Instead of following online travel guides, discover the beauty of Venice on foot, and stumble on new sights at every turn
Most travel pieces are written at a time when the experiences are already memories. Not this one. I write this article sitting in Venice, the steam from an espresso rising in front, the excesses of previous evening’s Valpolicella wine and spritz playing a concerto in my head and the pain in my calves still fresh after days of walking through this unique city, celebrated for its history and culture.
Venice is unlike anything you have ever seen or will ever see. There are no vehicles in the heart of this Italian city. Not even carts or cycles or those pesky electric scooters that create chaos in big European cities. Instead, there are pedestrian-only lanes, bylanes, alleyways, passages and squares full of cafés, stores, bars, restaurants, churches, hotels, homestays and a handful of homes as well.
From visiting the Basilica San Marco (St Mark’s Basilica) to catching the sunset at the very busy Rialto Bridge, I could jot down a Venice list for you, but the AI-powered search engines and tools would do a much better job. What they won’t be able to tell you is how best to enjoy yourself in the heart of Venice. For that, you need to get lost in the maze of Venice’s history and beauty—on foot.
Almost everyone walks with their phones out, head down, trying to follow the blue dotted line on the Maps app. When you get tired, just stop at a gelato store or a café while your legs recover before continuing on your personal discovery of Venice.
I’d suggest just dropping a pin on a location and trying to get there without step- by-step navigation. Get a sense of the direction from the app, and then find your way there—it takes more time, but it’s far more rewarding. I tried this to reach the Venezia St Lucia train station from the Rialto bridge and the 30-minute walk took me 100 minutes.
I walked past old, beautiful buildings in alleys wide enough for just two people to walk side by side, happy to be lost, seeing things no list would have thrown up, experiencing the historical city and imagining how it must have been back in the day.
I hit more dead-ends in 90 minutes than I have done in my entire life, as the streets were cut off by Venice’s famous canal system. Every wrong turn reveals a new surprise—a beautiful old building, a charming square or an interesting café.
My favourite discovery was at the tip of one of the islands behind Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute. A perfect triangle behind the massive church, you can plonk yourself on the tip of Trabaccolo Il Nuovo Trionfo and take in the beauty of Venice in all its panoramic glory.
It’s so easy to get lost and yet enjoy yourself in Venice while sipping on the freshly mixed takeaway spritz sold in disposable glasses for an island-wide average price of €3.5.
FUELLING YOUR WALK
Long walks though the city require fuel, and you could get a pizza slice from various hole-in-the-wall pizzerias run by enterprising Asian immigrants or a pasta in a box. The immigrant-run restaurants in Venice serve delicious food, and you won’t go hungry, thirsty or broke for months. The average cost of a pizza slice is €3.5; a box of pasta is about €6.
My favourite pizza was had at the chain Farini, which also served delicious focaccia with several toppings, including vegetables, cheese, cold cuts and arugula. Farini keeps chilli olive oil sachets to season your food; you just need to ask. Other favourites here were zucchini-cheese and tomato-arugula-feta pizza slices.
GIVE YOUR FEET A BREAK
If too much walking tires you, a vaporetto or water taxi is the best and fastest way to get around. At €80 a ride, it is pricey but convenient and offers last mile connectivity. The cheaper option is getting a water bus, which starts at €8.50, for 75 minutes.
Take the gondola tour, where you move through the heart of the city, taking in its most iconic sights from the canals. The best time is just after sunset so that see the city when the lights come on. For those on a budget, use the €2 service that takes you to the opposite side of the Grand Canal, the widest canal in the city in five minutes. The best way to end the day in Venice is to go on a Bacaro tour, which entails drinking wines at the local old-time bars on the six islands that make up the heart of Venice. Trying to walk back to your hotel after that is another adventure altogether.
While it might be difficult to tear yourself away from the fascinations of the maze that is Venice, it is a good idea totake a 90-minute train ride to Verona, the city where Shakespeare’s Romeo And Juliet is set.
Verona’s biggest draw in this social media age is the statue of Juliet, which is in a courtyard with a hotel, Airbnb and a bookstore.
Beyond this, the charming city is the perfect antidote to the narrow and crowded streets of Venice. Verona is beautiful with a well laid-out old city centre, where historical buildings stand next to shiny stores tempting you with luxury and high street brands, restaurants, bars, stores dedicated to Italian moka pots and coffee accessories and sprawling wine stores.
The top draws in the city are the restaurants and bars at the Piazza Bra next to the historic Verona Arena, which will remind you of the Colosseum in Rome, walking around Piazza Erbe, spending some time at the public library split between a heritage building complete with a tower and a modern brutalist building, crossing the Pietra bridge on foot and visiting the San Pietro castle on the other side of it.
While a day is enough to walk or cycle to all the important spots of Verona, it is best to spend a couple of relaxing days shopping and drinking the local Amarone wine into the sunset.
Shrenik Avlani is a writer and editor and the co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.