This article may contain compensated links. See our full disclosure here
There’s no place on Earth like Venice. The lagoon city is mysterious, magical and full of wonder. Make the most of your time there by understanding how to see the main sights and enjoy this most unique city. In this episode we explore the highlights of Venice – from its famous bridges, to the islands of the outer lagoon.
Spend some time in Venice and you’ll feel a sense of awe. At its faded beauty, the engineering marvel that keeps the city afloat and its glorious treasures amassed through centuries of strategic trade to the east. You can easily spend your days in Venice wandering its laneways and side canals. But you really should plan to spend some time admiring the landmarks the city is most famous for.
Piazza San Marco is at the heart of the city, and is dominated by the basilica of the same name, its campinile (belltower) and the imposing Palazzo Ducale. We’ll explain why you need to visit these and other main attractions of Venice and how long you should plan to stay there. Plus we reveal how to arrive in style and the answer to a much asked question – Is a ride on a gondola worth it?
For more information, check out our Venice travel guide with tips and articles on where to stay and what to do and see in the Lagoon city.click here to subscribe to podcast updates
What you’ll learn in this episode
- Our top must see sights in Venice to add to your itinerary
- Should you take a ride in a gondola?
- The best way to see the Grand Canal
- How to walk across the Bridge of Sighs
- How much time to spend at the main attractions
Places mentioned in this episode
- Grand Canal – the main “street” of Venice, lined with beautiful palazzi
- Piazza San Marco – large square home to the basilica of the same name and historic cafes
- Basilica di San Marco – ornate Byzantine church with stunning gold mosaic interior
- Palazzo Ducale – former home full of treasures of the ruling dukes of Venice
- Rialto bridge – iconic bridge crossing the Grand Canal close to the city’s fish market
- Burano – colorful island on the outer lagoon
- Murano – small island famous for glass blowing near Venice
- Venice guide – includes itineraries and top things to do
- Cicchetti – a guide to the food culture of Venice
- Secrets of Venice – our favorite off the beaten path corners of the Lagoon city
- Preferred tour company – Walks of Italy / Take Walks – have a longstanding reputation for excellent service, groups under 20 people and guaranteed departures. So if you are the only person booked on a tour it will still go ahead
- Preferred tour company – The Roman Guy / The Tour Guy – a fun team known for their focus on making the sights of Italy come alive with stories and tales rather than facts and figures. Our listeners and readers get 5% off small group tours (except special access Colosseum tours) if you click on this link and make a booking. Discount is applied at checkout
- How to plan a trip to Italy – our article that takes you step by step through trip planning
- Italy Travel Planning – the FREE Facebook group where you can ask questions and get inspiration for planning your trip
- Travel shop where you’ll find items mentioned in the show
Prefer to read along as you listen? Below is a full transcript of our episode conversation. Unfortunately it does not pick up our lovely Australian accents however!
Ciao and benvenuti to Untold Italy. I’m Josie and I’m Katy and we’re here to help you plan your trip to Italy. Between us. We have many years of travel experience and we want to help you uncover your own as yet untold stories and adventures in Italy. Each episode you’ll hear practical advice, tips and ideas to help you plan your own trips to the magical land of history, stunning landscapes, and a whole lot of pasta. We’ll have interviews from experts and focus on local destinations and frequently asked questions about traveling in Italy. Thanks for listening and make sure to subscribe to our show. Now. Let’s get started on your regular dose of Bella Italia.
Ciao everyone. Today on Untold Italy, we take you to beautiful Venice, LA there any summer. The lagoon city is my favorite and I love talking about this most unique city in the world. I’ve been several times and never need an excuse to return. This episode goes live to air at the end of February, 2020 when the city is in full swing for Carnevale. This is a huge party, masqued balls, concerts and processions in the lead up to Lent. It’s my dream to be there one day. How about you Josie? How many times have you been to Venice?
Katy I’ve been to Venice three times and every time it blows me away. It is an amazing city. It is definitely somewhere, a place in the world, that everyone should go to just because it’s so unique. And Carnevale, you’re right. I would love to be there. I think the color, the atmosphere and just everything that I’ve seen and read about it. Even when you’re there you can buy the, the masks. But I don’t think it does it justice until you’re actually there. As I know, and when we started this podcast around Italy and we talked about our favorite cities, that Venice is actually one of your absolutely favorite cities. So I’m going to sort of do a bit of an interview about what you love and have a bit of a discussion on some of the highlights that we have, talk to you about the Grand Canal, Piazza Basilica di San Marco and the campinile which is the bell tower. So tell me about the experiences that you’ve had and why you love it so much.
We’re going to be talking about the highlights of course, but I think it’s in Venice where you get such a feeling and one of the main things is it’s just so unique. This is a city built on water. There’s 400 bridges this side canals. It’s been there for hundreds of years and it’s evolved and developed and just, but it’s just such a magical place. And some places call themselves the Venice of the North, the Venice of the South, but they don’t even come close really because they don’t have that quality of the beautiful Palazzi that are lining the Grand Canal, those little side canals where you can just take a moment to yourself. And there’s also, the gondolas; they just give it a magical quality and there’s no place like it in the world.
No, there isn’t any place like it in the world. So let’s take one of the highlights. I mean, we’re going to talk through a couple of about five or six highlights, but let’s start with the Grand Canal. I mean, amazing.
Oh look, the Grand Canal is just, this is your entryway into Venice. Now it’s about four kilometers long and it stretches in a reverse S shape through the center of the city. And it goes from Piazzale Roma, which is where a lot of people arrive in the city to just before Piazza San Marco. So it is the main thoroughfare of Venice and it’s the main street really and this is where all the boats and vaporetto, which are the ferries, go up and down and it’s lined with 170 buildings, which many of which are all palaces or Palazzi. They’re amazing. And they’re in traditional Venetian style – very ornately decorated and they date from as early as the 13th century up to the 18th century. And they just give this magical quality to it. And did you know that there’s only four bridges that cross the canal? So it’s goes four kilometers long and there’s only four bridges that cross the canal.
So while we talking about the Grand Canal and we have to get onto actually doing a gondola ride, what is your recommendation on that?
Well I just wanted to say before we get to a gondola, I think what the good thing, the best thing to do in Venice is actually to take vaporetto number one, which leads leaves from Piazzale Roma and it goes all the way down the Grand Canal. So it’s actually a cheap way to, to get around.
I didn’t actually know that, gee, you’re full of juicy information.
And so yes, you can just take vaporetto number one. And what you do is you go right to the back of the boat, which is outside and the rest of their boat is actually covered. But if you go right to the back of the boat, you have unfettered views of the Grand Canal as you go down. And it’s just such an amazing experience to do. And I will never, ever, ever get sick of it. And recently we took our children, and I do think Venice is a magical place for kids. And you can just see, you know, they can see the Venice fire engines, which all boats, the rubbish, the trash trucks, they’re all boats, like a boats, you know, because it is a city built on water. But I reckon if you want the most amazing experience, you have to arrive by water taxi because that is like the George Clooney and Amal moment going down the Grand Canal. They’re these gorgeous wooden boats. Do you know the ones I mean?
I know the ones. I’ve been on one in Lake Como, very similar sort of boats. They’re amazing.
And just those that sort of vintage retro vibe and it’s like, Oh, you just need, is your Gucci scarf or whatever. But, and you know what, if you can do that, if you can arrive into Venice down the Grand Canal in a water taxi, let me tell you, you will remember that for the rest of your life and it’ll be something that you will want to experience again somehow.
And Katy, for our listeners, how expensive are they? You see all the celebrities and famous people, I mean it’d be something you should do, but is it as expensive as you think it would be?
Well, if you’re arriving from the airport, I think it’s going to be about 180 euros for a private transfer by boat. Now that’s not a cheap experience in the slightest, but you can actually get a shared water taxi. Okay. Not many people know that, but you can actually pre book a shared water taxi that you would share with up to six or eight people. And that’s only 30 euros per person. So it makes it a little bit more affordable. And then with a water taxi, you get taken straight to your hotel or the closest dock to your hotel. And you don’t need to navigate the canal so much. But anyway if you’re going down the Grand Canal there are four bridges that cross over it and you’ll go underneath and they’re very famous bridges. Most people know the Rialto Bridge, which is the the marble stone one. And then there’s the Accademia bridge, which is the wooden one, but there’s only two other bridges. So when you go to Venice, you’ll realize that the reason why you get a bit of a traffic jam on some of those bridges is because there’s only four.
Lots of famous photos are being taken there. I’m sure. Now also, I mean, we have to talk about Piazza San Marco, which is the main piazza in Venice. Amazing, amazing.
I think this is one of the most beautiful places in the world. And that is the main place where people will go. And it’s a huge square and it’s dominated by the ornate San Marco Basilica and it’s campinile the bell tower. So you’ve got cafes lined up on one side, and then you’ve got at the end, you’ve got the Basilica. And the cafes have rows and rows of seats spilling out onto the square, and they’re beautiful. Some of them date back as far as 1720. So, they’re historic and they’re gorgeous. And this is the place where you get your really expensive coffee. But you know what? I think it’s worth it.
We’ve talked about this before. I mean, I sat in the Vatican and had my coffee and I think I paid 10 euros for my coffee, much to my husband’s disgust. But I think again, it’s about sitting in that atmosphere and really soaking it up. And when you sit down, and especially in San Marco square, it’s an amazing experience. There’s lots of people, hustle and bustle and different languages and whole different thing. I mean, it’s an amazing, absolutely amazing place to be.
New Speaker (08:39):
And there’s a lot of pigeons, which is great if you’ve got little kids because they can chase after the pigeons, but there are a lot of pigeons. But if you’re sitting in the square, then you look up at the Basilica, which has got these domes, famous in the city. The Venetian Republic, extended to the East as far as what is now Turkey. And they brought back these designs and style, which is very unique in Italy. You don’t see it very often. It’s the Byzantine style. So you’ve got this church, and then you have the clock tower to your left, which has got this beautiful astronomical clock tower with the winged lion on top of it. It’s amazing. And the winged line is a symbol of Venice and St Mark’s and also San Marco. And you’ll see it everywhere. And a really fun thing to do is see how many winged lions you can spot. But you can see another one of those actually, if you turn from the Clocktower around to face the lagoon and you’ll see this big pedestal where there’s another huge statue of a winged lion in the piazetta, which is the smaller piazza off the main square. It’s an amazing place and you can easily spend a couple of hours there. So as we go through each of these highlights of Venice, we will also tell you how long you can expect to stay there so you can plan out your day. But yes, easily spend an hour or two just soaking up the atmosphere in Piazza San Marco.
I agree. I mean, you want to walk around, you want to sit down and you really want to enjoy it. As you said, there’s a lot of Venetian history there as well, and the way they’ve used the different architecture through, throughout the Basilica and the campinile. I think you’re right. It’s an amazing place to be. So where to next after that, where would you go?
Well, I think the logical place to start your exploration of Venice is the Basilica itself. And now it’s inspiring even just to see the outside because it’s so ornate and beautiful and there’s a lot of gold mosaics and decorations on the outside. As I mentioned, it’s got columns and the decoration is fantastic, but when you go inside you can’t really prepare yourself for it because it’s a complete bling explosion. Apparently there’s 8,000 square feet of gold mosaics and the room itself is inlaid with pearls and rubies and gemstones. And so the Venetian Republic was one of the most powerful I guess places in the world. And when they did their trade and they went East, they brought back so many treasures and you’ll find a lot of them in San Marco. So it’s one of those places that you have to go and it’s actually where you can get in there pretty quickly, in and out pretty quickly cause it’s very small. But you absolutely must go poke your head in there and have a look because you will never see anything like it. And it’s just one of those places that will really capture your imagination. The one big thing that you, that you need to do there that some people miss is the golden altar screen, which is known as the Pala D’Oro and it’s just completely covered in gems. I guess it’s like the Venetian crown jewels in a way.
It’s amazing. You’re right. I think you definitely have to see that. And really it’s about 15 minutes to have a look around.
15 to 20 minutes I would say. And it is a working church, so you’ll have to work out your times around that because on Sundays they do have a mass obviously. But, here’s a bit of a tip as well – I think a good time to visit San Marco Basilica is around mid day, just before all the tour groups leave to go for lunch. And that’s also when you get the best light in there. I understand.
Amazing. I know that we waited for up to an hour and a half to get into the bell tower. But it was really, really worth it.
yes. So separate to San Marco itself is the bell tower and obviously you get some amazing views from up there. But yes, you can buy skip the line tickets for both of those things. And I would recommend that, especially in peak season, although Venice is really busy all the time so it’s worthwhile getting that so you can maximize your time. But anyway, if do have to spend an hour in Piazza San Marco, it is not such a bad thing. But yes, the campinile is definitely worth going up cause you’ve got the views, the amazing views. And on a clear day, you can see as far as the Dolomites mountains in the distance. And yes, it’s just, it’s a beautiful place to go and just see how Venice is laid out. Cause it’s, it’s actually very small, but you’ll see all these higgledy piggledy alleyways and laneways and you can see it perfectly from up above.
I think it’s amazing. So let’s get this. We’ve, we’ve come down the Grand Canal. We’ve gotten off, we’ve had a bit of a wander. We’re through Saint Mark’s square, we’ve gone into the Basilica, we’ve gone up to the bell tower, we’ve seen the amazing Venice and how amazing it is. And we’re back down. And where do we go next Katy? Where’s your favorite place?
yes. Well this is actually one of my most favorite places in Venice is Palazzo Ducale otherwise known as the Doges palace. And the Doge was the most important person in Venice. So at that time, most of the countries in Europe were governed by Kings and Queens, but Venice was a Republic and their most important person was the Doge, the Duke. And they were so powerful because the Republic amassed a lot of wealth through trade and they built this palace for the Duke and this is the Palazzo Ducale. And it’s an amazing pink and white stone masterpiece that’s really survived pretty much unscathed for over five centuries. So you can admire it from the outside, but you really need to go inside to see all the treasures that were amassed over the years. And you can learn about the might of the Republic OF Venice inside there as well.
So how long do you reckon that would take? One to two hours?
Yes. And I really recommend going on a tour because you can just go and look at this stuff and you won’t understand the context unless you do a lot of reading. You can get an audio guide as well. But I think, you know, a tour really brings a place to life because there’s things that you’ll see such as the the golden staircase and the whole of the four doors, which are just incredible. And it’s worthwhile getting the history and the background behind them too.
I think you and I have been in agreeance around walking tours or different tours because I think you’re right. It’s, it’s one thing to listen and read from a book or think you know the history behind it, but it’s actually great to have those local guides actually tell you the history about exactly what it is. And then you’re standing there and you’re listening to this amazing story and you’re seeing it. And I think you’re right. I think it puts it all together and you wouldn’t want to go all of that way and actually miss the story behind it.
There’s a really great tour that you can do inside the Palazzo Ducale, which is the secret itineraries tour. And that gives you all the information about like the intrigues and gossip behind what went on in the palace. And it’s very atmospheric and it’s wonderful. And you also get to crossover the Ponte dei Sospiri which is the Bridge of Sighs, a very famous bridge in Venice, which people come from everywhere to get photos of but the only way you can go over it is if you go to the Palazzo Ducale.
Oh wow. Okay. So Bridge of Sighs, definitely one that you need to see and do. One of the most famous bridges in the world.
Yes. You need to see it. Probably the top photo in Venice is getting the gondolas going under the Bridge of Sighs. It is a very beautiful white marble bridge and it’s an iconic site in Venice.
So again, I think when we talk about all these amazing sites, remember to be present and really enjoy everything because it’s not just walking and getting there. It’s the whole atmosphere isn’t it, about Venice.
I think the best thing about Venice is, is getting lost. Your Grand Canal, Yes. That’s fantastic. And it does take your breath away for sure. But you, what you will remember is going down these small laneways and there won’t be anyone there and you’ll maybe hear the slap of the gondolas oar on the water and you can just poke your head around a corner and there’s someone just gliding along in a gondola down a small little canal and it’s fantastic.
We had an exchange student from Venice and something that she reminds me of when we actually go and visit and we see her is that, this is their home. And so not only in the middle of all this tourism and everything that’s going on, there’s actually people living there and businesses. So I think sometimes I like to step back and actually not just look at the tourism behind there, but actually the people that live there, the Venetians. And even if you listen to the gondola people they actually speak a very interesting dialect. The Venetian is really a unique language. Even Italians don’t understand how Venetians speak. It’s really very, very interesting. And yes, so listen and hear the sounds and really enjoy the different atmosphere around.
It’s so special. And so I guess while we’re speaking of gondolas, a lot of people want to know, should you do a gondola ride?
Yes. You’ve got to.
You do. I think I’ve done three or four. I don’t know. I’ve done a lot. I can’t go there without going on a gondola, quite frankly. So you have to do it. I mean it’s expensive. It is.
But why are you going to a city like this? I think especially a gondola ride. I think you need to understand that. That is, it’s amazing. The photos are amazing. So get your camera out. And I agree with you. I’ve been two or three, four times. I think every time you go because it’s the most amazing thing to do and you know, again, take your time, enjoy it. Really look forward to it.
Well we weren’t going to go last time on a gondola but then I was like, ah, let’s go. Now you can but you don’t need to prebook a gondola. And my recommendation is to not go on the Grand Canal. Actually it is to go down the side canals because it’s really beautiful. And the last time we were there, we actually saw a wedding procession and it was amazing. And the bride and groom were on the gondola and they were all dressed up in traditional gear as well. And it was so amazing. The gondola costs 80 Euro. It’s a set price. And it will cost that much however many people are on the boat. They can take up to six passengers. So what a lot of people do is wait by the little jetties where they can pick you up and you’ll find them all throughout the city. And I recommend going down the side canal and then you can make up a group of six people if you don’t want to go on your own. And the journeys last for about 25 minutes to half an hour. And that’s just a set price. And that’s a price that’s been set by the city of Venice. So that’s a handy tip to let you know what to expect when you get there.
So we’ve done a gondola ride as well, so I love that. I just love it. Let’s talk about the Rialto bridge cause that’s one of the most famous bridges as well.
Yes, it’s, it is a stunning bridge and it’s made of white Istrian stone and it was built in the late 16th century to replace a wooden bridge that was there. And it connects the districts of San Polo and San Marco. So it’s one of the major bridges to get across from one side to the other. And it’s also one of the city’s most popular attractions, which means it can get very, very busy. And there’s some amazing views from the bridge down the Grand Canal and it just gets very congested. There’s a lot of jewelry shops on that bridge as well, but they’re very expensive. But what you can do there is a lot of people just go to the bridge, stand on it, take their photo and go. But what I suggest that you do is you, if you head over to the bridge on the San Polo side is the Rialto market, which is the big fish market in Venice. And that is an amazing sight to see. It’s just one of those fascinating places with all the different types of fish laid out and people haggling over the fruits and veggies. And this is where the Venetians go to shop. This is their market. And it’s a wonderful place to just go check out and spend some time in.
So I actually haven’t been there, but I have heard great stuff about the market, so again, take your time, walk around, enjoy it. Now something we know because we’ve been many times is that Venice is surrounded by a lot of islands.
Yes it is. There’s hundreds of islands actually. And so the main part of Venice is actually on the lagoon. There’s a big bridge that you need to get over there. Or you can arrive by boat, as we said before, but around the Island, around the main set of six islands are some smaller islands that you can reach as well. And some of the most famous ones are Burano, Murano and Torcello, which a lot of people would do as a day trip. And they are very different from each other and from the main part of Venice as well.
We stayed on Burano when we went and the hotel had its own little jetty and we’d get on the boat to go into Venice and out of Venice. It was good. The only problem with being out in the islands is that the boats stop at a certain time. So you have to make sure that you come back by a certain time. Otherwise you get caught back in Venice and you can’t get over. So there’s, there’s a couple of tips on that. Murano is famous for the glass, the amazing glass and that is definitely something that you have to do. I bought some back. So I’ve got some Murano glass and it’s amazing and to watch the amazing masters that do the glass. What do you think? I mean, I love it. I’ve done it every time I go.
I find it fascinating too. I guess my favorite is Burano because you’ve got all those colorful houses and it’s like an Instagrammers dream. In fact, they are everywhere on Burano but you can always, even though it’s a tiny Island, you can go and find little quiet spots where you can see a black cat slinking around the corner of a pink house. There’s washing on the line. It’s a beautiful place and it’s even got its own leaning tower there.
We didn’t see that. But we did find a little restaurant that we sat in and had amazing Venetian food. So again, wandering around, especially at night for places to eat and having coffee it’s a good place as well.
yes. I think if you’re going to go out there though, you need to really look at the vaporetto schedule as Josie mentioned because it does get busy out there. And I would suggest going really early and getting there, having a look around and then coming back because you need at least three to four hours cause it’s actually a 45 minute boat ride out to Burano from the main islands. And that’s a 45 minute ride back and an hour and a half in itself without even looking at anything. And they get busy. I’ve seen people wait for one or two boats before they can get back to the main Islands. So if you’re on a tight schedule, you need to just be aware of that. Last time we went we approached from the mainland to Burano. And it was really different actually, and we hired these little electric boats that went around the outer lagoon where you can actually see flamingos if you’re lucky. I’ll go into that in a bit more detail on our secret Venice episode, but we’re just focusing on the highlights here. I digressed a little bit, but going out to those islands is really popular and it’s popular for a reason and it’s very enjoyable. It’s at least a half a day trip.
yes. I think when we look at Venice, you don’t want to be rushing Venice. We were commenting that we’ve heard people say that they’ve been to Venice for day. I’m not sure that you can do Venice in a day. I think you can if you only want to do a really short trip, but you don’t get into actually seeing the proper Venice. And a lot of these things as we’ve gone through, can take half a day or can take, you know, an hour and sometimes you want to relax and enjoy. So I think, you know, even to get over to Murano and see the blowing of the glass, I mean that takes three or four hours and then you might want to buy something. They do ship it home, just so everyone knows, they can ship it home to you, which is amazing so you don’t have to carry it. And I think, the experiences as you said. So be present, enjoy, and have a look around. Don’t rush.
And so for me, the experiences that you have in Venice, the, you can’t have them anywhere else. Like, okay. The gondola is the obvious one, which I will keep doing the gondola forever. I think. Getting lost in the little side streets and lane ways and also discovering the food. You know, I love to talk about the food wherever we go. But in Venice they’ve got a unique culture, which is a bit like tapas from Spain. It’s called cicchetti and they are bar snacks. So you can go on a bar snacks crawl around, have your spritz, have your cicchetti and there’s a really fabulous place that I know and it overlooks the gondola workshop. So if the workshop people are repairing gondolas and they’re working, you can actually get your snacks and take them outside and watch what’s going on over in the work yard.
Wow, that’s amazing. And I think you’re right. I think gone to like getting lost food, glorious food. I mean the Venetians do amazing food, you’re right and shopping. I’ve bought some really great stuff there. They’ve got really great lace. Obviously the glass. The masks.
Artisan work and make sure you’re getting the ones made in Italy cause you know let’s face it, the cheap ones are not made in Italy. So go and look at some of the workshops and they’ll show you how they make them. And it’s quite astounding and I really love it. And also art and culture is a really big part of Venice. There’s the Venice film festival, there’s the bienalle of art and you can go to lots of different galleries around Venice and just soak it up. I really think Venice is worth at least three days. That’s my opinion. But I really love Venice.
No, I think, I think you’re right. I think we’ve given those highlights, but there’s also unique things that you can do there. So now if you have any questions about visiting Venice, come over to our free Italy travel planning Facebook group where you get lots of suggestions and planning and amazing stays in Venice.
I’ve also put a link to our city guide for Venice in the show notes to help you plan your time there and coming up in episode 11 we’ll be talking about getting around in Italy, the trains, the planes, the cars, the ferries,
All the important transit information. Don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast for all the latest episodes. Grazie thanks for listening