Should you even try to visit Venice? It’s famously overcrowded, heaving under a mass of tourists that are literally and figuratively causing The Floating City to sink under their weight.
Local residents are pushed out of their homes as properties are constantly converted to AirBnB rentals. Passing cruise ships rattle the foundations of buildings along the Grand Canal, then pour thousands more visitors per day onto Venice’s narrow, already clogged-streets.
Oppressive crowds. Long lines. Disenfranchised residents.
But also…staggering beauty. A deeply exotic, Byzantine vibe. Small moments that couldn’t happen anywhere else in the world.
So, should you or shouldn’t you fight the crowds and the negative buzz to carve out 48 hours of bliss in Venice?
VENICE PACKING EDIT
The answer is a qualified “YES.” To do Venice right, you need a plan, and if circumstances allow, a budget large enough to help insulate you from some of the more frustrating aspects of visiting La Serenissima. But the good news is that travellers willing to stray from the tourist-trodden path can still be rewarded with a side of Venice that is earthy, intimate and authentic.
The secret to a memorable weekend in Venice is to find a tranquil place to stay and cocoon yourself from the crowds, be willing to wander into the city’s quieter districts, and spend a few extra euros on exclusive experiences.
If you decide to dive into the zoo of humanity that is Piazza San Marco and do some major sightseeing, the Doge’s Palace and Basilica di San Marco will likely be on your list. The former is the resplendent historic home and governing seat of the Doge of Venice, whose role was essentially a cross between monarch and magistrate. To understand the complicated history of Venice, get a behind-the-scenes look at the palace workings as well as its much-dreaded—and now, fortunately, vacant—prison, and (maybe the best part?), skip the long queue at the entrance, reserve well in advance.
Your next stop should be next door to Basilica San Marco, quite possibly one of the most stunning buildings in the western world. Avoid the long-lines, and get a lot more out of your time spent in the basilica with a private, small-group tour. Book Venice Walking & Boat Tour from The Roman Guy and start with the dazzling gold mosaics of San Marco, followed by an hour-long boat ride, 007-style, in a private water taxi, an experience that was much more relaxed and informative than a 20-minute gondola ride from a disinterested gondolier.
Art lovers should not miss the quiet sanctuary of modern art that is the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. New York-born heiress Guggenheim was one of the most important collectors of 20th Century art, and she championed the works of Marcel Duchamp, Joan Miro, Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock and many others. In her serene palazzo and sculpture garden, stand face-to-face with some of the most significant works of the 20th century, with an intimacy seldom afforded at larger museums.
Drinking & Dining
Here’s a news flash: It’s easy to eat badly in Venice and spend a sh*tload of euros doing so. A quick remedy to this problem is firstly to get away from the San Marco area and secondly, opt for a dinner of cicchetti in one of the city’s many simple, rustic bacari, or wine bars.
Cicchetti typically cost as little as a euro or two per plate and you can order just a few at a time. At earthy, historic Cantina Do Spade, we chilled out, drank wine and ordered several rounds of cicchetti, to the tune of about €60 euro, definitely our least expensive and most satisfying meal in the city.
For a culinary adventure where the journey is almost as memorable as the cuisine, book lunch or dinner at Venissa Wine Resort, located on the tiny island of Mazzorbo in the northern reaches of the Venetian Lagoon. The Michelin-starred restaurant offers private boat service from Venice, wine tasting of their bespoke wines and a 7-course lunch or dinner for €175 per person.
Where to Stay
Palazzo Morosini degli Spezieri
While Venice has a glut of AirBnB-style lodgings, some of them quite posh, I still prefer some of the comforts of a hotel. Palazzo Morosini degli Spezieri in the San Polo neighbourhood offers the best of both, with lodging in one of nine spacious, luxury apartments in a 15th-century palace formerly tied to Venice’s spice (spezieri) trade.
The apartments, each named after a spice, have cool colour palettes and plush, ultra-modern décor that is offset by more antique features, such as lofty wood-beam ceilings, stone fireplaces and Murano chandeliers. The airy units have full kitchens should you decide to cook in—or just use the fridge to keep your complimentary bottle of prosecco chilled between pours. Most apartments have views of the Rio di San Polo canal, and there’s a shady, perfectly private canalside garden open to all guests.
Rather than being met with the keys and then left to figure everything out on your own (as is the case with so many short-term holiday rentals), Palazzo Morosini degli Spezieri offers on-site management that is either present at the reception desk or a phone call away, plus an innovative e-concierge, which allows you to books services, make dinner reservation and access a wealth of insider-y travel tips. The focus here is on slow travel, and the Palazzo’s thorough area guide refers guests to the city’s out-of-the-way piazzas, quieter neighbourhoods and lesser-known restaurants.
Our apartment had a small balcony where it was quite tempting to linger. Perched there in the early evening, aforementioned proseccos in hand, watching gondolas and delivery boats ply the narrow canal, listening to the steady clack-clack of rolling suitcases offset by pealing church bells, and all bathed in golden, ethereal light… well, you can see why we were in no hurry to move from our little slice of Venetian heaven.
If a full-service hotel is more to your liking, Venice has no shortage of choices. Recently expanded to include 12 new designer suites, Splendid Venice from Italian luxury hoteliers Starhotels Collezione remains a chic and polished favourite.
Among the city’s bajillions of 3-star hotels, Hotel Flora is a stand-out for its cosy, familial feel, and its far-from-the-madding-crowds vibe despite being set smack in the heart of the San Marco area.