I remember my first arrival in Venice. The boat was shaking and so were we. Although winters in Italy are usually a pleasant thing, La Serenissima (the most serene of all cities) is often piereced by cold currents which can cut to the bone.
I remeber everyone who had already been there had completely conflicting stories of what the city is like:
“Oh, it’s overrated. And the channels smell so bad”
“It is the best city in the world: never seen anything quite like the Carnival”
So which one was it? Well, for me it was love at first sight. It can be a bit claustrophobic if you get phased by large crowds but as soon as you take a random street in the opposite direction of Rialto and San Marco you will soon discover the real charm of the city. As an art history buff I don’t underestimate Venice’s most famous spots, but trust me: its real appeal is away from the crowds.
Grab a gelato and choose the smallest, emptiest street you can find. Getting lost in Venice is a travelling delight and trust me: sooner or later you will reach the central spots again.
Venice is (simply put) addictive. I never know which of its faces I am going to see. The lavishly rich? The miserly poor? The historical splendour or the plastic wake up call of modern day? Venice is all that and more, so don’t miss this rich in history Italian city just because package tours have overexposed its fame.
Don’t miss the parks
Small bridges, canals and beautiful Venetian Gothic architecture (mixing Byzantine and Moorish influence) are what most people see in the city. But if you head South East of San Marco you will discover the lovely Memorial Park (Parco delle Rimembranze), surrounded by small Italian cafes and a relaxing atmosphere
Travel back in time
With so many people going all the way with their costumes: the further away you stray from the famous tourist spots, the easier it is to believe you’ve hopped on a time travel machine.
Some visitors of the Carnival just hop in the first fancy costume they find, others go at great lengths to get all the details right and go for highly accurate vintage costumes. In fact the history of the Venetian carnival itself (extensively depicted in fine art) is extemely interesting: from the secret love messages women could send with their fans to lovers sitting at the opposite side of the opera hourse, through the witch doctors and travelling actors visiting Venice to make money trough deception and trickery. I have researched some of these topics extensively for seminars in Art History and when I have more time I would be happy to share some of these stories here.
Love is in the air: Enjoy it
I dislike cheesy, pink-love-novel romance and I do realize Venice is a romantic cliche. Nevertheless, I must admit that the city’s timeless appeal and history full of lusty secrets is the perfect place for couples to disconnect from the outside worldand enjoy each other’s company
Don’t miss Burano’s Vibrant Colors
Burano is one of the islands in the Venetian lagoon which you should definitely visit, if you are staying in the city for more than one day.
The best way to reach it is with a motorboat (Vaporetto), armed with a camera and company of friends. Public transportation in Venice is actually a boat fleet: you can buy combined tickets for 48 or 72 hours and enjoy various routes across the canals and between the archipelago of small islands around the city.
Go Portrait Hunting
Venice is one of the best places in the world for simply walking around and observing the people and stories unfolding in front of you
Best place to have your birthday party
This a photo from the time I was a very Blond Explorer and my second birthday spent in Venice. Just walking around the city with friends is enough of a celebration. And there is always something going on so eventually you will get into festive mood. For example our group accidentally stumbled upon a concert on a small Piazza with one of the bands performing a special cover of Goran Bregovic as a greeting for our group so…that’s the thing about Venice: you never know what’s behind the corner
The meaning of Carnival/Carnevale
“Carnival” comes from the Italian Carnevale, which corresponds to the Shrovetide in the English speaking world and the beginning of the Zagovezni Lent for Orthodox Christians. It’s literal translation is “putting the meat aside” and it marks the 40day lent before Easter. Which is ironic, because across the centuries, the stories of wanton abandon during the carnival have been anything but religious and humble.
✓ Unless you are really into spending mode, you’d better focus on finding a place to sleep outside the city: there are regular train lines to Venice and lots of options for local transportation so don’t worry about getting there. Lido di Jesolo is a nice vacation spot in the Venetian Lagoon where you can find affordable hotels.
✓If you have rent-a-car and are travelling in a bigger group of younger people who are not so picky about accommodation: there are nice options near the Treviso airport, AirBnB and Couchsurfing
✓You can book public transportation tickets online if you want to save time. Prices depend on the timespan you want to use the tickets for: the meeting points and routes are available on the Get your guide website
✓Check a list of some nice venues in the less popular part of the city Cannaregio