I have been to Venice a few times and I can honestly say that it is probably the most unique city I have ever been to. Here is my advice for anybody thinking of taking a holiday or short break in Venice.
For many the joy of Venice is spoilt by the huge numbers of fellow travellers the head to the floating city to enjoy of its marvels.
However, while the great sites of San Marco’s Square, Rialto Bridge and the endless canals and bridges draw the crowds, by getting lost you can feel like your one of the first people to discover Venice
However you arrive in Venice from the mainland – by bus on the bridge, via vaporetto water bus or by private yacht – the city cannot fail to impress you with its unique character and architecture.
With the crowds in mind the best way to see the sites and not be flustered by the coach-loads is to arrive early, which is easy whether you are staying in Venice itself or in the mainland town of Mestre.
A great starting place is San Marco’s square. The sight of the Doge’s palace, the golden domes of Saint Mark’s Basilica and the surrounding colonnades cannot fail to impress. Looking out over the San Marco Canal and the entrance to the Grand Canal watching the main boats and gondolas you can find time slips away.
To first get your bearings – and an amazing view of Venice and its red tile roofs and churches – climbing Campanile di San Marco, the bell tower of San Marco, is a great idea. For those a little fazed by the innumerable steps there is a lift to the top. Beware though, as the bells strike every hour and Italian health and safety laws let you get a little to close for comfort.
If there are queues for the Campanile di San Marco, nearby down Calle della Vida, the Palazzo Contatini del Bovolo also offers a spiral staircase and some of the most romantic sunset views in Europe.
As the crowds at San Marco’s square start to arrive it is the best time to head out through Venice to discover what is on offer. Armed with a good map it’s almost impossible to get lost, but through the network of Calle you may find retracing your steps impossible. This is well to remember as unless you have a good guide or an impeccable sense of direction any restaurant you discover probably won’t be easy to find again.
As lunch comes the best place to head for to escape the obligatory tourist prices is the Jewish district of Venice. Not many tourists head up here and the restaurants tend to be family-run establishments with very warm atmospheres, a penchant for spoiling children and no menus in English.
The Jewish district itself is a delight, with washing hung between buildings over canals and the architecture quite different as the lack of space meant the only way for the growing population to be housed was through building up and up. The houses seem constantly on the edge of falling down.
Of the many galleries and museums to find in Venice, perhaps the most memorable is the Guggenheim Collection. The former home of Peggy Guggenheim still keeps is very homely atmosphere as you tour her bedroom, lounge, gardens surrounded by works by the greatest artists of the 20th century.
Looking down at a map of Venice you release by getting lost you’ll get a good feeling for the city, but in the end it is a place to return to again and again to get lost again and again.