This Adriatic wonder, the capital of the Veneto region, is full of exquisite bridges, beautiful churches and tiny alleys and should not be missed if only because its lagoon-based location makes it a true one-off.
But depending on who you speak to, Venice is romantic, a gondola-strewn, Italian city built up over the centuries on labrythine canals, bisected by the Grand Canal which leads down to historic St Mark’s Square and Basilica.
Others say it’s a sinking marshland whose neighbourhoods are jammed with tourists in summer, where a coffee can set you back £5 and a gondola ride from £70.
The truth is – it’s a bit of both, but ultimately the positives outweigh the few negatives.
Getting there, getting around Venice
Return flights to Venice can cost less than £100 and it takes about two hours to get there from London. RyanAir flies to Treviso airport, from where you can catch a eurobus service to the city. easyJet flies to Marco Polo airport from where a taxi can take you to the Piazzale Roma to begin your tour.
Eurostar trains connect Venice with the rest of Italy with a waterbus stop right next to the main station, Santa Lucia. By car, the Ponte della Liberta links Venice to the mainland, but once you have arrived in the city, park up in one of the signposted areas and prepare to explore by foot or waterbus.
Part of the attraction of Venice is getting lost along the tiny alleyways and small streets, so take a map and get walking. Alternatively take a water bus along the Grand Canal, or a vaporetto (water taxi) or a traghetti (ferry) to cross the banks of the Grand Canal.
Gondolas, whilst romantic, can be very expensive – don’t expect much change from £100 if you want an hour’s journey.
Beaches in Venice
For golden sands, head to the Lido. The Lido is a 20 minute water taxi ride away from St Marks Square and serves as the main land barrier, or rather sand barrier, keeping Venice sheltered from the open sea.
The Lido tends to get very busy during summer along the public stretches of the 11 mile-long beach but if you go in early September, expect to rub shoulders with Hollywood royalty as this is where the annual Venice Film Festival takes place.
The Adriatic side of the the Lido has beaches which have been carved up by the various hotels located there. The north and southern ends of the island are where you’ll find the main public beaches .
Nearby Sant’ Erasmo and Pellestrina are more secluded stretches and can be reached from the Lido.
Sightseeing in Venice
To begin, take a water bus along the Grand Canal for a three km journey from the train station down to St Mark’s Square.
You’ll pass under three bridges, including the stunning 16th century Rialto Bridge and it’s accompanying huge markets. Over the course of half an hour you’ll capture just a glimpse of some of the 117 islands and 150 canals that make up this mesmerising city, as well as the many gondolas that traverse the city and sights which inspired Canaletto to paint his famous portraits of the city.
Chief attractions include Doges Palace adjacent to the Bridge of Sighs which prisoners once crossed, looking out towards the Venetian lagoon. You’ll also pass the Gallerie dell’Accademia, home to masterpieces by Bellini and Carpaccio, as well as countless other palaces and churches.
But if you were to pick just one of the 200 Venetian churches to visit, head to Saint Mark’s Basilica in St Mark’s Square. It is home to domes, mesmerizing mosiacs and various other treasures, a status of Venetian wealth and power and surrounded by a piazza which Napoleon is claimed to have referred to as the drawing room of Europe.
St Marks Square is a central landmark where pigeons and tourists flock, hedged in by a marble arcade, a vast clocktower and some truly jaw-dropping architecture. The views from here stretch out across the Grand Canal, distilling all what’s great about Venice in one snapshot.
Family attractions in Venice
Head to the Lido’s public park and gaze up at the stars at the Venice Planetarium which is located here. This dome shaped building has various shows on Sunday and is great for stargazing youngsters to enjoy.
If a vaporetto ride along the Grand Canal doesn’t impress the children, head up to the top of the belltower in St Mark’s Square for a great view of the city, or feed the flocks of pigeons in the square below.
The absence of cars and other mortor traffic makes this a safe city to explore and get around and while there may be few child specific attractions, the gondolas and maze of alleys here are what will entrance the kids as well as the adults.
Day trips from Venice
The lagoon islands of Mazzorbo, Burano and Torcello are well worth setting a day aside to visit, as is the laid back fishing town of Chioggia.
A visit to the Lace Museum on the island of Burano is worthwhile for all lace enthusiasts with professional courses in lacework and exhibitions here.
Alternatively the glass museum on Murano island brings to life the art of Venetian glassblowing and lampblowing. The island is a mile north of Venice and was famous for its glass beads and mirrors from as far back as the 14th century.
Further afield, take advantage of great train links to visit Padua, a city which is home to some great fine art, or the town of Treviso. Verona is only an hour and half away by train from Venice and is ideal to explore for a day with particular sights including a Roman amphitheatre, San Zeno basilica and the Villa Capuleti.
Eating out in Venice
Spaghetti Neri, Riso Nero and Sepie are among popular dishes – basically spaghetti, risotto and squid dishes, often cooked in squid ink – so expect some jet black cuisine.
One of Venice’s best-known contributions to the Italian table is tiramisu, a rich dessert of mascarpone cheese. Polenta served with a tomato sauce and risi e bisi (risotto with fresh peas and bacon) are also traditional favourites.
Brodo di pesce is a classic Venetian fish soup. Traditional pasta and pizza restaurants are everywhere; the best places are found along the back streets of Canareggio and San Polo.
Nightlife in Venice
Start the night as the sun sinks with a Bellini in Harry’s Bar in St Mark’s Square. The prosecco and peach juice flavoured drink was invented here by the bar’s founder Giuseppe Cipriani and it’s the perfect way to begin your evening as the bars and cafes around this area begin to swell with the evening crowd.
Head out to Cannaregio if you are looking to party and look out for the Paradiso Perduto. The Casanova music cafe in Lista di Spagna opens late and there are quite a few chilled out bars in this area and also around San Polo. Generally though, Venice is not really regarded for it’s nightclubbing scene.
As the city of Vivaldi, expect to find many classical music concerts where his music and that of other Baroque musicians is performed, quite often at churches around Venice.
Shopping in Venice
Venetian masks, glassware and lace should be on the shopping list for those visiting this part of Italy.
From St Mark’s Square upto the Rialto Bridge along the Mercerie and adjoining small alleys there are a variety of small boutique shops well worth a browse as you meander your way around the city. For souvenirs, tacky gift items and postcards check out the markets across the Rialto bridge; the prices are cheap here and crowds usually throng the area.
For some spectacular glass products take a ferry to Murano to see the glass being made – but be prepared to haggle over prices.