Imagine what you think VENICE ITALY is like from all of the books you’ve read and movies you’ve seen. Now…guess what! … It is! (Unless you’ve read and seen a bunch of awful stuff about it!)
I had visited Venice only once before, 30 years ago, for a few hours one afternoon. My memories of it were vaguely positive. I remember getting lost in the rain, wandering up and down the maze of little passage-ways, cats everywhere, and getting a martini in a bar where Hemingway once hung out. A college students idea of a great afternoon!
I’m happy to say that when I returned for a 2 day visit more recently I learned and explored much more and found Venice enchanting, amazing and magical! Such a unique, historic and beautiful city!
Tales of smelly canals and insane crowds were way overdone! I noticed no smell from the canals except in one small section on a gondola ride where it smelled “river-y”. (I suppose the smell may change based on tide and who knows what, but I found it A-OK). I was there in July and the crowds were there for sure, but not in the insane amounts I’d been led to expect. Pre-planning for crowds and hot weather really made a difference in my visit. (Get going early in the day & sign up for guided tours to beat the lines!)
Read on for tips from good ol’ Sue on cool things to do and see in Venice!
- What to See
- Where to Eat
- Where to Stay
- Final Thoughts
- Map of Mentioned Places
What to See
The Venetian Gothic style Doge’s Palace is one of Venice’s main landmarks. It was built in 1340 and was the home of the Doge of Venice (Doge = “leader” or “Duke”). Various Doges lived here until 1797 when Napoleon took over. It then housed various government leaders and staff. In 1923 it became a museum.
I highly recommend signing up for a guided tour of Doge’s Palace. We got a great guided group tour which also included St Mark’s Basilica. The benefit of the guided tour included skipping the entry lines, as well as having someone tell you what you were looking at! One look at the line of hundreds of people waiting in the sun to get in made me very happy we were took a tour! Be sure to book your tour well in advance of your trip!
Here is the tour we took: Legendary Venice St. Mark’s Basilica with Terrace Access & Doge’s Palace. This tour includes access to the 1st floor terrace of St. Mark’s where you can get amazing photos of the square.
Next door to Doge’s Palace, this gorgeous church on St. Marks Square was established in 1094! It holds the relics of St. Mark the Evangelist, the patron saint of Venice. The beautiful artwork inside (much of it featuring real gold) is well worth taking some time out to appreciate.
You can buy admission tickets in advance (St. Marks Basilica tickets). I recommend a guided tour that includes access to the 1st floor terrace of St. Mark’s where you can get amazing photos of the square. Here is the tour we took: Legendary Venice St. Mark’s Basilica with Terrace Access & Doge’s Palace.
St. Mark’s Square is the largest flat open land in Venice and was/is often used as a gathering place. It is surrounded by St. Mark’s Basilica, St. Mark’s Clock Tower, the National Library of St. Mark’s, restaurants, and shops. The Square is not much above sea level, so flooding is not uncommon.
Live view of St. Mark’s Square
This quirky, cat-filled new and used bookstore is a Venice must see. A full sized gondola fills much of the store, and is filled with books “in case of flooding”. In the back of the shop is an outdoor area, the “fire-escape”, with a huge stack of encyclopedias to climb upon and get your perfect Instagramable photo! 🙂
Click above for a link to the official City of Venice gondola rate information. We kept an eye out for gondolier stations as we wandered around Venice the first day. We found one near our hotel and went to that one instead of going to a more crowded station in the more touristy areas we were frequenting.
So fun to do at least once in your life!
The View from a Vaporetto
Vaporettos are Venice’s public transportation (water) buses, which are much cheaper than gondolas. You can buy tickets for one ride or various multi-ride or all day passes at kiosks around Venice. You can also get your tickets in advance on the Official Venice tourist website. You can also get tickets for vaporetto rides to and from the airport on the official site.
There are certainly “ideal” spots for catching the sunset at various times of year in Venice (here’s a good resource for Best Venice Sunset Spots). However if you find yourself without a hard and fast plan you can do what we did. Run like maniacs, chasing the sunset! You never know where you’ll end up! 😀
Venice has lots of unique items for sale. Very easy to find cool souvenirs to bring home to friends and family here!
Vanni Morandin Woodwork Art Jigsaws
We finally went into this shop, which was right across from our hotel, on our last night in Venice. I’m so glad we did! The owner / Artist Vanni Morandin chatted with us and spent almost an hour showing us how he hand designs and makes these amazing wooden puzzle art pieces. He showed us how the look and mood of the piece changes based on how you arrange the pieces (their depth) and where the light is coming from.
Vanni does not have a website. The address is Salizada San Stae, 1921, 30135 Venezia VE, Italy.
Where to Eat
Osteria Mocenigo doesn’t have a website, so here is their address: Salizada San Stae, 1919, 30135 Venezia VE, Italy. It is located right near the hotel we were staying at so we stopped in for dinner one night after being too tired to walk further. It ended up being a great choice!
I wanted to recreate my first trip to Venice by taking my daughter to the famous Harry’s Bar. Unfortunately when we arrived there the wait was too long for us in our hungry and overheated state, so we skipped it for this time. Still, check it out if you can! You can make a reservation on their website (linked in the title above). Such an amazing history here as it was the haunt of Hemingway, Capote, Gary Cooper, Orson Welles and many more!
In our heat and hunger daze after leaving Harry’s Bar we ended up about 50 ft up Campiello Barozzi street at the Ristorante Piccolo Martini. Our savior! 😀 Though I didn’t get any pictures it was a good place with no wait and great food! So, if Harry’s is too crowded you know where to go.
Another great find while wandering around. Nice restaurant with outdoor seating. A duo was performing some wonderful traditional Italian music. I thought they were “entertainment from the restaurant” and was taking their picture, and then stared taking a video. Shortly after they stopped playing and came directly to me, asking for money! haha. Sometimes I can be such a dork. So that was the end of the music for everyone.
Anyway, the food here was good, even if they don’t provide music.
Like our other restaurant choices we came upon this one while wandering around. After being lost in a maze of small alleys we could hear live music. When we turned a corner we saw a lovely square with a church, lots of people, grills cooking delicious smelling food, a live band, and kids running around playing ball. We weren’t really sure what was going on but we got a table at the Capitan Uncino restaurant and had an amazing time people watching, enjoying the wonderful food and live music!
Turns out it was the annual “Charity Festival in Campo San Giacomo“, consisting of 12 very traditional days of food stands, live music and “charity fishing”! We really lucked out catching this incredible slice of life with the locals. Now you know so you can make a point of going!
Where to Stay
This charming 18th Century Venetian-styled hotel was a delightful home base for us. It is located outside of the most touristy areas, but just a short walk to get to them. For instance St. Mark’s Square was a 15 minute walk and the Rialto Bridge a couple minutes walk.
The rooms were comfortable with high ceilings. Breakfast was included and served in the dining room or the hotel’s adorable courtyard.
The owners manned the front desk and were very helpful with any and all of the many questions we had.
Venice is one of the most unique, beautiful places I have ever been! I hope to get back soon and spend a longer time there to get to really explore all of it. There is so much to see! But I hope that my report above had shown you that you really can see a lot in just 2 days there (3 nights)!
Do you have any other favorite spots in Venice to recommend? Please comment below! Thanks for reading!