If anyone ever asks me what my favourite city is, I would have to reply with Venice. Venice is one of those cites I will never-ever get tired of, and I fall in love with her a little more every time I visit. Exploring the city’s alleyways and canals is like having a dream, I don’t want to wake up from.
Actually, before I start this post about Venice I need to confess, if truth be told, I personally prefer Venice in winter. It is much more atmospheric and has a mysterious and magical feel in the air. I was in the city last November and the city blew my mind. I remember waking up at 6am, peering out of my hotel window to a foggy mystical morning and literally jumping out of bed, grabbing my camera and running outside. That day I walked about the city happily with my camera from 6am-6pm, a little smile permanently on my face, and I didn’t once feel tired. The mood is more mature in winter, jackets are donned, the water is more crystal than the summer butteryness, and the evenings are cosier. I think the romanticism of Venice in winter is heightened due to an air of elevated secrecy and mischief as people move under the cover of darkness from one calle to another, meeting in whispered voices that seem out of place during the busy summer.
November also sees Acqua Alta season. Translated as high water. Early morning or late at night, you’ll hear a siren that let people know that high water will be expected. I didn’t get to witness much of this phenomenon other than seeing tables piled up in St Mark’s Square ready for the rising waters should they arrive, and early one morning I watched a huge puddle forming in the square. I was ready to capture the scene, but the water didn’t amount to much. As with all things, Venetians tend to take it in their stride, and have found ingenious and simple ways of continuing daily life despite the rising tides, like putting up wooden planks and tables for people to walk across, and donning waterproof boots that are sold when the water arrives.
I counted up the times I’ve visited the city (it must be five), and so many memories came flooding back…. The first time was with my mum when we stayed in Lido di Jesolo and we took a day trip to the city. It was like no other place either of us had been, and I admit we were a little nervous we’d get lost and miss our ferry home, then there was the time mum and I took my brother, James. This will always be a memorable trip for the sheer number of giggles we had. It was also the first time I had ever used a digital compact camera. I remember standing in St. Mark’s Square excitedly taking a photo and then being able to delete it and retake another (it’s funny the things you remember so vividly). Then there was the time I was with my friend Zee. We caught the last ferry back from Venice to Lido not realising the buses had stopped in Lido. Boy, that was an adventurous evening sharing a car home with three complete strangers (luckily for us, they were friendly and harmless).
So…back to Venice in August. It’s still very beautiful, but be prepared to embrace the hot sticky weather, as you will be walking A LOT. And, pack smart. I get it, you come to Italy and ladies you want to wear a pretty dress and cute heeled sandals, but trust me, you’ll be walking a heck of a lot, all day for hours. There’s no transport in the city (which people forget!), other than canal boats and gondolas, and you’ll grow to hate those cute sandals with a passion. They key to packing well for Venice is to think “all-day comfort”.
I don’t want to waffle on in this post about every single sight you HAVE to see, it would just end up as a long list. Plus, there are so many sights and must-see’s, and you can find these in any guide book, blogs or website I want this post to be helpful. I want to give you a sense of my favourite parts of the city, and hopefully, you’ll get an idea of why I keep coming back. Then you can go ahead and bookmark this page for your upcoming trip ;-)
First things first…arriving into Venice.
I remember feeling a little anxious the first time I visited Venice solo. Previous visits to the city had always been day trips where the ferry drop off was by the canal, so staying in the actual city was going to be all new. I arrived to rain. I recall standing outside the airport thinking ‘sheesh, this is going to be fun navigating myself to my hotel in the rain’. But it made it more of an adventure, and I was excited. I like the rain and the city felt somewhat intriguing, and I couldn’t wait to find my hotel to dump my backpack, so I could go exploring. With the help of google maps, plus travel tips from Jonathan (a guy I worked with) who assured me it was as easy as getting from A (airport) to B (my hotel) I set off.
In fact Jonathan was right, it is easy! It doesn’t cost much either. There’s a ticket machine outside the terminal (or you can pre-book online)…and the bus stop is super easy to locate too. There are two bus options to Piazzale Roma (the Number 5 ACTV bus or the faster ATVO bus to Piazzale Roma). And, once you arrive at Piazzale Roma, you can either catch a water taxi, or if you’re like me and love walking, it’s a 40 minutes’ walk to St. Mark’s Square. The walk (if you’re not over laden with luggage) is the perfect start to falling in love with the maze of alleyways and canals, architecture and atmosphere of the city. As with any maze, you will get happily lost, but trust me, there are signs, so you’ll find it easy to navigate your way around. Plus, if you just look out for the Campanile you’ll get your bearings, and you’ll find your way back on track to St Mark’s Square.
Ok, so here’s the low down on some of my favourite places and areas that I visited in August…
On one of my day trips to the city, I always remember a tour guide telling me that his favourite thing to do was to head away from the touristy sights and crowds of selfie wielding sticks and head in the opposite direction. And, in November that’s exactly what I did, and I walked into what would become my favourite area of the city. So, naturally I returned during August. Seriously, I have heart eyes just thinking about the laundry-lined streets and the cute old nonnas and nonnos (grandmas and grandads) of Castello. It’s the perfect area to just wander and get lost on purpose. It’s the farthest corner of Venice, as I’m writing this I’m beginning to realise just how much there is in Castello. From one moment, you can be walking amongst the quiet streets inhabited by a curious Venetian cat to a parallel street where the world’s finest art is held at the Biennale. Castello is typically Venetian, it has a butcher, baker and a candlestick maker. I found myself being drawn to Via Garibaldi several times of the day, but especially early morning when the smells drifted from the bakeries, and locals would pop out to buy fresh bread and take their first espresso of the day. It’s hard to resist the smell of a freshly baked croissant, so stopping to join them was a daily luxury. Castello was my evening pit stop too. Nowhere is as still as Venice at night; no street vendors, no tourists, only the splashing of oars in a canal, and the clinking of the final glasses in a typical Venetian wine bar called a Bacari, but more on them later.
Dusk in Venice is best seen from the lagoon. Of course, go to the Rialto Bridge too – that’s an obligatory photo stop, but San Elena – one of the largest areas of greenery has a spectacular view over the lagoon. Mornings too are magic with Grandpa’s sitting with their newspapers or fishing.
Despite loving my off the beaten track ambles, I’m always drawn back to St. Mark’s Square and the Rialto Bridge. And whether the square is crowded with tourists in the height of summer, flooded at high tide in winter, or silent in the moonlight or at dawn, it would be impossible not to find myself standing in the middle of the square spinning around and just taking in the magnificence of life around me. It’s the same when I walk up the stairs and find myself standing on the Rialto Bridge. Even during the most fleeting of visits, I will never not be able to find myself stood here without taking the obligatory photo. It’s got to be one of the most photographed views and quite rightly. Not too far away from the bridge is another of my favourites, Venice’s market. It bustles with chefs and Venetian housewives; it’s full of colour, smells of the sea and the shouts of Italian stall holders; it’s perfect to people watch, buy some of the fruit, and take some photos…simple pleasures.
So, here’s a little advice about the Bacari of Venice. Even if you’re here on a short weekend, you’ll find yourself visiting a Bacari. You’ll probably revisit one more than the others. That might be because it’s close to your home, or more than likely it’s because of the Italian charm of the barman. Bacari work well in the city because they are adapted to the working way of life. Some open at the crack of dawn to accommodate the fishermen until aperitivo time. I was told there’s a certain rhythm to the city, and the Bacari are the bells, as you can tell the time of day simply by looking at them.
Here’s a tradition in Venice. It’s called ‘ciccheti’ and ‘I’ombra’ translated ‘a little bite’ and ‘the shade’. Ciccheti are just supposed to be a small taster to tide you over before dinner. It’s like Spanish tapas. It might be something like grilled baby squid, crostini with sardines or fried meatballs, however they can be so tasty, that you’ll find yourself wanting more before you get to picking a main meal. And, ‘I’ombra’ refers to the glass of wine that ciccheti is always washed down with. There’s two stories as to how it earned this name. Firstly, because the gondoliers used to ‘snatch’ a glass of wine in the shade away from the sun. Secondly, the wine sellers who would set up their tables in St Mark’s Square used to follow the shadow cast by the bell tower to keep the wine cool.
Whilst on the subject of food, I need to tell you about the best street food, stop by ‘Frito Inn’ on Strada Nuova and get yourself a cone of unbelievably delicious fried vegetables. Oh, and as with any Italian city, you have to have at least two gelatos a day!
Stumbling across the real Venice in a quiet street of the Dorsoduro area is quite beautiful. It’s a less touristy and light-hearted area of the city; maybe that’s due to the charming local bars and the squares that are often filled with children happily chasing each other about, the locals out walking their dogs, or elderly couples strolling arm and arm with each other. You don’t see that level of affection as much these days, and it made me smile. Spending time here will give you a totally different view on the city, and I’ve decided it’s where I’m going to look at staying the next time I visit Venice. One of my favourite afternoons in this area was looking out across Venice’s canals with my feet dangling over stone quays. Sitting here with no cares or worries felt so blissful.
A little bit art gallery info for you...if you’re looking to visit as many art galleries whilst you’re in the city, the Dorsoduro area is a great place to start; you’ve got Peggy Guggenheim, Gallerie dell’Accademia and Ca Rezzonico; and they’re all within easy walking distance.
For me, in terms of defining the two areas I’ve just mentioned… if Dorsoduro is a loveable teenager with a sense of carefreeness; Castello is the grandma, who has the best and most curious stories to tell.
Oh, and a visit to the city must also include some time visiting the one or if not all three of the islands. Murano, Burano and Torcello. All equally as charming and instantly loveable as each other. I took myself off to Burano. It’s like walking into a sweet shop full of candy coloured houses.
I could carry on writing this post and tell you about all the places to visit, see, eat at and take photos…but I’m going to leave it there. It’s not the last time I’ll visit this city. I find it hard not to fall in love at little bit more each time I visit. There’s something about the uniqueness of Venice that will forever inspire and excite me. Whether it’s just getting lost in the streets and stumbling across a hidden courtyard; huddling with the locals around a fishmonger boat in Cannaregio; taking a million and one photos of gondolas on the Grand Canal; standing on the Bridge of Sighs and wondering about past times, eating gelato to the sound of Gondoliers as they pass the time of day with each other, I’m constantly fascinated by how the locals live in this city. Nothing compares to Venice and no other city ever will. It is always going to have a special place in my heart, especially in winter.