Ah Venice, Italy. Romanticized canals. Renowned beauty. Famed gondoliers. Oh, and let’s not forget the endless stream of tourists. To be honest, I was hesitant to even make a stop in Venice because I had heard so many mixed reviews about the heavily trafficked tourist destination, that I almost skipped it altogether. There is no mistaking that Venice is indeed a beautiful city but I couldn’t help but wonder if some of that glamour is lost when the city is swamped daily with rambling foreigners. After much debate, I decided to be one of those rambling foreigners and discover for myself if Venice was really worth the hype and I’m happy to report that my overall experience was certainly a positive one. Like a maze, Venice is composed of canals and bridges with many twists and turns. If you find yourself willing to branch off from the beaten path, you will discover the many hidden gems left to be found and will undoubtedly fall in love with the city on water.
Wishing a heartfelt farewell to the Dolomites, we drove down from the mountains and headed straight to the docks. We dropped off our rental car at the Venice Airport and bought our ferry tickets. We had a bit of a wait for the next boat, but soon enough we were on our way to Venice! After a long day of travel, we had finally arrived and settled into our small, but adequate AirBnb. With a full night’s sleep, we woke up bright eyed, bushy tailed, and ready for adventure. Meandering with little purpose of direction was definitely a great way to go about exploring Venice. We had no agenda except to simply see the city. A cozy cafe around this corner, a wine bar around the next, or perhaps a shop full of interesting trinkets over the bridge that might just catch your eye. Once branching off from the main strip and piazzas, there is a lot of freedom to be found in a city that you actually enjoy getting lost in.
Days 2 + 3
Full disclosure, we never took a gondola ride. Before arriving in Venice, we collectively decided to play it by ear and if the moment struck us, we would take a ride. That moment never came and never did we feel a tempting urge to stand in line amongst the throngs of tourists as we waited for our jaded gondolier to arrive. Just a personal preference! Maybe we really missed out on a great experience, but especially with two young antsy kiddos, it didn’t seem worth the time or money.
We did visit a few popular bridges – Ponte dell’Accademia, Bridge of Sighs, and Rialto Bridge. Certainly all worth a quick peek, but the journey to them was certainly half of the fun! Do some window shopping, grab a cocktail alongside the Grand Canal, or peruse some local art. We came upon a little shop that had an eclectic variety of international beers. The shop owner handpicked beers from all over the globe and we even spotted a few familiar labels from California.
A few things to note:
If you didn’t know this already, Venice is NOT wheelchair or stroller friendly. Like, at all. Every bridge has stairs and there are 391 bridges throughout the city. Even wheeling your luggage to and from your hotel is a hassle and a serious hurdle if you don’t travel lightly (ie every parent traveling with children). William literally had to make multiple trips up and down these bridges carrying all of our luggage while I held onto the kids! And some of those bridges are 40ish steps, up and then down. Feel the burn!
You get to learn the water taxi system – fun! Also, kind of a bizarre experience if you are not extremely comfortable with navigating public transportation. So do your research ahead of time to familiarize yourself with the routes and stops you need. The waiting dock is also floating on the water, which can quickly make more sensitive people a bit queasy while they jostle and rock about as they wait for their boat. Also, they do not stop for long so BE READY. They don’t take kindly to dawdlers and they will be gone before you know it.
Like most tourist destinations, try to find restaurants and bars off of the main strips. There is nothing worse than overpriced mediocre food in tourist trap locations.