Top Ten Activities for Venice, a Magnificent UNESCO World Heritage Site
All of Venice is a magnificent UNESCO World Heritage Site
The whole city is an extraordinary architectural masterpiece.
The city is built on 118 small islands and seems to float on the waters of the lagoon, composing an unforgettable landscape whose imponderable beauty inspired many painters.
The lagoon of Venice has one of the highest concentrations of masterpieces in the world.
The years of the Republic’s extraordinary Golden Age are represented by monuments of incomparable beauty.
Instead of reading the UNESCO description, GO TO VENICE and see it yourself.
Venice is not a Floating City
The buildings of Venice are constructed on wooden piles, as seen in the foreground of this photo. The piles penetrate sand and mud to a hard layer of compressed clay.
These piles have been submerged for centuries and are still intact.
The piles come from the trunks of alder trees from Slovenia and Croatia. Alder wood is known for its water resistance. The areas that supplied the trees are now barren.
UNESCO calls Venice the Mistress of the Seas
This mistress of the seas is a link between the East and the West, between Islam and Christianity and lives on through thousands of monuments of a time gone by.
There is something in Venice for everyone. This list of Top Activities in Venice is not ranked. The best activities are the ones that you like best.
Activity 1: Walk
Venice is a walking city. There are no self-driving cars in Venice. There are no cars at all. It is a pedestrian city.
Venice is an archipelago of islands connected by over 400 bridges. You can get around on foot and by boat.
You will be dragging your own bags up and down stairs on the bridges.
Walking along the narrow streets of Venice is an absolute delight! There is something interesting around every corner.
On a nice day, the main thoroughfares are jammed with people. Venice is a very popular tourist destination and gets over 18 million visitors a year.
You can escape the crowds by exploring the back streets. Just be careful: It is easy to get lost. You may find yourself asking directions from another hopelessly lost tourist.
Activity 2: See the Bridge of Sighs
The Bridge of Sighs is an enclosed bridge that was built in 1600 to connect the Prison to the interrogation rooms in the Doge’s Palace. The view from the Bridge was the last view of Venice that criminals saw on their way to prison. They sighed with regret at their last glimpse of their beautiful Venice.
If you go to Venice with your lover, then take a sunset ride on a gondola that passes under the Bridge of Sighs. A local legend claims that lovers will be granted eternal love and bliss if they kiss under the Bridge at sunset, just as the bells of St Mark’s ring.
The Bridge of Sighs is in the enclosed bridge in the far distance in this photo.
Activity 3: Visit St Mark’s Basilica
St Mark’s is the ultimate symbol of Venetian wealth and power
Every church in Italy lays claim to a holy relic. Venetian merchants stole the relics of Mark the Evangelist from Alexandria.
St Mark is at the very top of this photo. Below St Mark is a winged lion, the symbol of Venice.
St Mark’s is magnificent, outside and inside.
The best time to see the outside is at sunset, when the setting sun hits the golden mosaics.
Much of the opulence in St Marks was plundered in the Sack of Constantinople at the end of the Fourth Crusade in 1204. For three days, Crusaders looted, terrorized and vandalized Constantinople. They shipped the famous bronze horses from the Hippodrome back to Venice, where they were placed outside on the loggia of St Marks, with a commanding view of the Piazza San Marco.
Every tourist in Venice wants to go into St Marks. We went with our package tour so we did not have a choice of times. It seemed that every tourist in Venice picked the same time. It was absolutely mobbed. It was impossible to stop and examine the mosaic floors. I think I would have been trampled if I had stooped for a closer look.
If anyone can suggest a good time to visit, please submit a comment!
Napoleon looted the bronze horses in 1797 and brought them to Paris and placed them on top of the Arc de Triomphe Carrousel outside the Louvre (as pictured in an earlier blog). After Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo, the horses were returned to Venice. In 1982, they were moved inside St Marks for preservation. Exact copies were placed in their outdoor spot.
The Interior of St Marks is absolutely spectacular.
There are five great domes, totally covered in exquisite mosaics that took 600 years to complete.
After we were nearly stampeded trying to climb upstairs in St Marks, the crowds seem to magically disperse and I was able to get a shot of the magnificent interior.
Activity 4: Visit the Piazza San Marco
This fabulous public square is dominated at one end by St Marks. Napoleon called the square:
the drawing room of Europe
The Clock Tower in this photo sits over an archway that leads to the Rialto, the most famous bridge in Venice.
The huge perimeter of the Square is filled with bars and restaurants. In the evenings, tourists are entertained by classical music. You can enjoy the music for free if you wander around. Sitting costs money, even if you do not order a drink. Just remind yourself that you are sitting in the middle of a fabulous World Heritage Site. This makes the price of a drink seems cheap.
This is a closeup of the clock, done in a magnificent blue that is the colour of lapis lazuli.
In an earlier blog, I compared a package tour with a do-it-yourself tour. Here is an example where the hype from the tour guide did not live up to reality.
We happened to be in Venice on Ascension Day, which is the Thursday that falls 40 days after Easter. Twice a year, at Epiphany and on Ascension Day, the three Magi emerge from one doorway at the top of the clock tower, bow to the Virgin and child, and disappear behind the second doorway. This appearance happens every hour on the hour only on those two days of the year. All day, our guide reminded us to see this magnificent and rare event. We staked out a table at an outdoor bar and had a drink while we waited for the top of the hour. With the super zoom on my camera, I captured the rare event, shown in the video below. If I didn’t have a zoom lens, I don’t know if I would have seen it at all.
Anyway, we had a great drink with great friends on a fabulous day in a magnificent square. And I have the video of the rare event. You can see it below. (There is no sound.)
Activity 5: Window Shopping
Every high end merchant is in Venice. Instead of buying a T-shirt, you can buy a dress with a Venice theme
If you decide on the Dolce and Gabbana dress instead of a T-shirt, be prepared a bit of sticker-shock.
The price is €3,750.00
Too bad I didn’t have room in my suitcase and needed to pack lite.
Too bad I had no room in my suitcase for these Pinko sneakers at just €310.00
I also stopped to admire the men’s fashions but the men in my life will not wear these shirts and ties.
I would have had room for these beautiful Italian leather gloves and wish that I had stopped taking pictures long enough to buy a pair…..guess I will have to go back some day.
I love the rainbow display.
I also loved these polka dot gloves but, again, I only have a picture.
Activity 6: Eat Seafood
Fresh Octopus in the Fish Market
Venice is known for its superb seafood. The fish market was just around the corner from our hotel so I went out early one morning to see it. There were lots of fish that I did not recognize. At least I know an octopus when I see one!
Activity 7: Visit Murano Island
Murano is famous for its glass making. I love Murano glass. If you have an extra day in Venice and you want to see how Murano glass is made, this is a lovely outing.
My first visit was in my backpacking days in 1975. I was enthralled with the glass foundries.
In those days, you could wander into any foundry and watch the artisans at work. Now, there are only a couple that are open to tourists.
We arrived in Murano just in time for opening and had no wait for the free viewing. By the time we came out, there was a very long line. I paid €5.00 to see another one with no wait. I took a couple of videos so that you can see how they do it. It still looks magical to me.
All Venetian glassmakers were ordered to move to Murano because of fear of fire.
Glassmakers were valued for their skills and were prominent citizens. However, in order to protect the Venetian monopoly on glassmaking, the glassmakers were forbidden to leave. They were very prominent prisoners!
Nevertheless, some glassmakers escaped and took their skills and abilities to France where they were employed to make the mirrors for the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles, pictured in an earlier blog.
Murano island blue starburst glass sculpture
There are literally hundreds of glass shops on Murano Island. They are all pretty.
This sculpture is huge and lovely.
It is called a starburst but the colour remind me of the ocean.
Murano Island is a relaxing place to spend a few hours, even if you are not interested in glass.
We took a water bus to get there and back. You need to pay attention to make sure you get on the right bus.
Activity 8: Visit the Island of Burano
The island of Burano is known for lace-making and brightly coloured houses.
Here is a short video of lace-making in Burano.
The traditional method of making lace in Burano is different from the method used in Bruges. An earlier blog has a photo of lace-making in Bruges.
If you want to paint your house in Burano, you need permission from the government.
Burano is very popular with brides.
Activity 9: Take a Gondola Ride
I didn’t think I would like this activity, but did it anyway….and loved it. I found it very peaceful and relaxing.
We paid extra to take a gondola ride with our package tour. We were a group of four boats. We were serenaded by a fabulous singer.
A gondola ride is expensive so plan where and when you want to go.
Activity 10: Take in the view from the Rialto Bridge
The Rialto Bridge is the oldest bridge across the Grand Canal. It is an architectural icon of Venice.
The bridge was completed in 1591. It is a single-span stone bridge. Critics claimed that it would collapse. We crossed it many times.
It is a beautiful bridge but it is undergoing extensive renovations so you cannot actually do Activity 10 now. Instead, this closing picture is taken from the street beside the Rialto Bridge.
It is time to say goodnight and goodbye to Venice.
How do you get to Venice from the airport?
Our Rick Steves package provided us with instructions to our hotel near the Rialto Bridge. If your hotel is near the Rialto, you can follow these instructions. They worked for us without any problems.
Arriving in Venice and Getting to the Rialto Bridge
From Marco Polo Airport
Venice’s main airport is the Marco Polo Airport. It is located on the mainland about 6 miles north of Venice.
Option 1: Shuttle Bus and Boat Bus (Vaporetto)
ATVO and ACTV shuttle buses leave twice per hour outside the airport arrivals terminal. The direct ATVO buses are fastest, arriving at Venice’s Piazzale Roma in about 20 minutes, while the ACTV buses make additional stops and arrive in about 30 minutes. Tickets for either bus cost around €6 and can be purchased at the ticket desk in the terminal, the TI (Tourist Information), ticket machines, or directly from the driver. Please note that you must buy a ticket for the correct bus line, as they are not interchangeable.
Vaporetto from Piazzale Roma to the Rialto Mercato Boat Stop
From Piazzale Roma, it’s a scenic 20-minute cruise on a vaporetto. Purchase a vaporetto ticket (“un biglietto”) from either the ATVO or ACTV ticket office for about €7. Validate your ticket by scanning it at the white machine (wait until you hear a pinging sound) before you board the vaporetto, or you’ll risk a fine. Take vaporetto #1 (direction Rialto) and disembark at the Rialto Mercato stop, which will be on the right side of the canal. Confirm the stop with the conductor (“Rialto Mercato?”) as you board
Option 2: Water Taxi
The faster, but more expensive, option is to take a water taxi into the city. A water taxi will cost about €115 for up to 5 people and the trip takes around 40 minutes. Pay the captain directly and be sure to confirm the fare before boarding. You’ll pay an additional supplement for very early or very late rides. You can arrange for the ride at the water taxi desk inside the airport arrivals hall or down at the dock. It’s a 10 minute walk down to the dock from the airport. To get there, exit the arrivals terminal, turn left and follow the signs. Ask the taxi driver to take you to the Rialto Mercato stop.
From the Santa Lucia Train Station
If you arrive in Venice by train, your journey will end at the Santa Lucia Train Station. From the station, walk straight outside to the Grand Canal to reach the Ferrovia vaporetto stop. From there, it’s a scenic 15-minute cruise on a vaporetto. Vaporetti are bus-boats that ride up and down the canal. Several vaporetti lines serve the Ferrovia docks and head down the canal to central Venice. A ticket (“un biglietto”) costs around €7 and can be purchased at the ticket kiosk. Be sure to validate your ticket by scanning it at the white machine (wait until you hear a pinging sound) before you board the vaporetto, or you’ll risk a fine. Take vaporetto #1, which departs from the dock to the right, and disembark at the Rialto Mercato stop. The stop will be on the right side of the canal. Confirm the stop with the conductor (“Rialto Mercato?”) as you board the boat.
Next week, we visit Florence.
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