Venice has never been our sole destination; it’s also been a “via” city to get somewhere else. The Dolomites via Venice, Slovenia via Venice… You get the idea.
And honestly, we’ve never really liked Venice. It’s not the city’s fault, it’s all of ours… The tourists. I don’t think Venice is sinking because it was loosely constructed entirely on water; it’s sinking because of the sheer weight of the tourists. This time we were determined to avoid them and enjoy the beautiful, sometimes stinky, small city.
Why sometimes stinky? If you haven’t heard, Venice is a lagoon that was settled by Venetian refugees, who decided the best way to build a city would be pounding wood pilings into the mud. Some say it’s sinking, but in that last 100 years, it’s really only sunk about a foot. Some buildings are still standing (well, “leaning” may be more appropriate) on those 1000-year-old wood piles.
Whereas Amsterdam starts to seem like a grid system of well-ordered canals, Venice is about meandering. The only reason more people don’t get really lost in Venice is because it’s bordered by big water. When you run out of bridges and reach the grand canal, turn around. And every other turn you make will likely be a dead end.
Some things to make sure you do in Venice:
- Drink an Aperol Spritz in the sun on the Grand Canal, or any other small canal.
- If you want to buy Murano glass, find an actual glassblowing family with their own shop and history (not just random catch-all gift shops). Mee is a great example.
- Walk over the Ponte dell’Accademia to either visit or wander the grounds of the Peggy Guggenheim, and walk out to Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute.
- Visit San Marco Square later at night, when it’s actually not packed with people.
- Eat Cicchetti (the Venetian version of tapas).
- Terrazza Danieli: Eat on the terrace. It’s a higher-quality (read: fancier) place, but the view at sunset is worth it.
- Antiche Carampane: If it’s nice and you can nab a sidewalk table, even better. Great neighborhood feel on a quiet alley.
- Enoteca Al Volto: Surprisingly quiet, even though it’s hidden just out of sight of the fabulously busy Rialto Bridge. Small wine-bar feel, with great food and service and selection of cicchetti.
- Algiubagio: A different view out at the big water and towards Murano island.
- Da Ivo: Perhaps most notable for its celebrity guests, but the food and hospitality are the real reasons to go.
- Antico Dolo: Not the best location, at the end of the Rialto Bridge (read: busy), but it’s a little gem, also with that can’t-miss cicchetti.
- Harry’s Bar: Have a mimosa there if you must say you had a mimosa there. We’d normally judge for such a touristy outing, but it is a good excuse to drink before noon.
Hotels are a very personal preference in Venice. Some prefer to stay right on the Grand Canal, with a more boutique style (Hotel Londra Palace, Hotel Metropole, Hotel Danieli); some prefer a more resort style, a little off the beaten path (Belmond Hotel Cipriani). Some prefer to go big or go home (Gritti Palace), and some prefer really big, like one of the best hotels in the world (Aman). For a much quieter hotel off the beaten path, there are several near the Peggy Guggenheim that really get you away from the crowds (like Sina Centurion Palace, or the small guesthouse that is actually called The Charming House DD724, and with good reason).
For the money, our favorite location was Hotel Londra Palace, on the second floor with windows that opened to the Grand Canal and the street below. You could walk behind the hotel and get lost in the maze of small streets. And they offer happy hour on their small rooftop terrace with (arguably) the best view in Venice. The Aman is over-the-top incredible, but be prepared to take out a small loan.