Ahhhhh Venice... I used to dislike Venice very much. I think it's because the first couple of times I went, it was crazy hot, super crowded, and kind of smelly. Yes, both times were in the summer. I had vowed to never visit Venice again...until my friends wanted to go...in the summer. I didn't feel I could deprive them of such a unique place (that is sinking, so you better hurry up and go if you want to see it). Although I expected the worst and only hoped for a bit better than the worst, I was happily surprised with the way our trip went and am looking forward to returning again one day. We were blessed with not so hot weather (it even rained one day- of course, it had to be the day we all took a gondola ride).
Where to stay: On previous visits, I had stayed near St. Mark's Square. Why? Because it's hard to get anywhere since there are no cars and water taxis are expensive (and I hate walking). This time, I decided we should stay in the Castello district. It was perfect- close enough to St. Mark's Square (a 5 minute walk if you know where you're going- Google maps isn't too accurate), but far enough from super crowded touristy areas and restaurants. Our apartment overlooked a canal and the passing gondolas kept our kids entertained anytime we we there. We made sure the location was close to water buses and a water taxi stop and didn't have too many stairs (we were on the 1st floor, which to us Americans is the 2nd). One of our tour guides told us that most 0 floors (1st in America) in the Castello district will flood when it rains (so try not to stay on floor 0).
Where to eat: It is very difficult to find non-touristy food in Venice. For some reason, on previous visits, I ended up at restaurants that only served seafood. Don't get me wrong- I love fish once in awhile, but not everyday for every meal (and my kids, who love calamari but not fish, would have starved). On this trip, I found these two delicious restaurants, which are the tops in my opinion.
Their 28 euro lunch tasting menu is perfect. You get 3 tapas and 1 main dish (fish or meat). You might want to make reservations if you're there during a busy season (it's very small and only seats 24). Chef Gianni was so kind and is obviously very talented. This is the place to eat Venice's famous black spaghetti- you won't regret it.
Al Vecio Canton is a more casual restaurant- it was suggested that we have reservations, but we never made them and they always found a place for our somewhat large party of 14. Their pizzas are delicious regardless of the fact that wood burning pizza ovens aren't allowed in Venice. Another favorite was the beef carpaccio. We were traveling with a lot of people with food allergies and on special diets. Our servers were always so great in catering to them. All of the kids loved the chicken milanese (so did I!).
What to do: Some people think that the only thing to do in Venice is ride a gondola. Wrong! We only spent a few days here, but I wish we had just one more to squeeze a couple other things in.
But first, take a gondola ride. Don't bother booking online with a tour company before you go (for an exorbitant fee). There are gondolas everywhere- you just have to know where to find the best ones (and if you're there during a busy season, reserve them in advance). I know you're probably thinking, "aren't all gondoliers the same? They wear the same striped shirt and the same funny hat." The answer is, "no!" The best gondoliers are in the Jewish Ghetto, which is also less crowded than trying to take a ride on one of the main canals). We booked the best of the best- Luca. His dad was also a gondolier. He sings beautifully, has a wealth of information, and if it rains (like it did when we took our ride), he will shield you under a bridge whilst standing in the pouring rain without complaining, trying to keep you dry. We paid 80 euro for a 30 minute ride (however because of the rain, we were probably on the canal for over an hour).
Go on a scavenger hunt. OK, this one was meant for the kids, but the adults had so much fun! Sometimes I think I learn more on the kids' tours than on the adult ones. Macaca Tours does an amazing hunt through the Castello district (they have others as well). Our guide, Giovanna, was so knowledgeable and ever so patient with the kids. We wandered through windy paths and over bridges to get from one point on the map to the next. A scavenger hunt is perfect to keep kids interested (we made up our own hunts in Rome, which helped immensely during long, hot walks). I loved seeing their eyes light up when they found something on the map. There isn't a more scenic place to see kids doing "homework"- truly, homeschool at its best!
Tour St. Mark's Basilica and the Doge's Palace. We took a private tour of St. Mark's Basilica and the Doge's Palace after hours, which was so much better than being there with crowds. Inside the Doge's Palace, I felt like a princess. Everything was so ornate and beautiful.
The kids loved being able to run around the courtyards, seeing all of the weapons, and walking through the prison cells.
Before leaving the Doge's Palace, you will see this gorgeous view of the Bridge of Sighs.
I could not get over the floors inside of the St. Mark's Basilica (I know there were more important things to look at, but I was in the middle of a bathroom remodel and my wheels were turning. My husband saw the wheels turning and was not pleased).
It was great to be inside by ourselves and really take our time looking up at all of the mosaics (or down at the floor). The tour was peaceful and quiet- empty as only the Doge himself was able to see it. We even got to see the crypt.
Go to Burano. I'll save our adventures in Burano for another post, but here's a pic of me matching the cutest little yellow house.
Wander through the tiny streets, get lost, eat gelato, shop, and then eat more gelato. We happened upon the cutest little boutiques in the Castello district and the most amazing bookstore. Venice is wonderful for exploring and after this awesome trip, I will definitely be back.
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