What is there to say about Venice that hasn’t been said? It is the pre-eminent beautiful destination of the world. A city made up of thousands of tiny islands, its canals are the vasculature to the heart of the city, Piazza di San Marco.
With great beauty comes great tourism, and I think that is the main detractor from the city itself. There’s too many people here, and in turn, the culture has turned outward rather than inward. Of course, there is still great art, food and history, all things Italians are most proud of, but you have to push through the crowds and dig deep to find it.
It’s worth it. Just live in the moment, enjoy the fact that you have the privilege of being surrounded by gorgeous scenery. Che bella e la dolce vita…
Marco Polo, famous Venice denizen, has the airport named after him. Because you’re dealing with a network of islands, you have to take the water bus or taxi to get to your destination. Luckily, I had a water taxi booked for me, it can be very expensive to go on your own.
If there is a lot of wind and rain, as there was when I got to Venice, you will see your life flash before your eyes, as you will wonder if you will live through the speedboat ride.
Spoiler alert: I lived to tell.
Staying in the Santa Croce area was actually very convenient. You can walk everywhere, and it is less touristy on this side of the island. Some of the better restaurants are on this side as well, near where the locals, if any, live. Canals wind throughout the city, little tributaries everywhere.
I set out on foot right away towards the Rialto Bridge. Now, I had planned for my trip extensively, and I was like, I’m not gonna get lost, I studied my maps, I have my GPS.
You’re going to get lost.
You can’t help it, the streets are narrow, some lead to nowhere, there are twists and turns all over, and you will end up in a sketchy alleyway at some point. Or maybe you’ll end up in a tranquil courtyard, you never know. Luckily, everyone else is lost too, so don’t feel too bad or scared.
That is a part of the charm of Venice. You can get lost, turn a corner and find a quaint canal scene or unbothered piazza. It’s often in these quiet moments that you will truly absorb the simplistic beauty that is Venice.
The nice thing is that even if you’ve made a wrong turn, if you look on the side of most buildings, there will be yellow signs pointing you in the direction of a landmark like Rialto Bridge or San Marco…just follow and you’ll eventually find scores of people marking the spot.
Before you get to the bridge, if you happen to wander into Campo San Giacomo, stop at any of the watering holes for a spritz. You’re on vacation, you deserve it!
The Rialto Bridge is an icon. It literally looks like it was built yesterday; it is so well preserved despite people trotting all over it. The one at the Venetian in Vegas looks more worn out than this architectural wonder. This iteration was actually built in 1591 and is the oldest of the Grand Canal bridges.
From the bridge, you see the open Grand Canal waters, with its gondolas all in line, bobbing slightly in symphony with one another. If you want a cheap gondola ride, pay a traghetti to take you across the Canal, rather than splurging on an entire gondola ride.
Crossing the bridge, you reach a plaza on Campo San Bartolomeo with a large statue commemorating Italian playwright Carlo Goldoni. You will see the Stefanel clothing store, and next to it is a dark alley. Go into the dark alley. This will not be the only time I tell you to do this, but trust me, what’s on the other side is worth it.
You will follow the alley and turn left, walking towards a Rosticceria sign. Turn right when you hit the Rosticceria and in front of you will be a foodie oasis so wonderful, you will never forget it.
This is Suso.
Suso is the best gelateria I’ve ever experienced in my life. I ate a lot of gelato in Italy, but I may have eaten here multiple times in my 36 hours. Their flavors are unique, which is the best part. You’re probably not going to find these options anywhere else, and certainly not back at home. The flavors are so bright, your tastebuds will wonder what life even was before this moment.
As I alluded to earlier, I made multiple visits. I had the Marostica which is pistachio (a must for any real gelato fan) mixed with tart Amarena cherries; Suso (toffee and chocolate), Manet (salted pistachio with hazelnut), Opera (hazelnut with a THICK chocolate layer). First of all, it was reasonably priced. Second of all, vacation.
Mind you, it was FREEZING ass when I was in Venice, but I was still so brave to eat gelato. Not all heroes wear capes, y’all.
All kidding aside, I would go back to Venice just to have this gelato again. Bold statement, I’m sticking to it.
While you’re blissfully loving your gelato cone and thus, loving your life, you’ll wander south until you reach St. Mark’s (probably not without getting lost a few more times, but it’s okay, you have gelato to keep you company).
This is the piazza of all piazzas. It’s like a gigantic outdoor ballroom. Flanked by St. Mark’s Basilica on one end, and the Museo Correr on the other, this wide open space is usually filled with tourists and pigeons waiting to poop on tourists. They’re mean little bastards and one of them stole a part of my uneaten cone.
Anyway, if you walk towards the Grand Canal, on your left will be my favorite architectural building in all of Venice, maybe top ten in the world, the Doge’s Palace. I love the Moorish embellishments, it’s very recognizable and not overly wrought.
Walking through the “gates” of Venice, continue along the canal towards the east and you’ll see a curious looking bridge connecting the Doge’s Palace to the prison. It’s called the Bridge of Sighs presumably because as prisoners were being led to their fate, they took one last took at the beautiful Grand Canal and sighed. Poetic.
If you walk towards the west, you’ll eventually run into Harry’s Bar. Before Cipriani in NY was a thing, you had Harry’s Bar, where the bellini was invented. Have a drink or eat some carpaccio, as you watch the vaporettos skim the waters of the canal.
Take the vaporetto one way from St. Mark’s to wherever you’re going. It’s a nice way to unwind after doing the fair bit of walking and you get to see all the sights as well. It’s not as nauseating as a speedboat either. I’m not a fan of boats, but one day we’ll get to that.
Make sure you’re looking at either side of the boat when you’re speeding through. On the left hand side is the landmark, Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute. It is one of the more prominent features of Venice’s skyline and rightfully so, it is majestic.
The Peggy Guggenheim also sits on the left side of the canal, and if you have time you should definitely visit. Peggy is a personal hero, the art collector and all around bad ass powerful muse, so I had to see her gallery. There are works from her vast personal collection including those by Calder, Miro, Lichtenstein and a personal favorite artist, Clyfford Still.
Venice is a city of arts and every other year, Biennale is one of the world’s largest arts exhibitions. There’s a lot of public art dotted throughout the city, see if you can spot ’em.
Since I was staying in Santa Croce, La Zucca was pretty close to me. It is a little leery getting lost in Venice at night because it is not well lit, but it wasn’t too hard to find. Italian trattoria at its best. You know it has to be good, if it’s mostly vegetarian and I’m recommending it. Reservations are a must here, it’s small and they are very popular.
The next morning, on recommendation, I stopped at a pasticceria to have a brioche con marmellata. It’s basically a croissant with marmalade, but it is oh so good with a piping hot cappuccino at the bar. I drank my weight in cappuccinos while in Italy.
This fueled me up for a boat ride to Murano, Venice’s famed island known for its glasswares. You have to do the touristy thing and see a glass blowing demonstration and then try not to get tempted to buy any of the ridiculously expensive pieces. But hey, if you want a souvenir, they ship everywhere.
I wish I had time to visit Burano, the island known for its colorful buildings and lace, but next time. There’s so many little things about each island, there’s never enough time!
Back to the main area, St. Mark’s Square. Take a tour of the Doge’s Palace or Palazzo Ducale and see all of the beautiful frescoes from the time the building served as the residence of the leader of Venice. It served as the parliament, courthouse and prison in addition to housing the leaders of the republic, it was a one stop shop.
Walk the bridge of sighs before exiting back into the grand courtyard. The Basilica is right next door, and it is opulence at its best. The golden mosaics are my favorite feature, because I like shiny things.
By this time, that brioche is long gone, so take a short walk down a couple of narrow streets to Dal Moro. This is a takeout pasta place that has become very popular with tourists because it is reasonably priced. Everything else in Venice is expensive and touristy, so why not eat fresh pasta out of a takeout container while roaming the streets instead?
I had my all time favorite, spaghetti di nero or squid ink. It is salty and umami and it’s great. Perfect for an impromptu picnic on a bench overlooking the lagoon.
Because I was in Venice, I had to do the whole gondola thing. It was kitschy and touristy, but it’s something to do once. You can tell the gondoliers aren’t really into it anymore other than for the fact that it pays the bills, and I’m sure the crooners are sick of singing Volare and That’s Amore. I’m not sick of hearing it though, so it was fun for what it was.
Plus you can get some sick pics while you’re weaving through the canals.
Before I headed back to the hotel to utterly pass out (it was a long day), I had Suso again, of course, and also a light dinner at Farini, a chain restaurant with deliciously crispy pizza al taglio. Simple, but delicious. A perfect cap to a short trip to Venice.