Length of stay: 2 days
Visited: August 2022
Venice is located in northern Italy and is commonly referred to as the floating city, the city of canals and the city of water. It was built on 117 small islands in the Adriatic Sea and is connected by 150 canals and 391 bridges. Instead of cars and bikes, there are only pedestrians, small boats and gondolas. In addition to its waterways and beautiful bridges, Venice is also famous for its architecture and art.
Day 1: Canals and Art
After spending the past few days in the Tuscan countryside, it was time to head back to the city. We dropped our rental car off in Florence and took the train into Venice. We arrived early in the evening and were immediately amazed at just how charming the city is with all the canals. Now we just needed to lug our suitcase across a few of these bridges.
The next morning we slept in later than usual, which worked out well as it was lightly raining outside. By the time we finished eating breakfast and were heading out, the clouds were just starting to clear. We walked through the maze of streets and narrow alleyways, passed several canals and crossed many bridges.
We started off at the Santa Maria della Salute, which is one of the most iconic and photographed churches in Venice. It was built to commemorate the end of the plague that began in 1630. Much of the facade outside, however, had scaffolding and was under construction, so we couldn’t admire its full beauty. While entrance into the church is free, we paid a few euros to take a “guided tour” up to the top of the dome, which really just consisted of some guy who walked up the stairs in front of us, opened the doors and waited for us to finish before escorting us back down. At least the views from the roof were stunning.
We then went to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, which showcases Peggy Guggenheim’s personal art collection in her former house. The collection includes a lot of modern art that’s considered important from the 20th century. Modern art really isn’t my thing, so many of the exhibits were lost on me. But we certainly had a lot of fun discussing what is considered art.
From there we headed to St. Mark’s Square to visit the Doge’s Palace, which once held public offices, contained a secret prison and served as the residence of the Doge of Venice, who was the elected leader of the former Venetian republic. We had booked tickets in advance for the Secret Itineraries Tour, but we were required to print our voucher in advance. We found a shop along the way to print them out. Our tour allowed us to skip the long line that was wrapped around the building. We still had to go to the ticket counter to trade in our voucher for our tickets and to collect a special sticker for our tour.
The Secret Itineraries Tour included a guided tour through some of the hidden parts of the Doge’s Palace, which include narrow passageways and prison cells. We started in the courtyard to admire the beautiful facade of the building and all the marble decorations. From there our guide opened up a locked door on the ground floor which leads to the first series of prison cells, which are referred to as the Wells. Conditions here were rough as the ceilings were low, the ventilation was poor and the cells were often flooded when the tide was high. Prisoners who were found guilty of the more serious crimes were locked up here.
We continued through the series of narrow staircases and passageways, passing a series of public offices, archives (which once held secret documents relating to the work of the Venetian courts), the Chamber of Torment (where interrogations were held, which often involved some form of torture) and the Leads (the second series of prison cells with far better conditions for the wealthy criminals or those convicted of minor crimes). As part of our tour, we got to peak inside the cell that was once occupied by Casanova, who managed to successfully escape from the prison.
As part of our tour, we also crossed the Bridge of Sighs, which was built to connect the Doge’s Palace with a new prison that was constructed on the other side of the canal. The bridge’s name refers to the sighs drawn by prisoners as they crossed the bridge from their trial on the way to their prison cells, catching one last glimpse of the outside world through the tiny windows.
Our tour ended at the golden staircase, which leads to the other, fancier side of the palace. We passed through the Doge’s Apartments and institutional chambers. There were signs along the way to explain the significance and purpose of each room. While many of the rooms didn’t have any furnishings, the ceilings and walls were elaborately designed and decorated. We also passed through the armoury and the new prison.
After taking a break to eat a late lunch, we visited the Gallerie dell’Accademia, which contains a collection of Venetian art from the 14th to 19th centuries.
From there, we meandered through the narrow streets back to our accommodations for the evening.
Day 2: St. Mark’s Square
As per usual, we headed out early in the morning to go for a stroll when the city was still quiet and the temperature was more comfortable. We crossed the Rialto Bridge, the oldest of the four bridges that cross the Grand Canal.
We made our way towards St. Mark’s Square and crossed a few more beautiful bridges and scenic canals. We also passed the Santa Maria dei Miracoli, which is known as the marble church. We were there a bit too early as it was still closed for the day.
We then went to the Ponte della Paglia, which is reputed to provide the best views of the Bridge of Sighs, which we walked through yesterday as part of the Secret Itineraries Tour of the Doge’s Palace.
We had reserved tickets in advance for St. Mark’s Basilica for the first time slot available. While we had to pay a few more euros to skip the line, it was well worth it considering the line was wrapped around part of the Doge’s Palace by the time we arrived.
St. Mark’s Basilica is the most famous and well-known church in Venice. It is connected to the Doge’s Palace and was once the Doge’s private chapel. Some restoration work was still being done on the exterior of the church when we visited due to a major flood from 2019. The interior of the church was elaborately covered with golden mosaics depicting biblical scenes. We paid a few extra euros to see the Pala d’Oro, a lavishly decorated golden altarpiece, which is covered with nearly 2,000 precious stones.
We had also booked tickets in advance to climb St. Mark’s Campanile, but we had a few minutes to kill before our time slot. We wandered around the square some more and admired the architecture, including the Torre dell’Orologio, which displays the time of day, the dominant sign of the zodiac and the current phase of the moon.
While you can climb the clock tower, we figured we’d get a much better view from the top of St. Mark’s Campanile. The bell tower is just under 100 metres in height and is the tallest structure in Venice. It served as a watchtower and to guide Venetian ships safely into harbour. Today, you can take an elevator to the top to admire a panoramic view of the city. Since we had reserved our tickets in advance, we didn’t have to wait long for the elevator to whisk us to the top. While the views from above were fantastic, it was a bit too overcrowded for our liking. We typically had to wait a few minutes at each window for our turn to take a picture. We then had to wait in another line to catch the elevator back down.
At this point we were getting hungry, so we walked back to our accommodations for lunch and picked something up from the grocery store on the way. We headed out later in the afternoon to do more exploring, starting with the Ca’Rezzonico, a museum that features a collection of art, furnishings and various objects from the 18th century.
Afterwards we went to the Teatro La Fenice, a famous opera house in Venice. We were provided with an audio-guide and took a self-guided tour through the building to learn more about its history. Its name means “phoenix in English” in reference to it being reconstructed twice (or being born again from its own ashes) following a fire in 1836 and 1996.
It was then time to eat dinner. We went for another stroll around the city to soak in the views, enjoy the cooler temperatures and burn off the calories from all the pasta and pizza we’ve been consuming.