The first time I visited Venice was with my parents when I was 15, we left South Africa to escape the madness of the 2010 Soccer World Cup and ended up backpacking around Europe for a few weeks. My experience of Venice was noticebly different, naturally as I was never in charge of planning our days outings, to when I returned four years later. However, when I returned in 2014 with two friends I experienced the strangest feeling of deja vu...
This sinking city of masks never seems to change - the canals are the same, the signs with confusing arrows directing tourists to San Marco Plaza or Rialto bridge never change, and the tiny Jewish Ghetto still holds the same families as it did four years before. It is incredible to think that through all the changes in the world, this city that sees millions of tourists each year still remains what it has always been, the city that floats off the coast of Northern Italy.
So for those of you planning to visit this magical city [and I really recommend a three day stop here], here are my five favourites to do:
1. An afternoon in the Jewish Ghetto - even finding the Ghetto (when walking from the direction of the train station) is a bit of an adventure; your walk through narrow unpopulated alleyways, through arches, and follow your nose to the quaint bakeries you pass along the way. In the centre of the square there is a fountain, where you can sit and watch the younger children running around and playing... this is my favourite site, and I always make an effort to spend a few hours there in a sort of meditative state of mindfulness.
2. Peggy Guggenheim Collection - the view alone from the house is breathtaking as you get a private look at the canal from a side not accessible to walking tourists. To briefly describe my experience here [post on art museums in Europe should be up shortly] would be to make you think of every famous artist, and then picture all of the eras of art in one museum. I have never encountered such a diverse and mesmerising collection of art until I visited Peggy's house.
3. Rialto Bridge - this quirky bridge contains some of the most beautiful little stores, ranging from Italian Leather Handbags to Murano Glass Fountain Pens, there is something there for everyone. Naturally being part of 'tourist-central' I wouldn't advise you to buy anything, but you can easily find smaller, cheaper shops selling the same products, so Rialto Bridge is a great way to get an idea of what is out there. And the view from the bridge isn't too bad either.
4. Ice cream - yes I know, broad category but honestly, if you are in Italy you need to experience their creamy, cool delights. I don't think I experienced one bad ice cream (and I tried quite a few from various shops), so my advice is to walk as far away from San Marco square as possible, and then buy your treat.
5. Grand Canal at night - do yourself a favour and go stand on the wide bridge overlooking the Grand Canal at around 11pm. This for me is the magic of the city, and you feel transported into a place rich in culture and history. It is always nice to end off your last night in Venice here, and then wander the canals to take in the quieter parts of the city before rushing back to reality.