On the last morning of our 3 week holiday in Italy I had planned a surprise for the whole family… I kept the fact that we were going to be doing a Venice Highlights Walking Tour a secret from them all and just gave them the basic need-to-know info. We had to be waiting at 9:00am under the column with the lion on San Marco Square!
Waking up a bit earlier than usual to catch the Vaporetto down the Grand Canal was totally worth it. The gorgeous golden morning light reflected off the water and cast a beautiful warm glow on all the beautiful villa’s lining the canal.
On our previous visit to Venice we didn’t spend as much time on the water and I really loved this aspect of this visit. We bought a 48 hour access ticket to the water taxis and loved being able to jump on and off as we pleased without worrying about the cost each time. Catching these “taxis” earlier in the morning also allowed us a unique glimpse into the lives of the locals on their way to work!
We arrived at the S. Marco vaporetto station and made our way to the meeting point in ample time where we met our lovely guide from The Roman Guy tour company between the two columns of San Marco & San Teodoro on St Mark’s Square.
I chose to do a walking tour of Venice because I felt that this is a city that requires a guide. Yes, it’s lovely to get lost in the labyrinth of lanes BUT as the city comprises 118 small islands with lots of dead-ends and small footbridges, it is a very difficult city to explore on your own. I really wanted to get a sense of the place through the eyes of a local and I wanted to get snippets of interesting information that would make the history of this historical city come alive for my kids and myself. Venice has so much rich history and culture that it would be impossible to see everything – even when using a a guide book. taking a walking tour really helped us to save time and avoid the stress of planning our own route (and getting lost!) Another great benefit of doing a tour of a city is that the guides are usually very knowledgable and enthusiastic, sharing interesting and important information on each monument along the way.
The Venice Highlights Tour was our chosen tour because it covers all the best things to do in Venice in a short amount of time (ie. manageable for kids), plus it gives access inside St. Mark’s Basilica and includes a gondola ride! THIS was the main highlight for me. On our last visit we didn’t have the opportunity to go on a Gondola so I was really excited about this and kept it a big secret from the kids!
Most people visit Venice for just a day or two, which makes it difficult to squeeze in all the best things to do and see. By doing a walking tour you can experience the best of Venice in just a few hours, leaving ample time to get lost in the romantic back streets!
At 9:30, once all the members of our group had arrived, our guide handed out headsets for us to listen to her commentary even if we were a few metres away from her or in a busy crowd.
We were prepared for a lot of walking and came equipped with comfortable walking shoes to tackle the terrain! We also brought along our hats, sunscreen and water bottles in a small backpack along with our passports and confirmation of our tour. Limited luggage is definitely recommended when doing a walking tour! This particular tour was 2 and a half hours in length and the early start meant we were able to enjoy some of the main sights without too many crowds and before the heat of the day.
Basilica San Marco (St. Marks Cathedral)
The first stop on our walking tour of Venice was the beautiful Basilica San Marco. This Venice walking tour includes skip the line tickets. which was a real bonus! We had never stepped inside and it was mind blowing!
Some of the fascinating facts I discovered was that St. Marks Cathedral was built in the 10th century and it is one of the most unique Roman Catholic Cathedrals in the world as it has a lot of Byzantine and Middle Eastern influences. I loved the stunning mosaics covering the ceiling and really enjoyed learning about all the different stories captured in this unique art form as well as the different styles and periods that the art represented. Nicknamed “the Church of Gold” it contains 4,240 square meters of gilded mosaics constructed over eight centuries.
The name St. Marks stems from the Apostle St. Mark, who is allegedly buried in the Cathedral. If you take a tour with The Roman Guy than you will learn a lot more about the interesting history of this main Basilica in Venice.
We then meandered through some of the lesser known streets and quiet squares, over foot bridges and under arched alley ways, learning fascinating facts about some of the architecture and history of the area.
Winding our way back to Rialto bridge and the Grand Canal we weaved confidently through hidden alleys and streets learning the significance of the statues in the center of each square and admiring the local shops selling famous Venetian face masks.
Initially built from old boats, the Rialto Bridge is the oldest of the four bridges spanning the Grand Canal and it was rebuilt in 1500. It is also home to the fish market. We managed to grab a few photos and spend a short while enjoying the view from the top of the Rialto bridge out over the Grand Canal.
Scala Contarini del Bovolo
Our next stop was a hidden gem known as Scala Contarini del Bovolo. Hidden down a tiny back alley near St. Marks Square and the Rialto bridge this leaning tower of Venice is fairly undiscovered.
The Scala Contarini del Bovolo was built by a noble family in the 15th century and is known for its “snail” like appearance. The tour does not include going up to the top of the tower, but that is certainly an option you can do at a later point in your stay. That is the beauty of taking a tour – you discover secret spots that you want to return to and enjoy at a slower pace during the rest of your stay!
Finally it was time for the BIG surprise. The gondola ride. I had been dreaming of this moment for myself for a very long time. A lifetime! And now I got to share this special experience with my husband AND our kids! My kids couldn’t quite believe it when I revealed that we would all be hopping on to the beautiful boat and enjoy a 30 minute leisure cruise complete with a stripe-clad singing gondolier!
What a magical moment to step aboard the black and gold gondola and weaved our way at water level through the small canals of Venice and finally to the Grand Canal right near the Rialto Bridge! This alone is reason enough to book the Venice Highlights Walking Tour with The Roman Guy as usually a a gondola ride alone is more than the entire cost of this tour!
If you’re heading to Venice soon or planning a trip in the future I can highly recommend booking a Venice Walking Tour through The Roman Guy. It’s a great way to see all the highlights within a short period of time with the bonus of fast tracked entry into some of the most popular churches and museums in the world! Booking a tour that includes entry into some of these sites is well worth the money and time saved trying to make the booking or get entry on your own! PLUS if, like me, you’re very keen to get a ride on a gondola than this is the tour for you! Visit The Roman Guy to book this memorable walking tour of Venice.