Look up the most romantic places that the world has to offer and more often than not Venice is right near the top. The history, the gondolas, the canals – Venice oozes romance and passion. We were staying in nearby Verona and decided one day to take a train to visit this famous floating lagoon in the north of Italy.
Below is a guide to our time in Venice, what we saw, how we got around and what we ate. This is not only a city, but an experience.
Getting to Venice
Venice lies 115km east of Verona and can easily be reached by train. This may come as a surprise to many who associate Venice as an isolated island. The 5km road and rail bridge stretching from Maghera to Venice connects the city with the mainland.
The journey time from Verona Porta Nuova to Venice Santa Lucia station is around 1hr 10min with the fast Frecce train. This journey will cost around €18 each way. Alternatively, the regional trains take around 1hr 30min – 2hrs and cost half the amount of the fast trains. Fares begin at around €9 when booked in advance.
Train tickets can be purchased online to either print at home or collect from TrenItalia.
Getting Around Venice
I would highly advise investing in a map or GPS app on your mobile phone when visiting Venice for the first time. A tourist information centre can be found in a corner of the famous Piazza San Marco for useful information and maps.
Venice is a city of narrow walkways and bridges. It can be a headache trying to figure out how to get from A to B. The signposts are generally quite good but it can be frustrating taking a wrong turn off the main tourist trail.
Water taxis and the famous gondolas are the preferred methods for getting around. Note that a ride in a gondola is more of an experience than a practicality and will cost an excessive amount in some cases. Always agree the fare with the gondolieri (gondola operator) prior to boarding.
We found that walking was by far the best way of getting around Venice. Not only do you see a lot more and experience the beauty of the city but it is free!
Piazza San Marco
You’ve seen it on the postcards, in films and now you are here for real. The Piazza San Marco is every bit as striking as the pictures, perhaps even more so.
If you head to the piazza early enough before the throngs of tourists on cruise ships get there, the square can actually be a very peaceful affair. We arrived a little before 10am and had just a handful of tourists and the pigeons for company. Perfection.
As always with tourist attractions, remain vigilant. Stories of pickpockets, hustlers and extortionists posing as restaurant owners are prevalent in this part of Venice. A lottery win might buy you a coffee on an outside table at one of the cafes. Don’t allow any of these possibilities to ruin your time in Venice.
Eating in Venice can be extremely expensive for even something as simple as a plate of pasta or pizza. We used tried and tested tactics and headed away from the tourist hotspots, not an easy process in Venice.
Walking along the Rialto Bridge, a little further north of the extortionate bars and restaurants, we found Pasticceria Ballarin. We weren’t so much looking for it but this place has a habit of drawing you in.
A large mass of cakes, breads and pastries stared back at us from the display cabinets. This is like visiting Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, the Italian way. We ordered a Pistachio Cake and a Sacher Torte for a reasonable €3 each.
The cakes were absolutely delicious and a really good size. The Pasticceria also doubles as a bar serving coffee along with savoury and sweet items. Perfect for a spot of breakfast before a session of sightseeing.
Pasticceria Ballarin is located at 5794, San Giovanni Grisostomo.
Cicchetti ‘Venetian Tapas’
Cicchetti is something that we were really keen to try while in Venice. Cicchetti is the Venetian answer to the Spanish tapas. Small plates of food usually enjoyed with the famous Aperol Spritz or a beer.
Bars are all dotted around the city serving Cicchetti but as you know, dear reader, some are likely to add a few zero’s onto your final bill. We had a hard time researching a decent, well priced and honest bar. Until we found Hostaria Vecio Biavarol, located a few streets from the main train station.
We arrived with no idea of what to order, so we simply asked for a selection to share along with an Aperol Spritz each. This bar is a beautiful affair and exactly the way you imagine seeing Venice. Sat in the window with a canal outside, boats going up and down and people passing by. Beautiful.
The selection chosen for us was a mixture of different sandwiches, some containing melt in the mouth salami and ham. An open sandwich of lardo di colonnata – smoked and cured pork fat – with basil, was most impressive. A croquette of crab also tasted incredibly fresh and crunchy.
A stop off here costs between €2-4 per Cicchetti item and around €5 for the Aperol Spritz, a lot tastier and more convenient than a conveyor belt experience in the tourist areas.
Hostaria Vecio Biavarol can be found at 225, Santa Croce.