In the sunlight on a happy summer day, Venice just might be the prettiest city ever. It has a sleepy, fairytale Old World quality about it because the thoroughfares are pedestrian-only and there are canals where you'd expect to see streets. Some people find their ancient murk and the fact that the city is actually sinking as the sea level rises to be a bit depressing, but most love its unique pace and storybook setting.Even on a first visit, Venice landmarks like the Piazza San Marco, the Bridge of Sighs, and the Ponte di Rialto seem familiar because they've been in so many movies, photographs, etc. There are countless monuments and churches, plus the incomparable Doge's Palace. But some of the most fun you can have in Venice is just walking its labyrinthine little streets Riva degli Schiavoni being the most touristy or cruising around via water taxi, which is the city's form of public transportation and ten times better than a bus.
A gondola ride along the watery “streets” of Venice is an experience that is not easily forgotten. Established 1,500 years ago on a thicket of islands in a marshy lagoon (a safe haven from the barbarian hordes), Venice grew into one of Europe’s most powerful centers of trade in the Middle Ages and through the Renaissance. This “white swan of cities,” as Longfellow called it, has profoundly inspired painters, musicians and writers, and Venice’s allure remains irresistible for the legions of visitors who come to ride the vaporetti (water buses) to the palaces along the Grand Canal, savor a glass of wine at piazza cafes, and marvel at the Byzantine splendor of St. Mark’s Basilica.
Canals and carnival. These are the popular images of the Italian city that dreamers have long described as the most romantic and mysterious on earth.
The old historic center of Venice is situated three miles from the mainland on 118 islands in the Venetian Lagoon. The islands are connected to each other by an intricate lattice of canals. Auto traffic is almost non-existent in this city, and those who feel that the gondolas are only for the tourist trade can easily confine themselves to the narrow footpaths and bridges that open out onto the many church-filled squares.
The Grand Canal, with its bobbing boatmen, winds around the largest of the squares, Piazza San Marco (St. Mark_x0092_s Square). This is the traditional postcard scene of Venice, with its famous cafes, its Byzantine basilica and its legion of hungry pigeons.
Nearby is the storied Bridge of Sighs, where countless lovers have exchanged countless pledges of fidelity. Such fidelity is tested at carnival time, however, when devout-but-pragmatic Venetians don colorful masks to act out their last-minute desires before the start of the Easter season.