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Venice, Venezia, La Serennissima…everyone knows its name…it’s been dreamt of, written about, extolled, lauded, hated (by few) and now it’s your turn to experience it with a little help from my Venice Itinerary for the first timer.
A few rules and then you are on your way:
- It is completely and utterly touristy. It has been that way since the Renaissance. Revel in it.
- It is hot, crowded and sometimes smells. The water is very old and cleaning up dog poo is not a priority but if that’s all you see and smell then you have no heart and you should head out to Singapore instead.
- Avoid any restaurant that has a menu turistico sign outside – you can find great food in Venice. You just have to know where to look.
- Take a water taxi from the train/plane to the hotel. You feel like a movie star.
- Venice is made up of sestieres (sections): Castello – way at the end; San Marco – pretty much the center; San Polo & Santa Croce – cool and hip; Cannaregio – where the local people live; and my favorite Dorsoduro – “the golden back.” A street is called Calle, not Via, and a Piazza is called a Campo. There is only one Piazza in Venice and that is the famous Piazza San Marco.
- If you get lost, look up and you will almost always see a sign that says Per San Marco or Per Rialto, follow that sign to get home.
- And most important of all – take a gondola ride at night, no matter how cheesy you think this is!
As this is your first time in Venice, relax! It is the best walking city in the world. Bring really comfy shoes but saying that it is a very chic city, so throw on your coolest ones and start walking. Remember that Venice was always a tourist trap even in the 1400’s so don’t get frustrated by the crowds in St. Mark’s Square (Piazza San Marco). Once you head out on your Venice itinerary and get lost (which is a good thing!), sometimes you will be alone.
Getting around Venice
Getting around: If you take one taxi in Venice, take it from the airport to your hotel! It is expensive, but so worth it. You feel super glam and you get a wonderful feel for the city. After that you can walk or take the vaperetto (bus) everywhere. You can take the LINEA ARANCIO (orange boat bus) from Venice to the airport when you leave.
Exit the airport to your left and keep following the signs to the boats – it is about a ten minute walk to the marina.
Sightseeing in Venice
Get a good map from the hotel or before. Some don’t have every calle – it is worth the extra to invest in one that does.
- “The Finest Drawing Room in Europe”: Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square): Doge’s Palace/San Marco Church/Campanile
Listening to the sounds of the band as they play around him, while sipping his first cappucino of the day, Napoleon knew he had to have this jewel of a city at his disposal and invaded in 1747. You will feel the same way. Before jumping into tourist mode, settle in for a bibita at Florian or Quadri – two of the oldest cafes in Venice. Plan on it being the most expensive coffee you have ever had but you are paying for the view and it is divine especially when the music is playing! Explore every nook and cranny of St. Mark’s Church especially the ceiling.
- The Grand Tour
The Fifth Avenue of Venice. All the richest Venetians had palazzi on the Grand Canal and it’s easy to see them all from the outside. Take the Red 1 Vaporetto Line from San Marco to the Train Station. It’s the local vaporetto so grab a seat outside and settle in for the tour. If you don’t want to go so far then get off at the Rialto Bridge. Walk back and buy yourself an ice cream or two.
- Art – Venetian Style
The Old Stuff: It’s all about the Gallerie dell’Accademia – chock block full of the greatest hits by Tinteretto, Veronese and Tiepolo, to name a few – it’s across the Accademia Bridge (only three bridges across the grand Canal (!)).
The New Stuff: The Guggenheim is pretty much unmissable. What a women was Peggy! Come and see why she was so famous. The Punta Della Dogana & the Palazzo Grassi are there if you want more.
- Churches & Campi
Campo dei Frari – In this square are two wonders of Venice: Scuola Grande di San Rocca – this is Tinteretto’s masterpiece – really worth a visit and Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, the largest church in Venice, is a wonder. Wander around and find the unexploded bomb!
Santa Maria dei Miracoli – find your way here through the tiny calli of Castello. It’s so lovely with its different colors of marble throughout. A favorite for weddings. There are so many others, like San Giovanni & Paolo, San Giorgio Maggiore, San Moise, etc…if you see an open door – go for it.
- Get Lost
Need I say more – the fun of Venice is discovering it for yourself.
Eating in Venice
I won’t lie to you the food in Venice can be crap. Most of the places you find are geared to tourists and offer the already mentioned avoidable Menu Turistico. Avoid these place as the food stinks. On the other hand, good food comes at a price in Venice, so budget that in.
- Alla Testiere: Calle del Mondo Novo, 5801 30122 Venice, Italy+39 041 522 7220
Ask Luca, the owner, to choose the wine as they are local and delicious! Really my fav in Venice.
- Acqua Pazza: Campo Sant’Angelo
Fabulous pizza and pasta – the portions are huge – sit outside and share.
- Harry’s Dolci: Lunch here! Giudecca – the island across the way
After your long, long, lunch. Walk back toward the Cipriani Hotel (google it) and you will the church of the Rendetore. Pop your head in and see one of the two Palladian churches in Venice (the other being San Giorgio Maggiore). Delight in its simplicity after you have eaten a most fabulous drunken meal! (You know the Bellini was invented in its sister restaurant.)
- Others: Corte Sconta, Osteria Da Rioba, Alla Madonna, Carampane
- The Cicchetti Craze: you can check out the cicchetti bars: La Cantina is the amazing: Strada Nova, Cannaregio 3689, Tel: 041 522 8258 – it’s a fun cheap way to eat. (For others, read my blog post: Top Ten Venice Cicchetti Bars)
Shopping in Venice
It is all about glass, jewellery and art in Venice – make sure you buy from a reputable place or else you are paying for something made in China!
Discover your own favorites but as jewellery is my passion – here are a few of the good Venice shops.
- ATTOMBRI, Campo San Maurizio, S. Marco 2668/a (tel. +39-041-5210789) and they have a second shop near the Rialto Bridge at Sottoportico di Rialto 74 (tel. +39-041-5212524), Divine jewelry – really art, not jewelry.
- ESSEGI ART MURANO – 6060 Cannaregio (in the same square as Santa Maria dei Miracoli)
The website doesn’t do the products justice. What makes this place different from your average glass place is the quality of the wares. They represent five Venetian artists and the jewelry is divine and not too pricey!
- RIFLESSI VENEZIANI DI DANIELA LONGIN, 1867 Calle del Tentor angolo Salizada S. Stae, S. Croce, Tele: 041 524 0564
I am a lover of anything beaded – so when we stumbled upon this shop in the Santa Croce district of Venice – the girls went crazy. She sells jewelry, masks, flowers and the beads themselves. The prices are insanely low!
- RIALTO 79 – PERLE VENEZIANE, S. Polo, 79 after the Rialto Bridge Tel. 041-5220647
Amid all the cheesy touristy shops near the Rialto Bridge, there is one shining star: Rialto 79. It is the only shop in that area that has great simple clip-on and dangling earrings that are not only made in Murano, not China (they come with a guarantee) but are simple and chic. They are not super cheap nor super expensive but just right.
- NICOLA TENDERINI – ART & POSTCARDS
Campo Bella Vienna-Erberia – nr. the Rialto Fish Market – 041 5226532; 1183/b Ramo Toletto – 041 523 8691 (on the way from the Accademia to the Frari)
Nicola Tenderini is an artist based in Venice. I found his watercolors to be so charming and the products he creates are lovely, especially the cookbook of Venice specialties in three languages. There are also notebooks, calendars, cards, and other paper products.
I could go on and on about Venice but now it’s time for you to go out there on your on and enjoy it for yourself. Return often and you will never get bored.
Sleeping in Venice
Venice has some of the best hotels in the world and I’ve been luck enough to stay in all of them. My top three are the Gritti Palace Hotel which has been like a home to me for the past 35 years, the Hotel Danieli, a stunning building with an incredible rooftop restaurant, and the celeb-favorite, the Belmond Hotel Cipriani on the Isola della Giudecca!
Best Bit of Venice
Everything about Venice is a best bit. You will be seduced by the first sight of this miraculous city and come back more and more! explore every area from the north to the south. In thirty years, you will find so much more to discover.
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