Venice is sinking, but it’s not global warming that’s to blame, but rather the tidal wave of tourists that flood the city every day in season. In 2016 alone, more than 500 ships and and 1.5 million tourists poured into the city. Throw in stifling heat, crushing crowds and canals that smell worse as the heat rises and your trip might not be all you dreamed of. The solution? Head there out of season and you’ll have a far better time with as much space as you like to see the city in all its glory.
With less people crowding the city in late autumn, we decided it was safe to stay in a central area. We chose the luxury art deco Palazzo Barbarigo hotel on the Grand Canal, close to the main thoroughfare that would take us straight to the Rialto Bridge. You can of course stay in the outlying areas, but as charming as the side canals are, they can be very quiet, and it isn’t as necessary to escape the crowds out of season.
Click here for the story on Palazzo Barbarigo hotel.
Everyone heads to Venice for a different reason, whether it’s architecture, art or history. Whatever you plan to see on the way, the truth is Venice as a city on water is what’s fascinating. A surreal film set that’s best enjoyed by walking every inch of it. It is a fantastic walking city, with thousands of narrow alleys and paths linking the 6 districts, and not a car in sight. It isn’t as big as you might think and most sites are within easy walking distance of each other, but the alleys are often very narrow, and even in late Autumn there were bottlenecks as people tried to get the best photo opportunity or tour groups stopped to admire a building.
Walking shoes on and map in hand we started early, heading up the narrow alleyway to our first stop at the famous Rialto Market. Since 1097, yes that’s right 1097, Venetians have depended on the Rialto markets for their daily fish, fruit and vegetables. It’s best to arrive early if you want to see the Erberia (vegetable market) and Pescheria (fish market) in full swing because the wholesalers and most of the retailers close up shop by midday.
The Erberia and Pescheria are only open Tuesday through Saturday, so locals suggest not ordering fish in restaurants on Mondays, because the fish is unlikely to be fresh.
There are also several stores selling gourmet goods around the market area and more stalls leading up to the bridge that sell non-food items (these are always open but mostly cheap Venetian masks and souvenirs).
The Rialto Bridge also is filled with shops selling souvenirs and tourists congregate at the top trying to get the best photo they can without strangers in it. Stop at the top watch the watery freeway below. You feel like you’re in an alternate historical universe.
We crossed over to San Marco, the busiest district in Venice, thanks largely to St Mark’s Square, where you’ll find The Basilica of San Marco, the greatest symbol of Byzantine Venetian History. The square was partially flooded when we got there thanks to the high tide and waiters knee deep in water were setting up tables in anticipation of the receding tide as tourists crowded the dry areas around the basilica and queued to climb the campanile for a view of the city.
We passed the Doge’s Palace, the residence of the former ruler of Venice, and the headquarters of the Venetian Republic, a city state that existed for more than 1,000 years. For centuries the Doge’s Palace had three fundamental roles: as the Doge residence, the seat of government and as the palace of justice, but since 1923 it’s been a museum. It is also where you’ll find the famous Bridge of sighs that connected a palace to a prison.
As we trawled the alleyways, getting lost more often than not, we saw countless churches, galleries, museums and antique stores each offering up a glimpse of Venetian history. So if that’s what you’re after, you won’t be disappointed. Head to the home of Venetian 18th Century art at Carezzonico Museum or the Gallerie del Accademia for pre-19th century art. If modern art is more to your taste, you’ll find it at the Penny Guggenheim museum, which hosts a modern art collection collected by the famous lady herself.
When you’ve done enough walking and seen enough, spend the afternoon sitting at a restaurant on the edge of the Grand Canal. They can be overpriced, but if you stick to pizza and a bottle or two of wine it makes a very worthwhile, romantic and entertaining interlude as you watch venetians go about their day.
As the sun sets you might want to take a gondola ride. It is an expensive tourist trap, but if you’re feeling particularly romantic, book one through your concierge to prevent being ripped off.
With so much to see, there’s no doubt Venice is a fascinating city and it’s a place you should see once, if only for a day or two.