Outside of the apartment, Cannaregio.
This June, I visited the Italian wonder of Venice for the first time. I spent a week traversing the narrow side-streets and winding canals of this unique city, and travelled by train to spend a day inside the walls of Verona. I’ve compiled a list of what to do and what not to do if you ever find yourself in Venice or Verona:
DO take as much spending money as you can.
Most landmarks and museums have entry fees, so prioritise which ones you want to visit beforehand. It is possible to eat on the cheap though; a huge slice of pizza from a little shop in a side-street costs roughly 3 Euros and tastes divine.
DO stay in self-catering accommodation.
I booked to stay at Sognando Venezia, a one bedroom, self-catering apartment. It was perfect; easy transfers from the airport; within walking distance of all the major landmarks, tucked away from the main streets, ten minutes from the supermarket, and spotlessly clean and stylish.
DO pay for a Gondola ride.
I was warned prior to visiting that a Gondola ride would cost up to 60 Euros. I ended up paying 80, but it was easily one of the best parts of the holiday. The Gondola went out on to the Grand Canal, underneath the famous Rialto bridge and through a series of tiny canals that were absolutely beautiful. The Gondolier was singing away the whole time, which made everything more enjoyable. I know 80 Euros is a lot of money, but the trip lasts 30-40 minutes and it truly is the best way to see the sights of Venice. I recommend coming away from The Grand Canal to find an empty Gondola.
If you really do feel uncomfortable paying the full fee, there are plenty of other tourists who are willing to split fees with you to share the experience.
One of many bridges on the Gondola ride.
DO walk everywhere.
Water buses and other modes of transport are expensive and usually busy, so try to visit everything on foot. You’ll probably want to scream when you get stuck behind slow moving crowds in tiny side-streets, but it’s definitely a more cost effective, and interesting way of seeing the city
DO go inside the Doge’s Palace at St. Mark’s Square.
The Palace’s interior is as remarkable as it’s exterior. The Golden Staircase up to the Doge’s chamber is a sparkling spectacle and the enormous, dark wood panelled court rooms are drenched in devious history. The Bridge of Sighs which connects the Palace to the Prisons is also a magnificent. You can easily spend half a day inside, marvelling at the architecture and pretending to be royalty.
The courtyard inside The Doge’s Palace.
DO visit Cá Rezzonico in the Dorsuduro region.
This Palace was bought by the poet Robert Browning in the eighteenth century. If like me, you enjoy gandering at chandeliers, ballrooms and ornate crockery; make sure you visit this exquisite Palace.
DO make sure you stamp your train ticket BEFORE boarding your train to Verona.
Apparently, before boarding an Italian train, tickets must be validated by being placed in the small stamping machines on the train platforms. Even if you’ve paid for a ticket that clearly states where your journey begins and ends, your ticket is invalid if it is not stamped and you have to cough up 30 Euros each to amend this issue. Being an English tourist, I OBVIOUSLY didn’t know this. Fortunately, the Italian public were on hand to help; a young woman tried to defend me first, then a young man attempted to make the inspector see sense; and finally, an older woman who spoke some English advised me to walk down the carriage and find the female inspector who would stamp my ticket for me with no hassle. The moral of that story is: The Italian public will take pity on you if you look like you’re on the verge of a panic attack.
DO visit the Verona Arena.
The Verona Arena is an absolute beauty. It’s super cheap to go inside and sit on the stone steps, pretending you’re in Gladiator.
DO visit sights of literary value if you’re a book worm.
I’m a big fan of Shakespeare, so I knew a day trip to Verona – the backdrop for the famous Romeo & Juliet – was a personal necessity. Casa de Giulette (Juliet’s House) is famous for its statue of the heroine and for the balcony that Romeo supposedly wooed her from; but there is no historical truth or significance to the building; it’s a complete tourist trap. However, if you’re aware of this, you can enjoy the novelty and the beauty of the building without feeling too cheated.
Other sights only require a quick glance; Cafe Florian in St. Mark’s Square was a favourite of Charles Dickens, Harry’s Bar was Ernest Hemmingway’s favourite haunt, and The Pensione Wildner Hotel was where Henry James completed his novel Portrait of a Lady.
The Pensione Wildner Hotel in Castello, where Henry James completed Portrait of a Lady.
DO embrace the Italian four course dinner.
If you love pasta, pizza, seafood and tiramisu, you’ve come to the right place. There is so much to eat in Venice it’s overwhelming; but make sure you have a good crack at getting every edible thing down your gullet. I managed the traditional four course dinner just the once, but it was glorious. A starter, pasta dish, meat or fish dish and then a dessert goes down remarkably well when you’re in the sunshine with a glass of wine, and in the company of a fine, young gentleman. The bill will probably make you want to cry, but get over it bambino, you’re on holiday!
One of four courses that evening.
DO make sure you have a few Euro coins on you for public conveniences.
If you need to spend a penny, you’ll have to spend minimum of one Euro each time. Most cafés and restaurants have toilets, but you’ll have to order something before using them. Either way; you’ll have to pay.
Okay, so now for the negatives…
DON’T stay for 7 nights.
As wonderful as it was to have a seven night holiday, Venice only requires a 3/4 night stay. I was told this before I booked the holiday, but I got excited and ignored this advice. You can see everything on your sight-seeing list, eat some quality meals, and visit Verona in a much shorter time span.
DON’T visit Venice if you can’t deal with crowds and queues.
Day and night, rain or shine; Venice is busy all of the time. I am a patient person, but the scorching sun and constant crowds on bridges, at landmarks, or down the narrow side-streets really started to grate on me by the end of the holiday. It is hypocritical to say the tourists were annoying, but you will need patience (or vodka) to deal with the other tourists, who dawdle, shout and just generally get in the way.
At the top of The Campanile Tower, safe from the (relatively small here) crowds.
DON’T go inside Harry’s Bar unless you’re wearing a tuxedo and have a goldmine in your pocket.
I am a fan of Ernest Hemmingway and a good Bellini, so I wanted to visit Harry’s Bar. However, attempts to enjoy both of these things were scuppered because of supposedly inappropriate timing, and clothing. This happened twice in one day; so I cooled down with some gelato instead. After reading some online reviews of the bar, the majority of customers said it was over-priced; averaging around 15 Euros for a Bellini that wasn’t even that tasty. Fortunately, I found the perfect Bellini at the amazing Barcola Jazz, between Rialto and St Marco. I also discovered the perfect mojito, daiquiri, white Russian and Margarita there too…which resulted in one of the best drunken afternoons of my life.
Don’t go here for a Bellini…
…go here instead!
DON’T feel guilty if you feel a little bit underwhelmed.
The Basilica in St. Mark’s Square was a landmark I’d been desperate to see, so when a quarter of the roof was covered in scaffolding, I felt like my eyes had been cheated. I appreciate that the scaffolding was there for restoration work, but it was an unfortunate and unavoidable eye sore.
I queued for thirty minutes to reach the doors, where guards were promptly telling men and women in shorts/vests/dresses to cover their bare skin with the bright orange, hessian shawls they were handing out. I understand that this is a place of religious pilgrimage and the appropriate respect must be shown; but it all felt horribly oppressive.
This became more apparent when I entered the church (still in a queue of people), and slowly trawled round the aisles behind groups of tourists. Every time the volume in the church rose above a murmur, a voice would boom out of the tannoy “Shhhhh! Silenzio!” I couldn’t wait to escape up to the exterior balcony, where the real experience could begin. The balcony offers stunning views of St. Mark’s Square and was definitely the highlight of the visit.
The Basilica, covered in scaffolding.
Ultimately, Venice and Verona are beautiful cities, but I am looking forward to my next adventure somewhere new!