One lucky Saturday, I stumbled across an incredible fare to Venice, Italy, for just $380 roundtrip (including tax). Ah, the perks of being obsessed with cheap flights enough to seek them out on the weekends! An amazing deal was all that was needed to convince me it was due time to visit one of the most mystifying cities on earth. How are buildings constructed on top of a lagoon? This question is beyond my realm of expertise, but I can share some of my tips and experiences from a great trip to Venice.
What to See
Other than the rather obvious green-blue water on all sides, there are plenty of attractions in Venice for history buffs and art lovers alike. With the confounding buildings built into the lagoon and the tiny maze-like streets, it’s easy to spend days wandering through Venice and never stepping foot in a museum (like me).
St. Mark’s Square, or Piazza san Marco, is one of the most popular destinations for visitors to the city. Historical and architectural marvels are on all sides of the square, including the Palazzo Ducale, Campanile, Torre dell’Orologio and of course the Basilica di San Marco.
Another hotspot is the Rialto Bridge, which is just one of four bridges crossing the Grand Canal. Completed in 1591, the bridge offers one of the most spectacular views of Venice’s main waterway. After posing for a photo, peruse the souvenir stands or head to the city’s main fish market.
What to Eat
Finding restaurants in the maze of twisting waterways and streets can pose quite a challenge. For the best experience, avoid eateries that advertise colorful tourist menus or where servers attempt to lure you inside. I like to do some research in advance or using TripAdvisor’s City Guide app (no internet or cell connection necessary to use the app) to locate highly rated restaurants. If all else fails, ask a local, although it’s hard to find them in the crowded streets near St. Mark’s Square, try some of the quieter residential neighborhoods.
For an authentic local experience, head to one of the bacaro, or wine bars. Stand along the bar and snack on one of the many appetizers over a glass of Chianti. Head over to Cantinone già Schiavi to try the Cicheti, small pieces of toast topped with all kinds of delicious creations. Some of our favorites at this 19th-century family-run bacaro, included pumpkin ricotta, swordfish, and a fig and cheese combination. On your way out, stroll further down the canal to pass the Squero di San Trovaso, where the famed gondolas are repaired and restored.
On an unassuming street off the bustling tourist drag, is a tiny nine table restaurant, Alle Testiere, serving up some of the best seafood I’ve ever had (yes, including Le Bernadin). Make reservations far in advance, especially if you want to be one of the lucky few at one of the two dinner seatings per night. The menu changes daily and features the freshest seafood from the area. Be sure to order the razor clams if they are on the menu. They are grilled simply in olive oil, but are absolutely to die for. We also ordered the octopus salad tossed with crunchy bell peppers, celery and a tangy citrus dressing. Other highlights were the spaghetti with “bevarasse” clams (tiny clams, a Venetian specialty) and pumpkin ricotta ravioli with prawns. The entire meal was an outstanding play on classic Venetian seafood, light but incredibly satisfying at the same time.
Where to Stay
For the ultimate luxury experience, stay at The Gritti Palace hotel, part of Starwood’s Luxury Collection. I typically err towards the modern hotels, which often provide more value in Europe. Although The Gritti Palace is traditional, it is by far the best hotel I’ve stayed at in Europe — I guess that’s why past guests have included Ernest Hemingway and Peggy Guggenheim. Everything from the morning coffee, to the service, to the decor was nearing perfection.
Located on the Grand Canal, the hotel is ideally situated for exploring the city. I was able to walk to St. Mark’s Square in 10 minutes and the Rialto Bridge in just 15 minutes. If you prefer to cruise your way through the city, the hotel is one block away from the Santa Maria Giglio Vaporetto (public water bus) stop on the n1 line. You can actually take a public water taxi directly from the airport to Santa Maria Giglio via Alilaguna (€15 per person in cash at the desk in the airport arrivals hall). I highly recommend this approach, as a private taxi can cost about €110 (for four people) — and I thought New York City was expensive. That being said, nothing beats having a boat take you right up to the entrance of your hotel, it’s like getting out of a limo and walking the red carpet!
The incredible hospitality starts upon arrival, when you are ushered into a semi-private office where you are checked in and receive your key (yes, key…no keycards here). After you are shown to your room, the staff opens the windows to unveil the incredible view of the square (or the Grand Canal if you’re lucky). Between the marble floors, antique furniture and Venetian artwork, the rooms are absolutely steeped in luxury. After a long day of getting lost in Venice, the waterfall shower, adorned with Acqua di Parma toiletries, and incredibly comfortable bed are even more satisfying. I’m a huge fan of the Westin Heavenly bed, so the Luxury Collection bed is even a step-up from that.
If breakfast is included with your stay, you are in for a treat. Ask to be seated outside or near a window to watch gondolas go by at eye-level while you sip your morning cup of coffee (which is really delicious). The spread is quite nice with plenty of fresh fruit, cheese and eggs made to order. Once breakfast is over, the buffet table is turned into a classroom for cooking classes hosted by expert chefs sharing the secrets of Venetian cuisine.
Bring your sneakers! The best way to get around in Venice is by foot, unless you want to spend a pretty penny on a private water taxi or gondola. Bridges can be few and far between, so try to plan your itinerary strategically, staying on one side of the Grand Canal at a time. For a quick cross between bridges, try the Traghetto, which looks like a gondola, but only takes people straight across the Grand Canal for €0.50.
I didn’t travel halfway around the world to not take a gondola. Look it’s expensive, prices are fixed at €80 for a 40-minute ride up to six people. If you aren’t careful, your ride might be 30 or 35 minutes. Feel free to ask questions before the ride. It’s really an amazing, relaxing experience.
There is so much more to say, but the best way to experience Venice is to wander the 117 islands, 177 canals and 409 bridges that make city one of the most unique on the planet.
Fly.com Expert Tips
How To Get There: Venice Marco Polo Airport (VCE) is located north of Venice. Getting into the city relatively easy, as noted by the author. The easiest way, and certainly the most idealic way, is with the Alilaguna public water ferries, and it costs €15 each way, and stops at several main areas in the city center. It takes anywhere from 45 minutes to almost one and a half hours depending on your stop. A faster and cheaper option is either the ACTV line 5 for €1.30 or ATVO Air Terminal line for €6. Information regarding area transportation is available here.
Best Time To Visit: The most popular time to visit Venice is April, May, June, September and October, which means airfares and accommodations will be at their peak, and lines to visit museums and attractions will be long. But the weather is warm and beautiful during this time. Tourists still pack the city in late summer, but the weather can get oppresively hot and the canals don’t smell too pleasant during this time. Fall is also a good time to visit with the cooler weather and fewer tourists, but it is also more likely to flood (Venice floods about 60 times a year), which could disrupt your trip. Winter time is when you can get good bargains and not encounter as many tourists, but Venice’s location in the north on the Adriatic Sea means that winter can be harsh with teeth chattering winds blowing through the alleyways. But winter is when the Carnival of Venice takes place, usually between last February and early March.
Sample Fares: Fares displayed are the lowest roundtrip fares found in the last 48 hours to Venice from::
Cleveland — $1,234 Travel May 13 – 27
Houston — $1,198 Travel April 23 – 30
Los Angeles — $1133 Travel May 19 – 29
Newark — $871 Travel May 29 – June 10
Washington, D.C. — $966 Travel May 19 – June 1
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