July 1, 2014
Travel Tips For Venice
The poet Lord Byron named Venice “a fairy city of the heart.” General Grant is reputed to have quipped that “Venice would be a fine city if it were drained.” Who knows what either of them would make of modern Venice? In most ways, Venice must have changed little over the centuries. Indeed, little can change given the city’s unique setting, clustered as it is around a network of ancient waterways. Every traveler knows that other cities may call themselves “the Venice of the North, South, East or West,” but there truly is nothing like the real place. Its ornate buildings crumbling into the water, the tiny back “streets” crowded with swarming gondolas, the sweeping vistas across the Lagon made famous in countless classical paintings all combine to conjure up a romantic image of a unique place.
But a visit to Venice can be a pain in the proverbial in many ways. On a busy day in the middle of the main summer tourist season the main sites are swamped, not by water but by thousands of visitors. Venice in summer is hell hot and steamy and very expensive. There are a few things you can do though to make things a little easier. Unless you are there for single day the heart of the city, the area around St. Mark’s Square with the Basilica and Doge’s Palace, is best visited in the cool and quiet of early morning or late evening. The crowds have thinned and the heat has dissipated but it is then that the light is at its best, the light that inspired painters from Canaletto to Turner.
Not everyone has the good fortune to be able to see Venice at its best like this and if you want to see the main sites you are going to be confronted with long lines of fellow tourists baking in the sun. Some of the pain can be avoided by booking your tickets in advance. One good example is St Mark’s Basilica. Every visitor to Venice wants to (and should) see this wonderful building which combines the best of Venetian, Roman, and Byzantine architecture. The walls and ceilings seem to be completely covered in gold or designs of some sort including around 43,000 square feet of coloured mosaics. It is quite dazzling. Churches in Italy are not allowed by law to charge an entry fee but advance tickets for a time-slot entry to St Marks can be bought for two Euros at the excellent website venetoinside. We used this facility on our latest trip to Venice in June — it worked like a dream and we avoided probably 40 minutes to an hour broiling in a long line. One word of warning — you cannot take even a small backpack or large bag inside but there is a bag drop-off just round the corner from the church. It sounds like a pain but is fine really. The staff on the advance ticket door will direct you. Remember though that the bag drop-off is free but only for an hour and they don’t always tell you this. Once inside the cathedral the “no fee for churches” law is out of the window. Access to some areas is only available after paying fees for entry but most of the main area is free and really should be top of every visitor’s list.
The same website offers pre-booked tours and tickets for other attractions although on this occasion we only used the Basilica ticket. Getting around Venice can be difficult – those iconic gondolas may be the stuff of romance will cost you a fortune. Walking is great but be prepared to get lost in the labyrinth – it’s part of the fun. If you want to get somewhere quickly then the best option is Venice’s Vaporetto water bus network. The Vaporettos are crowded and hot but they will take you right down the Grand Canal or anywhere else you want to go to. A single ticket is expensive at seven Euros for an hour but there are many longer options which are better value. We used an 18 Euro 12 hour pass and got more than our money’s worth. We even used it to go right up the Grand Canal and all the way round back to central Venice on a number two Vaporetto. It takes about an hour and you will see all the major sites including the famous Rialto Bridge and the islands. Longer passes include airport transfers — the seven-day pass only costs 58 Euros.
Last tip — watch the dreaded “cover charge.” Sitting in St. Marks Square and enjoying a couple of coffees and ice cream can cost you over a hundred dollars. Head for the back streets away from the center and you will find much better value.
Image Credit: Thinkstock