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Venice. Few cities are more polarizing. Everyone we talked to before our trip had an opinion.
Detractors spoke as though a visit to Venice combined the worst qualities of Disneyland and an urban sewage system. A stinky, overpriced theme park for adults that is as authentically Italian as Pizza Hut.
On the other end of the spectrum were those who seemed to love the city more than they loved their own offspring.
There was no middle ground.
After my first glimpse of the Grand Canal, I knew which category I fell into: I was in love.
Since Venice was at the tail end of our trip and my feet were blistered beyond recognition, we took a much more laid-back approach to sightseeing.
Granted, we still averaged 30,000 steps per day. Oops.
Here is our (somewhat) laid-back weekend guide to Venice, Italy:
What to Do
Bridge of Sighs
The Bridge of Sighs is a beautiful, covered bridge that connects the prison to the interrogation room in Doge’s Palace. It supposedly earned its name because prisoners would sigh as they caught their final glimpse of the city before meeting their fate on the other side.
I first heard about it when I read The Innocent’s Abroad, a hilarious travel book by my all-time favorite author, Mark Twain.
Piazza San Marco
Piazza San Marco (Saint Mark’s Square) is a public square in the heart of Venice. Marvel at St. Mark’s Basilica, enjoy people watching, see the famous pigeons, and soak up the Venetian ambiance.
Because Piazza San Marco is the busiest tourist spot in the city, we preferred to visit first thing in the morning to avoid crowds.
We don’t recommend eating at the restaurants surrounding the square unless you’re prepared to shell out a modest fortune and/or your first-born child.
Libreria Acqua Alta
I’m a book nerd, so I was in heaven at Libreria Acqua Alta. No other bookstore allows you to flip through classics while waving at passing gondolas.
Many of the books are stored in bathtubs, containers, and even an old gondola to protect the books when the store—along with the rest of Venice—floods.
A visit to Venice is basically a prolonged photo-op. At least that’s how we saw it. It’s hard to find an ugly spot in the entire city.
Our favorite vantage point was from the Ponte dell’Accademia bridge.
We couldn’t visit Venice without taking a romantic gondola ride.
The price is fairly steep. A forty-minute ride costs €80 during the day and €100 in the evening. But it was a once in a lifetime opportunity we didn’t want to miss.
We split the gondola with Sam’s brother and his wife, and we took our ride shortly before the price increased at 7pm. Our ride cost each couple €40.
As many as six people are allowed in a gondola at once, so sharing with friends is a great way to make the experience more affordable.
Meander the Streets
Our favorite way to experience Venice was simply to get lost in its labyrinth of streets (which we did multiple times, though not always on purpose).
Venice’s more “touristy” areas like St. Mark’s Square and the Rialto Bridge can get pretty crowded. But once we got off the beaten path, we had many of the streets to ourselves.
Take a Day Trip
Though Venice is a beautiful destination in its own right, it also makes a great home base for exploring other islands.
The most popular day trips from Venice are to Murano (an island famous for glass blowing) and Burano (a colorful island known for its lace). Though we didn’t visit Murano, we had a fabulous time exploring Burano.
Where to Stay
Accommodations in Venice can be quite pricy, especially if you plan to stay in the city center.
Rather than spending money on a fancy hotel, we rented a beautiful apartment in a great location through Cross-Pollinate, a website similar to Airbnb. We will definitely go this route again if we return.
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