Venice is one of my favorite places on Earth. It's like a paradise, with its maze of bridges, cute shops, old lovely architecture, and of course the amazing food! After staying there for a month on my 30th birthday, I got to know the wonderful city like the back of my hand. I walked, I saw the best sights, I ate a different meal every day, and I came back home well-informed about the many wonderful things to do in Venice. By no means is this list exhaustive, but if you ever find yourself in “La Serenissima,” here are some wonderful ways to pass the time.
1. Tour St Mark's Basilica
No trip to Venice is complete without a trip to St. Mark's. The Basilica is one of the most beautiful buildings in Italy, and it's impressive. The Church was built in the 11th century, so it's hundreds of years old and it is a sight to see, especially on a sunny day. The building is opulent, which is how it got it's nickname, the Church of Gold. Lines are long, but you can book a private tour online in advance to skip it. And when you're done learning about the amazing history, there a tons of high-end designer shops in the area of San Marco so you can get your shopping fix on if you have tons of cash to burn.
2. Visit Murano, Burano, and Torcello
These islands are only a short water bus ride from Venice. Murano is the island of the ancient art of glass-blowing, and when you go there, you can see the glass-blowers in action. Make sure you buy a souvenir. After Murano, hop on the water bus to Burano.
Burano is known for it's lace and colorful buildings. It's a cozy and charming island, perfect for wandering and picture-taking, if you're a photographer. While there, be sure to eat at Il Gatto Nero, with its fresh and delicious seafood. The restaurant has the best food on Burano.
From Burano, take a very short vaporetto ride to Torcello. This island looks how Italy used to hundreds of years ago. It's green and grassy, full of nature, ponds and wild animals. There is a church there that you can tour, but the beauty of this island is the peaceful retreat from the crowds and hordes of people in Venice.
3. Go On a Food Tour
You can't go to Venice without sampling all of the amazing food. There are several companies that take you all over Venice to try the local cuisine. My favorite is Venice Bites, run by a fun and friendly American couple. Among the local foods in Venice to try are cichetti, Venetian tapas, sarde en saor, a local sardines dish, polpetta – deep fried meatballs, and of course gelato! Pistachio is my favorite flavor, because in Venice it actually tastes like the deep, roasted taste of the real nut.
If you don't want to shell out for a food tour, you can always do one yourself. The siestere of Cannareggio is known for its hip foodie hangouts. Take a trip there and enjoy the lovely restaurants, especially along Fondamenta Cannaregio, which sits right on the water. If you find yourself at a restaurant there, you will have an amazing water view along the canal. It's very peaceful to watch the boats go by.
4. Do a Gondola ride
No trip to Venice is complete without a ride on a Gondola. At 80 euros for an hour's ride, a gondolier will take you down the back alleys of Venice and along the Grand Canal. If you get a friendly gondolier, he will tell you stories about the history of Venice and some even sing to you! It's well worth the price to have this quintessential Venetian experience.
A tip – the price is for the whole gondola, so if you can get a group of people and split the price, it comes out much cheaper. And if you don't want to spring for the full gondola ride experience, there's always the traghetto. The traghetto crosses from one Side of the Grand Canal to the other. It's 2 euros for a 2 minute ride, but then you can at least say you rode in a gondola. Your friends back home won't know the difference!
5. Learn some Italian
Although everyone in Venice speaks English by nature of it being a tourist city, you should definitely learn some Italian. When I was there, I took lessons twice a week at a local Italian school in San Polo, and I had a blast! I was able to communicate with the locals, even with my dismal Italian. There are lots of people around to practice on, and Italians are notoriously friendly.
6. Day Trip to Verona
While Venice is a very beautiful city, sometimes you need to get away from the noise, the people, and the hustle and bustle. Just an hour's train ride away, Verona is a nice contrast from Venice. It's sophisticated, clean, and best of all, quiet! Visit on a weekday for the best experience. Elegant shops line the streets, and the food there is cheaper, and some say better than in Venice. When you go there, you have to try the tortellini for cheap!
Verona is also home to an Arena, a smaller version of the Colosseum in Rome. It's also the site of Romeo & Juliet's balcony, with a statue of Juliet in the courtyard. Some say rubbing her bust brings good luck in love and romance. Tourists love to touch the statues and take pictures with Juliet.
The best part of Venice, though, is not in the sight-seeing. It's getting lost, especially at night when it's quiet and serene. Venice is a very beautiful city, and everyone should visit at least one time in their life. There's no place like it on Earth. With these tips, you are sure to have a lovely experience, and enjoy everything Venice has to offer.