A short visit…
To help with what follows I made a location map – you will need to get a better one, but bear in mind that navigation in Venice is conducted by sense, the stars and the occasional land mark rather than anything else; direction signs are few, and when they exist are often vague.
Don’t let the 500 m line on the map fool you, true distances are often greater due to the amount of wiggling alleyways and missed turns; not forgetting the tide of humanity which will probably be coming the other way. The good news is, it’s hard to get truly lost – just keep going and you will end up somewhere you can get your bearings.
If you arrive by air there are 2 main options: Marco Polo Airport (Venice’s ‘real’ airport) and the slightly more distant Treviso (which budget airlines refer to as Venice Treviso). From either airport there are coach transfers (or taxi) to Venice, but Marco Polo offers a few more options: water taxi (speedboat) and water bus; given the setting what could be more appropriate?
A taxi transfer (July 2012) is about €110 (for 4 persons) and the water bus is about €25 return per person, exact price depends on when and how you book – details here. There are several routes depending on which part of town you need, allow at least an hour from the city to the airport, some routes may take longer due to the number of stops.
For either of the water options just walk to the airport wharf: left out of the arrivals hall – about 400m (past all the signs explaining why they don’t have a people mover on the journey you are making due to Italian bureaucratic shenanigans).
Two to three days is enough to get the flavour of Venice – and for most people this is plenty of time; many visit for only a few hours, coming in from the Lido, mainland Italy, Cruise ships or even Croatia. On a short visit just about everything you will want to see is within the triangle created by Rialto Bridge, St Mark’s Sq and the Academia Bridge. Really quite a small part of the whole – and consequently very busy…
The streets and alleyways within the triangle are packed all day with swarms of tourists (there is no other word in this situation) and everything that is needed to service their needs: restaurants, snack bars, Venetian Mask shops (stock usually made in the Far East) and of course glass shops. There are also a few top end clothes shops and some leather goods retailers.
Prices are at a premium in this area and the restaurants are viewed by many reviewers as the worst in Italy… This seems a little harsh, but you can see some real food factories designed to accommodate groups of 50 and more – fed and watered as quickly as possible. There are some that are perfectly fine as well – just check the menu before you go in. Some recommendation sites have a backlash against ‘Tourist Menus’ or menu of the day offers – I have never understood this, set menus can often give you the freshest produce at a good price and it can even be served faster – ideal if you have a busy day and don’t want to sit around for hours.
I will recommend one restaurant in the ‘triangle’:
Al Conte Pescador. S Marco – S Zulian 544. About half way between Rialto and San Marco. Set lunch for €20.
DO check prices before you order, and watch out for items (usually fish) sold by weight, the price quoted will be per 100g. Many years ago (in the early 1990’s) I went to a restaurant in this area, and for a very simple meal – pasta and salad basically – got a bill for just over a quarter of a million Lire… a bill of this size was heart stopping even when translated to Sterling – just over £100 at the time.
Other recommendations nearby: just north of the Rialto Bridge is a small square. On the right hand side there are some tiny restaurants with outside terraces facing the Grand Canal – at least 2 of these have exceptional food – with unusual flavourings, go see…
If you want to buy some souvenirs, north of Rialto is a good place to look – only a few hundred yards north of the bridge the streets are much less hectic and prices drop by as much as 50%.
Getting around: on foot is the main way, but if you want to jump across town you can get a water taxi or use the Vaporetto. The main Vaporetto is the number 1 which does the Grand Canal from the station to St Mark’s. You should try this at least once as it gives a different perspective of the city – and it can save you time despite the fact it seems slow with the frequent docking and starting out again. The Vaporettos are quite expensive €7 for a single trip, but day and multi day passes are available – despite the price they can get busy.
On this visit I stayed near Academia Bridge, there is a large square just to the east of the bridge (Campiello Morosini) with several restaurants and sandwich bars, its not too hectic here and so is a good place for people watching and relaxing generally.
The sandwich bars across town offer very good value for lunch and many have seating areas as well as the bar counter; Italians tend to use these as fuelling stops and you will see locals charge in, order, receive and drink a coffee in under 90 seconds – even when it’s busy.
In an attempt to get away from the crowds – and having been in the busiest parts of town for most of the day times – I spent most evenings on the west side of the Academia bridge. Again, only a few hundred yards away the atmosphere is completely different and much calmer.
The area between Academia and the University has lots of restaurants and outside areas that feel much more local – you will not be the only tourist, but it feels more ‘normal’.
Main roads to look out for in this area are: Calle della Toletta and Calle Lunga San Barnaba. At the end of Calle Lunga San Barnaba is a small square with the Church and a couple of bars, this is the square used in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (the part where they escape from the library cellars and re emerge in the square).
3 restaurant recommendations in the area:
Bar de Maravegie – Calle della Toletta, Dorsoduro 1185. Tel: (+39) 041. 523 5768.
L’Osteria San Barnaba – Calle Lunga San Barnaba, Dorsoduro 2736. Tel: (+39) 041 521 2754.
La Profeta – Calle Lunga San Barnaba, Dorsoduro 2671. Tel: (+39) 041 523 7466. Pizzas as well as wider selection, garden area – so good on warn evenings.
There are lots of bars in the area and along the waterfront (facing Giudecca) there are terraces serving drinks – good at sunset. The prices in this area are up to 50% less than in the ‘triangle’.
Academia Bridge padlocks; what probably started as a charming gesture has now become an industry; you and your beloved write your names on a padlock, attach it to the bridge and throw the key in to the canal – it remains there forever as a symbol or your everlasting etc etc…
There are plenty of lock salesmen on the bridge and I have no idea how long they last before the scrap dealers come along…
So there we have it – very quick update and not even covered the main sights, but I hope enough to provide a flavour and a few tips. Venice is best for short visits, it can be very hectic in the day, but it is not a party town and many bars and restaurants close by 10 pm or even earlier. More details to be filled in: another visit required – soon I hope…