Oh, Venice: you were my favorite part of the trip. As close as Cinque Terre came to winning that title, the City of Canals won its way to my heart.
I was worried it was over-hyped. That years and years of people telling me how much they loved Venice, of seeing stunning pictures of it, of hearing its praises sung by every travel guide, of reading novels set in its watery streets — that somehow the prestige would lessen the grandeur. How wrong I was. I actually considered leaving Venice off our itinerary, afraid we would be exhausted by navigating tiny streets packed with tourists. I’m so glad I didn’t.
It’s nice to know that at least some things are exactly as awesome as described. Sometimes more so.
So what did I love about Venice?
Enchanting and unique
The Floating City is an appropriate moniker for Venice. Its winding canals are its lifeblood, visible in even the most abandoned parts of the city.
And yet, as comforting as the ever-present water was for me, Venice wasn’t like any other waterside city I’ve visited. It has something more fascinating and enchanting, something deeper and more unique that I can’t quite identify. Maybe it’s the ancient history the city holds, or maybe it’s the fierce commitment to the Venetian way of life that locals have, despite their shrinking population. Our gondolier told us that he’d rather be poor in Venice than live anywhere else.
And maybe its charm is its impossibility, a city floating at the mercy of a powerful sea.
That impossibility lends itself to novelties you won’t see elsewhere, like the iconic gondola or the more routine vaporetto, Venice’s ferry transportation system. The ubiquity of its bridges, the constant presence of water, the fading population, all are an omnipresent reminder that it may not last. But Venice thrives on the allure of its fleetingness, and I hope it will continue to for a long time.
Easy to escape the crowds
My original aversion to Venice was that its narrow streets and throngs of day-tripping tourists would be too much to handle.
But the truth is, the maze of Venice’s streets is to your advantage if you don’t want to feel crowded. It’s easy to duck into a side street away from the chaos.
If you want a quieter tour of Venice, ignore the signs for the Rialto and San Marco, which are everywhere.Turn the opposite way of what is recommended, then use a map to get where you’re going in a more roundabout fashion. (Or don’t, and let yourself get lost for a bit.) We did this several times, and often it was like we were in our own private Venice with no one in sight.
Lots of hidden gems
Every city has hidden gems, but they are so much more rewarding in Venice, once you’ve navigated the winding, illogically planned streets to find something wonderful.
Hidden gem #1: San Giorgio Maggiore
And finally, all those hours I spend on TripAdvisor before trips finally paid off in a big way.
Thanks to a small comment on the San Marco Square belltower’s page, I noticed that a few people preferred the views from San Giorgio across the lagoon — it was taller, cheaper, and less crowded than San Marco’s tower. The catch was that you had to have a vaporetto pass to do it, since that’s the only way to get out to Giudecca and San Giorgio Maggiorre. We’d already gotten our pass, so we decided to check it out.
A quick vaporetto ride over to San Giorgio from San Marco gave us this stunning view — with, as described, no wait and no crowds. Plus, we were treated to something I was starting to think Europe didn’t have: an elevator up to the top!
From San Giorgio, we enjoyed a full panoramic view of Venice, the Lido, and outlying islands for quite some time, nearly uninterrupted.
Hidden gem #2: Libreria Acqua Alta
This canal-side book shop is a cozy find for book lovers. It’s right on a canal, and they keep books in bath tubs to prevent them from being flooded by the tides.
And also in gondolas.
Libreria Acqua Alta isn’t in any of the main parts of Venice, but after a lot of twisting and turning, we finally found this magical little place.
If you have even the slightest love for books, don’t miss this place. It has books galore, a friendly shopkeeper, and two cats roaming the place. It’s also a testament to the way Venetians make the best of the sometimes unpredictable sea — Libreria Acqua Alta literally means “bookstore high water.” And, what’s a trip to Italy without buying at least one book in Italian? (Oh, that’s just me and my nerdy self? Fair enough.)
After the bookshop and a lovely dinner, we made our way back to our lodging. We had a pretty interesting evening, but I’ll save that for another post.
The next morning, we departed Venice. While the weather was fantastic and sunny for most of our trip, the majority of our time in Venice was drizzly and overcast, but that didn’t take away from its charm in the slightest. When we left, though, it was perfect blue skies again.
I wish we’d had a few more days here, especially to explore additional islands, like Burano and the Lido, but I hope another trip here is in our future!