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As soon as we arrived in Venice, we fell in love with this magical city.  It’s such a neat place, and so unlike anything that we’d seen before.  I had so much fun writing out our Paris travel tips that I thought it would be neat to do one for Venice too! So, here it goes…

GETTING AROUND

  • get lost.  It always surprises me how not very many people realize that there are no cars in Venice.  You see, Venice doesn’t have any roads – just streets (foot traffic) and canals (boat traffic).  This is one of the reasons why I love this city.  Where else in the world can you visit a city which is completely car free?  One of the many charms of Venice is getting lost.  You will get turned around and disoriented by the twisting alleyways and the many bridges that all start to look the same after a while.  Embrace it and remember: Venice is an island (and shaped like a fish!), you can only go so far.
  • don’t buy a ticket for the vaperetto.  Or do buy a ticket.  It’s up to you.  All I’m saying is that we rode the vaperetto every day, multiple times a day and there was never, EVER, anybody checking tickets.  I’ve also heard this from a few other travellers, so I’d feel safe not purchasing tickets next time.

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SIGHTSEEING

  • we found the Piazza San Marco to be over crowded and underwhelming.  We enjoyed all the back streets of Venice much more, but no trip is complete without visiting the Piazza San Marco.  My advice for the best way to get the most of your visit is to go first thing in the morning and leave around lunch time. This way you’ll likely avoid the large crowds of tourists (and pickpockets).  Don’t eat here either as it’s terribly pricey.
  • if you want to go inside Saint Mark’s Basilica, note that you’ll have to dress appropriately.  It’s a church and the dress code is strictly enforced.  No bare shoulders and no short skirts.  If you don’t dress appropriately, they’ll make you cover yourself with a horrible table cloth-like wrap.  You don’t want to go there.  Just dress modestly.  I wore capris and a top with 3/4 length sleeves and I was fine.
  • the nominal fee for the museum in St. Mark’s Basilica is worth it.  Why?  You get to see the real bronze horses (the ones outside are just reproductions), but more importantly, you get access to the balcony where you’ll have a great view of the Piazza as well as the inside of the Basilica.  There’s also a washroom.  Triple worth it.
  • visit the Piazza San Marco at night.  The crowds are gone, and the restaurants along the perimeter of the square have live orchestras which serenade their patrons, and everybody else standing in the square.  Sitting for a drink or meal is expensive.  Standing and dancing to the music is free (and encouraged).
  • if you like modern art, visit the Guggenheim museum.  I LOVE this museum.  It was one of my most favourite in all of the ones we visited in Europe.  Even Hubby, who strongly dislikes modern art, loved touring the palazzo; Peggy’s former home, situated right along the grand canal.

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EATING AND DRINKING

  • eat gelato (at least) once a day.  I’m not kidding.  It’s a must.  Avoid the gelato stands around the main tourist or heavy-traffic areas.  Go for the ones a little off the beaten path for quality at a low price.  Double scoop, ALWAYS!  When we *ahem* I was getting a little cranky from all the walking and hot sun, Hubby would pull me into a gelato shop and I’d immediately feel better.  Yes, I’m a child.
  • if you want a cheap bellini visit the Barco Jazz Bar.  Every day from 4 to 6 pm they have 2 for 1 special on selected drinks (yes, including beillinis).  It’s no Harry’s Bar, but it’s got a great atmosphere and even better prices.
  • choose restaurants away from the main tourist areas.  This one could really apply to any major city, but we found it to be most true with Venice.  The restaurants near the main tourist areas (Rialto Bridge, Piazza San Marco) were often over priced, served poor-quality food, or both.  We explored some of the restaurants off the beaten path and were often greeted with great service and pasta that I dream about to this day.  We also found that our bed and breakfast owner was able to provide us with great restaurant recommendations – the locals know what’s up!

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OTHER TIPS

  • if you decide to do it, take your gondola trip at night.  As we would wander the city during the day, we’d see couples sitting in a gondola, often not even having their bodies touching, starting aimlessly into the distance and looking mildly annoyed.  They were probably annoyed because they just spent 100 euros (maybe more) to sit in a gondola with their sweaty spouse while their gondolier tried to navigate their boat out of a jammed canal. Not very romantic.  We weren’t going to take a gondola ride but looking back, I think we would have regretted not doing  it (who knows if we’ll ever return to Venice), so I’m glad we did.  I’m also glad that we chose to do it at night.  We did it after dinner, when all the day-tripping tourists had left for the night.  The the canals were so calm that all we could hear was the oar of dipping into the water and the clattering of dinner dishes being washed in the canal-side homes.  It was one of the most romantic evenings I’ve ever experienced; worthy of every penny.  Just a note – it seemed that a lot of the smaller gondola stations closed for night, but the bigger ones near the Rialto bridge seem to stay open in the evening.
  • if you you’re a shopper, be prepared to spend, spend, spend!  Hubby and I did 80% of all our European shopping in Venice.  We browsed the markets, scoured the shops for a pair of good leather shoes for him and a purse for me, and marvelled at all the hand-made plaster masks.  Venice is just made for shopping, but it’s not inexpensive, so either put yourself on a budget, or be prepared to spend!
  • you’ll need to dress appropriately for Harry’s Bar.  We learned this the hard way.  We thought that it would be fun to try an authentic bellini at the very place where it was invented.  However, as soon as we walked in the host informed Hubby that he could only enter if he was wearing pants, not shorts.  My short sun dress was fine, and the gentleman sitting at the bar in ripped jeans were appropriate, however, Hubby’s collared shirt and preppy shorts weren’t.  Live and learn.

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PS:  Also check out my Paris Travel Tips!

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