In September last year, I had the amazing opportunity to travel through Europe seeing some of the most beautiful places on earth…one of these places being Venice, Italy. It was a place I had dreamed of going ever since I could remember – well, ever since I first read ‘The Merchant of Venice (and yes, I did have a fan girl moment). I mean what’s not to love? The architecture, narrow canals and the romanticism filling the air as the gondoliers seranade you whilst sailing through the city. Not only did Venice live up to my expectations, but it definitely surprised me as there is way more than meets the eye in this beautiful city. As it was for me, I’m sure this city is high up on your travel wishlist, which is why I’m super excited to share with you my experience in Venezia (that’s the Italian way to say Venice – definitely a term you’ll need to learn if you haven’t already!)
Venice has an amazing history, deep rooted in art, religion and politics. In fact, Venice actually symbolised democracy and civilisation, as it had one of the only palaces without guards. Another amazing fact that you may be unaware of is that Venice and its buildings were constructed on top of mud and sand…couple that with rising canals and you’ve got a slowly sinking city (oh, if only the architects knew!)
Let me start of by saying that because Venice’s main source of revenue is generated from tourism so there are a lot of shops, cafes and restaurants that target tourists. Don’t let this put you off the city…yes, there are some touristy sights that you should definitely see (I’ll get into those in a sec) but there are also some amazing hidden gems that you need to check out too (I’ll tell where they are afterwards as well).
There are a number of must-see sights, which are like the Crown Jewels of Venice – they are beautiful, highly photographed pieces of art that truly capture the essence and character of Venice, whilst showcasing the historical and political influences at the time.
St Mark’s Square
St Mark’s Square (or Piazza San Marco if you want to practice your Italian), is one of the most beautiful squares in the world. It is made up of marble and is home to the Basilica and Doge’s Palace, which is why it was an important city centre for many centuries. If you’re anything like me (where gazing up at amazing buildings is your thing), then St Marks Square will be like Christmas for you! Better yet, sitting down at one of the nice cafes watching people flood the square that lies below these buildings is a treat too – just be prepared to pay a bit more for your average espresso. Coffee at extravagant prices – oh no, say it isn’t so! Unfortunately, it is so and in fact, most meals in Venice will cost you more than usual and that’s just because you’re in a city that is harder to import goods to…plus the higher amount of tourism pushes prices up. P.S – if I could only recommend one dish in Venice, it would be the Squid Ink Pasta with Cuttlefish – get on it (just don’t get it on your shirt though hahaha!)
St Mark’s Basilica
St Mark’s Basilica (Basilica Di San Marco) is the most famous church in Venice and is one of the best examples of Byantine architecture I’ve ever seen! The Basilica gives off a very gothic vibe and its age is really displayed once you step inside. The basilica’s roof is dark with faded murals and the walls are adorned with old relics. One of the coolest parts of the basilica is actually the Treasury of St Mark’s Basilica, where you will find ridiculously old artefacts and jewels that belonged to the previous Doge’s of Venice (FYI, in case you’re wondering a ‘Doge’ is the Chief Magistrate, a.k.a the ruler of a republic – I totally didn’t know this for a while either!). P.S – you might also find the dried up hand of a doge that had been cut off and preserved in the Basilica…gross I know, but once you find it, you won’t be able to stop looking at it!.
Another part of the Basilica that you cannot miss and let me emphasise this again…you will be kicking yourself if you don’t see it (metaphorical kicking of course) is the Pala d’Oro. The Pala d’Oro is an altar screen built during the Byzantine period and is completely made up of gold and studded with gems. Let me put just how grand this altar is into perspective for you…the altar is made up of 1,300 pearls, 300 emeralds, 300 sapphires, 400 garnets, 100 amethysts, as well as rubies and topazes. Yep, it’s pretty crazy and totally drool worthy!
My top tip for visiting St Mark’s Basilica is to try and check it out as earlier as possible, because it is a must-see the line can be up to 45 minutes long. Also, this goes for all of the churches in Italy, but you will need to make sure that your shoulders and knees are covered otherwise you will need to purchase a poncho to cover yourself. Lastly, those amazing features of the basilica are quite special and require an extra payment of 2 Euros per person to visit. It is an extra cost, but a small price to pay in comparison to the knowledge you will gain and experience you will have.
The hidden gems of Venice
Now here’s the best part – my thoughts on what are the hidden gems of Venice. These are places which get a lot less traffic, feel way less touristy, and in my opinion are absolutely awesome places to visit. Let’s dive in!
Acqua Alta Bookshop
This is every bookworm’s dream! Tucked away in the streets of Venice is this amazing bookstore filled with every kind of book and vintage poster that heart desires. One of the coolest parts of this bookstore is the fact that there is a huge gondola in the middle of the store which acts as a massive bookshelf, as well as paddles that hold up shelves. Like the city itself, the further you delve into the store the more you get lost in it…lost amongst tales of romance, horror, poetry and more. Towards the end of the bookstore is a small patio overlooking a canal, where you can sit back and immerse yourself in a good tale or you can simply kick back and watch the gondolas sail by.
Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo
This small square, in my opinion is home to one of the most interesting buildings in Venice – the Scala Contarini deal Bovolo. The scala’s name literally translates to “of the snail” and if you check out the picture below you will see why. The building is one of the best examples of an external multi-arch spiral staircase – it’s just breath taking. Better yet, you can actually climb the staircase to an arcade, which provides an amazing view of Venice’s roof tops. It’s a hard climb, but oh so worth it!
Yep, you’ve guessed it…I’ve got a sweetooth. In fact, whilst I was in Italy, I spent quite a bit of time trying to find the best gelato and I would have to say that Gelatoteca Suso takes the cake! Suso serves up some amazing flavours of gelato and a variety of nougat, all at reasonable prices with excellent service. I would recommend trying the ‘Manet’ flavour of gelato – it is a rich fusion of pistachio and hazelnut which will send your taste buds into a frenzy. Seriously, don’t miss this gelato, otherwise you will have major regrets and who wants that on holiday!?
I hope you’ve enjoyed hearing about my adventures in Venice and recommendations on what to see and do. My last bit of advice though, is just for you to get absolutely lost in the city. Wander the streets. Take the wrong turn. Delve into the alleyways and taste a Spritz at a random bar,Venice is totally the place to do it. ?