I am the type of traveller who likes to plan every second of each trip, and this is never truer than when I plan a city break. There is always so much I want to see and do, that I have to organise my time meticulously , pre-booking tours and adding as many queue jumps as I can find. The weeks before each trip are filled with excited research, down to restaurants and cafes where I can immerse myself in the city and watch the world go by.
Why am I telling you this? I think it’s important to set the scene, so you can understand my reaction when my husband presented me with a day trip to Venice for my birthday. As well as being extremely surprised and grateful, the ‘control freak’ side of me was instantly panicking. My husband is not a planner, and usually leaves everything to me, so when I asked what we were going to do when we got there, he simply answered ‘see Venice’.
We left home at 3:30am the next day, and boarded our plane at 6am. When we arrived at Marco Polo Airport, we set about finding a water taxi to take us into Venice. You can get a road taxi but travelling by water just seems fitting, and gives you great views of the city as you arrive.
A return ticket cost us around €30 each and we only had to queue for about half an hour before boarding a group boat. The trip took around an hour and a half, and dropped us right next to Piazza San Marco (or St Mark’s Square).
Choosing a Gondola
The first thing I wanted to do was secure a Gondola ride. Yes, it’s very touristy and overpriced, but I could not recommend this more. We strolled through the quaint streets until we reached the Grand Canal, where we found a very nice gondolier with a golden boat.
A 30 minute private ride cost €80 for two (I know), and took us along the Grand Canal, around tiny waterways and under beautiful bridges. There are many different companies offering Gondola rides around Venice, and all will cost around the same amount (unless you opt for either an hour long ride, a sunset ride or a serenaded ride), but we were recommended to use one departing from the Grand Canal.
The thing I was most struck by was the silence of the tiny canals, compared to the hustle and bustle of the streets. Away from the metropolitan shops and surrounded by picturesque architecture, it didn’t take much for me to imagine we had stepped back in time.
Eating and Drinking
After we stepped back on to land, we set about finding somewhere for lunch. I would recommend heading away from the extremely overpriced restaurants in Piazza San Marco itself, and exploring the side streets instead.
We happily wondered around for about an hour until we settled on a restaurant in a quiet alley, surrounded by souvenir shops. We ordered pasta and pizza, and watched the world go by for a while. The food was more than we would usually pay, but it wasn’t overpriced and was good quality.
Later in the day we couldn’t resist ordering coffee and cake in Piazza San Marco, and the bill came to a whopping €70! Venice is notoriously one of the most expensive cities in Europe, so if you’re on a tight budget make sure you learn from our mistakes and avoid the most touristy areas!
The best way to really experience a city is always to make time to explore and get lost, and I feel like this was especially true of Venice. Around every corner we found another beautiful bridge, amazing shops or handmade craft markets.
However, a quick Google will also reveal a ‘top five things to do in Venice’ list, which I found as below;
- Piazza San Marco
- Doge’s Palace
- Saint Mark’s Basilica
- Grand Canal
- Bridge of Sighs
The top three are all within Piazza San Marco and are free to enter, but without pre-booked queue jumps you may find it difficult to tick numbers two and three off your list. We managed to find a queue jump site online, and within five minutes of paying €2 each online we were in Saint Mark’s Basilica. Please note, women will need to have their shoulders covered to enter the Basilica, and they will charge you for shawls.
St Mark’s Basilica was first built in 828, but since then it has been rebuilt and refurbished many times, making it the break taking building it is today. The ceiling is formed of millions of tiny golden tiles to create beautiful pictures, and the outside, in all its gothic glory, is just as amazing.
The Bridge of Sighs is also free (to look at,) and can be found by walking ten minutes away from St Marks’ Square along the edge of the city. The bridge is unusual because it is an enclosed walkway, but it’s the history which makes it worth a look. The view from the Bridge of Sighs was the last thing convicts would see before they were taken to prison. The famous poet Lord Byron gave the bridge its name, after suggesting that the prisoners would sigh at their final view of the beautiful Venice.
Thoroughly knackered, we hopped on the next water taxi (they run like clockwork to the timetable), and returned to the airport ready for our 9pm flight home. Nothing ever runs quite to plan, so after a few delays we eventually arrived through our front door at 1:30am.
Can you visit a city for a day and feel like you’ve really experienced it? Yes. The trip made me realise that you can be more spontaneous when it comes to travel plans, and still feel like you made the most of it. I will never be as laid back as my husband, but I would recommend anyone (especially those on tighter budgets) to consider day trips or weekend breaks as viable options.
What are your plans for next weekend? Do you really want to spend another Saturday cleaning the house and mowing the lawn? Why not have a look at flights and see where your next adventure could be.