By Roman Martin
Few places in the world can match Venice, Italy, when it comes to ideals of romance, historical scenery, and culture. And because of this, a visit to Venice is quite likely on everyone’s bucket list. But how do you know what to do, and what to see? Well, here is what I’d consider the Venice essentials. Do everything in this list, and you’ll have a truly memorable visit to Italy’s City of Love.
Saint Mark’s Square (Piazza San Marco)
Saint Mark’s Square is the epicenter of Venice – almost everything in the city revolves around it. The well-known scenery is probably one of the most photographed places in the world. But that doesn’t mean you should avoid going there too! You’re definitely going to want to photograph it. Besides, if you were in Venice and you didn’t take a photo of the Campanile with gondolas in the background and the island across the channel, then no one will believe you were there.
Saint Mark’s Square was constructed in the 9th century in front of Saint Mark’s Basilica and the adjacent Doge’s Palace. The square was enlarged in the 12th century after a canal and dock were filled in. Keep i mind that it is very photogenic early in the morning, especially without the crowds. Although it’s been photographed by millions of photographers, you always can find some new angle, and you can make some fantastic and unique photos.
You simply must take a trip on one of the famous gondolas in Venice. These wooden boats have been the preferred method of transportation through the watery city for centuries. Although there are fewer gondolas now, they remain an iconic symbol of Venice.
My first advice about doing this is: don’t take a ride from San Marco Square or any of the locations on the Grand Canal. The reason is because there are too many boats around, and the noise and crowds and heavy traffic can make for an uncomfortable ride.
Instead, my advice is to take a Gondola from one of the small canals. It is more authentic, and it will provide many opportunities to take great photos. Some times, the Gondolier will take you out on the Grand Canal to feel and see differences between a small quiet canal and the big one with lots of traffic.
The Rialto Bridge
The famous arched Rialto Bridge, or Ponte di Rialto, is central to the history of Venice. It is one of the most famous bridges in Italy, and one of Venice’s top attractions. The Rialto Bridge is an elegant, arched stone bridge lined with arcades on each side.
You can photograph the Rialto bridge from the both the south and north sides. Regardless of whether you shoot it in the morning, the afternoon or night, it is always busy. This is partly because it is the main road to Saint Mark’s Square from the mainland entrance of Venice. There is a vegetable market and fish market nearby, that provides many opportunities for photographers.
Venice is full of opportunities for photographers of every kind. You’ll easily capture photos of architecture, street, cityscape, people, travel, etc. Seriously, you’ll find inspiration every few meters. But of course, you’re also going to want to go to some other places like Burano, Murano, and Lido, so you’ll want to take a water bus (Vaporetto). Be brave and travel like the locals do. For sure you’ll enjoy some different photo perspectives of Venice by this transportation method.
Burano and Murano
Speaking of which, you really must visit Burano or Murano, or both. Both are unique places and entirely different. Murano’s reputation as a center for glassmaking was born when the Venetian Republic, fearing fire and the destruction of the city’s mostly wooden buildings, ordered glassmakers to move their foundries to Murano in 1291. Murano glass is still associated with Venetian glass.
Burano, while not as famous of a touristic place, is more picturesque and more photogenic than Murano. Although early Roman remains have been found on Burano, the island was permanently settled in the 6th century by people fleeing hostile invaders on the mainland. Burano was then and is now a fishing village whose residents have always relied on the lagoon for sustenance.
If you’re in Venice for The Carnevale (and you really must), the masked and costumed people are everywhere on the streets. It is easy to take pictures of them, but if you want some unique or special photos, you have to go early in the morning to Saint Mark’s Square. This is where you can find several photographers and people in costumes posing for photos. In my opinion, it’s one of the best photo experiences at Venice Carnevale.
During the Venice Carnival, nightlife begins about 9 PM. There will be many palace balls organized, so people will be fully costumed.
In the past, the Venice Carnival balls were organized by the Doges or the city’s noble families to entertain their guests. But today, they have become an opulent means of celebration for Venetians and an almost irresistible attraction for tourists. Although different versions exist, one rule applies to all of them: wearing a costume is compulsory. The number of guest at the balls are limited and can cost from a few hundred euros to a few thousand euros per person. Plus the cost of the costumes can run into the thousands too.
When you are in Saint Mark’s Square, you really must go to Florian Caffè shop. The Florian opened with two simply furnished rooms on 29 December 1720, as “Alla Venezia Trionfante” (Venice the Triumphant). Despite the name, it soon became known as Caffè Florian, after its original owner Floriano Francesconi. The Caffè was patronized in its early days by notable people including the playwright Carlo Goldoni, Goethe, and Casanova, who was no doubt attracted by the fact that Caffè was the only coffee house that allowed women. Because it is still decorated in original wall frescoes and style, it is more unique with people in costumes during the Venice Carnevale.
When you visit Venice, you should try to feel the spirit of the town. If you stay in one of the hundreds of hotels in Venice (like one of our favorites Hotel Papadopoli), you’ll have easy access to visit any site you want. And most places in Venice look their best either early in the morning or late at night. Also, there are many good restaurants and coffee shops to stay and enjoy in Venice.
Italian Food and Drink
No list of Venetian cultures would be complete without mentioning food and drinks. It’s nearly impossible to have a bad meal in Venice. Every meal is complimented with fine Italian espressos, or some of the best wines in the world – all local. You won’t go hungry, or thirsty, in Venice. Bring your appetite.
We visit Venice twice a year – once for Carnevale, and again for a spring fling – before the big crowds arrive by cruise ship. Fancy checking out the fancy ball gowns and masked party-goers? Then join us for the festivities in March/February each year. If you’re more interested in seeing the deep and detailed Venice, then check out our April adventures. Either way, you’ll soon learn to love the city as much as we do.