This trip report has been in the making for quite some time because there’s just so much to say about this amazing place! Earlier today, I was going through photos from our Italian Adventures in 2014 and came across the most-recent trip: Venice in August. Seeing all the gorgeous colors and reminiscing over the delicious food… I knew it was time to publish our trip details!
Jonathan and I decided to head to Italy to celebrate our 1-year anniversary for a couple of reasons: First, um hello… Italy!? That’s reason enough. Second, Italy is where we jetted off to right after the wedding on our “mini-honeymoon” (because our Hawaiian adventure wasn’t until February) and Third: Um… Italy. Needs no real reason — just go! We are obsessed with Italy and go pretty much whenever we can. Venice wasn’t really an immediate choice, though, because I’m always pushing for us to head to Tuscany where the weather is gorgeous, the food is amazing and the wine is some of the best in the world. Ultimately though, we decided on a destination that neither of us has ever visited, but that we’ve always dreamt of seeing some day. So we booked the tickets months in advance, and counted down the days until it was time to head to Venice for our anniversary weekend getaway!
Overall opinion: Venice was much more magical and unique that I expected it to be. I’ve always wanted to visit, but didn’t really know what to expect other than lots of bridges and canals. We don’t usually travel in high season in Europe, but since we got married in August, we didn’t really have a choice since we wanted to be away to celebrate our anniversary. So, end-August in packed Venice it was! There were moments when we felt like sheep being herded through the major tourist spots, but other times when we felt like we were in an almost-abandoned city. The major roads were crowded pretty much all day, but as soon as you tucked into a smaller path a little off the main streets, it was almost like being in a totally different city. Venice is, to say the least, a very mysterious-feeling place. We knew there’d be tons of water but it really is a city floating on the sea, and it leaves you with a certain sense of wonder.
If you can only make it to Venice during peak tourist season, don’t let that put you off – it was manageable and it’s easy enough to find a few secluded spots to enjoy the city. I can imagine it must be more enjoyable to go during the shoulder seasons (June or September), don’t hesitate if you’ve only got time off in August. We’ll go back during the off-season next year and I’ll be sure to let you know how it compares 😉
What to eat: Perhaps I should preface this by saying that we love, love…like really looove Italian food. We are in Italy often enough to really appreciate a good pizza or a fabulous plate of pasta, so we were really looking forward to discovering what Venice had to offer. Overall I have to say, we weren’t really wowed by what we ate during our trip. It might have to do with the fact that there were so many tourists that the quality suffered, as restaurants tried to turn as much profit as possible. I mean… it was still Italy, so the food was still very good, just not great (with the exception of one place).
Where to stay: We were in town for a total of 3 nights/4 days, and decided to spend the first two nights in San Marco and the second night (for our actual anniversary) on one of the nearby islands. There were a few reasons for this, but mainly it was because we arrived around midnight on Friday night, so wanted someplace we could easily get to late at night, directly from the airport.
Our first two nights were reserved at the Ca’ dei Dogi hotel, and overall we had a pleasant stay there. I wanted to love this place, but it didn’t totally live up to our expectations. We only had a few requirements for our first place, but they were surprisingly hard to meet. We needed a place with a late check-in (because of our post-midnight arrival time), we wanted something easy to access from the airport after midnight, and we wanted something modern-ish and not the typical kitschy old Italian hotel room.
The Tripadvisor reviews for this place are pretty incredible: 5-stars with over 500 reviews. Maybe that gave me unrealistic expectations? We chose the apartment on a higher-level floor because we thought we might cook (we didn’t) and because it seemed like an overall better deal than other room options, in terms of size. The apartments are not actually a part of the hotel, but right next door (I think? It wasn’t quite clear, but they have separate entrances). The apartment itself was nice and was indeed very modern – they were recently remodelled. The mattress was terribly uncomfortable, though, and we couldn’t wait to get out of there and into the bed at the next hotel: the Marriott. We had to buy extra shower gel and shampoo, as they only provided tiny little packets, which weren’t nearly enough. Lastly, because our apartment’s windows were on the street-side, we were waken up pretty early with people milling about on the street below, accordion players, and general street noise. Definitely a down-side. The location of the Ca’ dei Dogi was fantastic and was an excellent base for our first two days of touring the city, so no complaints there. We didn’t really know which area to choose, but being so close to the San Marco and San Zaccaria water bus stops turned out to be extremely convenient. Many of the reviews boasted very helpful hotel owners, but upon arrival, the receptionist was a young guy who knew pretty much nothing about the area, and was even unable to help us find anything that might be open for a snack. It turns out, there’s a small pizza joint literally 3-4 minutes away that’s open all night, but we only found it after wandering around searching for food for about an hour. The next day the owners mentioned that if we needed tips, to make sure to ask them and not the night staff. So, keep that in mind if you have questions! Overall, the owners truly were really nice and the apartment itself is nice, clean and modern, but I probably wouldn’t stay here again. I get the feeling that hotel offerings in Venice must be hit or miss, given the extremely high Tripadvisor rating this place has. Or maybe we were just unlucky?
Ca’ dei Dogi
Corte San Scolastica 4242 Castello
30122 Venezia, Italy
What we were really excited about, however, was our stay at the recently-opened (March 2015) JW Marriott hotel, located on a private Island about a 20-minute boat ride away from San Marco. The hotel is set on a 16-hectare plot on the Isola delle Rose, which makes for an extremely relaxing and peaceful getaway from the bustle of tourist-packed Venice. The complimentary private ferry from San Marco to the hotel is very easy, and timetables are conveniently located at the San Marco dock, at the hotel itself, as well as on their website. The rooms were extremely modern and decorated with neutral colors, and were adequately appointed with complimentary bottled water and fancy shower supplies. The rooms had the highest of high ceilings, which really made the room feel extra spacious and luxurious. The bed was fantastic, as you would expect from a Marriott, and we thoroughly enjoyed our one night spent here. The grounds are gorgeous, and you can definitely spend time hanging out there – enjoying the two pools, the rooftop terrace, the restaurants, and overall relaxing vibe on this cute little Island. There were a few issues, though, specifically with regards to the complimentary breakfast: it was absolute chaos! Seriously I’ve never seen a hotel breakfast so poorly managed. There was a major line of people waiting for tables, and people overflowed into the lobby seating area, scattered throughout with plates of food wherever they could get a seat. The breakfast staff were not the friendliest, although to their defense, I’m sure they were pretty stressed out given the mayhem. The breakfast itself was pretty good, though, and the champagne for mimosas made up for the initial stress of trying to actually get a table. Also, the made-to-order omelettes did not disappoint!
Dining: We didn’t try out the supposedly-amazing Dopolavoro Dining Room, but instead went for the Cucina Daily Restaurant for dinner during our stay. The restaurant itself is in the main part of the hotel, and ultimately feels very casual and not cosy or really romantic at all. The lights were beaming down on me (literally, to the point that they made my forehead feel like it was getting a sunburn) and the ambiance suffered as a result. My food was far from memorable (literally, I don’t remember what it was) but I do recall that I was pretty disappointed. It was some sort of chicken dish, which was nice but not amazing. Jonthan’s food was pretty good, though again, no memory of what he had either…! I wouldn’t recommend the Cucina Daily Restaurant for dinner if romance is what you’re after, though lunch might be okay. If you’re going for romance, really, keep on moving – this ain’t it. We also tested the Sagra Poolside Bar, which was pretty cool. On the top floor of the hotel, you have a pretty sweet view over Venice in the distance. Even in the August heat, a nice breeze was blowing keeping us cool as we sipped our champagne and mojitos. The only downside was that wasps were in full-effect when we were there, and almost everyone spent their time swatting them away or uncomfortably sitting still hoping they didn’t attack. Incidently, only one of the waiters ended up getting stung, but it wasn’t reassuring so we quickly finished our drinks and got outta there. Without the wasps, the experience would have been fantastically perfect. Overall, the bar is lovely, the service was nice, and the little olives and snacks served with drinks were a welcome treat, and the overall experience was quite memorable.
We really enjoyed our stay at the JW Marriott in Venice and if we could get a good deal next time, we would probably consider booking another stay with them. You really get decent value for your money (a great night’s sleep, a classy room, lots of on-site dining options, friendly staff…), and a few nice touches (like complimentary macarons and fresh fruit, as well as a Happy Anniversary welcome message) made our stay feel special… like we were celebrating something! At a nightly rate of €294, it wasn’t cheap but worth the splurge.
JW Marriott Venice Resort
Isola delle Rose, Laguna di San Marco, Venezia 30133
What to do: Venice is a city that is really meant to be explored and discovered, bit by bit. I think it’s a bit of a shame to try to “hit the major” spots there, because there’s so much to take in that you can easily get lost in ticking things off your muss-see list without actually taking in the pure grandeur of your surroundings. In that spirit, we just happened upon the Canal Grande, the Ponte di Rialto, and the Palazzo Ducale. Yes, they’re amazing, yes you need to see them if you are lucky enough to spend time in Venice, but no, you don’t need an extensive itinerary. We wandered around for hours on end, just exploring and getting lost. Now I should point out that I’m not usually that type of traveller, and I don’t usually enjoy walking aimlessly, but Venice is special and it makes you just want to get lost discovering all of the tiny little streets.
The only thing that we hesitated with was going to the Lido since we only had a few days in town, and we are so glad we decided to dedicate an afternoon out on the Lido di Venezia. It’s a city beach, so you can’t really expect to feel like you’re in the Carribean, but we absolutely loved it! The atmosphere is pretty chill – lots of sun beds and umbrellas for rent, but we just plopped our towels down in the sand near a rock, grabbed drinks from a nearby bar, and lounged around relaxing in the sun. Getting across from San Marco couldn’t have been easier; we just hopped on a water bus, using our multi-day pass. If we go back, I’d probably get up early each day to do the tourist thing, then spend the afternoons over there! City-break perfect for August, really. If you’re around when the weather’s nice and are hesitant like we were – just go for it!
How to get around: Getting into Venice itself was very easy, despite arriving pretty late, around midnight. The airport is very small, so just look for a ticket booth selling water taxi tickets and grab a timetable. You can also take a private taxi, but research suggests the price is about 3-4x more than the Alilaguna water bus. The private taxi might be worth it if you arrive by day, as that must make a pretty impressive first glimpse of the city. By night, however, it just doesn’t seem worth it. One thing to note: the walk from the arrivals terminal to the water bus/taxi area is a decent distance, and took us around 10 minutes. Comfy shoes are a must!
We hesitated about 2 seconds before deciding that we would forego the whole Venetian gondola ride experience. They were extremely expensive (well over €100) and didn’t seem all that charming, to be honest. We might give it a try on another trip in the future, if we come back during a less touristy season. In the heat of summer, though, they just seemed like a super gimmicky tourist trip.
Instead, we opted for the Water buses (vaporetti) which were awesome! You have the option of getting single tickets, or day passes, depending on how long you’ll stay and how often you plan to use them. We went with the 3-day passes, which were pretty convenient: we just hopped on whenever we were tired of walking, or wanted to visit an area of town a bit farther away. To be fair, we never really figured out the different routes and never really understood if were were on the best water bus for our destination, but it all worked out in the end. These ended up being an excellent value for our money, as we rode them a bunch of times, sometimes with no particular destination in mind – just to take in the gorgeous views. We often took lines 1 and 2, which took us right through the center of Venice.
When we weren’t water bussing around, we were able to navigate using our basic map and from time to time good ole Google maps on our phones. Venice is definitely not your average city and finding streets can sometimes be quite challenging. Things might look simple on a map, only to find that there’s a canal — with no bridge — instead of a street, so no way to get across to your destination. This happened to us a few times, but overall, we were happy to wander and get lost, so it wasn’t an issue for us.
What to eat: Like I’ve already mentioned, we were not wooed with the food in Venice. Many of the places just screamed tourist trap, and not many places really pulled us in. Granted we didn’t spend ages researching, though we never do and it always works out… not so much, in Venice. My trip planning is usually around picking an area to base ourselves in, looking up a few can’t-miss things to see and do, and that’s pretty much it. Restaurants are tricky because if you only base your choices on Tripadvisor top ranking spots, then you miss out lots of other smaller unknown places, which are often just as good (or better). So we usually just wander around a bit, then find a place that looks good then double-check reviews just to make sure there are no “Worst place I’ve ever eaten” or “Stay away – horrible staff” comments. Well, this method didn’t realllly work that well in Venice, because most places seemed to have extremely mixed reviews, and the ones we picked were not really amazing. That said, we did stumble upon a few real gems, so all in all it did work out. If you’ve got any recommendations for Venice eats, then please send them my way because I would love to go back and get a second taste of what’s to offer.
This place was a bit tough in terms of getting a table, but we were lucky in that we were able to get in right before the kitchen closed. Lucky us — the food was downright delicious! I ordered the lasagna, which is something I pretty much never order in restaurants because I only like my own (yes, I’m that much of a lasagna snob, even in Italy) but the owner mentioned that it was her own homemade recipe and that it might just change my mind. So I took her advice and I’m so glad I did. It was unlike any lasagna I’ve ever had, but in oh-so-good a way! Rich, full of buttery flavour, and complex… it was lasagna perfection. My lasagna recipe is very tomatoey (like most of my pasta recipes) and this one was a bit more creamy which I don’t usually like, but this was a game changer. I’ll be trying to recreate this very soon, so keep an eye out for that. Of course we also had perfectly-paired wine, and we shared a pretty gigantic piece of grilled lamb with roast potatoes. This place is not one to be missed if you’re in Venice, so don’t hesitate on this one. If you want to avoid disappointment, it’s probably best to book a table in advance – you won’t regret it.
Castello 3417/3447 – Venice
Open from Thursday to Tuesday (Closed on Wednesdays)
From 6.30pm to 10pm
Tel: +39 041.52.22.170
Osteria Leon Bianco
After walking around for over an hour looking for another restaurant that we simply could not find (seriously, even after asking people for directions several times), we were pretty starved and a little annoyed with trying to find a place for lunch, so we kind of just decided to try this place since it was open and had free tables. Now, I was already preparing myself for a mediocre meal; the place looked dead empty and the outside façade is a bit… uninviting. Once we got inside, however, we realized that you really can’t judge this place by the outside: they have an absolutely gorgeous charming little courtyard in the back. So we had lunch away from the busy square crowded with tourists, in a calm little oasis in a private garden. We had lovely cocktails to start, then had two big plates of pasta. My choice wasn’t extraordinary: spaghetti pomodorro, and if I’m being honest, was frankly disappointing. Jonathan’s seafood pasta looked divine, though, and he said it was excellent. Everything else besides my poor choice of pasta was above average, so this place gets a spot on my list of recommendations. Other tables had ordered various meats and they all seemed better than my pasta, so I’m willing to bet I just got unlucky. Check it out for yourself!
S. Marco 4153 | Salizada S. Luca, Venice, Italy
+39 041 522 1180
It was our last day in Venice, and we were really craving good pizza at this point. We ended up taking the water bus to the other side of town, then walked around visiting the area near the “Ghetto” until lunch time. Almost as if we were subconsciously guided by the Pizza deities, we found ourselves on a quaint little square near the Jewish museum and a pizzeria. After my standard quality check on Tripadvisor, I started to have serious doubts because the reviews were mixed as usual but a few mentioned the service was long and awful. Too hungry to give it a second thought, we sat down and ordered our favorite pizzas. The no-nonsense waitress served us (about 10 minutes later) exactly what we were hoping for: the best pizzas we had during our time in Venice. The dough was crunchy without being over-cooked, the sauce was rich and tangy and the cheese and toppings were perfect. For a simple meal in a quiet part of town, this place can’t be beat. The service was …normal. Not over the top to attract tourists, nor rude or hurried when we asked a few questions about the menu (and ahem… when I ordered my totally customized pizza). If you’re in the area, then don’t hesitate to try this place out – it’ll be well worth it. And if you’re not in the area, then you should be! It’s a great part of town, lots of cute little streets, and is off the beaten tourist path.
Campo Del Ghetto Nuovo | Campo Del Ghetto Nuovo, 30121 Venice, Italy
+30 041 4764288
Closing remarks: Jonathan and I travel to Italy (and in general) so much that we are often left with a bunch of travel memories that all blurb together, and no one place really stands out. Some places, we remember the food, other places, the adventures. Venice is definitely one of the places that left a mark on us. The food was good, but it’s Italy so that’s to be expected. There aren’t tons of incredible tourist attractions. The people were not particularly warm and friendly. There’s just something about the place that left us… wanting to return. I think it’s safe to say that Venice is a magical place to visit, and a place that I will definitely be going back to check out again.
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