It sounds ridiculously cliché to say that Venice is ‘magical’ – but, in all honesty, this is the best way to describe it. This floating city (which is actually a man-made island found off the coast of Italy’s Veneto region) is utterly unique in its architecture, history, culture and charm; for anyone like me, around absolutely EVERY turn is a photo opportunity.
So unlike anywhere else in the world, Venice’s individuality comes mainly from its intricate canal system. Cars, buses and trains here stop abruptly at the very northern tip of the city: the rest is done either on foot or by boat.Whilst this does mean that a wandering tourist will definitely have trouble getting from one place to another without encountering a pesky un-crossable river, it is entirely worth the aimless strolling that makes up a large part of anyone’s visit. However, judging by the crippling amount of tourists that fill the narrow streets of Venice on a daily basis, I am certainly not alone in my infatuation. (Top tip: use this as a perfectly valid excuse to stop for a Spritz and have a ‘rest’ at any given time of day).
Anyone who loves a good stereotype will fall head-over-heels for the sheer Italian-ness of Venice, which quite literally resembles the stuff Disney dreams are made of. The men who steer the gondolas really do wear striped navy and white shirts, jaunty straw hats, and sing to the glassy-eyed couples gazing at the city (glassy-eyed also from the tears of discovering how much a single gondola ride has set them back? Perhaps). Pizza restaurants are, indeed, around every corner. And, as in any large Italian city, there are a copious amount of shiny, sparkly designer boutiques to window-shop at.
Still classing myself as a tourist in Venice (despite having lived so nearby for now nearly 5 months), here is my definitive list of must-see, super-fun, touristy things to visit without breaking the bank:
Ponte di Rialto
A.k.a. the Rialto Bridge is the oldest of the 4 bridges to cross the Canal Grande: because of this, it arguably boasts the best view of all the canals in the city. Little shops and stalls can be found along the bridge itself which add to its charm – but be prepared to elbow your way through the crowds for a decent photo.
Piazza San Marco
Possibly one of the most iconic squares in Italy, the Piazza San Marco is home to (unsurprisingly) the Basilica San Marco, whose unbelievably grand architecture will leave you speechless, even from the outside. Warning: pigeons in this square are fearless and hungry.
Ponte dei Sospiri
The Bridge of Sighs was built in the 1600s, and is one of the most visited locations in Venice because of its unusual shape and interesting history. Connecting the palace (il Palazzo Ducale) to the prison (i Prigioni Nuove), its name is said to come from the prisoners’ sighs at their last look at the city as they crossed the bridge to be imprisoned. Couples who kiss on a gondola under the bridge at sunset are, legend has it, granted eternal love and bliss (I’m yet to verify this – I’ll keep you posted).
Mercato di Rialto
Found at the northern end of the Ponte di Rialto, this marketplace is the oldest and most picturesque market in the city. It is also one of the main stop-off areas for gondolas, taking you through one of the better tour routes. Originally (and still today) known for its fish, fruit and vegetables, the market now offers a multitude of designs of Venice’s famous masks (for a much less dear price).
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