Despite tourists outnumbering locals two to one most days, Venice remains one of the most beautiful and romantic cities in the world. With enchanting canals at every turn, world famous art and architecture and a whole lagoon of islands to explore, the city built on water known in Italian as La Serenissima (the most serene) pulls everyone under its spell.
Explore the secret squares, spectacular palazzi or just watch the world go by. Venice can be overpriced and some days it can feel like a stepping on to a conveyor belt of tourists but it is downright swoon-worthy, an open air museum quite unlike anywhere else on earth.
A must-do is a trip down the Grand Canal by vaporetto (waterboat). Glide down the main canal in Venice into San Marco, Venice’s most famous square, and make sure you look out for the stunning Ca D’Oro (house of gold) on route.
Once in San Marco, you can see five major sites in one stop. The magnificent Piazza with its pigeons and cafes (Café Florian is the best-known.) Explore St Mark’s Basilica, the Doge’s Palace, and the stunning Torre dell’Orologio, the 500-year old clock. Get a bird’s-eye view of Venice by climbing the 99m Campanile, the city’s tallest building. See the famous Bridge of Sighs too. No trip to Venice is complete without a gondola ride, but be prepared to pay 80 Euros for 6 people for 40 minutes.
Book your city break to Venice
Art-lovers should visit the Galleria dell’Accademia di Venezia, Venice’s premier art museum near the Grand Canal. Enjoy collections by Titian, Canaletto and many more. For a modern art fix drop in to the Peggy Guggenheim Gallery.
The Rialto Bridge and Market area are a feast for the senses. This picturesque area is dotted with shops galore and fresh produce stalls, it’s where the Venetians get their groceries. Head for the Cannaregio quarter too, one of the least touristy parts of the city, find delicatessens, shops and everyday Venetian life in action.
Make time to tour the islands of the lagoon. A short hop across the water takes you to the beautiful glass and lace-making islands of Murano and Burano and Lido, the Venetians’ holiday island, with its popular beach.
Venice’s hotel prices can make you wince. Check into the famous Hotel Cipriani opposite San Marco if you are seriously splashing out. For more manageable budgets, rent a small apartment near one of the markets (great for self-catering).
Convents are also quirky alternatives. Try the Istituto San Giuseppe. Also recommended is Il Sole Palace, which is perched above a lovely canal in the Santa Croce quarter and the Domus Orsoni and set in a wonderful old glass factory in the tranquil Canareggio quarter. Alternatively try staying on one of the islands, such as Burano or Lido, for easy access to Venice without mainland prices.
Try some Venetian dishes like oca in onto (goose in its own fat) or freshwater lagoon fish. Get the best polpette (meatballs) in Venice at Ca d’Oro Alla Vedova in Canareggio. For a blow-the-budget dinner, head for Osteria Da Fiore (Calle del Scaleter, San Polo), where Venetians queue for tables. And for a table with a view enjoy the waterside delights of Taverna del Campiello Remer overlooking the Grand Canal.
Venetians flock to the Boutique del Gelato, Salizzada San Lio, for their ice cream. Huge crowds are guaranteed.
Venice was built for exploring on foot and you can get just about anywhere within a one-hour stroll. You can also buy a travel card by the week or hour for the excellent public water-bus system. Venetians walk quickly, and if you hear ‘permesso,’ step out of their way! Don’t be afraid of getting lost in Venice, it is one of the best ways to see the city. Look out for clearly marked yellow tourist signs.
In hot weather the city can get quite smelly so head in spring and autumn for pleasant temperatures and fewer people. August is often muggy and overcrowded so best avoided. Temperatures plummet in winter but prices do too.
The prices. Venice is expensive, even some churches now charge exorbitant prices for admission. Take enough currency with you.
The Venice Film Festival, in August-September turns Lido into a mini-Hollywood. A fabulous event and perfect for celebrity spotting.
Venice is a place for all ages for its sheer spectacle, but the weight of the crowds will add at least an hour to any excursion, so build this in to your itinerary. Travel light, with comfy footwear and plenty of water.