Arriving in Venice (Venezia) is like stepping into a surreal never-never land. Where most cities have car-choked roads and impenetrable one-way systems, Venice has gondolas, vaporetti sestieri (districts) for a glimpse of Venice's beguiling and melancholic nature (water buses) and a labyrinthine network of canals. But the beauty comes at a price. Both for you (Venice is Italy's most expensive city) and for the city itself (Venice's frequently flooded alleyways simply weren't designed for up to 20 million visitors a year).
Surprisingly, though, it's still possible to escape the crowds. Away from Piazza San Marco and the main monuments, there are parts of the city that rarely see many tourists. Make for the back lanes of the Dorsoduro and Castello
Venice’s origins date to the 5th and 6th centuries, when barbarian invasions forced the Veneto’s inhabitants to seek refuge on the lagoon’s islands. The city was initially ruled by the Byzantines from Ravenna, but in AD 726 the Venetians elected their first doge (duke).
Over successive centuries the Venetian Republic grew into a great merchant power, dominating half the Mediterranean, the Adriatic and the trade routes to the Levant – it was from Venice that Marco Polo set out for China in 1271. Decline began in the 16th century and in 1797 the city authorities opened the gates to Napoleon who, in turn, handed the city over to the Austrians. In 1866 Venice was incorporated into the Kingdom of Italy.
Everybody gets lost in Venice. With 117 islands, 150-odd canals and 400 bridges (only three of which – the Rialto, the Accademia and, at the train station, the Scalzi – cross the Grand Canal) it’s impossible not to.
It gets worse. Instead of a street and civic number, local addresses often consist of no more than the sestiere (Venice is divided into six districts: Cannaregio, Castello, San Marco, Dorsoduro, San Polo and Santa Croce) followed by a long number. Some, however, do have street names and where possible we’ve provided them. You’ll still need to know that a street can be a calle, ruga or salizzada; beside a canal it’s a fondamenta. A canal is a rio, a filled canal-turned-street a rio terrà, and a square a campo (Piazza San Marco is Venice’s only piazza).
The most helpful points of reference are Santa Lucia train station and Piazzale Roma in the northwest, and Piazza San Marco (St Mark’s Sq) in the south. The signposted path from the train station (ferrovia) to Piazza San Marco (the nearest Venice has to a main drag) is a good 40- to 50-minute walk.
The Rolling Venice Card (€4) is for visitors aged 14 to 29; it offers discounts on food, accommodation, shopping, transport and museums. You can get it at tourist offices, and at HelloVenezia offices. You’ll need ID.
The Venice Card (http://www.venicecard.it/; under 30yr 3/7 days €53.50/76, 30yr & over €62/85) entitles holders to free entry to all of Venice’s civic museums, the 16 Chorus churches, unlimited use of ACTV public transport, and use of public toilets. It doesn’t always represent a saving, so check before buying.
To visit the museums on Piazza San Marco you’ll need to buy either a Museum Pass (Tel 041 240 52 11; http://www.museiciviciveneziani.it/; adult/EU citizen 15-59yr €18/12), which gives entry to the museums on Piazza San Marco and six other civic museums; or a San Marco Plus Ticket (€13/7.50), which gives entry to the San Marco Museums and your choice of one other civic museum. Both passes are available at participating museums.
The Chorus Pass (Tel 041 275 04 62; http://www.chorusvenezia.org/; adult/student 29yr & under €9/6) covers admission to 16 of Venice’s major churches. Otherwise entry to each church is €3.
Police station (Questura; Tel 041 274 70 70; Fondamenta di San Lorenzo, Castello 5053)
There are lots of internet cafes in Venice, none cheap.
botteg@internet (Calle delle Botteghe, San Marco 2970; per 15 min €3; h7am-midnight) Also an art gallery and secondhand English bookshop.
Libreria Mondadori (Salizzada San Moisè 1345, San Marco; per 10 min €1; h10am-8pm Mon-Sat, 11am- 7.30pm Sun)
Planet Internet (Rio Terrà San Leonardo, Cannaregio 1520; per 15 min €3; h9am-midnight)
Speedy Wash (Rio Terrà San Leonardo, Cannaregio 1520; 8kg wash/dry €6/3; h8am-11pm) Next to Planet Internet.
Twenty-four-hour pharmacies are listed in Un Ospite a Venezia (A Guest in Venice), a free guide available in many hotels. Ospedale Civile (Hospital; Tel 041 529 41 11; Campo SS Giovanni e Paolo 6777)
Pick up the free Shows & Events guide at tourist offices. It contains comprehensive city listings and a public transport map on the inside back cover. The tourist offices also sell a useful map of the city (€2.50). Azienda di Promozione Turistica (Venice Tourist Board; Tel central information line 041 529 87 11; http://www.turismovenezia.it/) Lido (Gran Viale Santa Maria Elisabetta 6a; h9am-noon & 3-6pm Jun-Sep); Marco Polo airport (Arrivals Hall; h9am-9pm); Piazzale Roma (h9.30am-4.30pm Jun-Sep) In the basement of the car park over the road from the bus ticket office; Train Station (h8am-6.30pm); Piazza San Marco (Piazza San Marco 71f; h9am-3.30pm) The Piazza San Marco branch is the main tourist office.
A good way to whet your sightseeing appetite is to take vaporetto 1 along the Grand Canal, which is lined with rococo Gothic, Moorish and Renaissance palaces. Alight at Piazza San Marco, Venice’s most famous sight.
Piazza San Marco
Piazza San Marco beautifully encapsulates the splendour of Venice’s past and its tourist-fuelled present. Flanked by the arcaded Procuratie Vecchie and Procuratie Nuove, it’s filled for much of the day with tourists, pigeons, balloon-vendors and police officers. While you’re taking it all in, you might see the bronze mori (Moors) strike the bell of the 15th-century Torre dell’Orologio (clock tower).
But, it’s to the remarkable Basilica di San Marco (St Mark’s Basilica; Tel 041 522 52 05; Piazza San Marco; admission free; h9.45am-5pm Mon-Sat, 2-5pm Sun Easter-Oct, 9.45am-5pm Mon-Sat, 2-4pm Sun Nov-Easter) that all eyes are drawn. Sporting spangled spires, Byzantine domes, luminous mosaics and lavish marblework, it was originally built to house the remains of St Mark. According to legend, the Evangelist’s body was stolen from Alexandria in Egypt and smuggled to Venice in a barrel of pork. He’s since been buried several times, his body now resting under the high altar. The original chapel was destroyed by fire in AD 932 and a new basilica was consecrated in its place in 1094. For the next 500 years it was a work in progress as successive doges added mosaics and embellishments looted from the East. The bronze horses above the entrance are replicas of statues ‘liberated’ from Constantinople in the Fourth Crusade (1204). Behind the main altar is the Pala d’Oro (admission €2; h9.45am-5pm Mon-Sat, 2-4.30pm Sun Apr-Sep, to 4pm Oct-Apr), a stunning gold altarpiece decorated with priceless jewels.
The basilica’s 99m freestanding campanile (bell tower; admission €8; h9am-7pm Apr-Jun & Sep-Oct, to 9pm Jul-Aug, 9.30am-4.15pm Nov-Mar) dates from the 10th century, although it suddenly collapsed on 14 July 1902 and had to be rebuilt.
The official residence of the doges from the 9th century and the seat of the Republic’s government, Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace; Tel 041 271 59 11; Piazzetta di San Marco; admission with Museum Pass or San Marco Plus Ticket; h9am-7pm Apr-Oct, to 5pm Nov-Mar) also housed Venice’s prisons. On the 2nd floor, the massive Sala del Maggiore Consiglio is dominated by Tintoretto’s Paradiso (Paradise), one of the world’s largest oil paintings, which measures 22m by 7m.
The Ponte dei Sospiri (Bridge of Sighs) connects the palace to an additional wing of the city dungeons. It’s named after the sighs that prisoners – including Giacomo Casanova – emitted en route from court to cell.
One of Venice’s top galleries, the Galleria dell’Accademia (Tel 041 522 22 47; Dorsoduro 1050; adult/EU citizens 18-25yr €6.50/3.50; h8.15am-2pm Mon, to 7.15pm Tue-Sun) traces the development of Venetian art from the 14th to the 18th century. You’ll find works by Bellini, Titian, Carpaccio, Tintoretto, Giorgione and Veronese.
Collezione Peggy Guggenheim
For something more contemporary, visit the Collezione Peggy Guggenheim (Tel 041 240 54 11; http://www.guggenheim-venice.it/; Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, Dorsoduro 701; adult/concession €10/5; h10am-6pm Wed-Mon). Housed in the American heiress’ former home, the spellbinding collection runs the gamut of modern art with works by Bacon, Pollock, Picasso and Dalí.
Venice’s churches harbour innumerable treasures; unusually, though, you have to pay to get into many of them.
Scene of the annual Festa del Redentore, the Chiesa del SS Redentore (Church of the Redeemer; Campo del SS Redentore 194; admission €3; h10am-5pm Mon-Sat, 1-6pm Sun), on the island of Giudecca, was built by Palladio to commemorate the end of the great plague in 1577. Take vaporetto 41, 42 or 82 from the train station, alighting at Zitelle.
Guarding the entrance to the Grand Canal, the 17th-century Chiesa di Santa Maria della Salute (Tel 041 522 55 58; Campo della Salute 1/b; admission sacristy €2; h9am-noon & 3.30-6pm) contains works by Tintoretto and Titian. Arguably the greatest of Venice’s artists, Titian’s celebrated masterpiece the Assunta (Assumption; 1518) hangs in the Chiesa di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari (Campo dei Frari, San Polo 3004; admission €3; h9am-6pm Mon-Sat, 1-6pm Sun), the same church in which he’s buried.
The vast Gothic Chiesa dei SS Giovanni e Paolo (Tel 041 523 59 13; Campo SS Giovanni e Paolo; admission €3; h9.30am-7pm Mon-Sat, 1-6pm Sun) is famous for its glorious 15th-century stained-glass window, the largest in Venice.
A thin strip of an island about a 15-minute vaporetto ride from Venice proper, the Lido hosts the Venice Film Festival and boasts the city’s best beach. Be warned, though, that it’s almost impossible to find space on the sand in summer. It’s accessible by vaporetti 1, 2, LN, 51, 52, 61 and 62.
Murano is the home of Venetian glass, and Burano, with its cheery pastel-coloured houses, is renowned for its lace. Torcello, the republic’s original island settlement, was abandoned due to malaria and now counts no more than 80 residents. Torcello’s Byzantine cathedral, Santa Maria Assunta (Tel 041 270 24 64; Piazza Torcello; admission €4; h10.30am-6pm Mar-Oct, to 5pm Nov-Feb), is Venice’s oldest.
Vaporetto 41 (and vaporetto 5 in summer only) services Murano from the San Zaccaria vaporetto stop. Vaporetto LN services all three islands from the vaporetto stop at Fondamente Nuove in the northeast of the city. Vaporetto T connects Burano and Torcello.
If you gotta go, be prepared to pay – official rates per gondola (maximum six people) start at €80 (€100 at night) for a short trip including the Rialto but not the Grand Canal, and €120 (€150 at night) for a 50- minute trip including the Grand Canal.
Festivals & Events
Carnevale Masked ribaldry in the 10 days before Ash Wednesday.
Palio delle Quattro Repubbliche Marinare Venice, Amalfi, Genoa and Pisa take turns to host this historic regatta. It’s in Venice in June 2011.
Festa del Redentore Held on the third weekend in July; celebrations climax with a spectacular fireworks display.
Regata Storica Costumed parades precede gondola races on the Grand Canal; held on the first Sunday in September.
Venice Biennale A major, year-long exhibition of international visual arts staged every even-numbered year from June to November.
Venice International Film Festival Italy’s top film fest is held in late August to September at the Lido’s Palazzo del Cinema.
At Venetian prices you’ll be glad of the many affordable self-catering/snack options. For a sit-down meal, avoid the obvious tourist traps and duck down the side streets. Venetian specialities include risi e bisi (pea soup thickened with rice), sarde di saor (fried sardines marinated in vinegar and onions) and fragolino (a fragrant strawberry- flavoured wine).
Osteria da Baco (Tel 041 522 28 87; Calle delle Rasse, Castello 6672) A friendly local bar where gondoliers like to relax between trips, Osteria da Baco offers a range of tasty tremezzini (sandwiches, €1.30) that can be washed down with a beer (€3) or glass of fragolino (fragrant strawberry wine, €2).
All’Arco (Tel 041 520 56 66; Calle dell’Arco, San Polo 436; chiceti €1.50-4, panini €4; h7.30am-9pm Mon-Sat) Popular with locals, this tiny osteria serves wonderful, fresh panini, a range of cicheti (bar snacks) and wine by the glass.
Pizza al Volo (Tel 041 522 54 30; Campo Santa Margherita, Dorsoduro 2944; pizza slice from €2.50) In need of a pizza pit stop? Here’s your opportunity. You’ll be in the company of a steady stream of interns from the Guggenheim.
Riva Reno (Tel 041 2411821; Salizada San Lio, Castello 5662) This sleek branch of the excellent national gelato chain is conveniently located between the Rialto and Piazza San Marco.
Rosa Salva (Tel 041 522 79 49; Campo SS Giovanni e Paolo, Castello 6779; hclosed Wed) Stop by this historic cafe for sensational fritalle (fried pastry puffs filled with zabaglione or cream).
Ae Oche (Tel 041 524 11 61; Calle del Tentor, Santa Croce 1552a/b; pizzas €7-10) Students adore the Tex- Mex decor and huge pizza list at this bustling place. It’s on the main path between the ferrovia and San Marco.
Antica Adelaide (Tel 041 523 26 29; Calle Priuli, Cannaregio 3728; meals €30) The ancient Adelaide was in the food business as far back as the 18th century. You can pop in for a drink and cicheti or tuck into a hearty bowl of pasta or full meal.
Osteria La Zucca (Tel 041 524 15 70; Calle del Tentor, Santa Croce 1762; meals €32; hclosed Sun) A wonderful, unpretentious little restaurant in an out-of-the-way spot, ‘The Pumpkin’ serves a range of innovative Mediterranean dishes prepared with fresh, seasonal ingredients.
Ristorante La Bitta (Tel 041 523 05 31; Calle Lunga San Barnaba, Dorsoduro 2753a; meals €40; hclosed Sun) The bottle-lined dining room and attractive internal courtyard are a lovely setting in which to enjoy your choice from a small, meat-dominated menu that changes with the season. No credit cards.
Head for the markets near the Rialto bridge, or on the Rio Terrà San Leonardo. There are also several supermarkets: Punto Sma (Campo Santa Margherita), Billa (Strada Nova, Cannaregio 3660) and Coop (Fondamenta di Santa Chiara, Piazzale Roma 506a).
Venice harbours hundreds of bars and cafes, but the highest concentration is in the area around Campo Santa Margherita.
Caffè Bar Ai Artisti (Tel 041 523 89 44; Fondamenta della Toletta, Dorsoduro 1169a) On Campo S Barnaba, this welcoming place is good for coffee during the day, but even better for a drink or two at night.
Chet Bar (Tel 041 523 87 27; Campo Santa Margherita, Dorsoduro 3684) Late at night, patrons at this laid-back drinking den spill out of the bar and sit on the steps of the nearby bridge.
Il Caffè (Tel 041 528 79 98; Campo Santa Margherita, Dorsoduro 2963) Popular with foreign and Italian students, this is one of Venice’s historic drinking spots. Known to locals as Café Rosso because of its red frontage, it’s got outdoor seating and great sprizze (a type of aperitif).
La Cantina (Tel 041 522 82 58; Campo San Felice 3689, Cannaregio; hclosed Mon, 2 weeks Jul-Aug & 2 weeks Jan) Sit at one of the outdoor tables at this enoteca (wine bar) and watch the passing traffic promenade up and down the Strada Nuova.
Paradiso Perduto (Tel 041 72 05 81; Fondamenta della Misericordia, Cannaregio 2540; hclosed Mon) Queer-friendly and flamboyant, this restaurant- cum-club heats up late, but when the DJs pump up the decibels it jives. There’s live music most weekends.
Muro Vino e Cucina (Tel 041 523 47 40; Campo Cesare Battisti, San Polo 222; hclosed Sun) The centre of a happening nightlife scene in the market squares of the Rialto, Muro joins a number of bars in attracting huge gaggles of swarming drinkers.
Torrefazione Costarica (Tel 041 71 63 71; Rio Terrá San Leonardo, Cannaregio 1337) Connoisseurs come here for Venice’s best coffee. Espressos are smooth yet charged with flavour, cappuccinos exactly as they should be, warm and creamy.
Tickets for most events in Venice are available from HelloVenezia ticket outlets (http://www.hellovenezia.it/), run by the ACTV transport network. You’ll find them in front of the train station and at Piazzale Roma.
Teatro La Fenice (Tel 041 24 24 for guided tours; http://www.teatrolafenice.it/; Campo San Fantin, San Marco 1977; tickets from €15) is one of Italy’s most important opera houses.
Classic Venetian gifts include Murano glass, lace from Burano, Carnevale masks and carta marmorizzata (marbled paper). There are any number of shops selling these items, but if you want the best deal go to the source. Be warned that genuine Burano lace is expensive; much of the cheaper stuff sold round town is imported from the Far East.
The main shopping area is between San Marco and the Rialto, although if you’re after designer clobber you should head to the area west of Piazza San Marco.
The city’s main mode of public transport is the vaporetto. Useful routes:
LN From Fondamenta Nuove to Murano, Burano and Torcello. T Runs between Burano and Torcello.
- From Piazzale Roma to the train station and down the Grand Canal to San Marco and the Lido.
- From San Zaccaria (near San Marco) to the Lido via Giudecca, Piazzale Roma, the train station and the Rialto.
- From Piazzale Roma to San Marco via the Rialto and Accademia.
Tickets, available from ACTV booths at the major vaporetti stops, are expensive: €6.50 for a single trip; €14 for 12 hours; €16 for 24 hours; €21 for 36 hours; €26 for 48 hours and €31 for 72 hours (€18 if you have a Rolling Venice card).
To cross the Grand Canal where there’s no nearby bridge take a traghetti (public gondola; €0.50 per crossing).