Venice would be our first stop during a 2 week trip to Italy and our expectations were high. Venice is, after all, one of the most romantic cities in the world. It has a fascinating history and beautiful architecture, all sitting on top of a unique city map of winding, maze-like canals that is, unfortunately, in the process of sinking thanks to mass tourism and climate change.
We arrived at 3 am after a delayed flight from Santorini. With no time to make our way into the main part of the city, known as the Sestiere (The part that Venice is famous for).
We spent the night at a nearby guesthouse and hopped on a bus in the morning that would drop us off close to St Lucia Train Station. This station is how most people arrive in Venice. It sits alongside the Grand Canal and where you will easily be able to arrange onward travel.
It’s hard to put into words the energy and wonder that surges through you as you look over the Grand Canal for the first time. It’s quite surreal. ‘This is it! This is what you have seen in the photos! And its right in front of you!’ is more or less how my train of thought went.
However, before long you’re zapped back into reality as you notice absurd amounts of tourists pulling along their suitcases and taking photos with their selfie sticks.
One thing that’s certain is that everyone is excited to be here. There is a mystical sense in the air of this strange and beautiful city.
Our guesthouse was located a 10-minute walk away (from where we were dropped off) in Cannaregio, in the north-east part of the main town.
Upon arrival at Venice BB Venezia, we were greeted by our incredible host Alessandro. He was quick to offer us some bits and pieces to eat and some beer to drink as we settled in. We were treated to some delicious cheeses and the best bruschetta we have ever eaten (Still to this day, in fact).
Alessandro gave us a map and marked out his recommendations for cafes and restaurants in the area.
Looking back on our stay in Venice we can say with certainty that Alessandro elevated it greatly. Have a look through his reviews on Trip Advisor and you will see that he’s left that impression on a lot of people.
We had a walking tour booked in with Venice Free Walking Tour (creative name, right?) that afternoon, so after a brief rest, we made our way towards the meeting point in San Marco.
San Marco is the busiest and most touristic area in Venice, being home to the San Marco Basilica and Doge’s Palace. As we crossed the oldest bridge in Venice, The Rialto Bridge, into the area we felt the true impact of mass tourism here. The general area itself is beautiful and not to be missed but we recommend visiting early in the morning to avoid the crowds. This is what we ended up doing on our last morning, as the crowds on this day were unbearable.
We made our way to Campo Della Fava, the meeting point, to begin the tour. In expert fashion, our guide took us through backstreets, shortcuts and around the crowds to hidden gems with excellent historic backstory on each place we visited. As usual, we don’t want to spoil too much on what you will uncover throughout but there was one moment in particular where we audibly gasped as a certain structure was revealed.
The tour ended in the Jewish Ghetto. The word ‘Ghetto’ derives its origin from this place. It’s still culturally active as a Jewish centre in Venice, although a lot of the Jewish community live away from this area.
There is an excellent buzz along the main canal in Cannaregio nearby, where you can enjoy cheap cicchetti and spritz with the locals and do some people watching.
The evening of our first night we got very lucky and were offered a boat ride through the canals by our host Alessandro. A truly unforgettable experience that took us through the Grand Canal and through some quieter canals to his main home.
We stopped in his neighbourhood, hopped off the boat and climbed through his window. He gave us a quick tour of his charming home. His bedroom window sat just a few feet above the canals. He told us stories of his home flooding and that it was a common occurrence. An unfortunate reality of what may become permanent in the upcoming years.
We thanked him and shared a Campari Spritz together at Majer Venezia. He suggested some cicchetti to try and was on his way. Cicchetti are similar to tapas. Essentially small side dishes typically served in bars. We couldn’t have been more thankful and chuffed with what we got to experience thanks to him!
The remainder of our evening consisted of snacking, drinking and strolling towards our guesthouse. The city transforms at night and takes on a slightly eerie feel. It’s delightfully atmospheric and there are no cars or bicycles around. The only sounds you hear are the gentle stream of the canals, laughter as you pass osterias and trattorias and the shuffling footsteps that echo throughout the alleyways.
We didn’t have much planned (apart from a dinner reservation at La Zucca) for our second day outside of exploring and immersing ourselves in Venice.
We started by heading south towards the Dorsoduro neighbourhood. A quieter area that also serves as the university district. The area is more laid back, offering relaxed and unpretentious bars, cafes and restaurants. Like all of Venice, the architecture is gorgeous and there is rarely a dull moment whilst simply walking.
Aside from getting lost down alleyways numerous times, we managed to make a stop at Cantine del Vino Schiavi, a legendary tavern famous for their offering of cicchetti. The venue was relaxed with locals and tourists alike enjoying their snacks and spritz in the sun. The inside was filled but there was plenty of space outside along the water.
After we made our order we joined the people outside, oblivious to the valuable lesson we were soon to learn. Mere seconds after we put our plate of delicious looking cicchetti alongside the canal a seagull swooped down and consumed an entire one. We were more protective after that.
Overall, we enjoyed the more laid back nature of this student area and would certainly return if we ever came back to Venice, preferably at night time.
What we really loved about Venice is how you can just walk everywhere. There are so many different paths to take and places to discover along the way. We made a couple more stops en route back to our guesthouse.
The first one being Cantine Do Mori. This place had a slightly more upmarket feel to it than the previous one. Maybe due to its location as being closer to the main tourist areas. Cantine Do Mori has supposedly been around since 1462, which is mind-blowing to consider that an establishment like this has been providing food and comfort to people for over 550 years. Despite that, it still feels modern.
Next up was Gelateria Alaska, an unassuming gelato shop offering a wide range of interesting flavours. According to the reviews, the quality has seemed to drop off recently, but this was once known as being the best that Venice had to offer in this space. Regardless, we loved it!
We had made a reservation on our first day at La Zucca. More inclined to snack our way throughout town than jump between fancy osterias, we only planned on doing one whilst here. Our bank accounts would also be thankful for this.
The setting was perfect. A charming establishment sitting alongside a street corner, a small bridge nearby with water flowing below and candlelit tables outside. There was a rather intense man dealing with reservations outside. It was quite a busy night at La Zucca.
Upon sitting down we realised the menu was in Italian. With some help from Google Translate, we managed to find our desired dishes and enjoy a delicious and satisfying meal. Our first proper osteria experience in Italy was a success!
We had a train reservation at 12:25 pm to take us to Florence. We woke up extra early this morning so we could have a proper walk through San Marco without the crowds.
We highly recommend doing this as the city’s beauty truly transcends without the hordes of tourists and selfie sticks. The early morning mist adds another layer of atmosphere and you start to feel like you’re exploring the real Venice.
We made our way to the San Marco Basilica and Doge’s Palace. There isn’t much to be said regarding the architecture that hasn’t been articulated far more effectively in the past, so all we’ll say on that is that they are wonderful and not to be missed.
The Bridge of Sighs is also nearby, and with such an evocative name, we couldn’t miss seeing that either.
In the end, for us, the highlights were the surrounding streets and views of the city from across the Grand Canal. With this last outing, we wrapped up our trip to Venice and gave it one last ‘Ciao!’ before moving onto Florence.
Overall, we were very satisfied with how we approached Venice. We felt that 2 full days was the perfect amount of time to get a taste of what it has to offer.
The city rests in our minds as a mysterious place that we would love to visit again one day, many years from now. Hopefully, environmental issues don’t cause this beautiful city to vanish forever.