Happy Tuesday! I'm currently cozied up in the cutest coffee shop in London and SO happy to be reunited with my dear friend Haley, from Sequins & Things! After a month of non-stop travel, I'm so ready for some R&R (and especially time to catch-up time with her!) She's also living "across the pond" for several months like I am, but instead of traveling non-stop- she's calling London home. Lucky for me, Haley happens to be the kindest soul on the planet, and is taking me in at her (adorable) flat in London for a little while. She's one of my best friends and we live in different cities back in the states, so I couldn't be more excited that we're getting some quality time together (and that it's in London!)
Now that I can stay put (for at least a little while) I'm hoping to play some serious catch up on all the traveling I've been doing the last few weeks. I've already shared my Lake Como and South Tyrol experiences on here, so today I'm recapping the last stop on my northern Italy tour I took with my friend Tillie: VENEZIA!
I've heard lots of mixed reviews about Venice. People have told me it's dirty or touristy or not worth wasting my time. But even still, I couldn't shake the desire to see this iconic lagoon town nestled in the Adriatic. While Venice is by no means the "perfect destination", I'm so glad that I didn't listen to the critics. It was an incredible experience and somewhere I'll always remember.
Contrary to the advice I received, I definitely recommend that you pay it a visit. For starters, it's no secret that Venice is sinking- so it won't be around forever. But aside from any urgency due to natural forces, Venice is an incredibly unique and beautiful city- unlike any other you'll visit. And it's easy to tack it onto another trip, because you don't need to dedicate a ton of time there in order to see and do everything (we were there 4 nights and it was plenty of time). In fact, you can easily replicate the 13 day trip that Tillie and I did together (which includes Lake Como, South Tyrol and Venice) and the routing is perfect.
No matter how you slice it, this Italian gem is absolutely worth seeing and someplace you should plan on visiting at some point in your lifetime. So when you go, here are my Venice recommendations:
Where is the best place to stay in Venice? It depends on your price range! We stayed at a couple different places to be able to speak to multiple budgets.
Venice was the last leg of our trip, so by the time we arrived we were pretty worn out from lots of hopping around. Lucky for us, we were checking into San Clemente Palace Kempinski, a five star luxury hotel located on it’s own island in Venice and a proud member of Leading Hotels of the World.
The property was pristine. All of the landscaping was perfectly manicured. All of the staff was sharply dressed, spoke English and couldn't have been more kind and helpful. Every detail from the outdoor heated pool, to fitness facility, to the elaborate breakfast provided to all guests (complete with mimosa bar- swoon!) was absolutely impeccable.
Staying on a private island may sound inconvenient, but it was actually quite the opposite thanks to the private and complimentary boat system that runs directly to and from the Hotel and Piazza San Marco (aka the center of all the action). Boats are prompt, clean and comfortable (a nice break from the public ferry!) And if staying away from the city center concerns you, let me set the record straight. Venice is a bustling city with lots of tourists (especially in August when I was there), so it was such a breath of fresh air to feel some tranquility and seclusion from all the chaos.
All in all, I was highly impressed by everything and loved every second of my time here. If there is ever a time to splurge on a luxury accommodation, San Clemente Palace Kempinski is it. For more information, visit their website here.
I’m very fortunate to be able to travel some of the places that I do because of my job, but trust me when I say I know how to travel on a budget. While saving up for a five star hotel and splurging can be totally worth it, it’s still not realistic for everyone. So in the spirit of seeking out options for all, we traded the luxe life for a hostel experience (in hindsight, I'll probably flip-flop the order of the two next time!)
Believe it or not, it was my first time staying at a hostel (I've always been an Airbnb kinda gal when sticking to a budget). But even though we had just been so spoiled at San Clemente Palace Kempenski, I was still impressed by the accommodations at Generator Hostel. Rooms are pretty bare bones, but offer everything that you need. And the public areas are actually quite impressive- designed with a similar feel to a boutique hotel. You can opt for a shared room with other travelers (as anyone who has done hostel travel knows) or you can also get a private room (which is what Tillie and I did). If you're looking to meet other travelers from around the world, hostel life can be a great experience (although we did feel slightly "old" for that scene!) I'm looking forward to staying with Generator again during another adventure I have planned... stay tuned!
Looking for the best restaurants in Venice? Check out these favorites of mine:
Dining can be tricky in Venice. If you want a spot with a great view of San Marco or the Grand Canal, you’ll often find yourself at a tourist trap with somewhat subpar food. But if you hop just across the canal to Giudecca, you'll find Hotel Belmond Cipriani where you don’t have to compromise the quality of your food or your view. Cip’s Club offers delicious food and stunning views of Piazza San Marco from across the water (and it’s much quieter than all the chaos happening over there). I loved our lunch there and everything we ate.
Start with a glass of prosecco from their impressive wine list and the "Carpaccio Classico Cipriani" (thinly sliced raw prime beef seasoned with a signature sauce). For your main, I recommend the "Filetto di Branzino al forno, Limone e Finocchio (delicious baked sea bass with lemon and fennel). And whatever you do, don't leave without trying their heavenly tiramasu- I could have eaten four of those things...
I adored our time there- but especially the time we spent chatting with Luana, my contact at the hotel. She joined us for a cappuccino after our meal to tell us more about the property and what a wonderful company Belmond is (we also discussed things like Italian men and what a war it is to be tempted with gelato on a daily basis... gelato usually wins). We loved everything about our lunch and Belmond experience so much that we actually returned twice more: once for a cappuccino and again for dinner by the pool. So if you're looking for a tranquil, scenic and delicious place to dine in Venice, be sure to pay them a visit (or three!)
We also had a little fun snapping some pics along the waterfront next to Belmond after lunch- so many little gems tucked around every corner!
I had so much fun shooting with Siza, a Venice local who is a photographer I was connected with through Flytographer. Aside from providing me with lots of great photographs to remember my trip by, she also gave me lots of recommendations for where I should eat in Venice. One of them was Antica Adelaide, a quaint hole in the wall that's tucked away in Cannaregio. Antica Adelaide is an old osteria serving authentic (and delicious) lagoon fare with unique menu items you won't find at every other restaurant. Since pasta is made fresh, they request that at least 2 people order a dish in order for them to prepare it- so be prepared to agree on a menu item with your travel companion. But be sure to try some seafood while you're there! Venice has a wonderful seafood selection and Antica Adelaide was some of my favorite (although being that it was a cozy little hole in the wall, it was also pretty dark- luckily I found this photo from foodspotting.com to give better representation of the experience than the dark and blurry photos I attempted to capture!)
This gem was another recommendation from someone during our travels, and we loved our experience. Trattoria alla Madonna is located right around the corner from Rialto Bridge and offers traditional Venetian dishes (including a plethora of fresh seafood in a casual atmosphere. Every day, fish and vegetables are carefully chosen and worked into the menu to ensure freshness and optimal taste. We had a wonderful evening there, and our server was hysterical (he appeased our many photo requests and took wonderful care of us throughout the entire meal).
While Venice has many other renown seafood restaurants, I found the ones above to be less touristy (and less expensive!) without compromising the quality or experience.
You've probably had a bellini at some point in your life, so why not experience one at the place where it originated? Harry's Bar is a 1930's known for it's creation of the bellini (along with impressive celebrity clientele over the years). Pop in for one before heading to a sunset gondola ride (like we did) and toast to the fact that a drink this delicious exists for us to enjoy.
Everyone dreams of a Venetian gondola ride. But much to my disappointment, I didn't realize how expensive they are! A quick 30 minute ride starts at €80- yikes! We almost let the high price tag keep us from doing it- excusing it away with things like "I guess it's touristy anyway- it's not like Venetians actually ride in them..." But deep down, I was sad. But after a Bellini at Harry's Bar, we were already drinking the touristy Kool-Aid and thought we'd give our negotiation skills a whirl. While batting your eyelashes still won't bring that price down, we were lucky to bump into a couple from Barcelona who asked if we wanted to share a gondola. Splitting the price between 4 instead of 2 makes it way more reasonable, and it was fun to chat with them a little (and have extra sets of hands to take pictures for each other!) In hindsight, I'm so glad we didn't miss out on the experience. Some things are straight up tourist traps and aren't even really worth the hype, but in my personal experience, a sunset gondola ride was worth every penny. Don't miss it.
SAN MARCO SQUARE AT NIGHT
While you'll likely visit Piazza San Marco, or San Marco Square, during the day, be sure to go back at night time. Not only will you find it to be much less crowded than it is during the day, but lots of the cafes have string quartets playing romantic Italian music. Sit under the stars, order some gelato, and soak in all the Italian clichés you can muster.
The Rialto Bridge is the oldest one in Venice and a must-see during your time there. It's a bit touristy, but is incredibly beautiful and romantic at night. There are lots of beautiful cafes nearby if you want to try one for a drink (I personally can't promise anything about the food if you decide to try one for dinner, but you can't go wrong with at least an apertif to soak in all the beautiful ambiance). We popped by on our way to dinner at Trattoria alla Madonna (and yes- we are wearing matching pink coats, but no- we do not sell Mary Kay).
Last, but certainly not least- be sure to wander around the streets near the Grand Canal so you can soak in the view (I personally loved the quiet streets I found near Dorsoduro right behind Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute, where Siza and I wandered and shot a lot of these photos. Let yourself get lost + explore all the canals, the stunning architecture and countless gelato stands (still haven't found one I didn't like).
A special thanks to my friends at Flytographer for helping me capture my Venice experience! Flytographer is a great company that connects you with professional photographers in over 190 cities around the world so that you can capture your travels in the manner they deserve. It's especially great for family portraits, engagements, or just gallivanting around solo like I did :)
Venice is fantastic and left me with so many memories that I'll always cherish. As always, you know where to reach me if you have any questions: firstname.lastname@example.org.
My computer is now dying and my stomach is growling, so Haley and I are off to find some lunch in London before meeting up with friends for dinner and drinks tonight! You can follow along on our adventures via Snapchat: @alyson_haley and @blonde_atlas.
Thanks for stopping by and have a great day!