Venice is actually comprised of over 100 tiny islands separated by canals and connected by bridges. One of the many things we love about Venice is that you can get lost without getting lost. It's a maze of narrow streets, but there's a sign on just about each corner that directs you either to Saint Mark's Square (per San Marco) or the Rialto bridge (per Rialto), so actually getting lost isn't so easy.
Venice has a love/hate relationship with tourism. An estimated 60,000 or more tourists per day (over 20 million per year) wreak havoc on the city's fragile ecosystem. The city fathers have tried various strategies to reduce the stress, such as limiting large cruise ships, but without the tourist Euros, many of the shops, hotels and restaurants wouldn't exist.
Venice's airport, Marco Polo, is on the mainland. There are a few options to reach the island.
Water taxis are a fun and luxurious way to get around, but molto costoso (very expensive). There is a train that takes you into central Venice in about 20 minutes. Our preferred mode is the water bus system, Alilaguna. You can buy a ticket inside the terminal or at the stop outdoors. Follow the signs and determine if you need to take the blue, orange or red line depending on your final destination. There is a covered walkway from the terminal to the Alilaguna departure point. The walk takes about 8 minutes and we've always encountered a rather long line to wait for the water bus.
Our final destination is normally San Marco (St. Mark's Square.) Suitcases are accommodated in the front of the bus and there's ample seating. It's an hour or so ride to St. Mark's Square across the busy lagoon, but what a view as you approach San Marco!
The Doges Palace (Palazzo Ducale), the structure to the right above, is definitely worth a visit. Like so many buildings in Italy, It has quite a history. Originally built in the 9th century as a residence of the Doge (roughly translated as Duke, or chief magistrate) of Venice, the original structure was destroyed by fire as were many subsequent ducal palaces. The Italian government eventually took over and it's now a lovely museum flanking St. Mark's Square. It's unfortunately not possible to take pictures of the lavish and beautiful interior.
The Bridge of Sighs connects the palace, where trials and sentencing took place, and the prison on the other side of the canal. It's said that the prisoners looked out the windows of the bridge on their way to prison and sighed knowing it would be a long time before they regained their freedom. Who knows how accurate that is, but the bridge is a charming sight now!
Also originally built in the 9th century, St. Mark's Basilica (San Marco) stands at the eastern end of Piazza San Marco behind the Doge's Palace. On a nice day the view from the top of the tower is beautiful.
And you thought the only leaning tower was in Pisa? There are actually about 10 leaning tower scattered around Italy. Venice boasts three which isn't surprising given its unstable soil. This is the Campanile di Santo Stefano. It leans at about the same angle as its famous cousin in Pisa.
A traffic jam, Venetian style!
A Venetian bus stop. The vaporettos are a good and relatively inexpensive way to get around in Venice.
A water taxi. An efficient and fun, albeit expensive way to get around.
Some more lovely views of Venice.
Just across the grand canal from St. Mark's Square is the imposing Santa Maria della Salute. In 1630 the plague killed about a third of the residents of Venice and construction of this church was begun shortly afterwards. It was dedicated to the Virgin Mary and to good health.
We decided to take a vaporetto to visit it, only to discover that it was the last stop, not the first stop, on the route. The result was that we had a grand tour of Venice from the water. On a nice day, it's an inexpensive way to take in the charm and beauty of Venice!
This is the pretty view from across the grand canal.
Paul and Katie at the Rialto bridge.
One of our favorite restaurants in Venice, a couple of blocks over the Rialto, to the west.
Window shopping is so much fun in Venice!
We've stayed at two hotels in Venice. La Fenice et des Artistes (below) is in a small, quiet square around the corner from the opera house (La Fenice) and just a five-minute walk to St. Mark's Square. It's in a great location and has a lot of charm.
We've also stayed at Il Violino d'Oro, even closer to St. Mark's. It's a lovely and more modern hotel than La Fenice, in a very busy area. Our room was small, but ample and very quiet.
➜ Top Tips
Walk, walk, walk; it's hard to get lost!
Take a vaporetto; it's an inexpensive and fun way to see the city.
Don't miss the Doges Palace.
If the weather is clear, go up the tower at St. Mark's Square for a beautiful view of the area.
If you like Venetian glass take a trip to the neighboring island, Murano. You can take a vaporetto or a water taxi.