Venice is beautiful what ever the weather. Which is lucky, as the city was shrouded in sea fog each morning, drenched in a light but continuous shower each afternoon and bathed in star light each night.
Arriving into Venice Marco Polo airport, you have a few options to chose between to get you the short distance out to the city. The easiest is the bus which runs regularly from the airport arrivals to the main bus station where you can pick up the ACTV vaporetti which run at all hours (though some routes do decrease in frequency or all together late at night). The best way to arrive in style though is to get a private water taxi directly from the airport to your hotel door – assuming you are lucky enough to have booked a hotel with it’s own private dock. The walk from the airport to the quay has been made even easier recently with the introduction of a moving walk way inside a newly built land tunnel. When you emerge from the tunnel, the varnished teak shiny boats are all lined up waiting to transport you. Taking about 25 mins door to door, Venice Link was my choice with decent regular reviews and a slight discount for booking both ways.
I was lucky enough to have booked a hotel with it’s own private dock right on the Grand Canal, and even more lucky that our boat driver seemed to take it on himself to give us a slightly diverted entrance to Venice right under the Rialto bridge. Whether this was standard practice, or he just fancied a different route, it was definitely appreciated especially lit up at night. As airport transfers go, this will be hard to beat!
I spent hours choosing the hotel a few months before we went. Venice has an overwhelming array of old hotels, boutique B&Bs, converted family homes and a smattering of new international hotel chains beginning to sneak in. The time of year can hugely change the price and in some cases (Carnivale for example) can make the entire city fully booked so make sure you get something booked up in advance or you’ll end up with a poor selection.
I selected the historic Palazzo Stern which was all lit up with fairy lights when we arrived. The converted (actual) palace used to the home of a famous art collector and the interior is made up of a variety of different ages having been changed by different owners over the years. Our junior suite was on the 2nd floor, with a balcony facing the Grand Canal. Huge ceilings, long thick curtains and Murano glass fittings certainly gave it a regal feel. The complimentary bottle of Prosecco was greatly appreciated as well.
For the first night we opted to eat in the De Pisis restaurant which is in the Bauer hotel. The service was exceptional, the food adventurous and flexible and the setting was divine with a breathtaking view of the Grand Canal with the church of Santa Maria Della Salute in the background. If you are lucky to be there in the summer time, then I’d suggest booking a table outside. You’ll soon find out that booking in advance is essential for any decent restaurant in Venice regardless of the time of year.
The following day we woke early, ate a brief buffet breakfast at the hotel before heading out to explore the still sleepy city. By chance, we stumbled upon a gondola next to the Accademia Bridge and decided to have a ride before the crowds descended – this turned out to be a stroke of luck as later, despite it being the quiet season, we saw queues of impatient tourists in the rain waiting their turn. Our boatman spent most of the time talking into his mobile phone yet effortlessly guided the boat with skill and cool through the narrow waterways whilst simultaneously pointing out key spots. Whilst clearly this is a huge tourist trap and money maker for the boatmen, you also get the impression that they genuinely love their job and take great care and pride in their individual gondola.
After 30 mins, we returned to the starting point and headed over the bridge towards San Marco. Already the crowds were beginning to arrive so we took the opportunity to go to the top of St Mark’s Campanile which is the bell tower of St Mark’s Basilica. The lift, operated by an assistant, whisked us to the top with ease and put us right in the clouds. Literally. The view, whilst not the best due to the weather, had a magical feel to it with church domes poking through the swirling grey mist.
Once back on sea level, we joined a queue that had suddenly appeared from nowhere and slowly made our way into the Basilica. Climbing the steps first, we made our way slowly through the museum before going out onto the balcony that overlooks the square and gives stunning views of the Grand Canal. Returning through the door back into the church, we were greeted by the sight of glowing golden domes and walls as the lights had been turned on inside bringing life to the millions of small gold squares placed carefully over the walls. Despite the no photo signs, tourists were snapping away in awe (self included) but out of respect (or maybe luck), no flashes went off.
We spent the afternoon wandering around Venice, through back alleys, over tiny bridges, down dead end paths and past tiny shops selling everything from Venetian masks, to washing machines to delightful Gelato. Yes you could follow a set tourist route, or download one of the many apps which take you along a well documented and curated loop but there is something perfect about exploring without any plan in Venice as each right (or wrong) turn brings new secrets and surprises.
That night we ate in the wonderful La Zucca restaurant which (as the sign on the door politely states) is always fully booked. The small restaurant is right next to a tiny canal with some tables outside. The interior is a mix of brick wall and chalet style wooden planks. The menu is all in Italian but luckily the waitress spoke fluent english and easily translated the wide range of starters, mains and side dishes. On TripAdvisor, Google and Lonely Planet, this restaurant is frequently named the best vegetarian place to eat though it also serves fish and meat so can cater for all. Lonely Planet also puts it up in the top 3 of all restaurants in Venice and I totally agree.
The following morning before being picked up by water taxi, we strolled around the area close to our hotel, drank a near perfect expresso and then sadly departed our wonderful hotel.
Tips and tricks:
- Walking around or getting a public water taxi always takes longer than you think (and Google Maps says)
- A day tourist vaporetti pass (or even longer) is worth while as soon as you start doing 3 or more trips as each trip is at a set fixed rate regardless of distance of EURO 7.5. These can be bought via the many machines at most stops or at the ticket booths which are located at most major tourist stops. A private water taxi is significantly more but worth the experience.
- Beat the queues by doing off season or early in the morning though it may mean that some shops or restaurants may be closed for their own holiday
- The totally free offline maps.me app works a treat including saving offline everywhere you want to go without any signal or WIFI but take the walking route it suggests with a pinch of salt as more than once it suggested I walk on water…
- ATMs and card payments are common in Venice but having cash isn’t a bad idea when going on a gondola. As always, our Revolut cards worked impeccably and saved us a lot of money.
- Go to S.Giorgio (via boat, directly opposite San Marco square) and get the lift to the top of the tower at Chiesa di San Giorgio Maggiore which gives you views looking back towards San Marco and the rest of Venice. Often forgotten by tourists, this gives you a much quieter view.