1. Palazzo Ducale
Believe it or not, my first recommendation is not a gondola ride! Although an enchanting experience, my first tip for Venice is the Doge’s Palace ‘Palazzo Ducale’ on St Mark’s Square. Tickets can be purchased here.
The beautiful palace is the perfect representation of Venice – serious splendour, utter luxury and breath-taking scenery.
In the Palace, you can wander up the golden staircase to the stunning chambers above, including the Chamber of Scrutinio and the Chamber of the Great Council. On the first floor in the Guariento Room; the unbelievably large canvas of ‘Il Paradiso’ by Tintoretto can be found. This exquisite painting is wonderfully preserved and is guaranteed to capture your mind as well as your heart.
A reminder of the darker side of Venice is contained in the armoury or in the prison cells at the very bottom of the Palace. If you suffer from claustrophobia, I would not recommend a visit to the dungeon. This floor is like a maze with extremely low and narrow walkways. Do not miss a walk over the ‘Bridge of Sighs’ though; the name follows from all the ‘sighs’ that were heard from prisoners crossing the bridge as they had their last glimpse of the world before incarceration. This beautiful white bridge provides a gorgeous view over the lagoon with gondolas passing beneath.
You are given a paper map with information on entry and there is information dotted around the Palace. I found this information helpful; however there are guide books and headphones available for purchase.
2. Piazza San Marco
My second recommendation is St Mark’s Square ‘Piazza San Marco’ and St Mark’s Basilica ‘Basilica di San Marco’. Please remember to cover up in the Basilica. Expect queues to enter the Basilica early in the day – it is best to head back late afternoon approximately half an hour before closing (5pm). The works of art and golden mosaics within the Basilica are protected by dim lighting, however the candle light within creates a serene and sparkling atmosphere; perfumed by sweet incense. Guided tours can be arranged here.
There are many coffee shops on St Mark’s Square; my favourite is ‘Florian’s’. Although expensive, the white jacket waiters, silver service and beautiful music seem to complete an almost perfect setting in the square. Tantalisingly fresh coffee or rich aromatic teas are served with delicate fruit tarts on a silver tray. If the weather proves too hot, Florian’s also has an array of cold alcoholic and non – alcoholic beverages. If live music is playing – you will be charged for this on your bill.
It is important to spend time in the square to simply drink in its beauty and history. Whether this be in a café, or by simply walking around the Piazza. There are hundreds of pigeons in the square, and many stalls sell breadcrumbs to attract the birds for what can only be described as a very entertaining photo opportunity! In the vestibules of the buildings surrounding the square, there are many shops and cafes that can provide shelter from the crowds as well as fantastic shopping. Many of the shops sell glassware from Murano (see below) – you will probably be able to get the glassware cheaper away from the square or on the island.
A trip to Venice is not complete without a ride on the canals, whether this be on a Gondola or small speed boat. The small speed boats are cheaper and provide indoor and outdoor seating (which is helpful if it showers!). Gondola rides start at approximately 100 euro. These guys are the kings of negotiation and cannot be bargained too much below 70/80 euro. The trip is worth it; you see many of the famous sights along the Grand Canal as well as the residential, quieter hidden canals in Venice. Gondola rides and small speed boats can be picked up almost anywhere along the canal. Experience has taught that the hardest bargains are made on the lagoon front on Piazza San Marco – so try the smaller canals further into Venice for those Gondoliers who may be more accommodating.
4. Ponte di Rialto and Mercato di Rialto
The market in Venice is located over the beautiful Ponte di Rialto bridge. Take your time to cross the bridge which provides a stunning backdrop over the Grand Canal. The Rialto Market ‘Mercato di Rialto’ is located around the long bend of the canal to the right. Follow the Fondamenta Riva Olio through the court yard to the canal side. Before midday the market provides beautiful fresh fruit, fish and meat. It is a colourful array of local produce and is perfect for an early morning stroll to simply watch the Venetians haggle for the cheapest chilli’s or cherries!
5. Murano, Burano and Torcello
The three islands in the Lagoon that are visited by tourists are Murano, Burano and Torcello. If you only have time for one, make it Burano. This tiny island is home to beautiful multi coloured houses belonging to the local fishermen. There are wonderful cafes and stalls selling the locally made lace, or the island is perfect to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city for a cappuccino and a wander. Murano contains the lagoons glass making factories and there are hourly glass blowing displays by the glass makers. It is truly incredible to watch them create a delicate glass horse from liquid!
There are plenty of shopping opportunities on the island. Torcello is the quietest of the islands and is home to Cattedrale Santa Maria Assunta. The peaceful unimposing church is a far cry from the Basilica San Marco, but is set in stunning grounds with fantastic photo opportunities. Boat trips are available here However, the water vaparettos used by the locals are also available here and will take you across the lagoon.
Top Five Things To Do In Venice was written by our Guest Writer, Kristina Goodwin.