Visitors to Venice will consistently tell you one thing: Venice feels like a movie set. They often don’t know what it is about the place, but it feels unreal in its beauty – an island that has a rich history and hundreds of stories to tell.
Walk the Other Way
The city of Venice is a maze of alleyways twisting and turning, winding around in circles, so there are helpful yellow signs erected at forks in the road and on the sides of buildings and bridges directing you to major tourist attractions. These include San Marco’s Basilica, the Grand Canal, and the Rialto Bridge.
These are the most crowded areas of Venice for good reason, and I do highly recommend you visit them at some point during your stay. However, your most memorable experiences will probably come from the times you step off the beaten track; the times when you take the less well-worn path and wind through alleys and passages into the true heart of Venice.
Away from the vendors and restaurateurs catering to the needs of tourists with Venetian masks, gondola rides, gelato, pizza and spaghetti bolognese, you’ll discover neighbourhoods where locals reside.
Peek in ‘Backyards’
If you choose not to follow the signs you’ll happen upon narrow canals backed on to by charming, somewhat cracked and crumbling brick apartment buildings. You’ll find a boat tethered to every other jetty which is, in effect, residents’ backyard or driveway.
Squares and Piazzas
Walk down an alleyway and turn left, then right, go under an arch and over a bridge, and then suddenly the alleyway opens up to a local piazza – a public square not overrun with selfie-taking tourists. There might be Italian women sitting on their front stoops gossiping or sweeping out their doorways; men sitting in a small trattoria with an espresso and a newspaper, watching children play a makeshift game of soccer around the fountain.
Buy some bread, ham and cheese from a nearby deli. Take a seat , watch the pigeons potter and peck at crumbs, and admire the architecture – the statues, friezes and frescos carved into the upper storeys of lesser-known churches’ towers that you may never have discovered had you not wandered away from the crowds.
Hop aboard a water taxi or join the locals on an Actv water bus and travel further afield, visiting the islands off the main island city of Venice to get a feel for everyday Venetian life. A popular ‘island’ destination for tourists is Burano – known for its vibrantly painted houses – but take a trip out to some islands a bit further afield instead.
Visit farmland and vineyards or the nature reserve on Torcello Island. Pack a picnic and get away from the crowds with a relaxed stroll there or visit the seventh century Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta and its Byzantine mosaics.
The sights and sounds, the people and the history of this pedestrian-only, marble, brick and stone archipelago are unlike anywhere else in the world. There is a lot to see here, but not as much to do. Make the most of this slow paced portion of your trip and get lost for a while. You won’t regret it.
(Though I suggest you get lost in Venice, please bring a map with you as you roam, as you may not wish to stay lost.)
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