This year Venice's world famous Carnival runs from February 15th through March 5th. I wish I could be in Italy for the 2014 Carnival, unfortunately I'm stuck in frigid, snowy Southern, Indiana. Instead here's a look back at the highlights from my visit, they're a perfect escape from the festive madness of Carnivale! Last spring I spent six days on the island and covered most of the main attractions as well as quite a few lesser known sites. Since the trip I've had some time to reflect on my visit and these five highlights stand out as the most positive and memorable experiences. Of course there are many, many, more things to do and see in Venice, but if you have just a few days in the city here's where I think you should start.
Ogle the fresh produce and seafood at Rialto MarketI may sound like a broken record when I talk about visiting markets. But I truly find it to be one of the best ways to familiarize myself with the foods and culture of a new city. And Mercato di Rialto definitely doesn't disappoint. I loved the open air feel of the market and the setting is pretty spectacular. Make sure to track down casual seafood spot Pronto Pesce for an affordable (by Venice standards) lunch.
Spend a morning on the island of BuranoWell technically this one isn't in Venice. Instead, you'll need to travel by vaporetto first to the island of Murano, then switch boats for a final ride to Burano. The trip over might be crowded (mine was) but it's more than worth the hassle. Burano is known for its festively painted buildings and small community feel. It's a photographer's dream location. The pace of life is more leisurely then Venice, making it a nice escape from the big island. Try to make the trip on a nice day, leave Venice as early as you can to beat the heat and the crowd.
Go to the top of the Campanile at San Giorgio MaggioreI love getting a birds eye view of a city, but I'm extremely afraid of heights. Its a fear I've been battling as I travel. Between hiking the moutains in Montserrat and the Moorish Castle in Sintra, I like to think I've gotten better. But even if you're acrophobic, the bell tower at San Giorgio Maggiore is manageable. There are no endless stairs or insufficient railings, you take an elevator to the top where high stone walls allow for great photos but don't feel scarily exposed. And the view! On a clear day you can see all the way across Venice. From the crescent shaped residential island of Giudecca to Isola San Michele, the cemetery island lined with cypress trees. Entrance to the church is free, and it's beautiful, well worth a bit of time, but it is a few euros to travel up the campanile. It can get a little crowded during the middle of the day, though nothing like the queues that form at the St. Mark's Campanile.
Travel the Grand Canal by VaporettoConfession time, I didn't take a gondola ride in Venice. I know, everyone says it's a must do while on the island. But I was travelling alone, and it just seemed kind of sad? Plus gondolas are outrageously expensive, something like 80 euros for a 40 minute ride. Instead I bought an unlimited transit pass that allowed me to take the Vaporetto, the water bus, as much as I liked. So it was no problem at all to go to Burano or San Giorgio Maggiore and anytime I was tired it was easy to hop on a boat for a break.
A trip on the vaporetto gives you a wide angle view of Venice's greatest hits that you just can't get by walking around. Plus you can take some of the less popular, or commuter routes, to see the sestieres, or neighborhoods, that you might miss otherwise. By day, the boats can be very crowded. Full of tourists and locals alike. But at night, after the cruise ships and day trippers have left, a Vaporetto trip down the Grand Canal is much more comfortable (and even more magical.) Plus the humidity goes down and sea breezes pick up, its just the thing to perk you up before a late dinner.
Get lost!It's inevitable. Keep your itinerary flexible to minimize frustration. Then make the most of your time floundering through tiny alleys, across endless bridges, and instead pause for a cup of gelato or a slice of pizza. Or enjoy the calm and cool air found in one of the dozens of churches scattered across Venice. There's sure to be one right around the corner. And if you're like me, you might find your way to the most beautiful bookshop in the world.