What to See in Venice
PIAZZA SAN MARCO
St. Mark’s Square is the main square in Venice and has long been a central meeting place for Venetians; it serves that purpose for tourists now also. The square has a dominating clock tower, the Basilica, political and religious buildings, restaurants, bars, and shops, and is known as one of the most beautiful squares in the world. Café Florian, dating back from the 1700s, is a popular place, as is Café Quadri, also on the square. It usually seems as though there are millions of pigeons in the square, and that many people too; it’s difficult to really see the fine features and architecture there unless visiting at off-peak times.
BASILICA SAN MARCO
St. Mark’s Basilica is the third building that has been constructed on that spot on St. Mark’s Square. Two other churches were there previously, the first built to hold the stolen bones of St. Mark, for whom the church is named. The present basilica dates back to 1063, has a very ornate façade with the golden winged lion, which represents St. Mark and is the symbol of Venice, and is filled with amazing mosaics, domes, statues, and the High Altar that supposedly contains some of the remains of St. Mark. This church is a must-see for any tourist to Venice.
A series of 120 Doges ruled Venice, and their incredible 3-storied palace dates back to before Renaissance times.The facade features beautiful arches, pink and white marble, and is located on St. Mark’s Square. The inside of the palace is amazing, and it contains priceless artwork by Tintoretto, Titian, Bellini, Veronese and more. Tours will take visitors across the Bridge of Sighs, which connected the palace to the prison, and to the prison cells, one of which housed Cassanova. The Great Council Hall displays the largest oil painting in the world (Tintoretto’s “Paradise”), and the Golden Staircase is just amazing. The Doge’s Palace is one of the most opulent residences ever; it almost puts Versailles to shame.
Although many will tell you the gondolas of Venice are a tourist trap and can be quite expensive, where else can you have the experience of riding an authentic Venetian gondola? A gondola ride can be very romantic if taken around dusk, and if the price seems too high, the ride can be split with others; bargaining is also permissible for a better price. If you don’t want to be shocked and taken advantage of, make sure to ask the price before taking the ride. The rides usually last from 45-50 minutes and will take you around the canals of Venice.
The Rialto Bridge and the Bridge of Sighs are probably the two most famous bridges in Venice, but there are beautiful bridges everywhere. The Rialto, dating from the 1500s, was the first bridge to span the Grand Canal, and it has shops lining both sides. To get a good photograph of the bridge, it is best viewed from the side, and thus from the water. The Bridge of Sighs was the last bridge prisoners walked over before being thrown into the dungeon or executed, so the sighs came from realizing that the view through the bridge’s cutwork was their last view of Venice. The Accademia Bridge, built in the 1800s, also crosses the Grand Canal. There are smaller bridges all over Venice that cross the canals; if you start walking around in Venice and start crossing over bridges, be aware that it is very easy to get lost.
Murano, located north of Venice, is famous for its beautiful, hand-blown glass. There’s a glass museum there, and many glass-making shops; you can go into the factories and see the glass blowers shaping the lovely pieces as they are being made. The glass blowers were moved to Murano long ago to lessen the chance of fires in Venice, and they have remained there ever since; you can find less expensive prices on the fine glass there than in the Venice shops, and you can bargain with the shops for even lower prices. The glass factories send boats over to St. Mark’s Square to lure over customers; take the free boat over and the vaporetto back.
The grand Carnevale is held in Venice each year before Lent for 12 days, and people from all over come to celebrate. The main public ball is held on St. Mark’s Square, and private balls are held all over the city. Extremely elaborate costumes can be seen at Carnevale, and the festival dates back to 1162; it used to begin the day after Christmas. There are many shops selling the elaborate masks used by Carnevale participants, and you can find funny, scary, and emotional masks in windows all around the city any time of the year. Artists create the masks using materials such as porcelain, papier-mache, feathers, leather, etc., and many tourists wouldn’t consider leaving Venice without a Carnevale mask as a souvenir.
Lido is an island between Venice and the sea; it’s located between the lagoon and the Adriatic. The Lido has a beach with little cabanas that can be rented; there are private beaches connected to hotels and also a public beach. Lido has shopping, restaurants and hotels, and cars can actually be driven there, unlike in Venice. If you’re in Venice and feel like getting a little sun, take a vaporetto over to the Lido; some of the beaches are better than others, and topless bathing is allowed.
High tide in Venice is known as acqua alta, and if you’re unprepared for it your feet and pants can get wet. The local Venetians know when it’s coming and carry around their rubber boots to be prepared. Sometimes the water is very high and floods most of the city; other times only the lowest areas are flooded. It can be a problem for the boats trying to get under the bridges also. There’s a website that predicts how high the tide will be for the next few days; check it before going to Venice if you want to stay dry. The Venetians are working hard to solve the flooding problem, and it’s interesting to see it up close.
In many of the shops of Venice, you can see the artisans making the products that you can buy. Elderly ladies sewing and pressing linens, jewelers stringing glass beads, artists painting, and mask makers creating one-of-a-kind masterpieces are common sights in the small shops. In Venice, you have a chance to buy beautiful, handmade goods for reasonable prices; of course, the higher the price, usually the higher the quality. Remember that in Venice there is no added tax since it is already added into the price, and you can negotiate prices in the shops. There are many different types of shops, from tacky souvenir shops to those selling fine jewelry and expensive leather goods. No matter what your taste or budget, Venice is sure to have something you will like.