Visiting Venice - advice what to do or see?

I’ll be spending about five days in Venice in early October. I’d welcome any views, opinions, experiences to help me decide what’s worth seeing / doing / visiting while I’m there.

Thank you.

Personally, I think the best thing to do is to simply wander around for those five days–it’s great fun to explore, you’re more likely to find charming out-of-the-way spots, it’s quite safe (IMHO), and you’ll inevitably end up at the big “sights” (St. Mark, etc.) anyway.

Or, if you’re a silent film buff, the world-renownedPordenone Silent Film Festival is in nearby Sacile (you can get there by train) from October 9-16.

Oh, and Murano and Burano are nice, too.

Set aside a whole morning or afternoon to go through the Doge’s palace.

But first things first: set aside at least fifteen minutes immediately after getting off the train, to stand by the grand canal and yell “what the heck were the crazy f***s THINKING?” The idea of a city built on water didn’t quite sink in with me till I saw it…

Also set aside a whole morning or afternoon to wander around the shops.

From what I’ve read, get off the beaten path as much as possible.

The city is quite over run by ‘day’ tourists so try to find some way to drop a hint that you are an overnight guest and the people will probably treat you better.

To be honest Venice didn’t do too much for me. I would highly recommend a side trip to Ravenna – not too far away. It has some of the most beautiful romanesque churches and byzantine mosaics.

Don’t fall into the Grand Canal. Granted, that’s kind of hard to do in the wide part, but in the back “alleys” it’s pretty easy. Lots of moss up to the high tide mark, usually right where you want to step.
Not only would you look undignified, but there are a lot of nasty microscopic beasties swimming around in there.

Oh, and go mess with the pigeons at the Plaza de San Marco. (Sorry if my Italian is off - I’m just an ugly American tourist.)

If you’re arriving into Marco Polo airport, get a water taxi to the city - not cheap, but for a dramatic and romantic arrival into a city, nothing can beat watching la serenissima rising out of the water.

I second the advice to wander and wander and wander. (Make sure you get a GOOD map, and even then you’ll be hopelessly lost in minutes. And remember to bring comfy shoes.) No single guidebook could possibly list the variety of archtectural treasures tucked away in quiet corners, or artistic masterpieces hanging in small unvisited churches.

You should be able to see almost everything you want to. Venice is not all that big. However, be prepared to get lost big time. Parts of the city are like a literal labyrinth with narrow passageways that meander and branch off with no logic. Even a map won’t do you much good in places.

Also, stay away from the traditional tourist gondola rides unless you or your companion have your heart set on it. It is a tourist trap. I have talked to people that ended up paying over $80 for a less than ten minute ride. The water shuttles are functional and will give you a better thrill IMHO.

The Basilica San Marco is beautiful inside and out. Take a vaporetto ride around the city. Especially do it at night. Go to Piazzza San Marco after dark and lsten to one of the cafe orchestras. The Peggy Guggenheim museum is nice if you like modern art.

You’ll be able to see a lot of Venice in 5 days. A good deal of the time should be devoted to just soaking up the atmosphere–there’s no city quite like Venice, and you’ll spend many pleasant hours strolling along the canals and wandering the tiny alleyways.

The obvious “must-see” sights are St. Mark’s and the Doge’s Palace. St. Mark’s is particularly amazing–every surface of its walls, domes, and floors is covered with designs in mosaic. The Doge’s Palace features some impressive Renaissance paintings, and you’ll get to walk across the Bridge of Sighs to see the prison cells. Don’t miss the small paintings by Bosch (located, IIRC, in a room near the end of the tourist route).

Other sights–the Accademia museum is, unsurprisingly, the best collection of Venetian paintings in the world. If you’re more into modern art, check out the Peggy Guggenheim museum, just a few blocks and bridges away from the Accademia. The Ca’ Pesaro has some wonderful 19th century paintings.

Major churches to see: other than the aforementioned St. Mark’s, you may also enjoy the Franciscan church of Sta. Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, which has two beautiful altarpieces by Titian (including the beautiful Assumption of the Virgin on the high altar). Titian is also buried there, in a grandiose tomb. The Dominican church of Ss. Giovanni e Paolo (sometimes called “Zanipolo,” in the Venetian dialect) is another nice church (like the Frari, it’s a Gothic style structure); in the square outside that church, you can see the famous equestrian statue of Bartolommeo Colleoni (one of Venice’s condotierre, or mercenary generals).

A church that is often overlooked, but is a beautiful little building, is Sta Maria dei Miracoli. I also like the church of San Zaccaria, especially for its beautiful Giovanni Bellini altarpiece.

Other sites that may be of interest include the Scuola Grande of San Rocco, which is a must for any Tintoretto lovers; the Ca d’Oro; and the Contarini Palace, famous for its twisting, courtyard staircase (called the “scala del bovolo,” or the “snail staircase”).

With the time you’re planning to spend in Venice, a daytrip to the lagoon islands of Murano or Burano would be nice. I’d also recommend a trip to another lagoon island, Torcello.

Besides sight-seeing, I’d advise you to take most of your meals in the Dorsoduro neighborhood, since it’s slightly cheaper than the San Marco side of Venice. I remember that restaurants in and around the Campo Santa Margharita are fairly affordable. Nothing is really cheap in Venice, however, and you should allow yourself at least one splurge or two. A coffee or liquor at the Caffe Florian on the Piazza di San Marco is well worth it. The interior has pretty paintings and lamps, while the exterior has one of the most beautiful squares in the entire world. Plus, it’s a neat feeling to think that famous people like Lord Byron, Goethe, Henry James, Wagner, etc. used to hang out there.

Simple solution to the (relatively few) dodgy Gondoliers - fix the price before you set off. (Most of them are actually perfectly OK, because they’d developed such an appaling reputation and had no choice but to clean up their act)

I second this recommendation. San Vitale, in particular, is astonishingly beautiful.

Since you still have a month before you go there, pick up a book on the history of Venice. You’ll be so much better equipped to appreciate the significance of what you see.

To reinforce the warning about getting lost in Venice – there’s a very good reason why the Venitians were the ones who invented the concept of street addresses. They needed them.

You don’t have to be too worried about getting lost in Venice–keep in mind that you’re on an island(s), and there’s no way of walking into a bad neighborhood (there is a Ghetto, but in the original sense of the word–it’s the old Jewish neighborhood in Venice, and it’s very pleasant).

If you do get lost, look for the signs that point you back to major monuments (like the Piazza di San Marco). If you follow these signs, they’ll usually get you back to that monument. But sometimes, getting lost in Venice is probably the best way to discover the city’s secret corners, so there’s no need to panic.

Ravenna is also pretty, although in a different way from Venice–Venice seems like an impossible city, built on water, while Ravenna is built more solidly on cobbled streets and brick buildings. This makes the contrast with Ravenna’s interiors so astonishing–beautiful mosaic-covered domes and walls. I especially like the mausoleum of Galla Placidia, almost directly behind San Vitale. Also, you can see Dante’s tomb in his own little mausoleum there.

You can easily spend a day in Ravenna, but a great deal of the day will be spent getting there and returning to Venice (assuming that you’d do it in a daytrip). A much quicker day trip is to Padua, which is very close to Venice, and one of my personal favorites. The huge basilica (“il Santo”) that is dedicated to St. Anthony of Padua (and enshrines his remains) is magnificent, but nothing is as wonderful as the Arenal Chapel (also called the Scrovegni Chapel). That structure contains frescoes by Giotto depicting the stories from the Golden Legend and the New Testament (Christ’s Passion is particularly moving–much more so than Mel Gibson’s version :D).

I mean, Dante’s tomb is also in Ravenna, but in a different part of town from Galla Placidia.

Just to clarify.

I went to Venice last year, and found a handy way of determining if a restaurant is a tourist trap. Many restaurants there add either a gratuity or a cover charge to the cost of your meal. If a restaurant adds both a gratuity and a cover charge, it is likely to be a tourist trap, and you are likely to be disappointed by the food and wine there.

Thanks to all who have responded for the very useful advice and ideas.

You know, this place really is great. A week or two ago I had a nasty computer prob that no-one I knew could fix… posted it here on the Boards and voila! Solution! And now this really useful feedback re Venice. Excellent stuff, and all for five of your American dollars. Best bargain on the web.

The mention of tombs has reminded me of something else, which I’ve never had time to do but have heard wonderful things about: the Isola di San Michele: it’s Venice’s cemetery, and is the only island in the lagoon that isn’t covered with buildings. Stravinsky, Diagilev and Ezra Pound are all buried there.

I can’t add anything to all of this great advice. I would do at least a short Gondola tour, because where else can you? Getting a price fixed in advance sounds like a good idea. I can’t remember much about the price when we were there. One thing I did not see mentioned and I remember it surprised me how much I enjoyed it was the Murano Glassworks. Not a fan of the glass but the artisanship and history was very interesting. I think I recall it is a short waterbus ride to get to the island. Have fun. Strange, it has been quite a few years and I still remember how it smells and I don’t mean that in the derogatory sense…just unique.