Venice had been on my bucketlist for so long and a place like many others that I was determined to finally visit in 2020. Rewind to July last year, I’m terrible for constantly roaming the Internet for city break deals but that day I found one that I couldn’t quite get my head around. £170 for flights and 4 nights in Venice staying at a little boutique hotel just 5 minutes from St Mark’s Square. Unbelievable right? Given the prices you typically hear people paying for a trip like this, I just couldn’t shake off the feeling that I had to book this right on that very day or I’d regret it….and so I booked the trip. Spontaneity at its finest.
Fast forward 7 months to February 2020, Coronavirus started to take firm grip in Northern Italy a little less than a week before we were due to fly out. The weekend before our departure we were continuously checking the news, seeing cases rising and questioning what we should do. With our flight still going ahead and no mention of travel restrictions from both Italian and UK government we decided to continue with the trip, so long as we took masks, antibacterial wipes, hand gel and kept our distance from other individuals. Boarding an empty flight with around 20 people or less, there was no turning back and although all museums and other tourist attractions were going to be closed during our visit we still wanted to make the trip a memorable one and make the most of it…little did I know this would be the last trip I would take for a long time.
Despite Venice being open on a ‘part-time‘ basis and not getting to venture into many of its ever popular attractions, you can still very much admire their beauty from the outside, like much of Venice itself. Given how in advance I had planned the trip and its itinerary, which unfortunately wasn’t taken full advantage of, today’s post is all about what to do should you find yourself in Venice when travel is no longer restricted and things have to returned to a new normal. Whether the people of Venice like it or not, it’s true that this city THRIVES on tourism so I would highly recommend a trip here when the time is right.
Venice is the type of place that requires the right footwear as you are constantly walking from point A to point B, unlike other cities where you can hop on a train, bus, or the underground. The good thing though is that all of the main attractions are conveniently very close to one another so you’re never walking far, but hey, Venice is the type of place I’d happily walk for miles and get lost in, so hopefully you enjoy getting virtually lost in it with me in this post.
GETTING TO VENICE
There are a few ways to get to Venice from Marco Polo Airport, either by ACTV local buses, which will take you to Piazalle Roma and costs around 8 euros for a single journey, or by Vaporetto, otherwise known as the water bus, which stops at many locations on the way and costs 15 euros for a single journey. By vaporetto the closest stop to our hotel involved an hour long journey in complete darkness, arriving in a rather misty and calm Venice, with no one but a violinist playing somewhere over the rainbow as we trailed our luggage to the hotel down narrow lanes.
Wanting to keep up with the Kardashians? If you’re feeling like splurging the cash a little then why not take one of the private water taxis and have your James Bond moment cruising (speeding actually) along the water to your hotel for around 100 euros.
WHERE TO STAY
There are many hotels in Venice to choose from and it really does depend on your budget or the occasion for your trip. We stayed at Hotel Casa Verardo, which for the price this hotel really exceeded our expectations. Traditional meets boutique like, the rooms were comfortable and classy, with the hotel even having a little terrace on the 1st floor for breakfast with views of the canal below, and apparently in the warmer season there is a larger one on the roof too.
This was a fantastic location, quietly tucked away from the Grand Canal but only a few minutes walk from the likes of St Mark’s Square. It was the best of both worlds and a hotel I would return to in a heartbeat. Now once you have freshened up in your Venetian style rooms, where should you venture to first?
ST MARK’S SQUARE AND ST MARK’S BASILICA
Walking into St. Mark’s Square truly is a ‘wow’ moment, it’s just beautiful with the square opening right up and St. Mark’s Basilica stood proud as the centre feature of the Eastern end of Piazza San Marco. The basilica is breathtakingly beautiful and despite not getting to go inside I can imagine that it would be just as grand as it is on the outside. I recommend visiting both during the day and in the evening to see the contrast of its beauty, in the evening it is illuminated with lights which only highlights its distinct fairytale like features.
For those on a budget, the basilica is free to enter, however you may have to pay to enter on special occasions or to certain parts of the building such as St Mark’s Museum which is 5 euros admissions fee. Compared to other European cities I’d say Venice is VERY expensive so anything you do come across that is free or saves you money then do take full advantage of, as you will have one empty purse or wallet by the end of the trip.
St Mark’s Square is the main public square in Venice so is ideal for people watching, just beware though, the cafes lining Piazza San Marco tend to add on extra charges for sitting outside or if there is music playing – this is when you can caught out just for being a tourist.
ST MARK’S CAMPANILE (TOWER)
Campanile di San Marco, otherwise known as St Mark’s Tower is the highest building in Venice, and apparently on a clear day you can see as far as The Alps. Being one of the most recognisable symbols in the city, its height of 99 metres makes this the perfect viewing point to see the beauty of Venice from above rather than just from being among it during your trip.
This was something that I had eagerly added to the itinerary as the views look incredible, and I’m a firm believer that you must see a city from below and from above in order to view it from different perspectives.
This is something that can be popular so to avoid disappointment it is recommended that you plan ahead and book your skip the line tickets online for only 8 euros. For the views you can take in from up there, this is truly priceless and would be another added memory during a trip to Venice.
The cafes lining Piazza San Marco have their own unique history, and one of these is Caffe Florian. Let me just emphasise though that this is no longer just a café, it’s a tourist attraction that almost everyone now visits during their trip to Venice.
Caffe Florian is the oldest café/coffee shop in the world, would you believe me if I told you that it was established in 1720? It’s a fact. Like I’ve said previously Venice is definitely the most expensive city break I’ve ever been on in terms of how much money you spend during the trip and the extra charges that can catch you out at the tourist hot spots, so be ready to pay more at places located in such a famous square like St Mark’s. For the likes of Caffe Florian, you can be charged an extra 6 euros per person if there is music playing, realistically it’s crazy but people are willing to pay for it and that’s how they reap in the money. The place in general is pricey but with the history behind you could say it’s worth it?
RIALTO BRIDGE AND THE GRAND CANAL
No matter where you find yourself wandering to in Venice, everything about it is so picturesque and charming, so much so, that you’ll find yourself falling in love with the place over and over again. One of the highlights of the trip for me and many other was Rialto Bridge, with views of the Grand Canal making you feel like you have just been transported straight into a postcard.
Rialto Bridge is one of the four bridges that run along the Grand Canal, but this one is the oldest and most appealing. What’s unique about this bridge is the row of shops that line the stairs across it. This can be a tricky one to find a spot on to admire Venice and all its beauty as every step is taken by an individual desperately trying to capture the Grand Canal so do be prepared to stand around, especially in Venice’s peak season.
LIBERIA ACQUA ALTA
This was one of my favourite spots in Venice and not one that everyone finds themselves visiting, why?! If you like all things Instagram worthy then this is by far one of the most instragrammable places in Venice, as well as being a book lover’s idea of heaven.
Liberia Acqua Alta is a bookshop like no other, overflown with books piled high in a massive gondola in the middle of the shop. Although this is very distinct, it isn’t just part of the shop décor and was actually put in place to stop the books getting damaged during Venice’s high tide season, known as acqua alta when areas of Venice can end up badly flooded. Genius! As well as gondolas brimmed with all kinds of books, you’ll find local felines lazily sprawled across the floor or having a wander. I’ve truly never been in a place quite like this.
Head to the very back of the bookshop and you’ll find a staircase made out of books, which if you climb you’ll be met with beautiful views of the canal. Again, this is another place in Venice that is absolutely free to visit so I recommend adding it to the itinerary.
BRIDGE OF SIGHS
One of the most famous bridges in Venice, which is connected to the stunning old prison’s first floor of Doge’s Palace is the Bridge of Sighs. The story behind its name is one that I won’t ever forget, the bridge is where prisoners would walk over to meet their fate (their sentencing) and where they would catch one last glimpse of Venice.
This bridge is romanticised in more ways than one, as it also said that if you kiss under the bridge then your love will last forever. There’s something for all you hopeless romantics, including myself.
Attached to St Mark’s Basilica is Doge’s Palace and arriving into Venice by Vaporetto, this was one of the first buildings I laid eyes on. This palace is a symbol of Venetian wealth as well as politics, with it once being the seat of the Venetian government, and is one of Venice’s must-see museums.
It’s Venice’s architecture which makes it so charming, you could walk past these buildings several times and still look at it like it’s the first time. Hopefully one day when I return to Venice I’ll get to visit Doge’s Palace from the inside and bask in its beauty.
RIVA DEGLI SCHIAVONI
Riva degli Schiavoni is a famous promenade down at the waterfront in Venice, offering atmosphere and gondolas upon gondolas lined up making this the picture perfect spot. Lined with cafes, restaurants and stalls, this is another great spot for people watching with an Aperol Spritz in hand whilst catching some Italian sunshine.
Again, this isn’t something you have to go out of your way to visit as it’s located conveniently beside many of Venice’s attractions and so you will no doubt find yourself walking along this promenade not once but several times during a trip to Venice.
Now these can be pricey but you CANNOT go all the way to Venice and not go on a gondola, it really is the highlight of the full Venetian experience. Gondola rides can vary in price, typically 80 euros for 30-40 minutes, which increases to 100 euros after 7pm. The price of a gondola is per boat not per person so obviously a gondola will work out a lot cheaper if you do it with several people. This is entirely your choice, however I do think it’s more personal not having to share the ride with strangers. There are HUNDREDS of gondolas and therefore several locations throughout Venice where you can hop on one and start your authentic journey through the narrow canals of this charming island.
Gondola prices can be negotiated and sometimes if you’re early enough gondoliers will offer you a ‘special price‘ earlier on in the morning when things are on the quiet side. If you can get it cheaper than the standard price and you don’t have somewhere that you have to rush off to then I would recommend taking full advantage of this on the spot. We managed to get a gondola ride for 60 euros, I think it was purely due to the fact Venice was unbelievably quiet for that time of year due to the situation and they would have much preferred to make a sale rather than no sale. Any saving is a saving and that extra 20 euros we saved allowed us to get four drinks at an Irish bar that night so that was a bonus.
We couldn’t have asked for a better gondolier, he gave us a tour of Venice, pointing out the famous buildings, giving us history on the Bridge of Sighs and singing or whistling throughout the journey – these are things that you typically have to pay extra for but we just got lucky that day. There’s a couple of words that I could use to describe a gondola ride, magical, surreal, and authentic. It’s something I’ll never ever forget, and I’m glad I can now remove this experience from my bucket list, so please do the same.
Venice is a place that will steal your heart in an instant, it’s charm reels you right in and you end up not being able to get enough of it. It was bittersweet getting to see Venice during such circumstances, it was like a ghost town, which meant we didn’t have to struggle with floods of tourists at the usually crowded spots but its quiet nature certainly had the local business owners feeling unsettled trying to get in customers to make ends meet and I felt for them. Just over a week after we got back the whole of Italy went into lockdown and the devastating impact of COVID-19 began to show so I’m extremely grateful I was able to get there and back safely, it’s a trip I’ll definitely be speaking about for years to come.