I've said many times before how much I love Venice. Not only is it a tourist's paradise, and a shopper's delight, but it is also a city filled with history and art and beautiful sights around every corner. So, without further ado, and in no particular order, here are my Top 10 Highlights of Venice as experienced on our last visit.
The Grand Canal
The first thing that comes to mind when thinking of Venice is its canals and gondolas, and in fact, a gondola ride is one of those stereotypical touristy things to do when visiting this city on the water. I've never been inside a gondola myself, but I've traversed the length and breadth of the city on foot and via water bus, and all I can say is, it's extremely picturesque. The most well known of Venice's canals is, of course, the Grand Canal, and it is truly magnificent. Lined with shops and palaces, the water teems with gondolas, water buses, taxis and private boats. It's busy and it's chaotic and it's one of those sights you have to see at least once in your lifetime.
The Rialto Bridge
One of the two most photographed of all of Venice's bridges, the Ponte di Rialto is the perfect vantage point from which to gaze out over the Grand Canal. Its steps are crowded, but it's worth doing a little elbow-pushing to admire the view and watch the flow of people from the one bank to the other. You'll also find little curio shops on either sides of the steps and if you like buying mementos, this is definitely the place for souvenirs.
St Mark's Square
The largest square in Venice, Piazza San Marco is where you come to feed the pigeons and get that wonderful holiday vibe that the city exudes. Like the rest of Venice, it's teeming with tourists (unless you come in winter, at which time you'll have this great open expanse almost to yourself) and enclosed by the city's most expensive café's and shops. If you can't afford their gourmet prices, do what Gareth and I did and just grab a snack from somewhere around the corner and sit on the steps while people-watching and soaking up the atmosphere. You can also climb up the bell tower, known as the Campanile, for a bird's eye view over the square, although the two of us had climbed enough towers for one holiday and opted to remain on ground level.
St Mark's Basilica
Hopefully when you visit the Basilica di San Marco will not be covered by scaffolding, because it is truly one of the most iconic sights of Venice. With its domed roof and little towers, it's a striking example of Byzantine architecture. The building is also nicknamed Chiesa d'Oro (church of gold) because the interior is covered in golden mosaics, at once garish and beautiful. If you're interested in relics, the Treasury contains, among other things, a remnant of the cross and a wooden thorn from Jesus' crown.
The Doge's Palace
The Palazzo Ducale is one of the main sights on St Mark's Square, but do make the effort to tour the inside as well. We went on our own and listened to snatches from tour guides passed along the way, which was good enough for us. The interior of the palace is lavishly decorated and there is an interesting armory exhibit (if you, like us, like to look at swords and other weapons of war), a walk through the Bridge of Sighs, and a quick visit to the gloomy dungeons below. And if you'd like to learn a little more of the darker side of Venice's history, don't wait until it's too late (like we did) to pre-book (months in advance) the Secret Itineraries tour.
The Bridge of Sighs
The other most photographed bridge in Venice, the Ponte dei Sospiri, named by Lord Byron, is poetically named for the sighs of the duke's prisoners upon their final view of Venice's beauty as they were led down to their cells. Not only did we get to see the bridge from outside, but were also lucky enough to walk across it during our tour of the Doge's Palace.
If you liked all the glass items for sale in Venice itself, consider visiting the source. The island of Murano is where all the glass factories are located and many of them give glass-blowing demonstrations (for a small fee) where you can see this ancient art firsthand. We found the goods on the island to be a little more expensive than in Venice itself, but there was a wider variety of the expensive, quality items, such as chandeliers, large ornaments and wine glasses. Cheap trinkets and jewellery were also available, of course.
If you're into lace then the island of Burano is the place to be. Personally, we found the endless amounts of white table cloths, napkins, pillow covers and clothing to be boring. However, for us, the island's real attraction is its colourful houses, painted in every shade of the rainbow.
Need I say more?
Let's face it, Venice and souvenir shopping go hand in hand. Many people don't see past all the kitsch for sale, but if you delve a little deeper into the alleys you can come away with some really nice, usable items. Venice is known for glassware, of course, but we also indulged in some serious handbag shopping, jewellery, and I came home with a proper carnival mask which is now hanging in our bedroom, mostly creeping Gareth out, but always reminding us of the wonderful city on the water.
Did I leave anything unmissable out? What highlights would you recommend when visiting Venice?
For more posts in the Ciao Italy 2014 series, click here.
Labels: Ciao Italy 2014, Europe, Italy, Venice