Venice is one of those places that belongs in the imagination; from Shakespeare's Venetian tragedies to the masked balls of the 18th century played out in cinema since its inception, the city is fantastical and magical in equal measure. And that's before even visiting it for real. But when you do, I can safely say it doesn't disappoint. In fact, it exceeds all expectations.
Yes it's touristy, very touristy. But no amount of camera-touting tourists and school trips can detract from the beauty of the place. And trust me, those glittering canals and pink terracotta terraces will turn even the coolest cat into a snap happy tourist, so ultimately we're all one and the same once there, all equally blown away by the place. Take a map for the sites, but make sure to get properly lost at least once (or every afternoon if you're like us) and hop on the Vaporetto (water bus) as much as possible for a commute with a view. I dare you not to fall head over heels for the place just as I did.
Scroll to the very bottom for ideas of what to do and see culturally - part two will be eating and drinking (my favourite).
Flying over the Italian alps on our way. And the skies stayed that blue and that clear for our whole trip....
Skip the gondola ride (which will set you back at least 100 euros) and splash out on a private water taxi into Venice from the airport. You'll feel like James Bond for half an hour and they'll take you right to the door, or as close as possible, of your hotel or apartment via jade-green canals and bridges. You'll probably overtake a couple of gondolas en route too....
You can't go 10 yards without seeing at least one mask in Venice. I didn't end up buying one purely because I'm terrible when faced with too much choice, but these dainty metal ones were tempting...
Wearing Zara jeans and boots, Saint James breton jumper, Whistles leather jacket, Gucci bag, vintage scarf (similar here and here), vintage hat (similar from ASOS here).
I love an Aperol spritz but Venice's signature appertif verges on medicinal. They do look mighty pretty scattered across every table at dusk though.
Imagine buying your weekly fruit and veg from a barge. Heaven.
The ceilings are always so special in Venice, you spend most of your time looking up. At Scuola Grande di San Rocco they even provide mirrors to save you from neck strain. Ingenious no? This one is from the entrance of the stunning Palazzo Ducalle, or Doge's Palace.
No afternoon in Venice is complete without gelato.
Wearing Zara boots, And Other Stories leather trousers (similar here), Pringle of Scotland jacket, Rayban sunglasses.
Pastries the size of my head for breakfast every morning.
The start of one of our best meals in Venice at A Beccafico. You'll notice that all my food photos have the knife and fork raring to go... Testament in equal amount to the deliciousness of venetian food and my greediness.
Outside the small but perfectly formed Guggenheim museum (more on that below).
The floors in Venice are worth taking in too.... Marble marble everywhere.
Canal-side strawberries and ice cream in the afternoon sun.
Wearing Larsson and Jennings watch, Orelia bangle, Adidas Originals Gazelle sneakers and Natalie Marie Jewellery rings.
The Rialto bridge at night from the water. It pays to get the vaporetto to dinner a couple of times....
We almost skipped the institution that is Harry's Bar, famous for being the birthplace of the peach bellini and a favourite haunt of Hemingway. The 14 euro price tag is enough to scare you off but inside it's classic, unassuming and cosy so I'm glad we eventually went on our last night. And the bellinis are delicious....
Venice: What to See
St.Mark's Square - Unlike lots of must-sees in other European cities, this focal square of Venice is worth the hype. No visit to Venice is complete without stepping inside the Palazzo Ducale (boasting one of the largest, most opulent rooms in Europe), St Mark's Basilica (worth paying to go up to the terrace for some truly incredible views) and the Bell Tower. We didn't climb the bell tower as with St Mark's and lunch at the Danielli (more on that in part two) we felt we'd been spoilt for views already but, if you can face the queues, it's meant to be spectacular.
Academia - The main gallery in Venice for pre-19th century art and one of the loveliest spots on the Grand Canal. Make sure you walk over the Accademia bridge while you're there; it's the spot from which Turner painted his iconic landscapes of Venice and you can lock a padlock onto the bridge if you're feeling romantic.
Guggenheim - O.K maybe this is the loveliest spot on the grand canal (it's all lovely basically). Peaceful gardens ahead of several rooms of contemporary art from peggy Guggenheim's personal collection. Jackson Pollock, Paul Klee and Vasili Kadinksky are all in there.
Scuola Grande di San Rucco - Opulent, 15th-cenutry architecture and a huge collection of art by Italian Renaissance painter Tintoretto, this couldn't be more Venetian if it tried.
Friari Basillico - Venice is all about big, beautiful, echoing churches and this is one of the best. Right next to the Scuola di san Rucco and a Grom gelateria just outside that serves as a very good reward for a culture-fix.
Ca' Rezzonico - We made a blunder with this and left it till our last day, only to arrive too late when it was shut. I was gutted to miss it as it sounds right up my street, offering a glimpse into what life was like in 18th century Venice. Glamorous and full of scandal I imagine....
Burano and Murano - Brightly coloured chocolate box islands known for lace and glass-blowing respectively. The perfect little escape for a day but more on that coming soon....
Rialto Bridge - this was the busiest, most touristy bit we came across. If it were me, I'd appreciate it from the water on a vaporetto or water taxi. It's especially wonderful at night.
Eating, drinking and wandering in part two.
All photos my myself and James Wright using an iPhone 5, Leica M Series and Fujifilm X100