original experience off the beaten path!
Wonderful photos!!! I particularly love the first one! It must have been such a wonderful experience to slip wine and watch everything around you!! BTW, you definitely captured the beauty of the place through your commentary and pics!!
Thanks Constance for the kind words!
Jessica J. Hill
Gorgeous shots! I love that little boy with all of the pigeons. I loved Venice, though it’s been too long since I visited. I’m dying to return! Thanks for the trip down Memory Lane.
Great photos! We live about 45 minutes from Venice, so go a lot. I never get tired of seeing the beautiful passage ways and canals.