What’s my favorite thing to do in Venice? Ride in a gondola, of course. No visit to Venice is complete without a ride, but there is a lot to see here. Just take a look around. It looks exactly like what you’d expect. It’s a city that’s totally unique and nowhere else will you find one that even resembles the lifestyle here. There’re no cars or traffic, making it look almost exactly as it did a couple of hundred years ago. So gondolas? Yep, we got ‘em, and a whole lot more.

This has to be one of the most beautiful cities in the world. And while Bangkok is referred to as the” Venice” of the east and Amsterdam is called the “ Venice ” of the north, nothing compares to the real thing. This is a city that’s so romantic, so cultured and so, well…, beautiful, that no other place in the world comes close. Venice has also been described as a visual masterpiece, and it’s often been painted as such. It’s as if a virtuoso orchestrated the city as a harmonious mix of sights, sounds and incredible sensations. There’s so much to see here…and one of the best ways to soak in all the history and culture of Venice is on the water.

Now when it comes to navigating the canals, you have several options: you can hop on a water taxi, rent a boat & drive, glide “en mass” on a water bus, or you can choose my favorite mode of transportation and go for the gondola! This tour will set you back about 60 Euros, which is a lot more than the other options believe me. But you can do it at least once, because it’s worth it. Chalk it up to having a unique cultural experience!

The gondoliers will give you a running commentary on what you’re seeing as they navigate through the canals, and did I mention all the sites you’ll see? Like the Casanova building, where Casanova himself was supposed to have lived. Some attractions will be historical and some you can file as: “just interesting to know.”

Where’s the green line? Or better yet, what’s the green line? It’s a layer of algae, which lines the canal walls and marks the water level at high tide. And when the water goes even higher than the line? Ahhh, the Venetians are prepared! They ( only live on the second floor or up, because the water comes in.

You know, while I love learning about Venetian history and culture, I have to admit, I adore window shopping from my gondola. The only bad part is you can’t actually buy anything from the boat, but we’ll be back, I assure you! That’s if you can get through the traffic jam. The city streets might be free from rush hour backups, but the canals are a different story. So while you’re waiting for things to clear up, you have a perfect opportunity to study the different types of gondolas.

If you’ll notice, all the gondolas aren’t exactly the same. At first glance they look the same, but each one has its own carvings, its own decorations and definitely its own gondolier. And, if you’re willing to pay a little more, you can be serenaded on your tour. “O, Solo Mio…” Now that’s different!

No tour of Venice would be complete without a trip down the Grand Canal, the largest in Venice. This is the “main drag” as they say, and has been described in the past as “the finest street in the world.” Unfortunately if you’re in a gondola, your entrance to this famous waterway won’t match its grandeur! But you have to give and take no matter where you go.

Let’s see…count ‘em: Three bridges, including the famous Rialto Bridge, fifteen churches, I don’t know how many bell towers, and the gorgeous palazzos. I think the Grand Canal is the best place to discover the essence of Venice. It’s also the place to find a lot of those other sea faring options I told you about, the water taxis and water bus. While I love making my first trip down the canal via a gondola, I must admit that it’s difficult to soak in all this beauty in just one trip. I mean look at this place! It’s incredible! You know, for a little extra fun, plan one of these trips for right after sunset when the palazzo’s are all lit up. You’ll get a few glimpses of the interiors before they close up for the night.

Despite all this opulence and beauty, there is one funny thing about the canal. The two banks of the canal were once called ‘de citra’ and ‘de ultra,’ which translates to this side and the other side. Well, that’s creative! The grand canal may not have inspired the city planners; but it’s been the muse of artists for centuries, which makes perfect sense because it has views that are amazing!

Once you’ve explored the city by boat, it’s time to see it from a whole new angle: on land. But, there aren’t any cars in Venice, so you’re going to have to rely on your feet. Don’t even think about wearing high heels in Venice. When I say you’re going to walk a mile, that’s on a slow day. You will want to wear tennis shoes for your exploration and your feet will thank you, that’s for sure.

Venice is basically a bunch of little islands, separated by canals and connected by bridges. Lot’s of bridges. Trust me. You’ll spend the day going up and down, and up and down. No wheelchair access I’m afraid, this is one city that is not very handicapped accessible. But there is one thing you have to see, and it’s at the top of the Rialto Bridge. The little streets around the Rialto Bridge are great for walking. Just remember, outdoor restaurants are usually on the water and the best shops are inland. Go ahead….have a look around!

Just like in Florence. The Rialto Bridge is lined with shops and souvenir stands. It overlooks the Grand Canal, the main drag, the super highway of Venice. And just like any main boulevard in any major city, it has its own version of bus stops and taxi stands. The water bus is called a “Vaporetto”. To save cash, choose the number 1 Vaporetto. It’s inexpensive and its slower pace allows you time to notice all the intricate details of the canal. Make sure you’re close to the front of the line, that way you’re guaranteed a good spot! Water taxis are faster, more direct and more expensive…just like the ones on land. So to save time, let’s hitch a ride on a water taxi for the must see attraction in Venice!

Wow. So you get here and you say, St. Mark’s Square, this is fantastic! Piazza San Marco, it’s the big one, and trust me, you’ll know it when you see it. It’s the one not on the water, and believe me, it’s huge, with a cathedral at one end, and the rest, lined with shops and cafes. The other square that connects to it is the Piazzetta that sits on the water front. And what do both squares have in common, besides the fact they connect? Both are overrun with pigeons!

The reason the squares are packed with these birds is because of a centuries-old tradition. The Doge used to release the pigeons in the square every Palm Sunday as a gift to the people… and the people…would eat them! The pigeons that survived this yearly massacre were deemed worthy of finding protection in St. Mark’s domes. As the tradition continued, the protected number of pigeons in the city multiplied and they are still increasing to this day! And now, you have this…

Okay, so there’s like a sport here in St. Mark’s Square. It’s called pigeon dodging. Oh, here comes one, look out, or you’ll get pooped on or engulfed by the wings as they land right on you. It’s hard not to get overwhelmed by a pigeon population this out of proportion and this pushy. You’ll see pigeons throughout the city, but St. Mark’s is the only place where you can safely feed them without paying a hefty fine. Which is probably another reason why the birds come here! Look out, incoming! Have you seen the Hitchcock movie, The Birds?

Of course the pigeon’s aren’t the only attraction in St. Mark ’s Square. You can’t come all the way to Venice without going inside the Doge’s Palace. The entrance is right over there on the canal side. Sorry…no cameras allowed. Once you’ve gone through the palace and back out, turn back to the square, because you don’t want to miss St. Mark’s Basilica. This is one of the oldest, most beautiful and most visited cathedrals in Europe. This Byzantine sanctuary is over 1,000 years old and houses, not only some of the oldest mosaics in Europe, but it’s also the resting place of St. Mark’s remains.

And as you say, “I didn’t know that!” The story of how those bones got there is rather interesting, because they were stolen in 828 A.D. by two Venetian merchants. They took the remains from his tomb in Alexandria. Egypt, and when the relics reached Venice , the Doge had St. Mark’s Basilica built in celebration. So the story goes, the end.

You know St. Mark’s square has to be one of my favorite places in the world. And it’s the perfect spot for an age old pastime. The cafes on St. Mark’s Square are great for people watching. Did you know if you order something, you can sit here for an hour or more? Nobody rushes you. There’s good news and bad news. The good news is, the tax and service is included. Bad news is, it’s kind of expensive. Let’s see, 8 Euros for a soft drink or a cup of coffee. One thing you should note, if there’s music playing, they’ll hit you with a 5 Euro cover charge, turning it into a $15 cup of coffee. But, I think it’s worth it. It’s a front row seat the best show in town and a free ticket to the toilet, which you will need after imbibing any liquids.

Venice is an amazing city because it looks so much like what you see in the old paintings. Just like in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice! And in keeping with that incredible tale, I think we’re ready for a little merchant trading ourselves. I mean…have you seen the stores here? They have only the best! Okay, shoppers, there are two main areas to shop here in Venice. To find them, you come to St. Mark’s Square. Face the Cathedral and the Doge’s Palace, in the far left hand corner is an archway, go through there and that’s the main shopping street.

Now, for the more high end, the Louis Vuitton, the Fendi, the Versace, the expensive stores, face the other way, directly facing away from the Cathedral and the Doge’s Palace. Again, far left hand corner. You’ll walk through that archway, and that’s where you’ll find the good stuff. American Express is down there too. More money available at your finger tips if you use up those travelers cheques.

Well, since we’re pointed this way, let’s start with the designers. Just for comparison of course! So, what’s good to buy here? Anything Italian. Leather is great, handbags, shoes. Of course, I’ll buy everything I can up to and exceeding my credit line. SSHHH! Don’t tell my husband, he’ll kill me! The only thing you don’t want to buy are counterfeit goods. This is not the place to get knock offs, because Venice has recently enacted a penalty for purchasing fakes. And, although I haven’t met anyone who’s been caught, I heard that some travelers have been fined up to 10,000 Euros. Is this a tale to scare you off? So, if you want the designer label… get the real thing.

As you’re walking around looking at the shops, if you can tear your eyes away from the windows, look up. That’s old Venice, ah, enough of history, we’re shopping today! This is shopping heaven. Come on. You know if you buy a certain amount, you can get your VAT back, your value added tax. So that’s a savings. It’s a discount. There is a minimum in some of the stores, so make sure that you ask for a form. The de-tax form and you fill it out, and get your money back at the airport.”

If designer duds aren’t in your budget even with the VAT, then you go directly to the Rialto shopping district. You’ll discover a lot of the shops are just souvenirs and touristy things. But, you have to get something. Why? Well, because in about a year, you’re going to find it in a drawer, and you’re going to say, oh, my trip to Venice . That was so much fun. It’s a wonderful memory. In Venice, you won’t just find your typical magnets and key chains. No, they have much more interesting souvenirs. Like gondolier hats and carnival masks. Oh yeah! Venice is a carnival any time of the year, and they’ve got the masks to prove it. Some of these are real works of art.

Your Venice souvenirs don’t have to be kitschy, they can be practical and beautiful, while still representing the history and crafts of Venice. Something you’ll actually use and appreciate! Well, besides jewelry. So where do you find an item that has all these characteristics? I discovered the perfect place: in the glass factories on the Island of Murano.

The Venetians have always been renowned for their glass production for centuries. Their techniques and style made glass making a profitable and sought after trade in the city. In fact, the secrets of glass making became so valuable, that any Venetian master of the art who was caught trying to leave the province, ran the risk of losing his hands or his life. The good old days, right? In 1292, the glass factories of Venice were relocated to the Island of Murano, because of the Doge’s fear of a fire breaking out in the city. Today, Murano is still the place to find and watch the production of well-crafted Venetian glass, which is quite something to see.

While watching the process is really fascinating, I believe in appreciating an artist with the highest compliment…. Considering a purchase! And even though they have plenty of experience shipping, I say, spring for the insurance! My opinion of Murano glass was always like this. More traditional, with the little striations in the glass with all sorts of colors and then beautiful chandeliers. But as you will see, it is a work of art, and they’ve turned it into art. Sculptures… just incredible. And the colors are still there. There are rooms, and rooms, of incredible artwork. The more you look, the more you see, and you kind of have to take something like this, and picture it alone. It just gets lost in here because I’ve walked through these rooms about five times, and every time I do, I see something new. The hardest part is choosing what to get! And this is why Murano glass is the perfect memento from Venice. It’s unique, it encapsulates the history of the city, it is beautiful and whenever you use it, you’ll remember your trip.

Once you’ve played with the pigeons, dropped in on the Doge, glided on a gondola, beheld the Basilica, consumed one of the world’s most expensive cups of coffee, and hit the shops, you’re probably ready to settle in for the night. But first you have to decide where to stay. Because you’re going to be doing that much walking, the location of your hotel is very important. Obviously, the closer you are to St. Marks Square , the better, but the prices are going to be higher. So decide what’s most important to you. Sightseeing or shopping. Sightseeing, shopping, sightseeing or shopping. I’m going to have to get back to you on that one. Even though I love to shop, once I saw the Londra Palace Hotel, it was just too beautiful and the service is just too friendly to pass up.

It’s unlike any other hotel in the world and the first thing that sets it apart is its location. It’s the nearest to St. Marks’ Square, the historical center of Venice , which is really downtown. From here you can walk anywhere. I would say, really, a five minute walk to get to the shoppping, to get the most beautiful art galleries, to go and see museums, to go and see the Basilica or any other place in Venice.

Throughout its history, it’s been the home of various artists, dignitaries and celebrities. One of its more noted guests was the famous composer Tchaikovsky. In 1877, he was used to come to Venice often, because he very much liked this town and he found great inspiration for his music. He stayed here because this hotel was very well known among the musicians and composers of the time. To commemorate this famous guest, the hotel has adorned its walls with his personal memorabilia. And now, you can actually stay in his original room. It is also rumored that there is a ghostly presence and music coming from nowhere, so be prepared for some haunting.

If you’re not staying in the hotel, you can still enjoy the sophistication of the Londra Palace by dining in its restaurant, de Leoni, or have a drink in the bar. Just come for the experience of true Venetian style and class. And, you might want to have dessert here. What else, dolce! Actually dolce means “the art of Venice” and I think it represents the richness of Venice perfectly. It’s not only imaginative, it’s delicious!

After dinner, it’s tradition to take an evening stroll, through St. Marks Square or beside the Grand Canal, or even better, a romantic gondola ride…ah, amore. One of my writers actually had her first official date here at the age of ten with both sets of parents chaperoning! You know all the love stories and novels that use Venice for their settings, you can’t find a more unique city. Venice is a place that is like no other in the world. It has its own look, and its own personality. It certainly offers its visitors memories like they’ve never had before. So take my advice and don’t settle for a city that says they’re “like Venice” or they’re the “ Venice ” of their country. See the real thing. You’ll hold your memories for a lifetime.