Venice is a unique city. Built entirely on water, with marble churches set on top of ancient posts driven in the mud, Venice is bursting with beautiful piazzas, elegant Venetian palaces and countless canals and bridges. Although a comparatively small city, Venice is one of the top cultural destinations in the world, with more artistic masterpieces per square kilometre than anywhere else. It’s also one of the world’s top destinations for honeymooners.
Regardless of how many times you’ve seen images of Venice in films, paintings and photographs, nothing can prepare you for the dreamlike beauty of the real thing.
The most exotic of Europe’s cathedrals, the Basilica di San Marco draws the largest crowds in town. This impressive stone building features exquisite twelfth century marble floors and domes glittering with mosaics of glass tiles. Entrance to the basilica is free, although you must wear conservative dress, and there’s a small charge to visit the museum, treasury and Pala D’Oro – the main altar.
One of Venice’s main landmarks, the Palazzo Ducale, or Doge’s Palace, is a Gothic wonder of pink and white marble. Located in Piazza San Marco, visitors can take a secret itineraries tour through the rooms and chambers that once housed the city’s administrators, and past Casanova’s prison cell.
The beautiful church of La Pietà, in the Castello district, is famous for its musical past – the composer Vivaldi was concertmaster here in the early eighteenth century. Although the current church was built since his death, it’s still regularly used as a concert hall.
Venetian Art Galleries & Museums
Art buffs are in for a treat in Venice. The Peggy Guggenheim Collection, located in her former magnificent palatial home, the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, houses one of the most important collections of European and American art from the 20th century, with works by modern masters including Dalí, Picasso, Klee, Pollack, Ernst and Kandinsky. Don’t miss the Sculpture Garden, with pieces by Moore, Giacometti, Arp, and Venetian artist Emilio Vedova.
The School of St Roch is often referred to as Venice’s Sistine Chapel due to the gorgeous Renaissance paintings that cover its interior. The Venetian painter Tintoretto was commissioned to decorate the school in 1564, dedicating 23 years to the task, and today it houses the majority of his paintings with over 50 works to see. There are also works by Tiepolo, Strozzi and Giorgione.
The Gallerie Dell’Accademia is home to the greatest collection of Venetian paintings in the world, including Carpaccio’s famous work ‘Ten Thousand Martyrs of Mount Ararat’, Titian’s ‘Presentation of the Virgin’, Bellini’s Madonna and Child with Saints’, and some more of Tintoretto’s paintings.
Other notable mentions go to the Glass Museum on the island of Murano, the house of renowned Venetian playwright Goldoni, and the Lace Museum.
The Carnevale is two weeks of masked madness every February. The largest masked ball in Europe, visitors flock here from across the world to don ornate costumes and join in the fun.
The oldest film festival in the world, the Venice International Film Festival takes place every August and September. The Lido Esplanade is a hive of activity where you can mingle with the jet set and watch the stars on the red carpet.
The Regata Storica is one of the best festivals in the world. This historic fleet festival re-enacts the arrival of the Queen of Cyprus in 1489 after she renounced her throne in favour of Venice. The event begins with a parade of sixteenth century style boats, followed by boat races, including the popular and colourful gondola race.
Shopping in Venice
Once you’ve had your fill of culture, there’s plenty of shopping to keep you occupied. Venice has many shops packed with high-quality goods, including leather goods, fine velvet and silk scarves, Murano glass, lace, and handmade paper. Head to the Atelier Marega Quarter to buy costumes and masks – you can even watch the masks being painted before you buy.
The Rialto Market is the commercial heart of Venice, and goods here are generally less pricey than those found in the boutiques. It’s also home to the famous Rialto Bridge – one of Venice’s most iconic structures, dating back over 800 years.
Shops close for a long lunch, providing you with the perfect excuse for a siesta after a busy morning shopping and sightseeing.
That ‘Cornetto’ Moment!
Well, it’s irresistible right? With waterways in place of roads, boats are the usual mode of transport in Venice, including the vaporetto or waterbus. But it’s more or less compulsory to hire a gondola and gondolier at some point. While his services don’t come cheaply, being serenaded on Venice’s waterways is a unique experience.
Getting to Venice
Venice Marco Polo Airport is around 16 miles inland from the city, and travellers can catch a shuttle service or waterbus to the centre. Water taxis are also available, though rather more expensive.
There are plenty of flights from UK airports, including London Stansted, where drivers can leave their vehicles in one of Stansted’s cost-effective car parks. Make sure you check out the options before you head to the airport to get the best deal.
Many first-time visitors arrive in Venice full of expectations about the city – and they rarely leave disappointed. Just make sure you book in advance – in busy times officials have resorted to banning entry to anybody who doesn’t have their accommodation pre-booked.