“City of Masks,” “Floating City,” “Queen of the Adriatic;” Venice has many nicknames celebrating its world renowned reputation for romance and beauty. This water-born city is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world and reminds me of a sort of Disneyland for adults; a place that transports you to a different time too picturesque to be real. However, unlike the painted facades of the faux-buildings on Disneyland’s main street, the edifices of Venice are very real and have been around since the Renaissance. It is a captivating city that begs the wanderer to get lost among its canals, cobblestone alleyways, ornate cathedrals, and historical plazas. Here are my top five essential experiences in Venice:
1. Use the Vaporetto as a Hop-on-Hop-off Self-Guided Tour
The city of Venice is comprised of 117 islands formed by 177 canals in a shallow lagoon, connected by 409 bridges, and is entirely automobile-free; making the only two modes of transportation either by water or by foot. Venice is the perfect place to wander on foot, admiring everything from the decorative canal bridges to the colorful lines of hanging laundry strung across narrow streets, but it can be tricky to navigate long distances. The Vaporetto water taxi comes in to conveniently solve the problem of getting across the city. It’s affordable and dependable with short wait times. Passes range from 12 hours to 3 days and include unlimited trips that stop at all the major attractions. Not to mention infinite photo opportunities from the unique position of floating right in the middle of the watery highways of the Venetian archipelago. It’s a perfect way to do a hop-on-hop-off self-guided tour of the city stopping at major places of interest or disembarking at a random dock on an explorational whim.
2. Watch the Gondoliers or Ride a Gondola
Oh the gondolas, the icon of Venetian life. With their shiny black lacquered exterior, plush velvety seats, and Persian rugs lining the hull, the gondola may be the most romantic aquatic vessel of all time. Watching the gondoliers in their striped shirts masterfully navigate the canals with a single pole is seeing an art form in motion. One can perch atop a bridge and watch lovers pass below in gondolas gliding along on their scenic voyage of romance. Or if you feel like really splurging (these rides are anything but cheap) one can book a very memorable gondola cruise to get the full experience.
3. Spend Some Time on the Steps of the Piazza San Marco
The Piazza San Marco is the most aesthetic plaza in Venice. It is always a buzz with activity and vendors. Although its pigeon parties are a thing of the past, there is still much (or more depending on your affinity for pigeons) to be enjoyed in this piazza. Many gather on the surrounding steps with a picnic lunch, or bottle of beer or wine to pass the time people watching in the beautiful square while enjoying some accordion music compliments of a street performer. Whether you’re relaxing with some refreshments or mapping out the next stop on your tour, the Piazza San Marco is an essential place to spend some time watching the world go by.
4. Walk The City by Night
As beautiful as Venice is by day, it absolutely glows by night. The Piazza San Marco sparkles with people enjoying wine and dessert after sunset, cafés illuminate the streets, and canals reflect the glow of late night diners. It’s impossible to decide whether the city is more romantic in the sunlight exhibiting its vibrant colors or after dark in muted shades of blue and golden lamplight. Making like a moth and heading for the lights of a café or restaurant after dark for a glass of Italian wine is also a delicious option for soaking in the night.
5. Indulge in the Deliciousness
Venice is scrumptious. Good food is so plentiful; whether you opt for a quick slice at a pizzeria, nibble on some bread at a café, or indulge in a full gourmet meal. Having done all of the above, I’d definitely recommend going somewhere for a nice dinner along one of the canals at least once. (I might never have better gnocchi in my life) The atmosphere is unmatched; you can watch the gondolas and boats float by while decadent Italian food flirts with your taste buds. The food is amazing of course, and if you have an especially nice chef (like we had), you might even be treated to a cherry chocolate liqueur shot for dessert.
There’s a reason why Venice tops so many “Top Most Beautiful Cities” lists, is one of the most popular honeymoon destinations, and appears on so many bucket lists. It’s absolutely enchanting and lives up to all the wanderlust inducing Google images of the scenery. Some call it a tourist trap, and some call it a floating heaven on Earth. I think it’s a little bit of both that give it the magic that it possesses.