1 – Ride in a Gondola
Reclining in a glossy back gondola lined with scarlet trim, drifting through the twisting, narrow Venetian canals and watching the city go by…it’s experiences like this that make us dream of holidays.
Almost every tourist there will want to do the same thing, but that shouldn’t matter. Once you’re on board, ask your gondolier to take you to the quiet streets, away from the crowds.
Travel agents and tour operators may try to sell you a “gondola package” in advance – often sharing with strangers and joining a convoy. If you’d rather be on your own, simply wander along the quieter streets until you see an empty gondola and hail it as you would a taxi. Check the price before you get in and don’t expect it to be cheap.
2 – Eat Ice Cream – gelato
Either buy two scoops in a cone and walk away or pull up a seat in a gelateria and order as you would a drink in a café. Enjoy the range of flavours – and the low cost.
3 – St Mark’s Square – Piazza & Basilica di San Marco
Visit this iconic square in the glow of sunrise or sunset – and then get out. By day, tourists stifle the space and the nearby restaurants are as expensive and average as you can expect.
4 – Gaze at the Bridge of Sighs
This covered limestone walkway connects the old prison to the Doge’s Palace and earned its nickname from Lord Byron in the 19th century. He imagined convicts taking their final look over Venice from behind its bars before heading for incarceration.
The Bridge of Sighs – the Ponte dei Sospiri – hangs high above the water, making it look smaller than I had imagined from the classic postcard image. It’s still a must-see, however, for free from the Ponte della Paglia.
5 – Watch the Grand Canal’s Traffic Go By
The Rialto Bridge – solid, sturdy and complete with its own souvenir stalls – offers one of the best views of the broad and busy expanse that is the Canal Grande. Watch the public transport barges plod along, the professional waiters swoop and swerve at the water’s edge, and expert gondoliers negotiate their way into their sliver of docking space.
The restaurants that flank the bridge are not cheap, but they do serve delicious food by candlelight, with surely one of the most romantic views in the world.
6 – Listen to The Four Seasons
Classical music whispers through the canals of Venice, with the city’s son Antonio Vivaldi, leading the chorus. Plenty of brief concerts, which usually include his most famous work – The Four Seasons, take place each evening in stately buildings and theatres across Venice.
Venetian glass reigned supreme for its colours and original design, until the industrial revolution priced hand-made glass out of the market, . The glass actually comes from Murano – one of Venice’s satellite islands – but there’s no shortage of glass boutiques in Venice. Explore the different versions of taste – from monochrome glass-bead necklaces to life-size parrot statues.
8 – Eat black spaghetti
Cuttlefish ink – which stains food purply-black – is a popular ingredient here – decorating both risotto and spaghetti. Choose spaghetti al nero di seppie from the menu.
9 – Wear a Venetian mask
These ornate – and slightly spooky – creations represent another venetian tradition that reaches back over the centuries. Designed for the Carnevale, a festival that dances across the two weeks leading up to Ash Wednesday every year, venetian masks flash their frozen smiles at you across the city.
10 – Wander around – and get lost
Venice includes 117 small islands, uses approximately 150 canals and has more than 400 bridges. Yet the compact, atmospheric nature of the city makes walking the best way of getting around. You’ll find all the “best” things, this way. Restaurants you like, ice cream, souvenir shops and that elusive Venetian experience – peace and quiet.