• Danik Bates

Our experience of Venice and Burano

Updated: May 7

Venice is one of those cities which has to be visited because of its history, location, beautiful buildings, the canals, the gondolas and festivals. We have been fortunate to visit the city twice and we bring to you our personal experience and a few pointers to help you plan a trip.

Now before anyone asks, we did day-trips here. We didn’t spend any nights here because accommodation can be very expensive so we stayed in nearby Verona which has a direct rail line to the island where Venice is located and on our second trip we stayed about a two hour drive south on the coastline, so we drove to the city.

Our blog post on the camping site we stayed at can be found here

The first time we came here (which was Springtime), we walked around the whole island and got lost in the alleyways. We also noticed a funny smell first thing in the morning but this was because the tide was out. When the tide came in, the smell went away. Strange that. Fortunately there weren't many people this time of year so we got to see the magic that Venice has to offer. We were finding lots of mini squares, museums, shops (a lot of them selling the Venetian masks) and trying quite a few gelatos.

One of the main sights we came across is the Ponte di Rialto, which is one of the bridges that crosses over the Grand Canal. To be frank, this is the bridge to check out and is very busy with pedestrians as it is located on the main walking routes between the San Marco and San Polo districts of the island. The bridge has stood here for many centuries, starting out as a wooden bridge but it collapsed in 1524. It was then rebuilt with stone and still stands today.

The Grand Canal is one of the most spectacular we have come across on our travels. It's not just a body of water, it is everything overlooking it which makes it spectacular. There are a heck of a lot of buildings dating back to the 13th century. Also there are only four bridges which cross the canal as the main way to get around Venice wasn’t walking but by boat. The best way to check out the amazing architecture of the buildings is also from the boat.

Away from the canals, the main place where a lot of people hit up (and we mean a lot of people!) is St. Mark’s Basilica. This famous building has fantastic architecture which has remained untouched since being built in 1092. The ornate detail, artwork and sculptures of the facade is just truly awesome however inside the cathedral, the frescos and works of art are worth checking out. The Basilica is located in Piazza San Marco and can be reached by foot from the railway station (about thirty-forty minute walk with the crowds in the way) or the Waterbus, where the main stops are located on the water in front of the square. The Piazza has a lot of other ornate buildings with arched walkways around it and is worth taking a wander around and checking out the details.

One building which can be seen for miles around is St Mark’s Campanile, a tower which is 98 meters high. The original building was built in the 9th century but collapsed in the early 1900s. The Campanile was used as a watch tower but now it is used as a tourist attraction. That’s right, to get the best views overlooking Venice from the top of the tower.

The Doge’s Palace is just simply amazing and its facade features an arched design made of white stone with a diamond pattern on the wall. Tours of the palace can be done but arrive early. Inside the palace, the rooms are beautifully decorated and have all the original details, art and furniture. Located behind the Doge’s Palace is the Ponte dei Sospiri, otherwise known as the Bridge of Sighs and is one structure that shouldn’t be missed! The bridge connects the Doge’s Palace and the Prigioni Nuove which is otherwise known as the Palace Prison. There is a short story to go with the bridge. Criminals who were taken from the palace to the prison caught their last view of Venice and ‘sighed’ whilst walking over the bridge. The ‘sigh’ noise the prisoners made meant that they were considering their punishment and imprisonment.

Not too far from Piazza San Marco but on the other side of the canal is the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute is the second most important church in the city. Completed in 1687, the church is known for its Baroque design, the four statues of the apostles on the outside and the main dome.

As well as checking out the city of Venice, there is also a small trip to Burano island which is worth checking out. Burano is a name which may not come to mind straight away when mentioned but if you mention the nickname ‘the island of Colourful houses’ then nearly everyone knows where Burano is. The island is located in the lagoon of Venice and makes an excellent half-day or day trip away from the touristy city. We came to the island on our second trip to Venice to see what the fuss was all about

On arrival the main sight of the island was already seen. Well, it’s not just one sight, it’s everywhere. The colourful houses. Already we were taken in by the stunning artwork which really makes the building stand out. I (Daniel) have to admit, I was snapping away with the camera a lot like all the other hundred or so visitors I saw in the first five minutes of arrival. This was one of the problems we found on our visit here, the crowds. We arrived around mid-morning and the place was starting to get swampy. This is probably the second most-swamped island with visitors after Venice itself. We are not a keen fan of crowds and whilst we were trying to take in the colourful houses, we were also trying to keep an eye on Amelie while the others were looking at the art work and lace in the shops. Lace is also a big thing here, by the way. But we have to admit, we weren't enjoying it and maybe we should have come at sunrise to miss the crowds.

Walking around taking in the main square, the roads along the canal which divides the island into two and the towers of the churches, it was nice to see there were some people doing some paintings of the town. How I (again, Danik) wish I could paint and have a lot of time to actually do this as a hobby. I love my photography, don’t get me wrong but I wish I could spend some time improving my painting skills and come to places like this and just paint.

We were overhearing a tour guide who was speaking English to a group of people on the street to find out why the houses were so colourful. To be frank, we don’t think there is one good answer. They have been a legend that the houses were painted in different colours so fishermen could find their houses easily in the fog (total rubbish in my eyes as a lighthouse would be the easy answer to find one’s way), and then there is something about the plague and to identify which house has it and which houses do not have it. Oh well, maybe one will never know but by heck! The houses are stunning!

We also loved the bridges which go over the canals here and are similar to those in Venice. They make great photography opportunities also and go well with the colourful houses in the background. As we had a three-year-old daughter with us we also had a buggy (stroller), to which it is useless going over the bridges. Got to carry them over guys.

How to get to Burano: the island is located four miles north of Venice and takes about forty-fifty minutes on the local boat service depending where you board the boat. The best and fastest way by the waterbus (which is a lot cheaper than the water taxi) is line 12 which departs from Fondamerta Nova A on the northern side of Venice. The route also takes in the neighbouring island Murano (which we hear is worth a visit but we didn’t have enough time to check this place out). Timetable and fare information on the water bus can be found here. http://actv.avmspa.it/en/content/orari-servizio-di-navigazione-0

Now for some of our top tips on Venice and Burano:

NEVER eat at the main touristy spots. Food, drink and service fees can be very expensive. Just go a few streets down and the food is a lot cheaper (and less busier!). If you try to really keep the costs down, buy food at the many markets around Venice and eat there, your bank account will really love you for it.

Forget GPS or taking a map. The touristy part of Venice is on an island. Walk and get lost in the many streets. At some point you will come across signs for the Piazza San Marco or the main train station.

If planning to do all the sights, consider purchasing the Venezia Unica pass, this will also save a lot of money.

We noticed one thing in restaurants here: if we asked for water, we don’t get tap water, we get bottled water and it’s charged within the bill. Ask for tap water. When walking around and need water, refill a bottle at one of the city’s many water fountains.

To get around Venice, there are three methods of getting around. (Well, four, if gondolas are included but that’s a really expensive option). There is the waterbus (Vaporetto) and then there is the water taxi. The waterbus is only worth using if going to the other islands. Venice (the city itself) is all walking and there is no point getting the water bus unless the feet are hurting badly.

There are some crazy things visitors should be aware of and do NOT do! Let’s start with picnics! Yes, do not have picnics in the major tourist sites like St Mark’s Square and the Rialto Bridge. That means no eating or drinking whilst sitting on the ground at these sorts of places. Other rules to note is NO SITTING down at all at St Mark’s Square, the only place you can sit is at the coffee shops which will charge visitors a bomb for a cup of coffee! Whilst at the square, do not feed the pigeons or a hefty fine will come your way.

Venice has also got laws that visitors are not allowed to jump into the canals or put padlocks on the bridges which is common in other cities in Europe. Do not walk around in swimsuits ladies or men, make sure your chest is covered. Both of these are against the law here also. Despite the very limited public transport, it is against the law to ride a bicycle in Venice.

On my second trip I drove here, for car parking (make sure to book in advance), park at the Autorimessa Comunale AVM S.p.A which is located at Santa Croce, 496, 30135 (after crossing the bridge from the mainland just keep going straight and the car park is on the right hand side before the road heads into the bus station. The car park is a few minutes walk from the water bus stops and the Santa Lucia train station.

Personal feelings after the visits

We don’t want to put people off from visiting Venice. It is such a beautiful city and is worth checking out the cobbled streets, beautiful buildings and taking in all the history. We didn’t take a gondola ride as we were quoted prices for over 100 euros for a short journey and we weren’t prepared to pay that. It is an expensive place to come to but if prepared right, then Venice can be done on a budget. The other thing we didn’t like is the cruise ships which come in and bring thousands of passengers into the city. We get people wanting to see the city but to come by cruise ship, the amount of pollution coming out of the vessels and dirtying up Venice’s canals, We think it’s just bang out of order. That’s our personal view. Would we come back here, probably not as we have been here twice. The memories we take from here we will treasure forever and we did enjoy ourselves but for us, it is a tourist-trap city and we like the quieter side of Italy.

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