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Few cities rival Venice for romance. With its rich tapestry of canals, bridges, Renaissance palaces and charming backstreets, it has entranced visitors for centuries. Built on a lagoon, the tightly packed historic centre contains 118 small islands linked by over 400 bridges, while tourists outnumber locals two-to-one and with good reason. You’re never far from a secluded spot where quiet squares await, churches conceal luminous Madonnas and handsome Gothic palazzos beckon you.
Head to Rialto Market for local specialties like pistachio pesto and white asparagus or lunch by the Grand Canal at Osteria Al Pesador. From Piazza San Marco head to gondola-lined, much-photographed Riva degli Schiavoni. Nearby, the 400-year-old Bridge of Sighs gets so busy that you may have to wait for a good photo opportunity. In the quieter, bohemian Dorsoduro area see Pollock, Picasso and Dali at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection.
Take a boat to Murano island, long famous for its glass making heritage, to watch a glass blowing demonstration and shop for souvenirs in charming backstreets. Photograph brightly painted houses, stroll the alleyways and browse lace-making shops over in artists’ haven Burano. Wander the oft-overlooked, down-to-earth Cannaregio, home to the former Jewish Ghetto, and enjoy a spritz and cicchetti at Al Timon. Book your flights to Venice today and start exploring.
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Make the most of your Venice holiday
Watch masked couples in full Venetian dress promenading along the canals, looking as if they’re just off to do the weekly shop, during Venice Carnevale. Starting in February, the re-established traditional festival breathes life into the city in low season. It’s essentially a two-week party that includes the world’s largest masquerade ball and free revels in St Mark’s Square.
What are the best things to do in Venice?
- Venice’s contributions to the Renaissance are indisputable: the city gave us Titian, Tintoretto and Veronese, and you can spot them all at Gallerie dell'Accademia in Dorsoduro. Look out too for The Tempest, a painting by Giorgione – no one knows what the scene on this mysterious little canvas is meant to be about – and some unmissable work by Hieronymus Bosch.
- If you’ve got someone to woo, then a 40-minute gondola ride through the quiet canals from Bacino Orseolo will seduce even the stoniest of hearts. Trips start from 80 euros – the official city rate – rising to 100 euros from 19:00. The average gondola costs nearly 40,000 euros to buy, each smart watercraft being painstakingly assembled from 280 hand-made pieces, using eight types of wood.
- Unless you visit out of season or at some ungodly hour you can’t avoid the crowds around Piazza San Marco. Beat the queues and pre-book your tickets for Basilica San Marco, with its spectacular amalgamation of styles, intricately detailed exterior and views over the city’s terracotta sprawl from the top of St Mark's Campanile. Hop across the water to San Giorgio Maggiore, whose campanile offers panoramic views of San Marco, Doge’s Palace and the Grand Canal.
- The extraordinary Gothic-style Doge’s Palace is done out in exquisite pink Verona marble. Its lavish interiors house the world’s largest oil painting, Tintoretto’s Paradise, pieces by Titian, Veronese and Vittoria, the Golden Staircase, Doges’ Apartments, Senate Hall, Chamber of the Great Council and the Prison Cells. Look out too for the courtyard, the Paper Gate, Bridge of Sighs and Staircase of the Giants. Book a guided tour to skip the queue.
- Perhaps the best way to navigate the Grand Canal is to take the 40-minute Line 1 vaporetto ride from Piazzale Roma to San Zaccaria. The magnificent palazzos lining the canal showcase the wealth of families during the height of the Venetian Republic, from the 13th to the 18th centuries. Don’t want to splash out on a gondola ride? You can have a similar (though less private) experience and cross the canal for just a few euros on a traghetto gondola ferry.
- Antonio Vivaldi was born in Venice, and purists insist his Four Seasons violin concertos sound best when performed in a Venetian church. In fact, Venice is overrun with wig-wearing, costumed violinists ready to reel in tourists. One of the least gimmicky recitals is performed by the Interpreti Veneziani at the deconsecrated San Vidal church. You can buy tickets for their regular performances online or in the nearby Museo della Musica.
Where are the best places to stay in Venice?
San Marco, the city’s unofficial centre, is home to the stunning Byzantine architecture of St Mark’s Basilica and the world-renowned La Fenice Theatre. Despite the high density of visitors, the area’s historic design and epic scenery are unforgettable. Castello is home to a picturesque waterfront and old markets. Discover local naval heritage at Museo Storico Navale, explore narrow streets to see laundry drying in the breeze and visit beautiful churches, tiny bars and second-hand bookshops. Dorsoduro, full of iconic architecture and stunning palazzos, is quieter than San Marco, yet has fantastic restaurants and hip bars. The old industrial quarter’s vibrant student scene is ideal for a cheap night out.
Home to the world’s first Jewish Ghetto until the end of the 18th Century, Cannaregio is a vibrant, community-minded area with superb gelato shops, kosher cuisine and quiet alleys. Don’t miss the great nightlife along the Fondamenta della Misericordia. San Polo is home to the beautiful Rialto Bridge – the city’s oldest stone bridge – and Rialto Market. Weave through winding streets toward the San Giacomo di Rialto church – supposedly built in the 5th Century. Santa Croce, Venice’s least visited area, feels more provincial than other districts. The graffiti scrawled walls remind you that you are in a working city – a refreshing change from the rest of the central islands.
Venture out of Venice to the beach area of Lido island. There’s stunning fin-de-siecle architecture at the resorts, like the beautiful Le Boulevard Hotel, and a residential-village atmosphere. The star-studded Venice Film Festival takes place on Lido each September. Murano has been dominated by glass making since the 13th Century. Murano is a perfect place for romantic holidays, full of great little restaurants and bars, with spectacular views of Venice across the water. The modern mainland town of Mestre offers budget-friendly shopping. Head to the Centro Le Barche mall, then relax with a coffee in attractive Piazza Ferretto. Afterwards, visit landmark 18th-century church Duomo di San Lorenzo, or head to Marghera, a laid-back garden city with farm-fresh food markets.
Which Venice holiday type is right for me?
Cheap hotels in Venice do exist. Check out All'Angelo Art Hotel, set within a 17th Century palazzo on the waterfront and featuring an art gallery and a cosy cafe serving tasty cicchetti.
For more cheap hotels in Venice Italy, consider The Gritti Palace a Luxury Collection Hotel Venice. This luxury five-star hotel offers one of the most beguiling views overlooking the Grand Canal, plus the Gritti Epicurean School, Riva Yacht experiences and the Gritti SPA branded by Sisley Paris.
For hotels in Venice city centre look no further than the Baglioni Hotel Luna. This hotel dates back to the 12th Century when it sheltered the Knights Templar. Today you can enjoy breakfast in the Marco Polo Ballroom amid sumptuous frescoes.
Venice offers plenty of luxurious five-star hotels. Book into the Hilton Molino Stucky and enjoy the seasonal rooftop pool and the secluded location on the shores of Giudecca Island.
Perhaps you’d prefer one of Venice’s boutique hotels? Try the Metropole, just steps from Piazza San Marco, whose halls are furnished with period furniture and exquisite antiques. Enjoy the Citrus Garden with its exotic palms and Michelin-starred dining at Met.
Searching for Venice hotels on the beach? Look into the Hotel Excelsior Venice Lido Resort. Built in 1908 by the legendary architect Giovanni Sardi, this regal beachfront property features a restaurant with a private terrace facing the sea, pool bar and beach bar offering private cabana service.
For Venice hotels with a pool check out the JW Marriott Venice Resort and Spa. This five-star retreat on its own private island offers a stylish rooftop pool deck, four on-site restaurants and a stunning spa.
There are many Venice hotels with canal views, but few top L'Orologio in the style stakes. This hotel is themed around the art of watch making, and features bespoke furniture and vintage leather.
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