Everyone says that the best way to see Venice is to just get lost.
They were right.
Truth be told, there’s no real way to actually BE lost in Venice. It’s not that big, and all the major landmarks are extremely well marked, with signs pointing in their direction. But there’s something to be said of just wandering the winding streets, finding a dead-end and backtracking, crossing the countless bridges and seeing the canals and trying to avoid the tourist crowd.
Definitely get lost in Venice.
But I’m actually getting way ahead of myself here. Before we got lost in Venice, we had to get ourselves out of Florence, which was no easy feat. Our train was late enough in the day that we were able to have breakfast before packing up all our things and heading out. Because of the close proximity of the train station to the hotel, we decided to just lug our giant suitcases on our own. This turned out to be fine, just slow moving. Even so, it took less than ten minutes to actually get to the train station, where we found out that our train to Venice was running approximately 40 minutes late.
Ever just hang out on the floor in a European train station? Actually not as bad as it sounds, and it makes the “world traveler” status feel more legit somehow. We hung out there until the schedule finally posted our track number, and then lugged the giant bags onto the train (thankfully someone came to our aid again).
We arrived in Venice nearly three hours later, and got off the train to an insane crowd of people all trying to figure out where they were going. Being the researcher that I am, I already knew we needed to get on the vaporetto and go to the Rialto Bridge stop, so I bought our tickets and off we went. Somehow we lucked out and managed to find the boat going straight to the Rialto with no other stops, and so it made finding the hotel insanely easy.
The hotel is in the perfect location – right next to the Rialto Bridge. It had beautiful views and was easy walking distance from pretty much everything. However, almost everything in Venice is easy walking distance from everything else so that’s maybe not the best selling point. How about these views around the hotel, though (don’t worry, you’ll be sick of these hotel views by the time the Venice posts are finished)?
We got ourselves settled slowly, as we had plenty of time and multiple days in Venice to enjoy all that it had to offer. But being as it was only late afternoon and we had a whole evening ahead of us, neither of us wanted to waste it just sitting in the hotel room waiting for our plans to start the next day. We decided to do what we did in Rome, and orient ourselves to the major sites and attractions before really deciding to explore.
In typical Venetian tourist fashion, our first stop was St. Marks Square. It was simple to find from the hotel, and there are signs on nearly every street pointing you in the right direction. Not only that, you can pretty much follow the crowd. Similar to Rome, the amount of people around would significantly increase once you were getting close to a tourist attraction. However, Venice is pretty crowded no matter where you go, but it’s also a different crowd to Rome. My main issue was people not being aware of the narrow streets and just deciding to stop for no reason (the New Yorker in me has a real pet peeve against people who just stop walking for no reason!).
I was immediately charmed by all the canals and buildings, and stopped to take a great number of pictures (Venice is where I took the bulk of them). I tried to hold myself back at certain points, but the canals were so quaint and cute that I just had to take pictures of nearly every single one. And that assuming it was just a plain canal – if there was a canal full of boats or a great window or something, it was even worse!
St. Mark’s Square is full of people and pigeons. The pickpocket risk is great, but if you’re aware of you’re surroundings and careful with your bag you’re fine. This is where coming from a large city is helpful as a tourist. Even with the crazy crowds, nothing could mar the experience of getting to see Venice, which I think ended up being my favorite of the three main Italian cities we visited.
We wandered down the street away from St. Marks, still following the massive crowds, and looking out over the lagoon. Across the water we could see San Giorgio, a small island we would visit later on in the trip, and watched the gondoliers for a little while.
We had plans on a later day to visit the cathedrals, so we just got the lay of the land, and got a little lost over the canals and streets before deciding it was definitely time for dinner – the only other time we ate was breakfast. We stopped near the hotel for pizza – had to go for the spicy salami again and it was perfect. This was topped off with our daily gelato stop (coconut and strachiatella today) and a quick walk down the Grand Canal near the hotel before going back to make a plan to tackle all that Venice had to offer!
Our plan, of course, included more time to get lost the next day. We had a short agenda, one we created because a sight that I wanted to visit was going to be closed on the only other day we would’ve had time for it. That was the Palazzo Mocenigo Costume Museum, and I had read about it in an Italy book my grandmother gave me before I left. It was not a major attraction but I did find it on the map, so we had a vague plan of going to find it while also exploring more Venice streets.
We definitely got lost on the way. You see, the thing with Venice is, all the major attractions are really well marked, but it’s difficult to find specific, smaller streets on the map so we just kind of wandered in the general vicinity of the places we wanted to go and hoped for the best. It usually worked.
We crossed over the Rialto Bridge and easily found the produce and fish markets. They were right on the Grand Canal so we also spent some time walking along it and looking at the buildings across the water, where there was a really cool display of stone hands coming out of the water and holding up a building.
Finding the costume museum was challenging, but we got to see quieter parts of Venice in the process. We definitely found the less touristy section, where people were actually few and far between in some spots.
If only I could say that the costume museum was as much fun as finding the costume museum. I was anticipating rooms full of old gowns, but it was more of a tour of a mansion, with ONE room of old gowns and a lot of perfume. One of the exhibits on display was a perfume bottle collection, which was admittedly interesting (they had perfume bottles of all varieties and shapes), but not exactly what I was looking for when it came to a costume museum. I had actually been hoping for this grand place full of dresses to drool over that would warrant an entirely separate blog post, but alas that’s not what I got.
With no real plan in mind after the museum, we decided that wandering was just fine. I was vaguely in the mood for gelato (this is not saying much as I was always vaguely in the mood for gelato… and I mean always) and we wanted to see as much of Venice as possible. At some point in our wanderings, I spotted a sign for the Accademia (not to be confused with the Accademia in Florence) and we made that our goal. As we walked, we stopped for that gelato (walnut & fig and strawberry from probably one of the best gelato places we went to the whole time), and get some lunch (a really amazing carbonara to make up for the not-so-good one in Rome!).
When we arrived at the museum, there were no crowds and no lines. Like, to the point that I was sure we were in the wrong place. We doubled checked a few times, but we were indeed at the right building. We bought tickets quickly, went in and learned why there were no lines… much of the museum was under renovation, with a lot of the exhibits shut down or inaccessible. Even so, we saw some impressive artwork and we were able to escape the humidity of the day (Venice is not as hot as Rome or Florence, but the humidity is a bitch).
After the museum, more wandering ensued. Checking the map, I wanted to walk out to the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute, which is across the water from St. Marks and overlooks the lagoon. It was a nice little area, and people used it to its full advantage – sitting along the steps and edges of the water, reading or having lunch. At the very end of it, there is a mermaid statue overlooking the water.
The heat of the day was upon us at this point, and we decided to go back to the hotel for some air conditioning relief before heading out for a gondola ride. And despite the fact that most of the gondolas we saw were full of couples, there is no shame in a romantic gondola ride with your female best friend!
However, what I will say about the gondola ride is that we did it all wrong. We chose a gondolier on the Grand Canal and ended up following a row of gondolas. It felt more like a Disney World ride than a cool Venetian adventure. My advice would be to wander into a more secluded, less-touristy area and find a gondolier there who can take you along the quieter canals. I think it would be so much more worth the money. But I can say that it was nice to check this item off of my “travel to do” list, and it was definitely cool to see the buildings of Venice from a different angle.
Gondola ride done, it was time for dinner. In Venice, I started eating like a crazy person. I wasn’t technically holding myself back in the other places we visited, but I definitely ate less. In Venice, the reality that I would be back at home and away from all the fresh pasta and pizza hit me, and I wanted to eat all day long and try everything humanly possible.
Our plan for dinner was to find a restaurant recommended by a family friend, who told us that they had a buffet when you ordered drinks. This sounded perfect. When I looked it up on the map, it was very close to the hotel which made it even better. The problem? We could not for the life of us find the street it was on, which drove me crazy because I knew from two separate landmarks on the map that we were standing where the street should have been! We never ended up finding it, so my assumption upon studying it a little more closely, is that the street looked more like an alleyway and so we never imagined it was where a restaurant would be located.
Our inability to find this street led us to a larger, more open area where they had lots of restaurants, shopping and more gelato! (It was not a two gelato day, but as I’m writing this, everyday in Venice really should’ve been.) There I found two fabric stores that I was entirely too intimidated to go into because all the fabric was behind the counter and I didn’t have anything in mind that I wanted, so I wanted to avoid awkward conversations. I did like their window displays though.
We ended up giving up on the first restaurant and just deciding to eat in the new area we had found. I was on a major pasta kick, so in addition to the carbonara I had at lunch, I chose seafood pasta for dinner. We paired this with a fried calamari and zucchini appetizer, and more aperol spritzes.
Dinner was excellent, and the rest from all the walking was nice, but we weren’t quite done yet with our exploring for the day. Because neither of us are big nightlife people and the sun sets so much later in Europe (and in the summer), we didn’t see the cities a lot after dark. We wanted to see what Venice looked like all lit up so we went back to the hotel for a bit and then spent some time on the terrace looking out at the Rialto bridge and the Grand Canal.
And then it was off to bed, for the next day we were exploring the Venetian Lagoon!