Editor’s note: I have been to Venice twice, but not in well over a decade, so it was lovely to experience a weekend in the city via this look from Mandy Meehan. For more of Mandy’s adventures, click here to visit her index page.
When I was a little kid, I learned that Venice was a city that had canals instead of streets and people rode in boats instead of cars and it just blew my tiny mind. From that moment, I decided I had to go there one day. Over the years, other trips had taken priority and I hadn’t made any real plans to visit. Lately though, I had been starting to feel a sense of urgency about going there since people kept telling me I had better go before the city falls into the sea. As I was trying to decide what to do for my birthday, I scrolled through potential destinations on the easyJet app, and when I saw Venice as an option, the decision was made. With a direct flight from Bristol to Venice for £73 return, how could I not?
As I often do, I bought the plane tickets first and started researching and planning everything else after. For me, I find that this is the best way to ensure that I actually follow through and go on a trip. I can be prone to waffling or agonizing about various aspects of a trip so the purchase of the plane ticket spurs me into action. The first thing I had to decide was where I was going to stay. I generally prefer Airbnb or a similar service because I really enjoy having a kitchen, but there weren’t a lot of cost-efficient options and I was only staying for four nights, so I decided to go the hotel route. What I didn’t know initially is that Venice refers to both the island itself (or rather collection of over 100 tiny islands located within the Venetian Lagoon) and also the surrounding metropolitan area, so the next decision is whether to stay on the island or in the nearby neighborhood called Mestre. You can save some money by staying in Mestre, which is a 20 minute train ride or 30-45 minute bus ride away. This is what I ended up doing, not just to save some money, but also because I thought it would give me a sense of what life is like for locals in this part of the world. Now that I’ve done it, it’s not something I’d recommend for a whole host of reasons. For one thing, if you are looking at hotels near the train station in order to make the commute easier, the prices aren’t that much lower than ones on the island so your savings are negligible. Any savings you might find will also decrease starting in January of 2023 when the city starts charging a daily entry fee to get onto the island. While there are plenty of apartment buildings in Mestre, it doesn’t have a very residential feel to it due to some major highways and also the plethora of hotels in the area. Lastly, you will be walking A LOT in Venice to get from place to place and it would be tremendously beneficial to be able to go back to your hotel room midday to rest or nap (which is not really feasible when your hotel is over in Mestre) before tackling more tourist activities in the afternoon.
I didn’t know much about what to do in Venice or what to expect and I found the English language version of the city’s tourism website to be a great resource. This is where I bought a 2-day public transport pass and my airport transfers, which you can pick up from a machine at the airport using a unique code that is sent to your email address. The public transport pass covers city-wide buses (which is great if you’re commuting from Mestre) and more importantly, it covers the vaporettos, which are the public water buses. The daypass makes riding these extremely cost efficient (a single ride costs €7.50 vs €21 for a 24 hour pass/€30 for a 48 hour pass) and can also save quite a lot of walking time. I also found that it served a secondary purpose of giving me the experience of riding around the canals on a boat, which I had wanted to do anyway. There are also options for 4- and 7-day passes.
It was at this website that I also chanced upon this amazing museum pass, which gives access
to 12 museums for €35. I could not pass up this deal and it created the structure for the majority of the trip. The website asks you to input a date, and you have six months from the date given to visit each of the museums; you do not have to try to cram them all into one day. I love museums and I enjoyed going to each one, but I was disappointed with the lack of signage and information, though the artifacts and buildings were beautiful and I was glad I got to see them. The crown of the museum pass was probably the Doge’s Palace (Palazzo Ducale), which is ranked as the best museum on TripAdvisor. It is a giant Gothic structure which started construction in 1340 in order to house the Doge of Venice (aka, the supreme authority of the area at that time). My favorite part about exploring this palace was the Bridge of Sighs, an internal bridge that crosses over the Rio Palazzo (originally designed for prisoners to get from their trials within the palace to the prison across the way, hence the name). The bridge offers unique views from either side and is a great spot to take iconic pictures for the ‘gram.
Outside of the museum pass, I also made a special visit to the Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo. This is a small palace that is known for its external spiral staircase and its view over the rooftops of Venice. It’s €8 and must be booked in advance, which I learned after I was already there. I hadn’t planned on going in, but then spontaneously decided I wanted to and was disappointed to find that I couldn’t. Not a huge deal though; there were tickets available the next day at almost any hour. For the price of admission, you mainly get the privilege of climbing the stairs and taking photos of the top – there isn’t much inside otherwise. There was an exhibition room containing art that I did not find particularly memorable, though it is constantly rotating so you might get lucky. For me, the view was all I wanted and well worth the admission price, but for others it might not be so appealing.
The plan for the final full day was a little trip to Padua (Padova in Italian). It’s easy to get there by train from either Venice St. Lucia or Mestre (rides can be as short as 20 minutes) and tickets start at around €8, depending on your travel time and which company runs the train. I live in the UK and use trains fairly often, so I have the Trainline app and I discovered that it works in Italy as well. I found this to be the easiest way to buy train tickets, especially when comparing prices
and departure times. The train stations do have ticket machines that have English language settings and are fairly easy to use as well. Padua is an absolutely lovely ancient city with a population of just over 200,000, and it moves at a much slower pace than I had experienced in Venice. It had the exact ambiance that I had been hoping for in Mestre, that of being a real place where real people lived. There’s something so magical to me about seeing the mundanities of everyday life: a man walking his dog, a mother yelling at her child, somebody asking about the day’s specials but in a different language in a foreign place. Anyway, I happened to go on a Monday, which sadly meant that a lot of the museums and tourist attractions were closed. This was fine by me; I had a nice leisurely day of meandering and taking in some of the beautiful architecture. I spent some time enjoying the perfect weather while sitting in the Prato del Valle, which is the largest town square in Italy. It’s unique in that it is surrounded by a small canal which in turn is ringed on each side by statues. There’s so much more to see in this place – the University of Padua is one of the oldest in the world (Galileo lectured there!) and the Botanical Gardens are a UNESCO world heritage site! Definitely worth a side trip.
All in all, I had a great long weekend in Venice. End of May seemed like an ideal time to visit because the weather was pleasantly warm and it was also right before the height of tourist season. It was a change of pace for me since I don’t often do short trips like this; I much prefer a longer stay. I did enjoy having a long list of places to see, but I’d be out for 10-12 hours a day and it was quite exhausting. As I said before, there is A LOT of walking, and please take this warning seriously. I am a person who loves to walk long distances and will often choose to walk rather than take a bus, and even I found it to be very intense. In Venice, a wrong turn can mean a lot of time retracing steps. Be aware that phone GPS is not always perfectly accurate in this city, so it is important to double check street names before making a turn. I would also advise taking some time to map out your destinations in order to make sure you’re visiting them in the most efficient manner. I don’t have any restaurant recommendations; I often did a quick bite at lunch (either a panini or pizza) and there are lots of good deals for that kind of thing. While I did have perfectly enjoyable and adequate dinners, none really stood out. I will give a shout out to La Maison de La Crêpe for having the BEST cannoli I’ve ever had in my life. The filling was heavy and creamy and simply delightful and I definitely visited more than once. I would have to come back just for that but also because I know there are plenty of treasures still to discover.
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