When visiting Venice what better way in there to explore this special, unique and crumbling old city than via the canals. When you tour the canals you get not only the chance to see Venice from another perspective and see all those amazing and well known sites once again. But from here you see how real life works, you get to discover how to locals live and see some of the most fascinating and intriguing areas. We took a tour with Walks of Italy to explore Venice alongside a life long local!
Firstly, as you probably know, tours really aren’t usually our thing. We like to explore on our own terms and we sure did during our time in venice, we even got lost on purpose in the maze like street and discovered some really fascinating sights many don’t take the time to seek out. But Venice also holds so many secrets that we could just never discover by ourselves, behind every wall and around every corner are stories we would never know about.
When taking a tour it is important that what you get out of it is local knowledge. Speaking to and getting information from people who actually live in the towns and cities we visit is something we are making more of an effort to do whilst we are backpacking through Europe. This way instead of just passing through and skimming the surfaces just as a tourist you can really leave with some local knowledge and experiences.
Seeing Venice by water:
What really appealed to us was seeing Venice the way it was intended; via the complex network of canals! We had considered taking the water bus just to experience being on the water, but it only goes down the grand canal and is packed full of commuters and tourists. Then there are the gondola trips, but these are really quite expensive for what is often a cliche filled route through the city with no real guide or information, its more for show really!
Here we would be driven by a local, often waving at passing boats and speaking to the several people he knew along the routes, taking tight turns down tiny canals only locals would ever know about! Then our guide, who was born, grew up and still lives right in the heart of Venice…who better to show us around and give us the fascinating history of this old and breathtaking city!
What we loved about this tour really was that it not only showed us some of the main areas such a San Marco, The Grand Canal and the Rialto Bridge from the water but we also explored some of the lesser know canals, seeing where the gondolas are made, the hospital and the water taxis and where real life happens in Venice! Seeing the small courtyards hidden away down the local canals, the schools situated in old palaces and how normal life exists behind a curtain here!
The trip around Venice, a fascinating history lesson!
Being guided by a local meant that her passion for this city knew no bounds, her knowledge really was impressive and we learnt to much about this city that it is almost impossible to write it all down here! I could go on for days!
One of the most fascinating points for us what really how Venice came to be. From the geography of the city and how the rivers brought down silt and rocks from the Dolomites (where we had just come from!) which settled as they hit the power of the sea.
This formed the islands we see today, only a very small section of them has actually been man made, the rest is mother nature at her best. Even the shape of the islands is wonderfully symbolic, the currents and tides made the main island have a fish like outline which would be protected by the nearby rectangular shaped lido to create the perfect location for such a unique city.
Then came the important fact that Venice was its own country for hundreds of years, this was the founding stone of the grand city we see today. In isolation it became powerful and wealthy, creating its own society in which trading with other countries and empires was central to their success.
This also gave Venice its characteristics of today, trading with far and exotic countries opened the city up to a magnitude of different cultures. It had one of the first Jewish settlements in Europe and welcomes people of all faiths and nationalities as an early cosmopolitan city.
Venice’s unique natural composition was also a huge reason for the financial success that came its way. Being a city in which the sea flowed through allowed the extraction of salt to be convenient and easy. In these days salt was the currency of the land, the latin for salt “Sal” spawned words we used today for payment such as ‘Salary’, or even the word ‘Soldier” as they would often be paid in salt…or the northern English saying “worth his salt”. This shows the importance of something we very much take for granted today, Venice having the lottery on this sought after material was thrust into wealth and therefore the grandeur that we see today was afforded by the people here!
Another interesting discovery was that for years, and even for some things today, the people of Venice kept all what they considered “risky” activities on the outer islands. The cemetery is on its own island, the hospital for many years was outside of where people lived, the famous glass factory of Murano was on its own island and they even quarantined incoming goods ships an their crews to try to (mostly unsuccessfully) stave off the plague.
By far the biggest highlight of this wonderful tour was St. George’s Island. It was somewhere I had never considered as a place to visit and didn’t even know it was possible! It might only sit across the Grand Canal just outside of St. Mark’s Square but the church and tower here is much less visited than those just across the water. But ironically the view from up here is so much more extensive, you can see the Adriatic, the outer islands and a stunning view of San Marco itself…and all without having to push and barge your way to the viewing platform!
Another real highlight for us was the anecdotes from the guide as we cruised the canals in what felt like VIP fashion. It really did feel like you were getting a personal tour of the city (and given the small size of the group we pretty much were!) Each stop we made was not only filled with historical facts but also personal stories about real life from our guide. It really felt like we were getting an unprecedented view into this wonderful city from the inside!
Seeing the city away from the crowds! Venice can sometimes be overwhelming with tourists and touts around every corner, here on the water, exploring the lesser known areas we got to see beyond the crowded and heaving streets and see the relaxing and serine side to Venice!
How to take this tour:
This tour is called the: VENICE BOAT TOUR WITH GRAND CANAL & TOWER CLIMB
Duration: 2hrs / Start time: 3.30pm
Find out more here: www.walksofitaly.com/venice-tours/venice-boat-tour
Cost: 98 Euros per person
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Read all about our other adventures in Venice:
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Disclaimer: Walks of Italy kindly invited us to take this tour on a complementary basis. But all opinions are our own honest impressions of what was a great trip!
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