With its countless canals and bridges, Venice is a beautiful place - whether you're travelling by boat or by gondola! Known as 'La Serenissima' - 'The most serene' -- Venice has an other-worldly, almost fairy-tale feel; with its car ban, waterside landscape, stunning architecture, churches and winding streets, you could be forgiven for thinking that you are on a film set.
Because there are so many canals, it's easy to find a hotel in Venice that gives you a great view of the water. A boat ride along the Grand Canal remains the perfect way to begin your exploration. You'll then likely battle the crowds in the stupendously famous Piazza San Marco (St Mark's Square). Beyond the main tourist spots though, Venice is a haven of hidden calli (alleyways) with artisan workshops creating beautiful objects d'art or lovely handcrafted goods, and ancient palazzi (palaces) line its beautiful streets. Beyond the city itself is la Laguna, the beautiful lagoon housing many idyllic islands and the Lido, Venice's famous stretch of beach that backs onto the Adriatic Sea. But there is plenty to do away from the water, too. In fact, Venice has a thriving art scene. There are tons of museums and galleries within walking distance of the city centre that will make any art fan happy.
Top Venice Attractions
Lined with Renaissance palazzi and alive with gondolas and vaporetti, the Grand Canal epitomises the spirit of Venice. Tourist cliché or not, this is a romantic and breathtakingly beautiful sight that should live up to all expectations.
Within Piazza San Marco is the outstandingly beautiful Basilica di San Marco, Venice's iconic cathedral that blends dazzling Byzantine and Romanesque styles to showcase the wealth and history of this great city. With five domes and guarded by bronze horses, the Basilica's pièces de resistance are the shimmering golden floor-to ceiling mosaics that date from the 11th century, and the stunning Pala d'Oro jewel studded screen in the Sanctuary.
Housed in a gracious 18th century palazzo on the Grand Canal, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection is one of the world's most impressive private collections of modern art. Within the chic interior and charming gardens are works by Picasso, Kandinsky, Klee, Mondrian, Rothko, Brancusi and more. It is an absolute gem.
From the famous glassmakers of Murano to the tiny island of San Michele that houses the graves of Stravinsky and Diaghilev, and the glorious Lido, La Laguna contains a beautiful and diverse collection of islands.
Galleria dell'Accademia is simply one of Europe's finest art museums, showcasing Venetian masterpieces that include Titians, Canalettos and Tintorettos.
If you want to truly relax away from the hordes in this tightly packed city where visitors can easily outnumber residents, then consider a day trip or weekend stay on the Lido. A mere two and a half miles away from central Venice, this sandy strip of land backs onto the Adriatic and lagoon and is a perfect place to sunbathe in the summer months in the pretty surroundings of sandy beaches dotted with beach huts. Expect to pay a few Euros for the privilege of using a deckchair and umbrella although the price drops after 2pm. In contrast to Venice's high art, churches and islands, consider also a visit to the district of Cannaregio, or Il Ghetto, the original Jewish quarter. Containing the Jewish Museum (Museo Ebraico) and some fine synagogues (Schola Levantina has a wonderful staircase), this fascinating and charming district off the main tourist track offers a sobering look into the past of Venice's Jewish citizens, who were initially refugees from the Spanish Inquisition until they were mostly expelled from the city during WWII. Now only a few hundred descendants of these families remain in Venice, no longer confined to the Ghetto.
Venice is known for its flamboyant Carnival, which takes place annually in the first two weeks of February. The city comes alive during this magical time when processions and performances fill the streets, followed by extravagant masked balls or masquerades. Dressing up is de rigueur, and if you can, get yourself a ticket to an elegant event such as the Gran Ballo della Cavalchina at the Teatro La Fenice where acrobats and baroque music will be part of the evening's entertainment. Less well known is the annual Witches' Regatta on the Grand Canal, where men row to claim ownership of the giant stocking hung from the Rialto Bridge to mark Epiphany. In the summer months you can enjoy the Feast of the Sensa (annually in June) in which the city renews its historic wedding vows with the sea, and the world renowned Venice Film Festival which takes place annually on the Lido between August and September.
Eating and Wine
One of Venice's favourite traditions is apertivo time, when the city's residents take time for drinks and snacks. Since Venice is right on the border of Italy's wine-growing area, there are plenty of drinks to choose from. However, if you want to see the coolest crowd, head to the Rialto Bridge. There, you can enjoy a glass of wine and get a look at Venice trendiest residents.
Visitors should try a spritz - a classic Venetian drink combining Campari (or similar spirit), white wine and soda - in one of Venice's bars off the beaten track. Try Taverna del Campiello Remer close to the Rialto Bridge. Alternatively, head to the beautiful island of Isola di Torcello in la Laguna and sip a prosecco in Locanda Cipriani, an upmarket restaurant owned by the Cipriani family of Harry's Bar fame. This is probably Venice's most famous nightspot, a classic 1920s bar serving the now legendary (and expensive) Bellinis that were invented here in the 1930s.
If you're still hungry after apertivo time, it is easy to find something delicious, because Venice is home to some of the world's best food. In a traditional Venetian restaurant, you can dine on everything from antipasti, to meatballs, to seafood. Osterie are Venice's cheap and cheerful eateries, somewhere between a pub and a restaurant. Try and experience the city's delicacy of risotto di seppie - a cuttlefish risotto flavoured and tinted black with the cuttlefish ink, which is definitely nicer than it sounds! Venice is not a particularly late-night city, but if you know where to look there are still some excellent venues that offer snacks, drinks and entertainment. The excellent Paradiso Perduto serves good value pizza and pasta all served up to a backdrop of live jazz, and stays open until the early hours (2am latest), and Bácaro Jazz is a lively venue for jazz and cocktails at much more affordable prices than Harry's Bar. Or withdraw to the quieter Campo Santa Margherita to enjoy a spot of people watching and a sumptuous hot chocolate.
If you're looking for a nice place to stay, most of the hotels in Venice are on the city's west side. That's where you can find everything from five-star accommodations to cheap Venice hotels. It is crucial to reserve a hotel in advance in Venice as the high season runs from March until November, and the late spring months are probably the best time to visit weather-wise, as high summer can be stiflingly hot. Choose a pensione in Castello for good-value accommodation or stay in a fabulous resort on an island such as Giudecca.