On the list of some of the most picturesque cities I’ve been to is Venice, Italy. A couple of days in this sparkling seaside place and you’ll have visual memories you’ll think back on for a lifetime. It is opulent and fancy and decadent and unlike anything I’ve seen. Romantic, definitely, but I also spent time here with girlfriends and loved it just the same.
Venice can easily be done in two days, so it is a great place to stop as part of a larger trip. In my case, the two times I’ve visited Venice, both were on a longer tour of Italy. The island of Venice is relatively small and really at this point seems geared towards travelers but not necessarily a place where a lot of locals live.
Although I’m a planner at heart, my favorite thing to do in Venice is really to see where the winding streets lead me, take in the sights, enjoy the seafood, wine and live music out on the square. For me, this was not a place where I wanted to really do guided tours or have an itinerary, but rather I wanted the time to myself to just soak it all in and walk around with no agenda. It is small enough that it is very easy to take this approach in this city.
Photo Opportunities (this place was made for Instagram)
Take your best camera and just stroll. Piazza San Marco with Bascilica di San Marco, Ponte dei Sospiri (Bridge of Sighs) and the Ponte di Rialto are the most famous landmarks of the island but there are so many cool shots you can get just from wandering the meandering streets.
If you’ve ever heard of the “Magic Hour” or “Golden Hour” in photography, the last hour of sunlight in the day as twilight begins to hit, this is the time to really get some breathtaking shots. The ones you see here were by me with my inexpensive point-and-shoot Olympus many years ago, so you can see it’s hard to go wrong.
The gondola ride, while perhaps a bit cheesy, still offered really pretty views from the water and there is a sparkling quality the water gets later in the day that makes you feel like you’re floating on crystals. You kind of have to do it.
Food and Drink
Venice has a lot of fine dining and a lot of nice spots to dine al fresco. You’ll definitely notice a lot of other European travelers dressed to the nines and out for a nice dinner, so if you feel like getting dressed up and fancy feasting, Venice is a good place for it. High fashion is quite welcome so if you want to test out a new fashion-forward outfit, go for it. Just don’t forget about the cobblestone streets for the shoes.
You’ll also see a lot of places along the water with outdoor seating that allows you to view the main canals, but I honestly would steer away from these for dinner. The few spots I went on the canal had pretty views, but the food wasn’t anything to write home about.
My best advice is to stroll down the winding streets and pick a cool spot with twinkle lights and a small dining area set up outside and just enjoy the outdoors in the narrow alleyways. These made my favorite meals. A bottle of wine, the specials for that night and just a cozy outdoor table and you have yourself a perfect evening. It’s really best to pick a place on a whim that captures your heart when you walk by. That may sound dramatic, but you’ll see what I mean.
Sips and Apps
What are sometimes touted as Venice’s best kept secret are their small, divey spots called bàcari that serve appetizers called cicchetti and wine they call ombre. These local places are usually much more inexpensive and have a more authentic feel to the local culture than the larger restaurants. Keep your eyes peeled around happy hour time and you can get some sips and pop back a few cicchetti to tide you over till a later Italian dinner. Some of these establishments may have maps of the “Bacaro” which will point out other places you can pop in. Some people do this as a sort of bar crawl, but with wine and appetizers and there are even organized food tours to take you if you’d like a guided experience.
After dinner, you can safely (well, at least, I feel safe) wander the streets and duck into little bars or you can go to the big Piazza San Marco where there are usually string quartets or even bigger string ensembles playing romantic music against the backdrop of the lights of the piazza with lots of tables and chairs around and places to sit out with a drink. Some people will get up and dance! It’s a pretty cool experience, even though this is the most touristy part of the island.
Another spot you might check out is the famous Harry’s Bar, a favorite spot of Ernst Hemmingway, whose founder invented the Peach Bellini. The place was not crowded when we went and we had a good chat with the bartenders and learned a bit about life as a Venetian.
That’s about all I can say in words that the pictures don’t tell a hundred times better. So, I’ll let them do the rest of the talking. If you need ideas for other places to visit in Italy (like, if you are hopping from a few different cities, which I recommend!), check out my post that talks about how to approach a multi-city trip in Italy.