What will I say about Venezia that hasn’t already been said by a million people far more poetic and romantic then I? Probably nothing, but perhaps something.
The trip was to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. My husband had always promised me a tour of Italy and he was not a man to break a promise, even if we were going one year late. We had sixteen days to traverse as much of the country as possible and we were starting at the top, with the Queen of the Adriatic.
It was early morning when we staggered into Venice after an overnight flight, yawning and slightly disoriented. I had diligently researched the best way to navigate the eight miles into Venice from the Marco Polo Airport so we thought we were prepared despite the jet lag.
There are several ways to enter Venice, each has its benefits and drawbacks and will depend on how much time, money, and effort you would like to put into it. I’ll list them here, but there are many blogs dedicated to the particulars of each method and I would advise you to do your own research on the option that best suits you. Especially since (Read below*) the way I chose didn’t work out so well.
- Most Economical: The Public Bus
- Most Common: Vaporetto & Alilaguna
- Most Glamourous (And Expensive!): Water Taxi
- Most Comfortable: Land Taxi
*I had printed out screenshots of how, and where, to catch the ACTV Vaporetto (The commuter boats that circumnavigate the Grand Canal) and I had even found a convenient luggage storage shop to stow our bags so that we weren’t dragging them all over the delicate cobbled sidewalks for the few hours prior to our afternoon check in at our rental apartment near the Rialto Bridge.
The problem was, my research was not detailed enough and so we never did find the water bus station in the airport and ended up being two very cranky people on a very unglamourous land bus that drove us lurching and belching into the city.
So much for a grand romantic entrance.
CROSS TIP: So that you don’t make the same mistake, here is an excellent blog with very detailed directions and pictures to the water transportation ports at Venice’s Marco Polo Airport: VENICE FOR VISITORS
HINT: There’s an upstairs!
For a look at the most current Vaporetto station map click HERE
CROSS TIP: If you are staying in Venice for several days like we were, it may be more convenient, and less expensive to buy a Travel Card because Vapporetti single tickets are expensive. However, it is also important to note that Venice is a very compact city and you can walk just about anywhere in a short amount of time. Save the cost of the boat rides for visits to the outlying islands. You’ll have the added benefit of being more environmentally friendly and find charming back alleys like this, and small campi on your walks.
Piazza San Marco
My husband had been to Venice before, but as a young backpacker who couldn’t afford anything except youth hostels, beer and cheap street food. So our first stop was San Marco Square where he insisted that we have an aperitif and a little lunch at one of the iconic cafes.
After fortifying ourselves, the stress of our arrival melted away as we soaked up the lyrical Italian conversations going on around us. Settled, soothed and eager to get the sightseeing started we made our way over to the 325f (99m) tall St. Mark’s Campanile bell tower.
It is thought that the tower, in its original form, may have been built as far back as the 9th century, probably as a lighthouse or watchtower. After countless renovations, it took on its current form in the 1500’s. However, in 1902 a devastating structural collapse of all but one corner of the building was both a tragedy and a blessing in disguise. The tower was able to be rebuilt using improved stability and safety measures which allows visitors to this day, to confidently ascend to the top for an unprecedented view of the legendary lagoon.
The tower has a small elevator which will take you to the top, however because you must go up and come down on the same elevator, the lines can be grueling during high season. We were fortunate that we arrived in early October which is the shoulder season and it was early on a weekday, our wait was surprisingly short, however it is advisable to pre-purchase your tickets during the high season. The 360° view of the city is worth the wait, trust me!
The GRAND CANAL
It might surprise you to learn that the Grand Canal is only slightly over two miles (3km) long. Its width varies from 100 ft (30m) to 300 ft (90m). With an average water depth of about 17 feet (5m).
While there are a total of 391 bridges within the city, only four bridges span the main canal. The oldest and most recognizable Ponte di Rialto, was built as a pontoon bridge in 1173 and reconstructed in its current celebrated form in 1591. Situated roughly halfway down the main canal it is considered the main bridge in Venice.
The Ponte dell’Accademia was built in 1854 and is frequently the site of an ongoing battle between the Municipality and tourist who try to attach “Love locks” to its metal bars. Hint-don’t try it, it’s considered vandalism, therefore it’s illegal and you will be fined if caught.
The third bridge built in 1934 to span the canal is the elegant, Ponte degli Scalzi, whose name translates as, “Barefoot” and references the barefoot Monks that once inhabited the nearby Church of Santa Maria de Nazareth (Although history says that the Monks were gone by the time the bridge was erected.)
The newest, and most controversial bridge, is Ponte della Costituzione. Opened in 2008 its design was heavily protested by the public for being unsafe and for having too modern an aesthetic for Venice. (I’ve also read that the architect was sued by the Italian courts in 2019 for “Gross neglect” Yikes!)
There are 170 building on the serpentine “S” shaped Canal Grande. Built between the thirteenth and eighteenth centuries these Palazzos are now predominantly rental apartments and small boutique hotels. The native Venetians have mostly fled the city due to the relentless invasion of tourist, increased property tax, and the effects of global warming that bring the destructive “acqua alta” that floods the city with ever increasing frequency.
Note: We were surprised to be asked quite frequently during our visit if we were cruise ship passengers. When we responded that we were staying in an apartment for several days we were met with approval by the inquiring party. We quickly learned that “extended stay” tourists are considered better than day trippers since (Supposedly) they enhance the economy more. So in 2019 it did not surprise me to learn that day trippers would now be charged a daily tourist fee of 3€-10€ to offset the cost of the public services (Trash collection, street sweeping, Policing etc.) that these types of tourist take advantage of, but don’t necessarily contribute to, since they do not pay the tourist hotel tax associated with overnight stays.
When the time arrived to meet our host we retrieve our luggage from storage and boarded a Vaporetto to the Rialto Bridge stop.
Settling in, we got acquainted with our apartment and it’s quirky features, but also it’s incredible views of the canal, before heading out to the street for a fantastic dinner where we would meet Gail and Bob for the first time. A fun and memorable meeting that only added to a wonderful first impression of the Queen of the Adriatic!