Venice has always been on my to do list. The canals, the culture, the food all seemed like a must see.
Life with two young children means that our last city break was some time ago. But when it came to marking our 10 year wedding anniversary, we decided Venice would be our place to go.
We booked our inclusive holiday through Expedia. We flew from Bristol to Marco Polo. We booked our holiday last October, a few weeks before the flights between Cardiff and Venice were announced.
After researching hotels, we decided to go for the Hotel Ai Reali, a 4 star hotel in a former Venetian palace. Close to the Rialto, and a five-minute walk from the tourist hot spot St Mark’s Square (Piazza San Marco), it felt like a great spot.
When we arrived, the hotel was immaculate with helpful staff who gave us key information (checking first if we wanted to find out the information then or after we’d got to our room and settled in) and a map. It helped us relax quickly.
We stayed in a comfort room and were greeted with lovely little comforts including bathrobes, chocolates and bottled water (just the ticket after a long journey).
The room was sparkling clean and included nice toiletries and free WiFi. Our stay included a breakfast buffet, which offered a huge variety of delicious food from pancakes to meats to croissants.
The hotel’s Alla Corrone restaurant and bar were highly rated and we enjoyed a few drinks in the relaxing bar most evenings with entertainment from a pianist on set evenings.
The staff were knowledgeable and attentive, helping us make the most of our stay.
We booked a transfer bus between Marco Polo Airport and Venice using ATVO via Expedia. Costing less than £30 for a return for the both of us, it’s a 20 minute coach ride from the airport and runs 24 hours a day.
The bus stops at Piazza San Roma. From there we bought a three-day ACTV water boat pass for €40 each. This 72-hour pass gave us unlimited access to Venice’s water bus system making it an affordable way to explore Venice and the surrounding islands.
View from the water bus
There are other options including water taxi, but this is expensive and the costs soon add up with additional costs for bags etc.
Tip Check which direction your water bus is travelling. It works like the Tube with buses going in opposite direction. We discovered this after accidentally getting the water bus in the wrong direction on our first journey. Oops!
Things to do
Murano glass is world famous for its unique craftsmanship which has been honed for centuries.
Our hotel offered a complementary water taxi to Murano, which took us direct to the Bisanzio glass workshop and gallery.
An entire wall is decorated with photographs of distinguished or celebrity visitors from Sting to Sylvester Stallone to Jennifer Garner.
While there, our guides talked us through the history and how the Murano glass is made. We also saw one of the artists create a glass black horse, which was so skilful.
The 16 rooms of the gallery featured a fantastic array of glass from mirrors to chandeliers to birds.
As you can imagine, prices for Murano glass are incredibly expensive. As we were leaving, we heard a couple ask the price of six glasses, which were around €1,100.
We then explored the streets and shops of Murano, which were picturesque. Even most of the door numbers and bells had a reference to the glass.
A short distance from Murano is the island of Burano, famed for its lace and houses of all colours.
We caught the number 12 water bus from Murano to the island to explore and enjoy a spot of lunch. It’s a small island filled with houses, small shops and eateries. The colours were stunning.
We enjoyed a delicious lunch of Diavalo pizzas (€10 each) at the Principe overlooking the canal. It was glorious.
Well worth a visit.
Tip You can book trips to Murano and Burano in advance of your holiday starting at around €17 per person. We enjoyed traveling by water bus as we could travel at our own pace and it was cheaper.
Our hotel was close to the Rialto and its famous bridge so we enjoyed exploring the area.
It’s bustling and one of many popular spots to catch a gondola ride. We bought a private ride from an official stand for €80 for both of us.
It was so tranquil gliding through Venice’s canals, navigating narrow spaces that don’t seem possible. It gave us view of Venice that weren’t possible by water bus and was a great part of the Venetian experience.
6. St Mark’s Square (Piazza San Marco)
When we spoke to anyone about visiting Venice, they all agreed a visit to St Mark’s Square was essential.
It is one of Venice’s most famous spots and bustles with tourists from the early hours offering spectacular architecture dating back centuries.
We enjoyed strolling around it and the surrounding areas, browsing in spectacular shops and eating delicious gelato.
We returned at night and found it magical with its columns of lights and live classical music.
7. Doge’s Palace
The Doge’s Palace is steeped in Venetian history and was the home of the Venetian government for centuries.
As it is one of the most popular places to visit, I booked our skip the line ticket to the palace and a guided tour in advance of our holiday for around £37 per person.
This worked well as we avoided the long queues and had a knowledgeable guide who ensured we learned so much about the palace’s fascinating history and artwork and the best spots for great views and photographs.
We crossed the Bridge of Sighs and explored the former prison.
Its pretty marble exterior masks what it’s like inside, a narrow dark tunnel which made escape impossible for Venetian prisoners.
The Bridge of Sighs
The palace’s artwork and decor were nothing short of stunning. With our guide’s help, we enjoyed the vivid colours of Veronase, the gold leaf foliage and the artistic illusion of 3D painting.
We climbed opulent staircases, experienced the grandeur of the 150ft hall and felt the smallness of the former prison cells.
We discovered why Napoleon removed artworks and sculptures and were shown a painting in which the artist painted the wrong leg.
A must see.
Tip Backpacks and large bags are not permitted inside the palace so you will need to leave them at the cloakroom or just leave them at the hotel.
8. St Mark’s Basilica
From inside the Doge’s palace, you can see the five domes of St Mark’s Basilica, one of the most striking buildings in St Mark’s Square.
This opulent building is a Catholic Church and you can tour it for free observing the rules of silence and no photography.
Decorated beautifully, its incredible height and colours are a sight to be seen.
We paid €5 each to enter the museum upstairs, which leads to a brilliant exhibition about the church’s history. It also leads to its balcony, which offers awesome views across the square and surrounding areas.
Unsurprisingly, queues for the Basilica are lengthy with people queuing in the early hours of the day. We visited at around 2pm and found it much quieter than it was in the morning.
You can buy skip the line tickets for just €3 per person if you wish to.
9. Museum Correr
If you’ve bought a ticket to the Doge’s Palace, you can access 11 Venice museums for free without any queues.
Tucked into a corner of St Mark’s Square, you’ll find the Museum Correr. Our ticket to the Doge’s Palace gave us free entry to the museum, which includes lavish rooms, sculptures, books and artworks telling Venice’s history.
We visited the cafe for a soft drink after our tour. At €4 each it was pretty pricy, but it gave us gorgeous views across the square to the Basilica.
Over to you
So there are my top tips for places to visit in Venice. What are yours? I’d love to know.