One day in Venice, in peak season. There’s no way I could write a guide to Venice after that. I’m not sure I could even say we world-schooled in Venice. Except that L was interested in how Venice is sinking. He did some research about that then reported back to the family. I had wanted to do a workshop on making carnival masks but it was just too expensive. We saved all of our (already over-spent) budget for a gondola ride in Venice.
I’ve thought about how to structure this post, things to do in Venice, how to experience Venice in a day… I have over 400 pictures, therefore, the Venice we experienced, a story in images.
Camping near Venice
We stayed in Cavallino, on a peninsula near Venice where there are long stretches of beaches with many camp sites. It is easy to camp on the peninsula, then drive or cycle to the nearby port, Punta Sabbioni, to take the water bus into Venice. We did this when we visited 14 years ago and it still works well. The 2 day transport pass was 120 Euro for 4 of us (30 Euro each), so although you save money on a hotel in Venice the travel is an extra cost to consider.
Camping in Cavallino is not budget prices either, in the high season we paid 55 Euro per night for one of the worst sites we stayed on. Actual squat toilets! First time we’d seen those since Asia. There are much nicer sites with loads of activities and facilities for families but most required a minimum one week stay in July / August. So cheap and not very cheerful it was. We were only a 2 minute walk to the beach and that made up for a lot.
The downside to camping near Venice is it is harder to have an evening or an early morning in Venice (the best time for pictures and soaking up the atmosphere before the crowds). Although there is nothing to stop you returning to Venice in the evening, with 2 tired children that wasn’t realistic for us. One day I’d love to visit Venice in the off-season and stay in Venice. On the positive side you have a quieter place to return to after the craziness of Venice in the summer, and a much needed swim in the Adriatic to cool off. And you arrive in Venice by boat. Is there any other way to arrive in Venice?
Arriving in Venice by Water Bus
Off the boat and turn left – really just follow the crowds. You’ll shortly come to…
The Bridge of Sighs
Muscle your way on to the footbridge to get your own iconic shot with the Bridge of Sighs in the background. Don’t worry about everyone else’s elbows, you can crop those out later. Oops! I missed a bit.
Piazza San Marco – St Mark’s Square
Eventually the crowd will pick you up again. Keep walking and you’ll find yourselves going past Doge’s Palace (Palazzo Ducale) and into St Marks Square (Piazza San Marco). A gathering place since the 12th Century, the square is dominated by Saint Mark’s Basilica. Around the square are shops and famously over-priced cafes. These places are expensive, particularly if you want to sit outside. Then again, the chance to sit in St Mark’s Square with a coffee and simply people watch, taking in the stunning surroundings, is perhaps a once in a lifetime experience. Priceless.
I’m not that happy with these pictures but it was just too busy and hot to fuss trying to get something better.
Gondola Ride in Venice
After pottering around some of the little canals behind the square, we went in search of the best place to start our gondola ride in Venice. Prices for gondola rides are regulated in Venice and therefore fixed. Although you pay extra at night and can agree on a longer trip for more money. Prices started at 80 Euro for the shortest trip, about 25-30 minutes from memory. Naturally they attempted to up-sell us to a longer trip but we found for a family the shorter trip was enough. We got some great pictures and a taste of the Grand Canal.
Above: Venice Gondola Ride, in your imagination, just you and your gondolier exploring narrow, deserted canals.
Venice Gondola Ride Reality, it’s crowded on those waterways! Venetians call it the ‘Gondola Train’.
Parts of our ride were busy, but our excellent gondolier steered us into some quieter canals. A longer trip would enable you to reach some more remote places. A benefit of being near other gondolas is you might be lucky enough to pass someone that has paid for musicians and a serenade. You can enjoy their performance for free!
When you head out onto the Grand Canal you’re amongst all the traffic. It is a bit like being on a tuk-tuk on a busy street in Thailand! You’re little and a bit vulnerable compared to all the big boats, but it is exiting too!
Vaparetto Number 1 Grand Canal
From a gondola to a vaparetto (water bus). Our 48 hour travel card included our ferry into Venice as well as all travel around on vaparetto and to neighbouring islands Murano and Burano. More on those two in the next post. Vaparetto number 1 is a great choice for a sightseeing trip up the Grand Canal. We took it as far as the famous Rialto bridge where we hopped off to explore the market.
The journey allows you to take in all the different water craft in Venice, pleasure boats and those going about daily life. Where we have a van or truck, in Venice they have a boat. A fun thing to do with kids in Venice is to look out for all the different boats, for example: the courier, rubbish boat, ambulance or police boat, deliveries…
Basilica Santa Maria della Salute
At the entrance to the Grand Canal you can admire the Basilica Santa Maria della Salute. A 17th Century domed church with a unique octagonal shape. In October 1630, a third of Venice’s population had been killed by the plague. The Venetian Senate appealed to the Madonna. “Stop the plague and we’ll build you a church”.
Whether you believe that a heavenly spirit intervened, or perhaps the weather Gods brought cooler weather to kill off the plague carrying fleas, either way the plague ended and Venetians honoured their promise. The Basilica stands proud, greeting all those who arrive in Venice by water. And how else should you arrive in Venice?
Crazy fact: Before constructing the Basilica, over 1 million wooden piles were driven into the mud beds. They remain intact more than 300 years later.
Rialto Bridge and Market
Hopping off the vaparetto at the Rialto Bridge stop, you’ll need to cross the bridge to get to the market. You’ll want to cross the bridge anyway to get more pictures. The height of the bridge gives a great view down the canal.
Walk from here to explore the market area, including the fish market if the day is still young. Don’t forget if you’re going to look, buy a little something from the market. Even some fruit to snack on. The market is often over-run with insta-gramming travellers, stopping to take pictures but not to buy. The crowding makes it hard for locals to go about their daily life and shopping and impacts the stallholders as everyone wants to photograph their produce but not buy it. Read on about how to have a positive impact during your stay in Venice…
While researching a few details to finish my post I came across Venezia Autentica. Their mission is: “to propose an alternative to mass tourism in Venice, making it easy for travellers to enjoy a more meaningful & authentic experience of the city while having a positive impact on the local community, environment and economy.” On their website you can book authentic, local experiences and find out where to shop, eat and visit to have a positive impact during your trip to Venice. I wish I had seen this before we visited, although the experiences might have been a bit over our budget,the tips to get off the beaten track would have been great.
The future of Venice
Studies show Venice is sinking due to shifting tectonic plates and compaction of sediments. At the same time Venice is impacted by rising sea levels. To consider how this might impact the future of Venice, look around during your visit at the water height in the canals. Ask yourself if the water rose 10cm, 20cm, a foot, what would happen to the area around me? On the edges of many buildings you can see high water levels.
There is no doubt that tourism is still in Venice’s future. But I hope they can find a way to manage it better, to enable a more sustainable experience for visitors and Venetians. If you’re planning a visit, try to time it for the shoulder season. Outside of key holidays and the summer break. Research before-hand to find authentic experiences that support Venetians, artisans, local people, to continue living and working in Venice.
Lots of people question is it worth paying so much for a gondola ride in Venice.? I think it absolutely is. Ask yourself when might I return to Venice? It is the quintessential Venice experience for the price of a family meal out. During our months of travel we spent money on lots of things, some seemed worthwhile some we were disappointed. The gondola ride was 100% worth it.
We camped for several days near Venice so the next day, with our 48 hour travel pass, we explored the islands of Murano and Burano.
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Have you been to Venice or is it on your bucket list? Let us know your experiences in the comments.