Venice, oh beautiful, magical, breathtaking Venice! There really aren’t words to describe this city- it’s absolutely fantastic! Before visiting Venice, we had heard mixed reviews from friends and family with about half saying they loved it and the other half saying it wasn’t for them. As you can probably tell, we are definitely in the camp of people who love Venice. If you happen to be reading this guide before your own trip to Venice, let me just say I am extremely jealous of your upcoming visit!
Venice is a place you have to see to believe and that you have to explore to experience. Our favorite way to spend time during our visit was just walking around without a destination in mind taking in the canals, bridges, the homes and churches. I’ve read several different travel guides or other posts that said Venice’s greatest sight is Venice itself and that is definitely true!
Where to stay: Ca’Sagredo
Ca’Sagredo, like many other hotels in Venice, is a former palace and we had an absolutely wonderful time staying in this converted 15th century palace. The hotel’s location is ideal, located right on the Grand Canal for a water view from some rooms, the hotel restaurant and the rooftop bar for a evening apertivo. We loved grabbing a pre-dinner drink on the roof or enjoying an espresso at the main restaurant in the afternoons. Not sure how this is possible, but neither of us realized that Ca’Sagredo was home to the well publicized Lorenzeo Quinn sculpture of two hands reaching out of the canal to highlight the threat of climate change and rising water levels in Venice. Beyond being an awesome thing to see up close and personal during our trip since the sculpture is only on display until November, but we also had the chance to see the sculptor at the hotel as well filming a documentary on the sculpture!
What To Do:
Just walk and explore- The best thing about Venice is Venice itself and by just walking along the waterways you’ll find gorgeous bridges, beautiful homes and unique buildings. If you have a hard time walking without a destination in mind, try heading to St. Mark’s Square by taking a different route than you did the last time. This was something we did just about every day and we did not walk the same way twice. We also used Rick Steve’s guide to Venice for a walk along some landmarks as a way to explore the city.
Visit St. Mark’s Square, Basilica and The Doge’s Palace- Whenever you visit an Italian city, you have to tour their main church and St. Mark’s Basilica is Venice’s. The basilica is gorgeous and St. Mark’s Square is a bustling place filled with tourists, some pigeons, but also cafes made for people-watching complete with live bands. While we had a private tour for the Basilica, I would recommend buying the pre-paid tickets if you plan on visiting as it gives you a set time to visit and you’ll avoid a line. The Doge’s Palace located right next door was another awesome place to visit, filled with art and so much of Venice’s proud history from the home of the city’s appointed leader (the doge).
Take a day trip to Murano- Just a fifteen minute boat ride away, a visit to Murano is a fun way to spend half a day during your trip. It’s basically a mini-Venice with it’s own grand canal, bridges and waterways. It also happens to be famous for glass blowing (all glassblowers were forced to move out of Venice and on to the island of Murano hundreds of years ago due to risk of fire) and is a perfect place to pick up a souvenir for yourself or someone else. We spent about three hours on island- walking around, taking in the Glass Museum (stunning chandeliers on display there seen above!), shopping and grabbing lunch. It’s definitely worth a visit and if we had more time we likely would have gone to Burano too (hopefully next time!).
Take a gondola ride- Okay, so it’s obviously a big tourist trap, but it’s fun and a great way to see the city from the water! It’s very easy to find a gondola to ride, but I’d recommend doing one closer to the Grand Canal so you can see some of the sights from the water that you wouldn’t be able to get a good view of otherwise- like the Rialto Bridge.
Go for a cicchetti crawl- Venice is known for its’ small snacks/appetizers, known as cicchetti, that are served at several bars. You’ll actually see a lot of places adverstising cicchetti and wine only. The travel company we work with set up a crawl for us one night and we liked it so much we did it another night too. Some of the traditional cicchetti were baccala (salted cod) on toasted bread, zucchini flowers or fried meatballs.
Catch a sunrise or sunset over the Grand Canal– I’ll let the pictures do the talking on this one. It’s simply stunning!
Where To Eat and Drink:
Harry’s Bar-A must visit in Venice, Harry’s Bar is the birthplace of the bellini and beef carpaccio. Naturally we had both during our lunch there and they were both amazing! One note- if you are trying to go for lunch, there is a dress code for men so be prepared ahead of time and make sure any guys in your party are wearing pants (we saw several people turned away for wearing shorts).
Osteria alle Testiere– This was hands down our favorite meal of our trip! Osteria alle Testiere serves almost exclusively seafood and the menu is based on what is available in the fish market that day ensuring what you eat is super fresh and super local. We had a bit of a feast here as we could not decide and started with the grilled mixed fish (a common antipasti in Venice) and the swordfish carpaccio. We shared the lobster gnochetti as our pasta and both MJD and I wish we had more of it- it was so good! A sea bass was the perfect entree to end the night. If you love seafood, don’t miss this restaurant during your visit! Plan to make reservations far in advance as they only do two seatings an evening. As a note, they are closed most of August so if you are looking for a September reservation calling early is a good idea 🙂
Caffe Florian– Caffe Florian was such a fun spot to stop for a cappuccino or espresso right on St. Mark’s Square. It is the oldest cafe in the world and was the first place to serve coffee. We preferred to sip our drinks outside so we could people watch and enjoy the live classical band playing at Florian. The inside of the cafe is beautiful though and worth a look given the baroque style decor from the 1700s when it was originally founded. It is a bit pricey however- I think a cappuccino cost 10 euro- so keep in mind you are paying for the atmosphere, the music and white glove service as well.
Cantina Do Spade– This cicchetti spot was my favorite. Located in a small alley and always bustling with locals (or at least people that spoke Italian 😉 ), it had a fun and young vibe to it. It was a great place to grab a glass of wine and a snack, but be prepared that you will probably be standing outside in the alleyway without any sort of table as you eat and drink. It’s a fun experience and would be a great stop on a cicchetti crawl 🙂
Caffe Vergnano– This was MJD’s favorit cicchetti spot and is a short walk from Cantina Do Spade so you can add it as the second stop on your cicchetti crawl. Definitely order an aperol spritz here and also the baccala toast. There is a spot to stand outside with a ledge that’s perfect for resting your snacks and drinks.
Ristorante Ai Piantaleoni– If you make it to Murano, don’t miss a canal-side lunch at this spot. We were walking through Murano and just decided to stop as we got hungry and were pleasantly surprised with how great this place was. It’s right on the water with a lovely view and the staff was great. We had an amazing braided mozzarella and prosciutto antipasti to start. I had a special of avocado stuffed with local shrimp which was absolutely delish.
Other Venice Tips:
Venice involves a LOT of walking unless you want to take a boat everywhere so be sure to wear comfortable shoes.
Buying tickets to popular attractions like St. Mark’s Basilica and the Doge’s Palace ahead of time will save you from having to wait in line and wasting time.
Until next time, Venezia…