Join me as we tour Venice, one of the great cities of Europe, on foot. Venice walking tours are a fantastic way to explore the city of a thousand canals. Obviously, before we visit, we research by reading, doing internet searches, and talking to others to prepare for our destination. These activities are all worth the effort.
However, there is something to be said for joining a knowledgeable local guide who can bring a place to life. People who have lived in the area, people who have family and friends in the neighborhoods, and people who are part of the soul and energy of a place. Here we present two fabulous Venice walking tours from The Tour Guy that bring the city of Venice to life.
Venice Walking Tour with Gondola Ride
The fantastic six-hour Venice in a Day Combo Tour with Gondola Ride highlights some of the top attractions of Venice and is one of the most popular Venice Walking Tours. This tour took us to St. Mark’s Square, St. Mark’s Basilica, the Doge’s Palace, the Grand Canal, Rialto Bridge, a gondola ride, and through some less visited neighborhoods in Venice. Chiara, our excellent guide, added a mix of interesting history and commentary about Venice, giving us a great flavor of the historic city.
We started our tour at the entrance to Venice from the lagoon, between two towering landmarks. Looking out towards the lagoon from St. Mark’s Square, we have St. Todaro on the left and the winged lion of St. Mark on the right. These marble and granite pillars have marked the main entrance into this great city for centuries. It is also the spot where public executions were held, so many people avoid walking between the two pillars because of superstition.
The last thing those being executed saw was the Moorish clock tower. With their back to the lagoon, the condemned prisoner had a clear view of the clock. Thus, the popular expression, “Te fasso véder mi, che ora che xe” – I’ll show you what time it is.
St. Mark’s Basilica
The magnificent St. Mark’s Basilica is a prime example of the magnificent Venetian artisanship through the centuries. The current church (the third built on this site) was started around 1063 but has been restored and revised many times over the years. Ceilings, walls, and floors are covered with intricate mosaic tiles, many featuring the glitter of gold. Numerous artworks depicting saints, prophets, and biblical scenes are scattered throughout the basilica.
Legend has it that the body of St. Mark, the basilica’s namesake, was stolen from Alexandria, Egypt, and brought to the basilica. The commonly told story is that the Venetians smuggled his body out by hiding it under layers of pork in barrels to get it past the Muslim guards. In addition, many of the treasures in St. Mark’s came from places like Constantinople (Istanbul).
After the victory by the Venetians in the Fourth Crusade that ended in 1204, a lot of valuable items were shipped to Venice from the conquered territory. Among those treasures are the four bronze horses above the main entrance, parts of the Golden altar, relics, crosses, and other artifacts.
The opulent Doge’s Palace is connected to the San Marco Basilica facing the lagoon. This gothic masterpiece was the residence and the seat of the Venetian government for centuries. The walls hold a treasure trove of historical and artistic importance. From the beginning of the tour up the Golden Staircase to the end in the Great Council, the architecture, artwork, and décor are spectacular. The narration from The Tour Guy guide added depth and understanding to our wonderful tour.
Parts of the Doge’s Palace complex was a prison in the past. Some of the prison cells were down in the dank, dark, wet bottom floor and must have made for a miserable experience for prisoners awaiting their fate. It is fascinating to walk above the canal while crossing the infamous Bridge of Sighs, which connects sections of the prison spaces. Prisoners going to their execution made this last long walk, where they could stare out of the windows to gather one last view of the Venetian lagoon before their demise.
The artwork within the Doge Palace is endless and priceless. Paintings, murals, statues, and more from artists like Tintoretto, Titian, Paolo Veronese, Carpaccio, Giovanni Bellini, Gianbattista, and others cover each room. Several fires destroyed some of the masterpieces in the palace over the years but now feature more brilliant artwork.
The Great Council Chamber was where the Senate met to make decisions about financial and other important local matters. The ceiling is covered with gold and beautiful paintings in one of the largest and most opulent rooms in Europe. On one side of the room, almost an entire wall features Tintoretto’s Paradise. One of the world’s largest oil paintings on canvas, this masterpiece is truly breathtaking, with some 500 characters represented on this canvas.
Another intriguing space in the Doge’s Palace is the Armory. These four rooms display a vast collection of about 2,000 weapons used throughout the centuries. Medieval suits of armor, swords, bows, arrows, and other weapons of war provide an insightful look at what war has looked like over the years. They even have a miniature suit of armor, most likely made for a child or dwarf, found on the battlefield in Marignano in 1515.
The Scaramouche Mask of the Black Plague
As we walked through some older neighborhoods, our guide showed us pictures of the famous Scaramouche Mask, a traditional Venetian Mask with very large, pronounced noses. During the time of the Black Plague, some doctors believed these masks, which contained protective herbs in the nose, could help filter the poisons and putrid smells in the air. The masks are still popular at masquerade parties and at the festive Carnivale celebrations.
I did not go on a gondola ride during my first several visits to Venice. Because we had limited time and so many other priorities, we just never made time for that iconic gondola ride through the canals. We did take the convenient Vaporetto on many trips as well as a private water taxi. However, on this trip, my fourth, we made it a point to experience the gondola.
I must say, my wife and I both thoroughly enjoyed our time floating down the canals. It really is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Only in Venice can you glide along the canals of an ancient city, traveling under the Rialto Bridge on the Grand Canal, with centuries of intriguing history and beauty all around. This was a fantastic way to end our Venice walking tour. Book your ticket here>>
Venice Local Evening Food Tour in Cannaregio
The Venice Local Evening Food Tour in Cannaregio with The Tour Guy was a wonderful evening. Nothing tells the story of a place like the everyday food and drink locals enjoy. While I had dined in Venice on numerous occasions, I have never truly felt such a genuine connection to the city as I did on this food tour with The Tour Guy. Our local guide, Juliano, knew all the nooks and crannies and all the best bars and restaurants. And, of course, he always had stories and jokes to make our experience even more enjoyable.
Meeting at the Teatro Italia (a former cinema now turned into a supermarket), our small group of eight people became fast friends. During our three-hour tour, we visited 2 bars, had a sit-down dinner, and made a final stop for dessert. At each bar, we had a drink along with a variety of Cicchetti (small bites) to accompany our beverages.
Aperitivos & Cicchetti
Our first stop was at Cantina Aziende Agricole, where we enjoyed the Pilla Aperitivo (similar to an Aperol Spritz, but slightly more bitter) and a selection of four Cicchetti. Various cheeses, ham, herbs, and spices made for some very tasty small bites, a perfect start to our evening. They were all flavorful – my favorite was the eggplant and ham.
After a short walk to the second bar, we were greeted by more Cicchetti accompanied by a crisp glass of white wine. Many people in our group loved the cod appetizer, while my favorite was the delicious fried polpette (meatball). The gorgonzola and ham were also very tasty. The Cicchetti, apertivo, wine, and conversation made the first hour of our tour so much fun. We could have easily made a meal and a night of it just at the bars, but we had more to see and do that evening.
Sit-Down Dinner in Venice
For our sit-down dinner, our group was treated to a variety of traditional Venetian dishes. I had a wonderful lasagna, while others in our group tried the Spaghetti Bolognese or the popular Spaghetti with Black Squid Ink.
Paired with our choice of red or white wine, we enjoyed spending time with our new friends as we filled our bellies. It was so nice to sit and relax after our active evening with the hustle and bustle of the bars and crowds we experienced earlier. We were able to truly relax and spend some quality time with our fun guide and fellow diners.
Best Gelato in Venice?
After our sit-down dinner, we walked through some of the less visited neighborhoods of Venice and followed Juliano to our final stop for the evening. Of course, we had to finish our night with gelato! I was all set with a scoop of stracciatella and a scoop of pistachio from Maison de la Crepe. Our group gathered on a small bridge overlooking one of the many canals as we enjoyed our gelato and one last joke from Juliano. What a fun evening we had!
Venice is a one-of-a-kind destination. With so much to see and do, I highly recommend taking a Venice walking tour with some locals to get oriented and to get a true feel for the area. Our two Venice walking tours with The Tour Guy greatly added to our experience in Venice. We saw and learned so much more than we would have on our own. We were so glad we got to experience some local neighborhoods, food, drink, and some of the intriguing stories in the wonderful city of Venice.
Thanks to The Tour Guy for hosting us on the wonderful Venice walking tour and the evening food tour. All opinions are my own.
Read Scott’s article, Venice off the Beaten Path, for more great things to do in Venice.