Uncovering Veneto: Venice, the floating city

My Italian Link > Tourism

The region of Veneto is known for its astounding historical bounty, especially beautiful frescoes and multiple UNESCO World Heritage Sites! Of course, the first place that comes to mind when we think of Veneto is Venice! In this article we lead you through Venice’s main attractions, and suggest a few unique activities and sights to make your visit totally unforgettable!

The Ponte di Rialto, in Venice, Veneto
Robert Browning called the Ponte di Rialto ‘Shylock’s Bridge’ in his poem, A Toccata of Galuppi’s.

Venice is known the world over for its astounding grandeur and mythical allure. The fish-shaped island houses marble architecture, maze-like canals, glistening lagoon, and four hundred endearing bridges. Of all of Veneto’s gems, Venice is unquestionably going to steal pride of place in your heart.

Touring the Main Attractions in Venice

Start off with…

Firstly, it makes sense to start a tour of the city’s pivotal attractions in the North, to the right of the Canal Grande, and work your way down to the lagoon’s shore. Start with Ca d’Oro (Golden House), one of the most prestigious late Gothic canal-side palaces of its kind, and home to the Galleria Giorgio Franchetti. Wander through this especially beautiful example of 15th century life, overlooking the Canal Grande. From here, just 10 minutes downstream, cross over the Ponte di Rialto, the oldest of the four bridges that cross the famous canal. The daily Rialto Market (since 1067) provides fresh produce and seafood to locals, and is the perfect place to sample a glimpse of life as a local. After brunch at the market, and only if you’re keen for some shopping, head 5 minutes east towards the Le Mercerie, Venice’s famous fashion high street cluster.

Be sure to…

Another ten minute walk southwards will bring you to the most important district for sightseeing. Start at the city’s epicentre, the Piazza San Marco, flanked by a continuous 16th century arcade. Undeniably, the best way to admire the square is to climb to the top of the Campanile di San Marco. The awe-inspiring Basilica San Marco is across from this bell tower. The Basilica is Italy’s most mosaicked cathedral, and seat of Venice’s Roman Catholic Archdiocese. During the 19th century, it housed the body of St. Mark after shrewd Venetian merchants smuggled it out of Egypt in a barrel of pork fat!

The Basilica di San Marco in Venice, Veneto
Locals refer to the Basilica di San Marco as the Church of Gold due to its ornate facade.

The Venetian Gothic style Doge’s Palace (Palazzo Ducale) is just next to the Basilica. Formerly seat of Venetian government, built during the 14th century, and today a civic museum. Another must-see sight is the pair of column on the Piazza San Marco. Peer out across the paved area extending out around the palace at the two columns along the waterfront, representing Venice’s patron saints; a winged lion for San Marco and a statue of San Teodore and the crocodile besides it.

Did you know? 

The two columns at the Piazza San Marco used to be the site of public executions in Venice. Consequently, many of today’s superstitious Venetians refuse to pass between them, fearing the bad luck they may bring.

The Doge's Palace in Venice, Veneto.
A view of the Piazza San Marco, with the Doge’s Palace and Campanile, from the lagoon.

Before you move on, be sure to visit the Ponte dei Sospiri (Bridge of Sighs) which connects the interrogation rooms in the Doge’s Palace to the adjacent prison across the canal. As convicts walked towards their imprisonment, the windows in this bridge gave them their last ever glimpse of Venice, causing them to sigh in melancholy – hence the name.

And don’t forget…

Another block to the east will bring you to the Riva degli Schiavoni waterfront, where boats have been docking for centuries, and where you can buy souvenirs at the market stall along the promenade. At the end of the walkway, slightly further inland is the Arsenale di Venezia. This shipyard and armory complex has been the centre of Venice’s naval power since the 12th century.

The Arsenale di Venezia in Venice, Veneto
The 12th Century Arsenale di Venezia is one of the earliest large-scale industrial enterprises in history.

Of course, A trip to Venice wouldn’t be complete without the quintessential Gondola Ride. We suggest waiting for nightfall. Book one of the gondolas a few steps from the Piazza San Marco, at the Calle Vallaresso gondola stop. Venice is especially magical at night, and far less crowded.

Visit Venice ‘s Islands

It’s easy to forget that Venice is in fact built upon more than 100 islands in a lagoon. Stop by the Lido di Venezia, where the famous Venice Film Festival takes place each year, for 11km of Blue Flag beaches! The island of Murano is where you’ll find the famous glass blowing factory. In 1291, the state forced all of Venice’s glass makers to move here due to the risk of fires. Today, these artisans craft everything from decorations to chandeliers using centuries-old techniques. Also nearby, amidst the signature multi-coloured buildings of the island of Burano, you’ll find examples of another typical Venetian craft – lace-making! 

The Island of Burano, Venice
The colourful facades of Burano houses are particularly pretty!

Did you know? 

The state fiercely guarded Murano’s glass-making secrets. Rumour has it that the Great Council even hired assassins to kill artisans who left the island, lest they share industry secrets.

Murano Glass from Venice
Yet another Ventian wonder! Stores sell Murano glass all over Venice, in almost any form!

What & Where to Eat in Venice

Without a doubt, after all this sightseeing, you’re bound to have worked up a voracious appetite! Thanks to the abundant lagoon, Venice’s typical cuisine is primarily fish-based, with dishes like Sarde in Saor (marinated sardines), Baccalà Mantecato (creamed cod). Furthermore, Venice is the birthplace of carpaccio and the Bellini cocktail (visit Harry’s Bar to sample the originals)! Regardless of where you decide to eat, you’d be amiss not to order Cicheti. These are similar to tapas (don’t mention that in public), so are bite-sized portions of local treats (like the cod and sardines we mentioned), eaten standing up in the local bàcari, generally using fingers or toothpicks.

Avoid the tourist traps and select a back-alley osterie or bàcari (traditional wine bars) like the locals do. Be warned though, many restaurants call themselves osterie, when really they’re full-service ristoranti.

Good to know: 

Venice is not exactly famous for its pizza. The state banned the wood-fired ovens required to make traditional pizza as they are a fire hazard. Presently, only a few select places, thanks to a grandfather clause, are actually able to make it fresh.

Venetian cuisine: Sarde in Saor
Venetian seafood is particularly delicious! Be sure to try the Sarde in Saor.

Unique Things to do in Venice

Visit A Cursed Villa

Since 1847, each of the owners of the Venetian Renaissance style Ca’DArio along the Canal Grande have died in inexplicable circumstances. The last victim, its claimed, was John Entwhistle, bassist for The Who, who was leasing the villa when he suddenly died in his sleep.

Gondolier lessons in Venice, Veneto

Learn to Row Like a Real Gondolier!

Take a 90-minute rowing lesson with Row Venice, and learn to steer a traditional wooden batelina. Following a lesson in rowing at the prow, you’ll enter the open waters of Venice’s lagoon, where you’ll learn to row at the stern, like a traditional gondolier. What fun!

See the Flooded Crypt of San Zaccaria

Another uniquity is the 15th century church of San Zaccaria is the final resting place of several doges from the time in a subterranean crypt. The surrounding canals flooded the crypt, resulting in a sort of mirror pool that reflects the columns and ceilings in the crypt. Hauntingly beautiful!

The Crypt of San Zaccaria, Venice
The 15th century Church of San Zaccaria was once a monastic church in central Venice.

 

Veneto is home to many other gorgeous cities besides Venice! Be sure to check out our travel journals on Verona, Treviso, Padua, and Vicenza!

Don’t forget our previous Travel Journal, uncovering the regions of Piemonte and Puglia!