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It’s one of the world’s top tourist destinations. Is often called the most romantic place on earth. It’s almost totally a pedestrian city. And has nicknames such as “Queen of the Adriatic", "City of Water", "City of Masks", "City of Bridges", "The Floating City", and "City of Canals”. It is of course, Venice.
As you can see by the size of this paragraph, Venice has a very long history. This is the abridged version (see what we did there?). Officially, the city claims 421 as the date of its establishment, however people had probably been living in the area for a few hundred years before that. Regardless, 421 was chosen as it’s the earliest recorded time of a church being built in the city. Its fortunes have risen and fallen almost as frequently as the tide over the following years. It was a vital centre of trade for the Roman Empire, but really came to prominence after the empire collapsed and the Republic of Venice was formed. Venice became the richest city in the world thanks to its naval power which ruled over much of the Mediterranean. Of course, with its riches came its enemies and over the years the city state lost most of its satellite possessions to the advancing Ottoman Empire. Then came the Black Death. Actually, the Black Death struck Venice three times, in 1348 killing an unknown number of citizens, then again from 1575-1577 in which 50,000 people died. Finally in 1630, a staggering 150,000, one third of the city’s total population, died. Venice lost its power, and independence when Bonaparte arrived in 1797. It was used as a bargaining chip between the French and Austrians for years, but suddenly found itself independent again in 1848. That wasn’t to last long though as the city was absorbed into Kingdom of Italy in 1866. Blissfully, the city escaped damage during the two World Wars, and interestingly was liberated in 1945 by our very own New Zealand soldiers under Freyberg.
Now that you’ve had your history lesson, we’ll move on to geography. The city is of course famous for being built on a series of islands and canals. There is in fact 117 islands in the marshy Venice Lagoon which is the confluence of the Po and Piave Rivers. The islands are separated by 177 canals, and joined again by 409 bridges! A little under 300,000 people live in the city itself, although a further 2.3 million live on the adjacent mainland and nearby satellite cities. Getting into the tourist part of the city can be tricky. Whether you arrive into Venice by plane, train or automobile, a subsequent water transfer will be required. We strongly recommend you have your travel agent organise your arrival transfer in advance as sadly, some Venetians are notorious for taking advantage of the estimated 50,000 tourists arriving daily. Scams and their prices vary alarmingly! Once you’re finally settled in the historic centre of the city though, transportation will no longer be of concern.
The majority of Venice’s attractions are on two central islands that share her name. The two islands are separated by the Grand Canal and starting with a cruise along here is a great way to get your bearings. Jump off at iconic Piazza San Marco (St Mark’s Square) at the far end of the canal for the start of your exploration. Here you’ll find many iconic attractions such as St Mark’s Basilica and the towering Campanile which rises almost 100 metres over the city. But don’t expect a peaceful start to your exploration, this is tourist central. And if not plagued with tourists, it will at least be plagued with pigeons! Nevertheless, it has to be done. From here, flip a coin! Head in any direction and you’ll find and absolutely endless supply of ornate buildings, cobblestone alleyways, city squares and gondola filled canals to keep you busy for days. Or if you don’t have the time, ask your agent about one of the many walking tours that can get you to all the hidden gems. Learn more about sightseeing in Venice here.
Venice has plethora of cafes and restaurants to keep your belly full. However this creates another famous Venice pastime, the gross overcharging of tourists for low quality food. Try and avoid the restaurants around St Mark’s Square, restaurants that have tourist menus, and those with touts. Also keep an eye out for cover charges and service charges which can sometimes be found in the small print. Your hotelier can be a reliable source of recommendations, or simply keep an eye out on the back streets for the small ‘trattorias’ where the locals dine. As a guide, a glass of house wine should cost you no more than a glorious €3. A fun local feature is ‘bacaro’ which is Italian style tapas. Locals usually buy and eat these right at the bar, but you only pay a little extra for a chair and table to sit back and relax, you’ll no doubt be needing some time off your feet!
If you’re in need of a quieter day sightseeing, a visit to at least one or two of the outer islands is a must. Torcello is the original home of the Venetians and long dwarfed Venice in terms of importance and population. It’s here the Venetians refined the art of building on the marshy lagoon, and the Torcello Cathedral is one of the oldest buildings in the city. Nearby Murano is another goodie, and the best place to pick up some fine Venetian glass, famous for being incredibly delicate and elaborate. Even if it’s not your kind of thing, just being able to watch the amazingly skilled craftsmen at work is worth the trip, and you’re sure to find that perfect souvenir for mum. Time for another scam alert though, be wary of the touts offering free trips to Murano from Venice. You’ll be taken to their favourite factory and pressured into buying stuff (and pushy Italians can be mighty intimidating). Then there’s Burano, famous for its lace making, but the far more exciting reason for going here is to see the brightly coloured buildings, a photographers paradise.
Finally, the music lovers amongst us will be in heaven. Well, the opera and classical music lovers at least. It’s impossible to get away from music in Venice, whether it be an opera with grand symphony orchestra at the Fenice Opera House, a busking violinist in a quiet city square, or your gondolier singing as you cruise down the Grand Canal, it will surround you. So important is music in this city, that children in orphanages were taught music so that they might have a way of making money later in life. Sorry Gaga and Sheeran fans, you’re going to have to do without it for a few days. Embrace it. Soak it in. It’s all part of the incredible Venice experience.
> READ ABOUT THE BEST SIGHTS IN VENICE HERE
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