Arriving in Venice was like a dream come true. After a quick water shuttle/taxi (compliments of our hotel), we arrived on the island of Murano. On the day we arrived, Venice was experiencing unusually high tides so it was only fitting that the hotel concierge greeted us with “welcome to water world” and we were given gumboots to wade our way through the water to reception.
From Marco Polo airport you have various options to reach the centre of town, roughly 12 km away. You can either go via lagoon or by bus. Whatever route you decide, you can buy tickets at the airport. The ATVO shuttle bus no 25 Marco Polo Venezia or airport shuttle is direct and goes to Piazzale Roma. ACTV bus no 5 provides the same service but with more frequent stops. Another option is to take a taxi, which are parked directly outside the exit. Taxis are a wonderful way to experience a water crossing – you can get a taxi-boat or motoscafo however, this is a slightly more expensive option and can be around 100 Euro per trip. The final option is the waterbus connecting the airport to Venice and the surrounding islands. The departure area lies behind the airport terminal. Most hotels offer an airport shuttle service which is definitely a plus, so enquire with your hotel to pre-arrange this. For more information visit the airport website (www.veniceairport.it).
Our hotel was truly exquisite – modern and clean with spacious rooms. We managed to grab a brilliant deal with BA holidays, which included 3 nights at LaGare Hotel Venezia. The hotel is one of the few hotels on Murano – an island famous for glass blowing. I would highly recommend this hotel- it had probably one of the nicest rooms we’ve stayed in and coming back to a quiet island in Venice after a busy day was wonderful. I can imagine there would be pros to staying somewhere more central with a bit more variety and easier access to bars and restaurants so it depends on your preference. Daily shuttles were offered to and from Venice so every day you could choose times to suit and could avoid the slower and busier public water buses. We often snagged the shuttle to ourselves and travelled across the water in style at no extra cost.
On day one we decided to visit San Marco Square first as we knew this would get crowded as the day went on. San Marco Square is home to Basilica di San Marco. We didn’t go inside but if you plan to, it is recommended to buy tickets online in advance. We wandered around San Marco Square – a cultural and historical centre and home to cafes and restaurants of the rich and famous, like Café Florian established in 1720 and still the oldest café in the world. St Mark’s square also gives you a wonderful view of Doge’s Palace, one of the main landmarks of the city.
From here we wandered the narrow walkways of Venice making our way to Rialto Bridge – the oldest bridge across the canal. Walking the streets you become acquainted with the quintessential Venice with gondolas around every corner. Venice is one of those places where reality matches the postcards and it truly is a majestic city. It wasn’t long before I simply couldn’t resist a gondola ride any longer and the whole experience felt surreal. Our guide was very knowledgeable, pointing out famous sites and houses and when he was tired of talking, he serenaded us as we floated peacefully along wandering the waterways.
There are other ways to see Venice from the water – you can hire a private motorboat/taxi accompanied by champagne and all the frills and you will probably see a lot more in your timeframe – but being a romantic, I couldn’t leave Venice without a traditional gondola ride. There are various gondola stations where you can board, you don’t need to pre-book and these are usually marked off on most tourist maps.
We disembarked near Rialto Bridge and found a perfect spot for lunch, Antico Forno near the waters edge. We settled on pasta, pizza and our first Venetian spritz. Rialto Bridge is very close to the Rialto market, a bustling spot overflowing with local seafood and seasonal produce. Unfortunately we missed most of the market as it is closed on Sundays and the fish market is also closed on Mondays but if you happen to catch it, this is an ideal spot for an inexpensive and authentic dinner.
From Rialto Bridge and the San Polo neighbourhood, we caught the water bus or Vaporetto along the Grand Canal. Venice is made up of more than 100 islands and the water buses are the equivalent to the public transport of any major city. While Venice is a small city, there were times when it was easier to hop on a water bus to get somewhere. All you have to do is look for the many ACTVA stops and board. You can buy a tourist travel card from any ticket booth or at the ticket machines for a single ticket to a 7 day ticket. For more information use this link.
Cicchetti’s are native to Venice (otherwise known as Venetian tapas) and the area around Rialto in San Polo neighbourhood is also best for this. This starts from around 4pm as locals hop from one bar to the next into the evening. We found the perfect spot at Osteria Bancogiro and sitting by the window, not far from where we had lunch we watched the romance of Venice pass us by. While we acclimatised to Venice and it’s charm (despite the rain), I had a bar in mind that I wanted to visit. Harry’s bar is known for its history and famous frequenters, more notable customers being Ernest Hemingway, Alfred Hitchcock and Charlie Chaplin. Harry’s bar is home to the Bellini and while these days it is a bit touristy and over priced, I was happy to have sipped my Bellini in the footsteps of some of the greats. Another memorable spot we found was Al Vecio Marangon tucked into a quiet alleyway with stylish decor and cosy nooks.
That evening we had dinner on Murano. Equipped with our gumboots due to the high tide again, we settled on Osteria al Duomo pizzeria. Murano doesn’t have a wide variety of restaurants but we had heard guests in our hotel talk about this spot so we thought we’d give it a try. It doesn’t look like much from the entrance but the staff lead you through to the seating area overflowing with tables and resonating a wonderfully friendly atmosphere. Phil had a delicious and home-style pizza while I went for Spaghetti con le Vongole (clam pasta) that is one of the most famous dishes of Venice.
The next day we decided to explore a bit more of Murano, famous for it’s glass blowing. We didn’t have a tour booked for this and I would maybe recommend this because by doing it ourselves, we found it a bit difficult to find the more authentic and less touristy spots. There was a time when glass blowing was an elite pursuit and Murano was most notable for this. Most of the shops on the island sell beautiful glass pieces that you can appreciate for their historic, artistic and sentimental value but you must be careful of counterfeits. Murano is only a 10 minute water bus ride from Venice, so I would definitely recommend adding this to your list and the glass museums and churches on the island are also worth visiting.
Our next stop was Burano. This island is 40 minutes from Venice and you can opt for a tour, which includes a visit to both, or do this yourself via water bus. Whilst Murano is famous for glass, Burano is famous for lace and you can still see lace being made in its traditional manner on the island. Burano is also known for its brightly coloured houses and to me this was an absolute highlight and makes for one of the most picturesque places I’ve been to, ever. Unfortunately as we got off our water bus, the rain poured down so we ducked into a nearby café and shared a delicious pizza (why not). Another recommendation for restaurants is Al Gatto Nero da Ruggero for pasta made in-house and delicious fish dishes. I’ve heard that the food on Burano is some of the best Venice has to offer so it’s worth planning a lunch stop here.
The island retains its authenticity and you can still find local fisherman on their boats heading out for the day and local woman peering from their windows. I think to see Burano on a beautiful day must be breathtaking and this unique and beautiful island is a must-see. The two islands together make a fantastic day trip or half a day trip with one waterbus line, the 12, running from Venice to Burano (and you can get off on Murano too).
That night we ate dinner on Murano again at restaurant Osteria Acqua Stanca. This stylish restaurant is an absolute gem and I would highly recommend it even just for a coffee if you are visiting the island. With hearty portions and unique combinations along with the beautiful setting, this was a perfect spot to spend our last night in Venice. The next morning I was set to depart before Phil and as he waved me off from the jetty, with me sitting in my own private water taxi – I couldn’t help but feel like I was on a movie set and this was Venice, the stuff of dreams – a place so unique I know I will remember it forever.
For more inspiration and for restaurant recommendations read New York Times: 36 hours in Venice and Condé Nast, Venice.
“Venice never quite seems real, but rather an ornate film set suspended on the water” – Frida Giannini