Sublime Venice – my favourite place on Earth!
“Sublime Venice – my favourite place on Earth!” is segmented into 7 key travel themes to immerse you into everything Venice:
- An introduction to this wonderful city;
- Something funny – my entrée into Venice;
- Some Facts & Figures;
- My Top Tips;
- Some Great itineraries;
- A comprehensive lowdown of What to See; and
- Insider Guides
In writing this post I hope to inspire you to explore this wonderful City.
Hope you enjoy it! Carpe Diem!
1. An introduction into sublime Venice:
Spread over an incredible 117 islands, connected by over 400 bridges and divided by some 150 canals. Once the wealthiest city in Europe, Venice is arguably also the most beautiful. Built on wooden piles in the middle of a lagoon on Italy’s Adriatic coast. Venice wears its riches with pride. In its heyday, this city state had strong trade links with the Byzantine Empire and the Muslim world.
During the late 13th century, over 3300 Venetian trade ships dominated Mediterranean commerce. Throughout this prosperous time, the city’s most prominent families competed with each other to build the grandest palaces and support the most talented artists.
The main artery of the city, the Grand Canal, sweeps in an elegant curve through its centre. A vaporetto (water-bust) trip down the Grand Canal will reveal the faded elegance of more than 300 palaces, revealing the city’s beautiful blend of Europe and Byzantium. And it is these private palaces and houses, rather than the public monuments, narrow alleys and backwaters o the city reveal all its decorative detail which reflects its past wealth and importance.
2. Something funny – my entrée into Venice:
My wife and I were doing what has become our favourite trip on Planet Earth which is a train journey across Italy – flying into Pisa and then travelling across Italy via the Cinque Terre-Portofino-Milan-Lago Garda-Verona-Venice.
On the day of our first arrival to Venice, I had coaxed my wife to take the free bikes at the hotel we were staying at on the sensational Lago Garda – Descenzano del Garda, part of the Garda Riveria. It was a super hot day and everything was running smoothly on the ferry trip across to Gagnano and we embarked on our cycle journey back to Descenzano.
I found this hilarious, my wife is a completely hopeless cyclist and is not road-worthy at all. Anyway it was a little further to cycle than one had first thought and not the picturesque lake-side cycle journey I thought it would be. There were some major motorways that we had to cycle on – what I didn’t know until we arrived back that my wife was cycling around the roundabouts with her eyes closed with these huge vehicles enroute to either Milan or Verona. We eventually made our way back to Descenzano , all sweaty and sunburnt. A quick drop off of the bikes at the hotel, picking up our luggage (no taxis), we walked up a long road towards the station (a big slog in the heat).
On arrival to the station, we dropped into the tiny train station café and bought a large bottle of Prosecco and as many Birra Moretti (my favourite beer) that we could pick up – and had a couple of cold beers sitting in the sun before getting onto the super sexy train bound for Venice – Trenitalia.
We splashed out on a first class ticket, as this is the only way to arrive into magnificent Venice. The air conditioning was fantastic, those travelling standard class will know what a treat travelling in first class is in Italy. A couple more drinks into the journey and we were pretty tipsy and those that know me know what happens next. Up to the fabulous café (one speaking broken, tipsy Italian) and a bucketload of Proseccos to keep us company on our way to Venice (bear in mind it is a super fast journey of 1 hour and plus we had had no food and cycled half a way around Lago Garda)
We arrived in Stazione di Venezia Santa Lucia and are first sight departing the train station was Chiesa San Simeon Piccolo – we fell in love with Venice at first sight. We jumped on the Water Bus Line 1 which takes about 45 minutes to get to St Mark’s Square – what an entrée into Venice. We were blessed by arriving in that magical light just before sunset – what a way to see Venice – P. Roma C – Ferrovia – Riva de Biasio – San Marcuola – San Stae – Ca Oro – Rialto Mercato – Rialto – San Silvestro – Sant’Angelo – San Tomà – Rezzonico – Accademia – Giglio – Salute – San Marco – 16 stations each with their sensational sights – this was the most unbelievable way to see Venice (and a highly recommended way to see Venice if you’re only able to spend a short time in Venice) I must admit we did think there was something wrong when the water bus veered off the Grand Canal and started to zigzag across the Canale delle Giudecca.
On arrival at St Mark’s we got hopeless lost off the back streets trying to find our hotel, however, after so many visits now that is part of the fun of Venice. Wandering off the main thoroughfares becomes an even more magical experience. For me Venice is one giant indoor and outdoor museum – it will never ever be replicated and that is why it Venice must be protected at all costs.
Back to the night, we found a small café that sold Prosecco and snuck it up into our Hotel. A few drinks in and we were on the tourist trail – with some lucky-lucky men trying to sell us some of their merchandise – I love the spirit of these men and the best sight of the day was an Italian man serenading a lady with a violin from the balcony. That was it, I loved Venice and always will.
Our love for Venice is enduring, I proposed to my wife on the top of the Campanile di San Marco on a beautiful crisp winter sunny day in December 2017. Exactly a year later we had the wedding of our dreams in Venice. I must admit I had a George Clooney moment with our families in toe on our own water taxi on the Grand Canal – the weather was perfect. The divine one was certainly looking down on us that day, we were incredibly blessed with the weather that day. We got married in the 16th century Palazzo Cavalli which is on the Grand Canal and has stunning views of Rialto Bridge from the Palazzo itself and the balcony.
The wedding ceremony was hilarious, none of us knew what we should be doing, if fact I was sat down on one of the chairs when my then-to-be-wife was walking into the ceremony. The airline lost my brother-in-law’s suitcase enroute to Venice so he was hanging out in his Moncler jacket. We had a wedding photographer, but I asked a couple of our friends to film on my Go Pro and Canon Camera – hilarious, as they were seriously worried about filming the wedding. T
We stayed at a beautiful apartment overlooking Rialto Bridge and our wedding day itinerary started with jumping on a water taxi right the Palazzo Cavalli and made our way around the Grand Canal to what is probably my favourite coordinates on Planet Earth – a water taxi sitting equidistant between San Giorgia Maggiore, St Marks and Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute – sensational. We then disembarked at St Marks and we had bought our family and wedding guests (Venitian masks) – don’t even ask about the day before 🙂 So photos abound in St Marks by our very skillful wedding photographer and then a wedding reception in Caffè Florian. Victoria’s wonderful parents had headhunted Caffè Florian as our destination wedding reception and my mother-in-law is a little on the persuasive side. The piece pièce de résistance for me was a Vivaldi Concert at the Chiesa di San Vidal by the sensational Interreti Veneziani. Interpreti Veneziani founded the Italian Museo della Musica (Museum of Music) in the Venice Church of San Maurizio, dedicated to 500 years of Italian violin making.
My dream is to own a retreat in Venice, and I can picture retiring with my perfect little bolt-hole with a roof terrace overlooking the Venetian skyline with a Spritz in hand, admiring the best sky line in the world. One which I will endure for eternity.
3. Venice Facts & Figures:
Venice boasts having:
- 30 million visitors per year
- 417 Bridges (72 are private)
- 177 Canals – the largest is the Grand Canal
- 350 Gondolas (the average is 11m long and weighs 600 kg
- UNESCO World Heritage status, the entire city is a UNESCO World Heritage site
- Life expectancy in Venice is a very healthy 83.4 years
- Blockbuster Movies filmed there e.g. Casino Royal, From Russia With Love, The Talented Mr Ripley, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, The Italian Job, Tomb Raider and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
Some other interesting facts about this beautiful city:
- There are no roads in Venice, just canals Bellissimo!
- Between the end of the seventh century and 1797, it was the Republic of Venice (Republica di Venezia)
- The population of Venice has decreased from 120k to 60k in the last 50 years
- Venice is sinking at the rate of 1-2 mm a year
- The San Marco bell tower, or campanile, was built in the 12th century and collapsed in 1902. The tower was rebuilt to be exactly the same as the previous one. The tower is 98.6m tall, making it the fifth tallest bell tower in Italy
4. BestTravelBook Top Tips:
5. Some Great itineraries:
The first itinerary is my all time favourite and I cannot recommend it to you enough, if you only have 24 hours in Venice or you want to hit Venice with a bang and in all its glory this itinerary sure will deliver! Even though my wife and I travel to Venice two to three times a year, I do this every time and take photographs from similar vantage points.
8am – Visit sensational St Mark’s Square:
Be prepared to be dazzled by a visit to the grandest square in the world which is surrounded by historic buildings e.g. St Mark’s Basilica, the Doge’s Palace, the Campanile bell tower and the Correr Museum
Take the elevator 325 feet to the top of the Campanile di San Marco for the best view in Venice. For a truly magical experience be on the top when the bells ring. Next visit St Mark’s Basilica and admire the Byzantine blitz of golden mosaics.
The light is fantastic first thing in the morning and you will be able to take the best photographs and selfies before the square becomes mobbed with day tourists.
10am – Coffee at the oldest Café in the world:
Have a coffee at the oldest Café in the world situated under the arches of the Procuratie Nuove in St Mark’s Square. Caffè Florian born in Venice in 1720. Marvel at the Neo-Baroque splendor & modern art at an iconic 1700s café, turning out coffee, cocktails & snacks. Have your coffee sitting at the bar – it will save you a fortune!
Afternoon – Wander around Dorsoduro:
Take some magical photographs and selfies on the Ponte dell’Accademia (one of the four bridges which you can cross the Grand Canal) The view towards Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute is sublime and one of my favourites in Venice. Explore the fantastic modern art at the Peggy Guggenheim and at the Punta della Dogana. No visit to Dorsoduro is complete without a visit to the Chiesa di Santa Maria della Salute which guards the entrance of the Grand Canal. A walk around this area represents a more relaxed way to see Venice.
Evening – Immerse yourself in Classical Music:
For classical-music fans head to the Vivaldi Concert at the Chiesa di San Vidal by the sensational Interreti Venezian. For the hottest ticket during the Opera Season is at La Fenice. Drop by Taverna La Fenice for the cocktail of your choice – there is a fabulous cocktail mixologist.
Now you are likely to be excited and probably want some more drinks – the Venice nightlife closes-up relatively early. The way round is to visit the bars within the numerous five-star hotels which have fabulous live entertainment – a favourite of mine is the Hotel Danieila.
8am – Boat trip down the Grand Canal:
What better way to see Venice than in the fantastic light at sunrise. You will be able to see the magnificent palazzi, church facades, narrow streets and the bustling Grand Canal where boats are delivering goods to a whole multitude of businesses. Deliveries start early in the morning as everything that is consumable needs to be brought into Venice from the mainland.
For the photographers Venice offers the best chance of capturing the perfect picture early in the morning or late evening before thousands of tourists descend on Venice.
10am –Visit the Rialto Market:
Visit the fresh fish market and vegetable islands within the Rialto market which sit under beautiful neo-Gothic arches. Mix with the Venetians who will be bartering for the catch of the day and picking up fresh produce.
Afternoon – Ramble around Rialto Bridge and the San Polo district:
Take some magical photographs and selfies at the one of the world’s most famous bridges – Rialto Bridge. Visit the magnificent Scuola Grandi di San Rocco which contains 56 paintings by Tintoretto. Then visit the Frari Church to see Titian’s pyramid-shaped tomb and his painting of Ascension. A visit to the Galleria d’Arte Moderna in the Ca’Pesaro (one of the most impressive palaces on the Grand Canal) has a great selection of 19th and 20th century art.) There are some fantastic souvenir and craft shops in the small streets of San Polo.
Evening: Aperitif o’clock
Reward yourself and slow down the pace by checking the traditional “bàcari” (Cicchetti bars or Osterie) and sampling the Aperol Spritz, wine menus and the delicious chicheti (Venetian snacks.) Before so long you will have your second wind to explore this wonderful city.
6. Must Visit Sights
Piazza San Marco:
BestTravelBook Top Pick
- One of the grandest squares in the world is surrounded by historic buildings e.g. St Mark’s Basilica, the Doge’s Palace, the Campanile bell tower and the Correr Museum
- The square is filled with the most beautiful and historic cafes playing crowd-pleasing classical music, pigeons, seagulls and thousands of tourists with selfie sticks all battling it for the best vantage points
- Piazza San Marco is perhaps at its most romantic at night when the droves of day tourists leave Venice and it becomes a lover’s paradise
Basilica San Marco:
BestTravelBook Top Pick
- Basilica San Marco dominates the square with its Eastern-style domes and beautiful mosaics.
- Built in the to replace an earlier church, the Basilica’s distinctly Eastern-style architecture underlines Venice’s connection with Byzantium. It is decorated from treasures from all over the world
- The interior is splendid and is decorated with gold mosaics and coloured marble
- Since about A.D. 830 the Saint’s bones have been housed on this site. The San Marco Museum holds the original bronze horses (you can see copies on the roof of the Basilica
- It is well worth paying to go on the Basilica’s Balcony which offers fantastic views St Marks’s
Doge’s Palace (Palazzo Ducale):
BestTravelBook Top Pick
- The seat of the Venetian government and home of its ruling doge, this was the most powerful area in Europe for 400 years.
- The Doge’s Places was built to show off the power and wealth of the Republic. The doge lived with his family on the first floor. From his lavish quarters, you will follow the one-way tour through the public rooms of the top floor, finishing with the Bridge of Sighs and the prison
- The palace is wallpapers with masterpieces by Veronese and Tintoretto
Campanile (Campanile di San Marco)
BestTravelBook Top Pick
- The original Campanile was an observation tower and marvel of medieval and Renaissance architecture until 1902, when it toppled in the centre of St Marks
- The Campanile was rebuilt 10 years later complete with its golden archangel Gabriel, who always faces the breeze
- St Mark’s Square is the first place in town to start flooding, there are tide gauges at the outside base of the Campanile that show the current sea level. Find the stone plaque at the exit facing St Mark’s square
- This fabulous bell tower replaced a shorter tower, part of the original fortress that guarded the entry of the Grand Canal
- Ride the elevator 325 feet to the top of the bell tower for the best view in Venice. For a magical experience be on the top when the bells ring
- Visit as early as you can or as late as you can so that you can take photographs uninterrupted
Correr Museum (Museo Correr):
BestTravelBook Top Pick
- Museo Correr is situated in the ex-Royal Palace in Piazza San Marco and provides a comprehensive overview of Venetian history and art
- It was created out of the art collection which Teodoro Correr left to the city in 1830
- The museum also holds paintings by the Bellini family which capture the festival days of the Venetian Republic
Bridge of Sighs:
BestTravelBook Top Pick
- The Bridge of Sighs, known as the Ponte dei Sospiri in Italian, is one of the most famous bridges not just in Venice, but in the world
- The bridge passes over the Rio di Palazzo and connects the Doge’s Palace to the Prigioni, the prisons that were built across the canal in the late 16th century
- Antonio Contino designed and built the Bridge of Sighs in 1600. Though highly ornamental, built of white limestone with lattice-like screens covering two small rectangular windows, the footbridge served a very practical purpose. It was used to lead prisoners from the examining rooms to their cells in the Prigioni
- It is said that a condemned man would be led over this bridge on his way to the prison, take one last look at the glory of Venice, and sigh
- The bridge is at its most magical at night when it is floodlit, and the tourists have dispersed
Accademia (Galleria dell ’Accademia):
- The Accademia Gallery of Venice was born in 1750, when the Venetian Republic decided to give the city an Academy of painters and sculptors.
- Venice’s top art museum, packed with highlights of the Venetian Renaissance, features paintings by the Bellini family, Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese, Tiepolo, Giorgione, Canaletto and Testosterone
- Don’t miss Veronese’s “Feast in the House of Levi”, Titian’s “Presentation of the Virgin” Tintoretto’s “Creation of the Animals”, Bellini’s “Miracle of the True Cross”
Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute:
- Guarding the entrance of the Grand canal, this 17th century domed church was commissioned in 1631. The basilica was built to commemorate the end of a terrible outbreak of the plague that began in 1630 and killed a large portion of the Veneto population. It was dedicated to Our Lady of Health (Salute in Italian).
- The architect, Baldassare Longhena, was commissioned to design the church and it took 56 years to build and was completed in 1687
- The octagonal basilica that combined elements of Venetian Byzantine architecture with domes inspired by St. Peter’s in Rome
- There are number of paintings by Titan within the Basilica
- One of the world’s most famous bridges, this distinctive and dramatic stone structure crosses the Grand Canal with a single confidence span
- One of only four bridges that cross the Grand Canal, Rialto Bridge was the first to be built. The original Rialto dates from 1180 and linked the political side (Palazzo Ducale) of Venice with the economic centre (Rialto)
Fondaco dei Tedeschi:
BestTravelBook Top Pick
- The long-ago home to Germanic traders in the city and more recently the main post office, has been restored and turned into a luxury shopping centre with fantastic Grand Canal views from its roof terrace
- The ground floor features gourmet food shops, ritzy cafes, classy Venetian souvenirs and free rest rooms
- On the terrace you will treated to a unique perspective over the roofs of Venice and the Grand Canal
Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari:
BestTravelBook Top Pick
- The Franciscan “Church of the Brothers” and the art that decorates it was warmed by the spirit of St Francis
- The church features work of three great Renaissance masters: Donatello, Giovanni Bellini, and Titian – each showing worshippers the glory of God in human terms
Scuola Grande di San Rocco:
BestTravelBook Top Pick
- Sometimes called “Tintoretto’s Sistine Chapel,” this lavish meeting hall (next to the Frari Church) has 50 large, colourful Tintoretto paintings on the walls and ceiling
- You can see the Crucifixion and the splendour of the Grand Hall
BestTravelBook Top Pick
- Venetians have come to the Erberia to buy fresh produce for centuries
- Heavily laden barges arrive at dawn to offload their crates on the quayside
- Local produce includes succulent asparagus, red radicchio and baby artichokes. The fish market is also full of treat. Arrive early in morning as the market starts to close at midday
Chiesa di San Polo:
- A lovely Gothic portal and Romanesque lions adorn this 9th century church, which was revamped in the 19th century in Neo-Classical style
- Paintings by Tiepolo and Veronese, as well as Tintoretto’s Last Supper are housed here
- The overwhelming feature of this late 17th century church is the painted ceiling, which is awe-inspiring with its illusionistic effects
- The ceiling comprises a total of 40 scenes, depicting the martyrdom and apotheosis of the physician St Pantalon
- It is claimed that it is the world’s largest work of art on a canvas
- Longhena’s final masterpiece, this Baroque palace houses the Galleria d’Arte Moderna, which displays art by 19th century and 20th century masters such as Klimt and Chagall
- The Museo Orientale has an idiosyncratic sets of artifacts collected by the Count of Bardi during the 19th century travels in the Far East