Things to do in Venice: from Piazza San Marco to Aperol Spritz
Updated: Sep 10, 2019
It's true. Venice cannot be confused with any other place in the world. There are no look-a-likes, no wannabes. It almost seems that Venice was once made with a secret code developed beyond time. A code rich of creative spirits, talented artists and undeniable beauty.
This city trip destination isn't just for the lucky few. Its immense popularity even scares people off. But the truth is, you must visit it once in your life and then you can let me know if you hated it or loved it.. Or a bit of both ;-)
1) Go off season
I won my plain tickets to Venice thanks to Connections.be but Venice was initially not on my travel wish list because of all the stories on mass tourism, heavy rain fails etc... Newspapers recently reported: "Assaulted by 24 million tourists a year, Venice is to charge visitors a tax up to 10 euros each in a move approved by the Italian government."
But.. I'm so glad we chose Venice and we had an amazing trip. Probably thanks to the fact that we were traveling off-season, meaning between Christmas and New Year. This is probably not the most quiet time of the year but cues outside San Marco Basilica or The Piazza Ducale were very doable.
So, the weather might be cold, and you might experience some fog this time a year, but I can assure you I have made some pretty pictures of the pink mist as well, and some cute shots of me alone at the galleries of Piazza San Marco, under the Christmas lights! Not to mention the very Instragrammable bookshop Acqua Alta Libreria as pictured here above.
2) Sleep at hotel La Residenza
Another good reason for traveling off-season, is the wider choice of hotels.
We stumbled upon this beautiful historic residence called Hotel La Residenza, located in the less touristy, characteristic Castello neighbourhood, within walking distance from San Marco Square.
You will be surprised by the Gothic-Byzantine architecture, delicately renovated rooms and 18th century paintings of this elegant 15th century Gritti-Badoer Palazzo, which once belonged to noble Venetian families. And if that doesn't do it for you, the kindness of the people working there, and the amazing breakfast room definitely will!
Fun fact: you can spot this intriguing building on many old Venetian maps while visiting the museums of the city.
Hotel La Residenza **
Check the website for up to date rates.
3) Think twice about getting a vaporetto card
When you arrive at the airport you are immediately drawn to all the ticket offices to get your ticket for the waterbus to Venice and to safe time you also get yourself a Venice Tourist Travel card for 3 days to travel with the vaporetto. WRONG!
The vaporetto is a smaller waterbus that travels within Venice and goes to nearby islands like Murano, Burano and Lido. If you are staying for a few days and you are thinking about going to one of those islands, consider taking a card for maybe one or two days. You don't need to have this card for your whole stay because you will not be needing it that much.
Venice is not that big at all and you can easily walk from one part to another and there are bridges to cross over.
So be smart and visit Murano and Burano on the same day and do a fun ride up the Grand Canal in the morning and/or evening and buy a one-day Tourist Travel Card.
The price for one ticket is: 7,5 €(!)
One day: 20€
Two days: 30€
Three days: 40€
Seven days: 60€
4) Pick your cultural activities wisely
Meaning... There are so many buildings to visit, churches to see and museums to spend hours and hours in, that I can only advice you to read in before you go and kill your darlings. Don't rush from one site to another, take it all in and make it the perfect reason to come back to Venice again one day. Some of my favourite cultural visits and activities were:
Interepreti Veniziani: a very talented, Venetian chamber group that loves to play Vivaldi's Four Seasons at the San Vidal Church, which is the perfect location for a musical night out.
Peggy Guggenheim: situated on the Grand Canal in Venice the museum shows Guggenheim's personal collection, which include important European and American artwork from the first half of the 20th century. Picasso, Kandinsky, Pollock, Magritte, Dali, to name just a few..
Palazzo Ducale: located in the centre of the city of Venice next to the Basilica of San Marco, the Doge's Palace is a perfect example of gothic architecture. You can easily spend half a day here! And if you got some time left, book the secret itineraries tour (reserve far in advance).
5) Have cicchetti for lunch
Thank you Phil from "Somebody feed Phil" for making an episode on Venice and going to the Cantine del vino gia Schiavi and introducing me to the world of Cicchetti which is Venice's version of the Spanish pintxos and consists of canapes, snacks and finger food that you can easily enjoy with a glass of very cheap but good house wine.
The Cantine del vino gia Schiavi has a wide choice in finger food and a good selection of wine. You will have to stand up but that is usually how they are eaten by the locals. Normally in the evenings, locals go from bar to bar, drinking wine, prosecco, Bellini or Aperol spritz, eating different little bites of food in what they call a 'bacaro'.
It's a bit of an unconventional tip to say to have Cicchetti for lunch but they were so good that I just couldn't just have a few. So it's a bit up to you!
Check out their website here.
7) One more Aperol Spritz please!
We had Cicchetti for lunch with a good glass of wine, continued our cultural activities and then had an aperitivo, a before-dinner drink at one of the local bars.
A place we really enjoyed was Cafe Rosso, which is an historical café that is always very lively and is situated at the centre of the bar scene on Campo Santa Margherita. Perfect for hanging out with the locals and having cheap Select or Aperol Spritz! Cheers!
7) Get lost
You will need a city map to get around Venice but don't be afraid to put it away every now and then and get lost. A few small streets might lead to a very beautiful square or an impressive church or old hospital. There is beauty hiding behind every corner. One minute you are in the middle of San Marco Square, the next you are crossing a picturesque bridge all by yourself watching laundry drying outside in a quiet street where the walls are turning magical pink at golden hour. Ah life can be good..
8) Go to the rooftop terrace of Fondaco dei Tedeschi (free!)
Rooftop views usually come with a price; a not so cheap entrance ticket or a very overpriced cocktail. In Venice, things are not always as expected.
The Fondaco dei Tedeschi is a very cool and stylish urban department store where you will mostly find high-end brands. It is situated at the foot of the Rialto Bridge, on the other side from the fish market and used to serve as a trading post, a custom house and even a post office.
The rooftop terrace of this building offers an amazing 360 ° view of Venice. It is situated on the fourth floor and it is 100% free! All you need to do is book a time slot in advance, because there is a limited capacity for security reasons.
You can make an online booking here, or when you arrive at on their iPads on the 3rd and the 4th floor (upon availability).
9) Bring home grappa and Murano glass
Ah souvenirs, in all honesty, it's a traveller's nightmare, right? Don't have time, keep your shopping to the last minute, hate bargaining, etc..
I have spotted some glitzy souvenirs in Venice and it was hard not to pick-up a beautiful carnival mask, but in the end I went home with a few other things. Souvenir shopping is always a bit personal but here are some of my favourites:
Poli is an artisan grappa distillery founded in 1898 and owned by the Poli family. It is situated in Schavion, near Bassano del Grappa in the hearth of Veneto.
Veneto is a north eastern Italian region stretching from the Dolomite Mountains to the Adriatic Sea and Venice is its beautiful regional capital.
The Poli Distillery's Shop in Venice is the place to be to discover and purchase the distillates and the Poli Grappa. Conveniently located in Campiello Feltrina, it is just a few minutes' walk away from St. Mark’s Square.
You’ll have the chance to discover and taste the products. The fee to try 3 products is 3 € pp. Of course, this will be deducted from your bill in case of purchase :)
My favourite was the blueberry grappa. Have fun tasting!
Please check the website for up to date opening hours.
If you happen to have some extra time to visit the island of Murano, then I've got a sweet address for you. Walking around this picturesque island, going from one Murano glass shop to another and even witnessing a glass blowing demonstration, is interesting, but not all glass objects sold over there are equally beautiful in my honest opinion.
Luca Maria Dona is small shop where you can find objects like earrings, bracelets, keychains etc, made from original Murano glass by means of traditional lamp work techniques. Luca the owner, hand makes every piece in the shop. We thought his designs were more sophisticated than the other seemingly similar items from stores in the area. The prices were very reasonable as well! We bought a few wine stoppers and while they were carefully wrapping up our souvenirs, we got to see him live in action!
10) Enjoy the clichés too
We also had an overpriced cappuccino and mint hot chocolate in the famous Cafe Florian on the Piazza San Marco, but it was totally worth it!
Of course, you have to visit the San Marco Basilica, it's a must-do! Just keep in mind that there will be long lines outside. And if you want to take Instagram proof pictures you need to go to Burano and visit those beautiful coloured houses. A small, pretty island but not a day filling activity...
If you want to take a Gondola, just do it! There is nothing holding you back. Well except for the price maybe ;-) We didn't take one just because we thought 80 euros for 20 minutes just felled like a rip-off and that took away the romantic aspect of it all.
We also had an overpriced cappuccino and mint hot chocolate in the famous Cafe Florian on the Piazza San Marco, but it was totally worth it! Established in 1720 this is the oldest café in Europe. With its picture-perfect salons and neo-baroque decor, it is a symbol of elegancy. While you are indulging on pastries and snacks that perfectly match with your coffee, you will start to wonder about all the famous persons in the world that had their coffee here. Venice is the kind of city where you can spend only 20 euros for lunch and have coffee for the same price in the afternoon. It's all about balance! Indulge in clichés in the morning and look for hidden gems in the evening. Buon viaggio!