Must see places and activities for a long weekend
Finally, after almost 6 months of not leaving the UK, we managed to escape to the beautiful city of Venice. We headed off for a relatively spontaneous long weekend in the middle of August. Here I will talk about the many things to do in Venice, with an insight to travelling here during the coronavirus pandemic.
The usual reasons of course apply as to why we chose to go to Venice for a long weekend. It is world renowned for being a unique, charming, and romantic destination for a weekend getaway. However for us, it was also a lifeline after we had to cancel our planned trip to Spain, which we booked flights for at the beginning of July when travel corridors were on the horizon. Sadly Spain was removed from that list, so we abandoned our plans to head there to avoid the 2 week quarantine after here in the UK.
Venice is often reported as extremely busy and overcrowded with tourists, vast swathes of whom arrive on cruise ships. With Italy having the virus cases fairly under control, especially compared to the rest of Europe, it seemed like the safest option for a replacement trip. And when will Venice every be this quiet again, we thought.
So we booked our flights 11 days before, and our hotel 3 days before departure. Just in case. But fortunately we were able to head off on a break and enjoy all the many things to do in Venice!
Getting to Venice from the airport
There are two main options to get to Venice from Marco Polo airport, which is on the mainland. Venice, for anyone who didn’t know, is made up of 118 small islands.
One route is the Vaparetto, a type of ferry/water taxi that operates between the many islands of Venice. This will cost you €15 per person and take around 40 minutes. The airport vaparetto drops you at the main Piazza – San Marco.
The other option is to take the bus for €8 each. You want the number 5 and it goes approximately every 15 minutes, and takes 20/25 minutes. There is also the number 15 which is an express bus service which runs less frequently. The bus station is on the very outskirts of Venice, as cars are not able to go into the main city, so you have to walk for a bit to get in. We took the bus option for cheapness and time.
Things to do once in Venice
Ride a Gondola
Let us start with the obvious one. When in Venice, unless you are there on a tight budget trip, you have to go on a gondola. It is one of the things you go to see and what better way to see it by going for your own gondola ride. It is the best way to enjoy the canals by far. There are fixed rates for trips, so you know you are paying a fair (if somewhat steep!) price. Trips start from €80 per gondola for half an hour, and you can have 6 people per gondola.
We paid more for a longer trip, as we wanted to go under the famous bridge of sighs and enjoy a leisurely trip. It was very cool to go under, and we got to spend some time on the grand canal to get there. From there it was winding canals for almost an hour. Very relaxing to do and a great way to see more hidden back streets. We also passed Mozart’s former residence, which our gondolier pointed out.
They are happy for you to move about the boat for different views and photos too which is nice. Although at points due to the need to tilt to go under low bridges, the bigger person needs to be on a certain side and they will ask you to swap if you are the wrong way! Gondola points are spread across the city so are very easy to pick up no matter where you are during your day. There were loads available, possibly due to the much lower levels of tourists than they would usually have at this time of year.
There is no better way to see Venice in my opinion, and I think I would have regretted not doing it. Yes it was expensive, but it is likely we won’t go back so would have missed out if we hadn’t.
Visit the Doge’s Palace
This giant Gothic Palace stands at the end of the Piazza San Marco. It used to house most of the council functions of the Republic of Venice back in Merchant times. The Doge was a senior elected official, chosen by the Venetian aristocracy whilst it was a Republic up until the turn of the 18th Century.
The palace was built in 1340, and is filled with stunning rooms and beautiful artwork such as painted gilded ceilings and tapestries. It is genuinely quite huge, it took us around an hour and a quarter to walk round the parts open for public viewing.
There is a labyrinth of council chambers, and information boards explaining how councils were split into more councils and how they all interacted. As a politics person, this was pretty interesting to read about! Glad our system isn’t that complex!
The interiors of some of the rooms are really quite exquisite and a must see for any art fans.
Another reason to go and visit is to walk over the famous bridge of sighs. So named as it was said that prisoners crossing it would sigh as they crossed it to enter the gargantuan prison attached to the palace across the canal at their last sight of beautiful Venice. The prison goes on for ages and there are still carvings on some of the walls.
I would recommend buying your tickets before you go online. This enables you to get a time slot and get to skip the queue! You can do so here.
The ticket also gets you free entry to the Museo Correr and archeological museum included. This was a very random place with rooms and chambers of an old house, a library, old statues, globes, weapons, so much historical stuff really.
We had a quick wander through but didn’t spend ages here, just thought we may as well do some extra cultured wanderings since it was included in the ticket price! The section about the war against the Byzantine control was interesting enough.
Libreria Acqua Alta bookshop
This one was my suggestion, having seen the insta famous bookshop many times before whilst scrolling. The legendary bookstore is right on the canal, and has several famous picture spots.
It is piled high inside with books everywhere, with gondolas used as bookshelves! There was some rather interesting literature to browse, along with plenty of fiction and non-fiction books. I even saw Italian copies of my beloved Harry Potter.
As if the books and quirky layout isn’t enough, the place is also supposed to be full of cats. Now there are rather a lot of hiding places available so they can be elusive, but we did see one cat who let me give him or her a stroke.
At the back of the store you can find both a gondola to sit in and take pictures, the famous book staircase, and a giant book wall.
St Mark’s Campanile view point
The giant tower structure in the Piazza San Marco is the St Mark’s Campanile. It started out as a watch tower and soon became a landmark for those sailing to Venice. Bells were added to the tower after initial construction. However the historical tower fell down in 1902 and was reconstructed over 10 years, leaving us with the tower you can see today. It is a big one at just shy of 100 meters.
Fortunately, there is a lift to take you to the top, no stairs required! Once in the belfry, there are stunning views to be had of the city and further archipelago. Due to social distancing, only 4 people can go up in a lift, so the top was not too busy. This meant we didn’t have to particularly wait to see each view. It is really pretty from the top with all the little red roofs below you. Really incredible view of the largely empty square too.
We had to queue for around 45 mins, most of that time in the sun to get to the top. This was due to the restriction on people in the lift in one go. You also had to wear your mask in the queue despite being in an outdoor space. I recommend taking water, which we forgot to do, but luckily thee are vending machines in the entrance lobby to grab a cold bottle! It was definitely worth the wait for the view though. Entrance was €10 each.
St Mark’s Basilica
We actually didn’t get to go inside the Basilica on this trip. However I will include it as we had planned to, and it is one of the main sites to see. Unfortunately there is maintenance and restoration going on at the moment and you cannot go in to the Basilica itself. The museum remains open on the site though and plenty of people were queuing to go in there. The outside is stunning though and well worth a stop outside to take a closer look.
Lido island beach
Did you know Venice had its own beach island? Lido island has a long sandy stretch on the far side that is split into privately owned beach club sections, with the free beach area located at the end. It’s about a 20 minute walk from the vaparetto stop through the streets and pass all the beach clubs to get to the free section. We had toyed with paying the entry for one for a bit of luxury, however all three we passed were full up so that made our decision for us. Most of them were €25-30 for 2 people for sun lounger and umbrella and entrance.
The free beach, obviously, was free to go to. However, deck chair rental and umbrella rental comes in at €5 per item, plus a €10 deposit for each item. We didn’t have the €45, as we hadn’t expected such big deposits. Instead, we left my card with them. You can also hire towels and pay for the showers and toilets if you want. Also worth noting that we arrived around 11.30am and there weren’t many chairs or umbrellas left. So if you want those maybe head down a little earlier.
We were quite surprised how busy it was. There was still plenty of space left and it was easy enough to set up camp away from others. It did appear to mostly be locals who had brought their own towels or chairs to sit on and umbrellas though. And it was a 30 degree sunny Sunday so perhaps that was naive of us.
At the free beach area there is one beach cafe where you can get food, which seemed to be struggling with the lunch rush. But we managed to get 2 cheeseburgers and an aperol spritz each for quite cheap at €17. I imagine the beach clubs have more variety, but are pricier. You can also walk into town and get food or pick some up on the way. Most of the locals seemed to have brought picnics with them which was a smart move as the food wait was pretty long!
A few drinks stands which moved along the beach came and set up too and they had ice creams and crisps as well as cocktails and soft drinks. Which is pretty handy if you just want a small snack.
It wasn’t the prettiest beach I have ever seen, the water wasn’t very clear and full of seaweed. Plus the sand had lots of shells and small stones crushed up into it. But given we hadn’t been to relax properly on a beach in 11 months, we didn’t mind one bit!
Burano and Murano
I will be writing a separate post on how to visit the islands of Burano and Murano and what I thought of each one, but here is a quick run down. You can have a whole day out to these islands by catching the vaparetto.
Burano is famous for its beautifully coloured houses and shops and restaurants. There is barely a dull wall there, it is an instagrammer’s dream. It was really charming and just such a cheerful place to be. There are loads of restaurants, cafes and bars to sit and watch the world go by in.
Murano is famous for glass blowing. You get all sorts being made here, from beads to ornate chandeliers! We went early evening so that was mostly closed but there were some bars and restaurants along the canal to enjoy, plus it was much more peaceful than the main island.
See the Rialto bridge
This giant bridge over the grand canal is pretty awesome. It is a very impressive structure which has shops actually on the bridge. I think it was the busiest place we saw the entire trip. Definitely nicer looking at it than being on it. Very instagram famous, more on that to come…
Cichetti is a Venetian kind of tapas almost. It is small plates of food, often based on a round slice of baguette. It tends to be fairly cheap, from €1.50 a piece we found. The variety was huge, from fried squid and whipped fish to ham and chutney to bruschetta with pesto.
It was sold at most bars and restaurants, and is meant as an early evening snack. As you probably guessed from it being in the Med, people tend to eat dinner quite late!
So Cichetti is a must have to keep you going through your Venetian cocktail crawl or to replenish after a day out on the way back to change for dinner.
Drink Spritz and Bellinis
There are so many options for Italian cocktails across the city. Unlike in London, where bars charge you around £7-10 for an aperol spritz, we didn’t have one that cost more than €6 – and that was at a fancy canal side restaurant. Most places it was around €2.5-4 euros, and all came served with orange slices and a green olive on a stick. Never really found out why the olive but as an olive fan I am very on board with this serving style! We even had a frozen Aperol slushy from a takeaway place near our hotel, which was a mere €4.
Other popular drinks include campari spritz, a ginerino, which is non alcoholic and negronis of various styles. Some restaurants and bars had bigger cocktail lists, but the non traditional Italian ones like pina coladas would set you back closer to €10. Why come all the way to Italy and not drink the cheap local cocktails?!
The Bellini cocktail was actually invented in Venice, in a bar called Harry’s bar. So naturally we tried to go there to check it out, even though we knew it would be expensive. It is said to have been frequented by Ernest Hemingway, whose favourite drinking spots we got to enjoy in Havana last year. Sadly it is still closed due to coronavirus, so we didn’t get to visit. So we had to settle for a Bellini from else where, but it was still refreshing and tasty!
Same goes for wine. We tried very hard to only drink Venetian wine and some of it was really lovely! Definitely would recommend you try some if you visit. Most restaurants you could get a bottle for €20-25 as the cheapest which isn’t too bad.
People say Venice is expensive, but I thought the drinks were wonderfully cheap and would happily swap £6 London pints for €3 aperol spritz any day!
Get lost in the back streets
So many people say this is the best thing to do and to be honest they are right. We lost what there was of crowds by leaving the main shopping area and tourist sites completely. At times it was like we had Venice all to ourselves. Everything was photo worthy! I will come back to this on another Venice post as there were just so many beautiful spots!
And there is my recommendations of the best things to do in Venice!
If you want to hear more about our experience in Venice you will soon be able to check out my other posts which I will be working on over the coming weeks!