I blame “The Thief Lord” for my obsession with Venice.
Cornelia Funke was one of my favorite authors as a young girl (remember “Inkheart”?). When I was in high school, my best friend introduced me to the movie and in our boy-crazed teenage years we were all about Scipio and his creepy black masquerade mask and Prosper and his shaggy hair (“Stubble…unbelievable…”). Years of drinking in the beautiful imagery of the book and movie, as well as great memories of dreaming with my friends of one day visiting this magical city made the short time we had there feel totally surreal!
We arrived late in the afternoon on a rainy day, and as soon as we walked out of the train station, I stopped in my tracks and my jaw just dropped. Venezia was everything I’d ever imagined it to be! Taxi’s, gondolas, and mail boats cruising down the Grand Canal, Venetian palaces and buildings with balconies and colorful shutters and stairs covered in green moss that led right down into the water. It was like a scene out of “The Tourist” (“You look ravenous.”)!
We took a boat that cruised down the Grand Canal and around the outside of the city on the lagoon before dropping us off right at the back dock of our hotel! Where else can you have an experience like that?! We stayed in a really quiet, residential area the first night, and then at a hotel close to the Bridge of Sighs for our second night. We definitely recommend staying somewhere off the beaten path! Some friends of ours stayed at an Air BnB on Murano and absolutely loved it. Venice is totally walkable, and we were the only people on some of the narrow streets that first night, enjoying gelato from Grom while we walked in the rain. We appreciated the peace even more once we’d experienced the insanity of St. Mark’s square the following day.
The next day after a breakfast of the most incredible, melt in your mouth, apricot filled, buttery croissant from a bakery we stumbled upon and could never find again, we set out to explore two of Venice’s tiny island neighbors: Murano and Burano!
Getting Around Venice:
You have two options when it comes to getting around Venice: walk, or take the water bus! Make sure you validate physical bus tickets and give yourself at least an hour or two to take the water bus to the train station when you’re leaving Venice. We learned the hard way and missed our bus and train! Before you head out for the day, check the bus routes to find the fastest way to get to where you want to go. We discovered that walking is sometimes much faster and lends itself to the most fun experiences winding through the narrow canals and getting lost along the way!
To get to Murano and Burano from the main island on the bus, take line 4.1 or 4.2 to Murano, then line 12 to Burano. We took the bus from San Marco, which turned out to be the very long, but very scenic route. Once we’d reached the last bus stop in Venice, we realized we could have just walked across the city and taken the F. Nove stop out to the islands, which would have saved us a whole lot of time on the bus! I’d plan on setting aside 4-5 hours to see both islands.
We were famished by the time we got to Murano and totally devoured some pizza before strolling around the little island. We meandered through shops and would have enjoyed them more if we’d not been so focused on trying not to sneeze or make any sudden movements for fear of breaking any of the incredibly intricate glass objects on the shelves and having to sell our home to pay for the damage.
We made our way over to Burano, which was just as darling as we’d heard it would be! The colorful little buildings with laundry hanging on the line were so picturesque. We grabbed a gelato, took pictures, admired ladies crafting beautiful Burano lace and soaked in the sunshine before taking the bus back to Venice.
Get Your Gondola On
We had to. Is it expensive? Yes. Worth it? ABSOLUTELY! Gliding through the dark water of those back alleyways and under bridges was like the Pirates of the Caribbean ride in real life. By far one of our favorite parts of the trip! Our friend advised us to hire a gondolier in the small alleyways and canals far away from the grand canal in order to have a more authentic experience. We talked to a few different gondoliers and asked them what their route was before choosing our ride. Find someone personable and nice! It costs about 80 Euros before 6:00 pm, and €100 or more after 6:00, and you have to pay your gondolier in cash! Just MAGICAL!
Ponte de Rialto:
Another spot you can’t miss is the beautiful Rialto Bridge! It’s one of the oldest bridges in Venice, and the view of the Grand Canal is spectacular. It was so surreal watching the boats buzz by all of the tourist laden gondolas, steered by those iconic gondoliers in their striped shirts. You can also visit the nearby Rialto Market to grab something to eat!
San Marco Square:
While in Venice you have to experience the magic of St. Mark’s Square! You can visit the Basilica di San Marco, feed some pigeons, and take the elevator to the top of Campanile di San Marco – the tower across from the church for an amazing view of Venice from above! It cost us about €8 and we did it in the evening, so there was no line! I’d recommend going really early in the morning as well as at night to see the square. It is just SO BUSY midday, but once the tourist boats have jetted off, you can listen to live bands playing at the restaurants on the square and enjoy the romance!
I also had my favorite chocolate gelato on the trip at Venchi. That place is a chocolate lover’s DREAM! I loved their “cuor di cacao” flavor and we bought chocolate to take home with us!
Though we’ve heard mixed reviews about visiting Venice and complaints about it being too “touristy”, I found it to be just as amazing as I’d hoped it would be! Sure, during the day it gets pretty crowded, but if you’ve ever been to Disneyland it really doesn’t feel too different. Exploring in the early morning and evening hours you feel transported back in time to an era of palaces and balls, magic and mystery!