Whoever tries to tell you that Venice is not worth visiting and overhyped, is lying to themselves and to you.
Our next stop on this blog is Venice, the ultimate romantic destination in Italy, or rather in the world, that probably needs no further introduction. However, Venice is a lot more than just romantic gondola rides down the canals and elaborate Carnival masks, and unfortunately for your wallet and my crowd anxiety, it more than lives up to the hype. The city is built on a group of 118 islands in the Venetian lagoon and connected with over 400 bridges, so I would absolutely recommend that you visit Venice at least once in your life if you get the chance, because there are some places simply too beautiful and too unique to miss out on.
Since the city isn’t far from Slovenia, I’ve been to Venice 3 or 4 times so far, most recently in autumn 2022, which is when the photos in this blog post were taken. Back in the day when I first visited as a child with my parents, the streets and the iconic San Marco square were so thick with pigeons that you could barely see your own feet and they were selling pigeon feed at every corner (you can see a photo here). As a child I thought that was fun, but nowadays I am quite glad that Venice is not a pigeon city anymore, but it is still very, very crowded and I purposely didn’t sugarcoat the photos for you so that you can see how busy it is even during off-season.
As one might expect, the summer season is always the worst and the one time I was there during the summer the streets were so crowded it took us hours to even get to the San Marco square and by then we were sweaty, annoyed and totally parched because we refused to pay 5€ for a bottle of water sold by the opportunistic street vendors. If it is a hot summer, the water in the canals is low and can get rather smelly, so just do yourself a favour and find a way to visit a bit out of season, like during winter, in early spring or late autumn, when it is possible to find some calm streets and enjoy the vibe. I haven’t been to the famous Venice winter Carnival yet and I hear that it is amazing despite the crowds, but I do know that you’ll need to book everything a lot in advance if you want to experience that.
Each of the traditional Carnival masks is based on a unique character archetype and they can be roughly divided into the older Carnival masks or the Commedia dell’ Arte masks, which became popular in the 16th century. You can read more on that here and there are a lot of the Carnival masks in the shops around Venice. It is quite easy to separate quality masks from plastic rubble, so even if you aren’t going to buy one, I would recommend checking out one of the good shops like the Mondonovo Maschere di Guerrino Lovato to see what the traditional masks look like. The most authentic ones are made with liquid plaster in a clay mould, which is then covered with layers of paper and glue and painted over with white tempera before all the decorations are added.
Most of the main attractions of Venice are located around the aforementioned San Marco square and include the 9th century Basilica di San Marco with its many treasures from the Crusades and the crazy golden altar piece with almost 2000 gemstones, the striking red Campanile bell tower and the Doge’s Palace with the tragic Bridge of Sighs. Back in the days of the Republic of Venice between 726 and 1797, the Doge was the elected leader of the Venetian nobility, sort of like an executive chief of the Republic, which was a sovereign state and a trading superpower with its own language and many maritime conquests. The Doges were elected for life and the Venetian Republic was a democracy in terms of the noble and wealthy only, as the rest of the social classes had no say in the politics whatsoever.
There are two pink columns amongst the white marble ones on the front side of the Doge’s palace facing the square and it is said that is where the Doge made his appearances to address the crowds. It is also said that the columns are pink with blood from all the important prisoners that were hanged right there as a warning to the other Venetian citizens. Similarly, the small Bridge of Sighs connecting the inner buildings of the palace is so named as it was the last chance for the condemned prisoners to take in the beauty of Venice and fresh air before they were taken from the court to the dark dungeons. However, the name apparently originated from the poet Lord Byron from the 19th century, who managed to find something pathetically romantic in everything, as I just cannot imagine the bloodthirsty, business-minded Venetian Doges caring about the last sighs of their prisoners.
The San Marco Square AND the Lagoon
The Venetian symbol was and still is a winged lion, often holding a book or with a halo around its head to honour their patron saint St. Mark. There is a huge winged lion statue in the San Marco square and you’ll also see the winged lions on certain historical buildings in the Mediterranean regions that were conquered by Venice at some point in history. These days you can buy tickets with specific timeslots for almost all attractions online to skip the wait, but check the most recent information on their websites or on the official Venice tourism website.
To get to the San Marco square, you’ll need to cross the famous white Rialto market bridge over the Grand Canal of Venice and it is worth stopping and elbowing through the crowds for a look over the canal, particularly at sunset. The 400 years old Basilica della Salute is also close to the Grand Canal and you can visit it for free. You’ll need to pay if you want to climb up to the dome and see the view though.
There are two other attractions left worth mentioning amongst numerous others. The first is the short and inexpensive glassblowing demonstration tour at the Murano Glass Factory that we tried out on my last visit, because Venice and its Murano island in particular are famous for incredible glass products. During the tour there’s a live demonstration of glassblowing, which is fascinating, and you also get access to the factory showroom with some gorgeous and some very funny glassware, all presented in the typical Italian fashion. The other one is the Acqua Alta bookstore, which has adapted to the constant floods and uncertain weather conditions in Venice by storing all the books in boats and it is really cool. You can find more quirky Venice attractions here as well.
Impressions of Venice AND THE GRANd CANAL
Venice is easily accessible as a daytrip with public transport from a lot of the nearby cities, so if you only have one day, I’d recommend simply walking around to take in the views and the beautiful details and maybe visiting one attraction at the most. All paths in Venice somehow lead to the Rialto bridge and the San Marco square, so you just put down the map, get a gelato and follow the street markings. It would be a shame to miss half of the city because you spent 4 hours seeing the insides of a museum or the palace, but then that’s just my opinion. 🙂
Walking is also the best option to explore Venice and it takes around an hour to walk from Santa Croce, where the bus and train stations are located, to the tourist centre and San Marco, depending on the route you choose. Alternatively you can take a relatively affordable vaporetto water taxi or if you want to splurge, a shared or a private gondola ride. Gondolas are the traditional black boats of Venice and back in the day every wealthy family had their own signature colour for the mooring poles in front of their residence.
P.S.: If you want a very Venice vibes movie recommendation, I love Dangerous Beauty. It is about a 16th century Venetian courtesan who gets accused of witchcraft and it is an absolutely gorgeous, decadent and sensual movie that manages to do the female perspective quite well.