Venice, Italy. A magical, fairytale, must-see destination that is completely overrun with tourists! I first visited Venice almost 10 years ago, in the Summer of 2008, while studying abroad in Rome. Of course I loved Venice from the moment I arrived, but the crowds were trying and the food was probably (no, definitely) the worst I had in Italy.
Last year, I went back to Venice over Thanksgiving! This time, I was determined to see the sights, avoid the tourists (as best I could), and find some decent food! And overall, I think I was quite successful!!
My tour started with a mid-day arrival on Thanksgiving day! Since I was traveling with a group, I stayed very close to the train station, at Hotel Antiche Figure. For those of you planning a trip to Venice, Venice really has no cars and getting from the train station to your hotel can be quite the ordeal. Hotel Antiche Figure is directly across from the train station and quite nice, despite being close to the train station, so we did not have to worry about coordinate transportation between the train station and our hotel. I would absolutely stay there again!
After checking in, we set out to explore Venice! First on our list was Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, a/k/a the Frari Church, a 13th century church and home famous art, including works by Titian, and a set of choir seats made by Marco Cozzi, Dan’s last name! The Frari Church is a 20 minute walk from Hotel Antiche Figure through winding canals.
I was kind of iffy on visiting the Frari Church because well, I have seen a lot of European churches and they all tend to look the same. However, the Frari Church was really interesting and unlike any other church that I have visited in Europe. Definitely worth the €3,00 entrance fee. Allow at least 30 minutes for the visit.
After touring the Frari Church, we stopped for a shade of wine (i.e. a glass of wine in Venetian lingo) and a cicchetti, a small, tapas-style snack popular in Venice. There is a decent one across from the Frari Church called Caffè dei Frari. There is also a gondola stop right outside of the Frari Church.
After the quick shade of wine and a cicchetti, we moved on to a romantic gondola ride for six! Gondolas tie up at various points throughout Venice. They are quite easy to find and there is hard and fast way to tell where they tie up. Generally, bridges and in proximity to tourist sites are good indicators. To get a ride, you simply speak to the gondolier. All rides are about 40 minutes, prices are set by Venice’s government (€80,00) are higher at night (€100,00), and tips are expected. To save money, you can fit up to 6 people in a single gondola – see below!
Our Thanksgiving day ended with the BEST food tour of Venice – the Venice Bites Food Tour! Seriously, this was the best, best tour and hit some really delicious foods spots in Venice! I highly recommend this tour for finding authentic Veneitan food in Venice!
Our second day in Venice (and our only full day) was spent visiting the tourist highlights! Up first, an early morning “secret tour” of the Dodge’s Palace. And yes, it rained! Having previously visited Venice in the hot summer sun, I was fine with the rain, and everyone in my group seemed to be, too! November, along with much of the Winter, can see the Acqua Alta, or “high water” in certain parts of Venice, particularly St. Mark’s Square. We were lucky to see just a bit of it this morning. Pretty cool!
To get from our hotel (near the train station) to the tourist heart of Venice (St. Mark’s Square), we took the public water bus a/k/a the Vaporetto! We bought 24 hour unlimited tickets and rode the “bus” from our hotel all the way down to St. Mark’s Square. The ride took about 30 minutes and is a great way to see Venice!
There are a number of water bus stops near St. Mark’s Square, but we got off at almost the last stop – S. Zaccaria (Daniel). This stop puts you out right in front of the Bridge of Sighs and allows you to get the classic photograph of gondolas with the Chiesa di San Giorgio Maggiore in the back ground!
Our “Secret Itineraries Tour” of the Dodge’s Palace was pretty interesting, as it allowed you to see parts of the palace that are inaccessible to the general public, but I would probably skip it in the future. We also visited St. Mark’s Basilica and St. Mark’s Square and while its probably a faux pas, I find St. Mark’s Square and its surrounding streets just as interesting as the interior!
We eventually made our way across the Accademia Bridge to the Dorsoduro neighborhood of Venice, which is home to the Peggy Guggenheim Museum, the Accademia Museum, Basilica Santa Maria della Salute and one of the very, very few places were actual gondolas are made in Venice!
Our first stop was for lunch at Osteria Al Squero a cicchetti bar that is noted in a lot of guide books. It is a 10 minute walk from the Accademia Bridge and is right in front of Squero di San Trovaso. Definitely a “Kodak moment”!
We capped our big sight-seeing day with a visit to the Peggy Guggenheim Venice Collection, which is small for an international museum but really, really interesting! Fun fact – this used to be Peggy Guggenheim’s actual residence in Venice and the back terrace overlooks the Grand Canal!
We ended our day with another good food option, Ai Garzotti, which I found to be an excellent pizza restaurant, especially for Venice!
We ended our stay in Venice with a mid-morning train ride to Milan, so we essentially packed and ate breakfast on our last morning. All in all, I think I was successful in finding some excellent food and beating the crowds, and I would definitely return to Venice in November! In planning your own trip, I definitely recommend planning ahead, especially during high season, and bring clothing for all weather!
STEAL OUR TRIP
Hotel Antiche Figure: S. Croce, 687, 30135 Venezia, Italy. T: +39 041 275 9486. Our hotel – right on the Grand Canal across from the train station. Super helpful staff, lovely rooms, and delicious breakfast. Plus, free welcome drinks!
Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari: San Polo, 3072, 30125 Venezia, Italy. Open Monday – Saturday 9 – 18:00. Sunday 13:00 – 18:00. €3,00/person. Buy at the church.
Caffé dei Frari: San Polo, 2564, 30100 Venezia, Italy. Open daily 9 – 17:00 (except Monday when it closes at 16:00). Casual. Reservations not necessary.
Venice Bites Food Tour: The best tour in Venice. Read my blog post about it here.
Vaporetto: Venice water bus/public transportation website in English. €7,00/ticket. Given the cost considering buying a multi-ride ticket: €20,00/person/one day unlimited ticket. €30,00/person/two day ticket/€40,00/person/three day ticket. €60,00/seven-day ticket.
Dodge’s Palace: Open 8:30 – 17:30, until 19:00 in high season. Open until 23:00 Friday and Saturday. €20,00 entrance. Tickets should be booked in advance online to avoid the lines upon arrival, especially in Summer. The Secret Itineraries Tour takes place daily in Italian, French, and English. The English tour is at 9:45, 10:45, and 11:35. Reservations must be made online in advance online.
Osteria Al Squero: Dorsoduro, 943-944, 30123 Venezia, Italy. T: +39 335 600 7513. Open Thursday – Tuesday 10:30 – 21:30. No reservations. Be prepared to eat outside in the street. If Osteria Al Squero is backed, there are a few other cicchetti bars on the same street.
Peggy Guggenheim Venice: 704 Dorsoduro, 30123 Venice. T: 39 041 2405411. Open Wednesday – Monday 10:00 – 18:00. Closed Tuesday. Tickets can be purchased in advance online to avoid the lines.
Ai Garzoti: Santa Croce, 890, 30100 Venezia, Italy. T: +39 041 716636. Open daily 10:30 – 15:00 and 18:00 – 20:30. Reservations recommended.
ON A BUDGET
Venice is certainly NOT a budget traveler’s dream. Almost everything is overpriced and much of the food and souvenir offerings are not authentic. To save someone money, try to find a hotel in the Mestre, Venice’s mainland where a lot of locals live. This will allow you to avoid the premium for staying in Venice proper. In terms of food, the cicchetti is your best friend!! I would eat this every meal. In addition, plan to walk all over Venice. Nothing is really further than a 30 minute walk – except the furtherest ends – and you see so much more of Venice by walking rather than taking the water bus.