Updated: Sep 6, 2022
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Atop many people's bucket list is Venice, Italy, and because I've visited myself, I know that it deserves the recognition. This was me and my husband's last stop during our two weeks in Italy, but it kept the fun going for a couple more days. We were only able to spend two days in Venice due to numerous factors such as delayed trains and the urge to not miss our plane (an obvious one), but you better believe we made those days worth it. Here's how.
Take a Gondola Ride
The best way to see Venice is from the water. Venice is full of narrow canals and "streets" without sidewalks, so many things can only be accessed by boat. My husband and I found out what time the sun was setting and opted to take a gondola ride during this time. The cost at the time was 80 euros for 40 minutes at any time of the day. If you're on a romantic trip, going during the sunset makes the experience very special. You can book one online to ensure you score a ride at your desired time.
Visit the Bridge of Sighs
The Bridge of Sighs has a depressing history. In the 19th century, prisoners' last views of the city was through the bridge's windows on the way to Doge's Palace. The legend is that the prisoners sighed as they saw the stunning city a final time. The view from across the bridge is particularly remarkable, so I'd probably sigh too.
Walk Across the Rialto Bridge
The Rialto Bridge is the largest bridge stretching across the Grand Canal. It's a significant achievement of the renaissance era, and many people flock to it to see a top notch view of the Venice sunset. Tons of restaurants and shops are lining the canals near the landmark as well. One thing we noticed in Venice is that a lot of the bridges were covered in moisture, perhaps from condensation from the canals or water particles in the air. Because of this, some bridges were very slippery, so it's good to watch your step.
Visit Murano and Take a Tour of a Glass Factory
Murano is an island in Venice that is known for its many glass-blowing factories. This island is accessible by a waterbus, the line three "Diretto Murano" boat, or a water taxi. At these factories, you can watch workers blow the glass and make small sculptures (on our tour, the workers made a horse). After the demonstration, you will be guided into a room to view the factory's best work, ranging from small animals and kitchen supplies to chandeliers and large pieces of furniture.
These pieces can be purchased for you to take home. For smaller items, they will wrap it up for you in an airport-safe way. For large purchases, the factory will ship to your house. If it makes you feel better to have things planned in advance, you can book a tour ahead of time. Pro-tip: It's not mandatory to tip the workers doing the glass demonstrations, but it is appreciated. Plan to bring a few euros to leave in the tip jar.
Head to Saint Mark's Basilica
Opened in 1094, Saint Mark's Basilica is my second favorite Italian cathedral only behind Rome's pantheon. The church is decorated with over 500 columns and treasures made of 283 pieces of gold, silver, and other metals. Entrance to the cathedral is free, though you can't take any photos inside. The interior is remarkable, however, with walls and ceilings made out of 85,000 square feet of gold mosaics.
Visit Doge's Palace and Piazza San Marco
Piazza San Marco is home to Saint Mark's Basilica, the Museo Correr, and Doge's Palace. The square is the only public square in Venice, and tourists and locals alike use it as a meeting and social place. The Gothic-style Doge's Palace was once the home of the Venetian government, but since 1923, it has been a museum open for tourists. The Museo Correr focuses on both the art and history of Venice, and the 2012 addition of the museum's Imperial Rooms showcase the lifestyle of Empresses that once utilized the spaces.
Peruse Through a Venetian Mask Shop
Venetian Masks have been created for centuries and re-popularized during the carnival celebrations. The masks are traditionally made with paper mache, feathers, fabric, and gems. The Carnival tradition is still alive in Venice and resembles what Americans celebrate during Mardi Gras. Today, you can visit a local Venetian mask shop and get an original, handmade mask that only its birthplace could produce.
It's important that you spend your money in a locally-owned shop instead of a gift shop, which often times sell masks that are cheaply made, mass-produced, and made from plastic. Souvenir shops are great for magnets, calendars, and T-shirts, but when it comes to masks, these shops are making it harder for the local mask-crafter to stay in business. We visited a local lady who spoke mostly Italian, and she took time out of her day to explain the mask-making process to us and fill us in on Venetian history. Our experience was the most authentic it could get.
There are so many great places to stay in Venice, as it's a very walkable city. I can't recommend a particular part, but I can recommend a few hotels. Six minutes away from the Rialto bridge is Hotel Centauro, a highly affordable option. For a bit more money you can stay at the Hotel San Cassiano Ca'Favretto that includes a bar and lounge. If you're looking for high-end, check out the Hotel Rialto. We stayed there during are honeymoon and the views of the Grand Canal are amazing.
Venice is one of the most picturesque and romantic places in all of Italy, and definitely the prettiest in Northern Italy. Boasting an exciting atmosphere and a unique culture, this big-ticket travel destination is popular for a reason.