Venice is one of those special cities in the world that always has something new up its sleeve. No matter how many times you’ve been or what you think you know, there’s some new adventure waiting around an alley way that you never knew existed . The Venetian empire, at one time spread all the way down the Croatian coast to Crete. Such figures as Marco Polo, Casanova, Titian and Tintoretto lived and contributed their stories and art in this canal city. If it’s your first visit, it’s unlikely you’ll get past the crowds of St. Mark’s Square or Rialto bridge and that’s… okay. However, if you’re staying a bit longer or coming back for more, here’s my list of places you should go:
1. Murano- the inhabitants of this small group of islands just north of Venice “proper” have been making glass for hundreds of years. Perhaps a better word choice is “perfecting” glass. You can visit the glass factories to watch the masters blow delicate glass creations through red hot tubes. In moments, the skilled artisans craft chandelier parts, vases and other swirling creations before your eyes. There’s a glass museum on Murano and so many shops that you might feel like you’re in a mall, but if you come off season or spend the night after the crowds have left, you’ll find a very intimate Venetian experience missing in the tourist areas of the main island of Venice.
2. Burano- what rhymes with Murano but isn’t ? The charming island of Burano is a 30 minute water ferry ride from Venice (a little less from Murano) and is famous for its lace production. The world isn’t buying handmade lace like they were during the Renaissance, so the main draw these days is to see the extremely photogenic brightly colored houses that line the canals. If you are a resident and decide you’d like to paint your house a different color, you’re going to need approval first. The governing powers of the island are serious about keeping the town a lovely blend of pastel and it shows. There’s lots of cute little restaurants as well. I found what I thought to be a hidden gem called Trattoria da Romana and thought I’d found a hidden gem until I saw pictures of Keith Richards and Robert Dinero eating there. I guess if it’s good enough for movie stars and rock stars, it’s good enough for me.
3. San Michele- it was determined during the French occupation that burying the dead on the main island was unsanitary, so a special place was allocated for that very purpose- the deceased were transported by gondola and laid to rest at one of the four cemeteries that make up the entire island. The stop on the ACTV is Cimiterio and it’s an interesting place to wander around for an hour or two. Igor Stravinsky is probably the island’s most famous interred resident, but the walls of burial vaults are fascinating.
4. Lido- the “beach island” of Lido has the reputation for being the trendy less traditional of the group, so if you’re looking for a little Italian sand to lie down on in the summer, Lido might be just what you’re looking for. The word “lido” is used all over the world to refer to pools on cruise ships or other areas for swimming after Venice popularized “sea bathing” near the end of the 19th century. Few people would associate Venice with beaches, but it kicked off an international phenomena. If you happen to be visiting in September, you might be lucky enough to catch the Venice Film Festival which also takes place on the island.
5. Painting hunting- looking for a little artistic adventure? There are famous paintings scattered throughout the Venetian churches that you can visit for free and an offline map and a list of local treasures can make for an interesting scavenger hunt. Having a reason for getting lost in the less visited alleyways can help you get to know Venice better than the main tourist paths.
6. Eating and Drinking- you could eat and drink what you normally choose…OR.. you can try the local food- pasta sepia is the most famous dish in Venice and looks like black spaghetti because it’s made with the ink of the cuttlefish. It’s a little intimidating at first glance but tastes pretty good if you can get past the inevitable black stained lips. Bellinis were invented at Harry’s Bar near St. Mark’s and may not taste exactly like what you’re used to and may cost a bit more, but you can impress your friends when you brag about it later. The most common drink of the Venetians is “spritz”, a cocktail made with Campari or Apersol and sparkling wine. Look around you and you’ll notice that’s what almost every local drinks.
To get around, you purchase a 24 hour pass from any ACTV counter for 20€. Make sure you validate your ticket at the machine when you’re boarding on your first voyage. Single trips are 7€ each way, so you can save quite a bit of money with the all day pass if you’re ferry hopping.
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