Ten great things to do in Venice

Eloise Barker

Title photography by Andrew Nguyen / EyeEm

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June 2018

If you’ve got a curiosity for culture and a love for long leisurely meals, you’ll be right at home in Venice. There are plenty of things to do in the city after your cicchetti: skip busy St Mark’s Square and track down earthly delights in Italy’s uniquely waterlogged wonderland.

1. Discover Venice’s powerful past: Doge’s Palace

Don’t be fooled by its pleasing pink exterior: the Doge’s Palace was once the seat of the most powerful man in Venice. Look up at the ceiling above the Scala d’Oro (it’s beautifully gilded), then pass over the Bridge of Sighs to check out the lead-lined cells where Venice’s number one scoundrel, Casanova, was imprisoned (don’t worry – he ended up making a daring escape). From October 2018 the palace is celebrating 500 years since the birth of Tintoretto with a special exhibition of the Renaissance master’s paintings.

Top tip:

Book ahead on a secret itinerary tour so you can skip the line at the door and cram into the secret chambers hidden behind the state rooms.

Skip the line at Doge's Palace

A forty-minute gondola ride through the quiet canals from Bacino Orseolo, just by St Mark’s Square, will seduce even the stoniest of hearts.

2. Check out the new hotspot: T Fondaco dei Tedeschi by DFS

In the 13th century, it was a marketplace – in 2016 it reopened as a luxury department store. In the incredible, crumbling edifice known as the Fondaco dei Tedeschi you can shop duty-free brands, but the real find is the view from the roof. Book your visit in advance to reach the rooftop viewing deck. Open until 8pm in the evening, it’s one of the best views over the gentle curve of the Grand Canal.

Top tip:

Visiting the department store rooftop is totally free. The temptations on the lower floors of the store, however, come at a price – look out for continental brands from Fendi to Sisley.

Take a hop-on, hop-off boat tour

  • Doge's Palace side view from Grand Canal. © Comezora.

    Tunnel vision

    The long arcade around the Doge's Palace has sculptures dating back to the 14th century. Book your flight and hotel.£99 pp

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3. Cuddle up on the canal on a gondola ride

First things first, there are definitely cheaper ways to travel. But if you’ve got someone to woo, then a forty-minute gondola ride through the quiet canals from Bacino Orseolo, just by St Mark’s Square, will seduce even the stoniest of hearts. You won’t find a gondola ride for less than 80 euros in Venice – it’s the official city rate. But when you find out that the average gondola costs nearly 40,000 euros to buy, this charge seems more reasonable. Each smart watercraft is painstakingly assembled from 280 hand-made pieces, using eight types of wood.

Top tip:

Once you’ve finished admiring the boat, the view, the canal, and waving at passing tourists, don’t forget to tip your gondolier. And be aware that their heartfelt rendition of ‘Just One Cornetto’ might also come as extra, so agree a price before you paddle.

Book a Venice gondola serenade

4. Admire Old Masters: Gallerie dell’Accademia

Venice’s contributions to the Renaissance are indisputable: the city gave us Titian, Tintoretto and Veronese. If you only do one art museum, visit Gallerie dell'Accademia – a collection of Venice’s most prized art – to spot them all. Look out for The Tempest, a painting by Giorgione. No one knows what the scene on this mysterious little canvas is meant to be about. There’s also some unmissable work by Hieronymus Bosch and the last canvas Titian ever painted. The museum is undergoing restoration, but most of the important paintings are still on display.

Top tip:

Look out for 'St Mark's Body Brought to Venice' – a ghoulish scene of Venetians removing corpses from a crypt – by the famous Tintoretto.

  • Inside T Fondaco dei Tedeschi by DFS. © 2018 DFS Group Ltd.

    Old and new

    Like many of Vencie's edifices, an old market place was totally renovated inside to create this upmarket shopping centre.

  • A couple succumb to the charms of a gondola ride. © Kok Keong Theang / EyeEm.

    Did you know…

    Gondolas are 10 inches longer on one side than the other – so they look a little lopsided. This is to compensate for the weight of the gondolier, who stands slightly off to one side as he propels the craft.

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  • Interior of Teatro La Fenice. © Mats Silvan.

    From the ashes

    Venice's remarkable opera house re-opened in 2004, after it had been painstakingly restored. Its gaudy colours are divisive – but certainly eye-catching.

5. A night at the opera: La Fenice

Rebuilt three times over after a series of devastating fires – most recently in 1996, it seems only fitting that the name of Venice’s gorgeous opera house, La Fenice, means ‘the phoenix’. This stunning venue has seen the world premieres of some of the most beautiful operas ever written – including Verdi’s La Traviata.

Top tip:

There are daily tours, but the best way to experience all that velvet and gilding is to book a ticket to a performance. These sell out months in advance, so be prepared if you fancy some Puccini.

6. Four seasons in one day: Vivaldi at San Vidal

The great composer Antonio Vivaldi was born in Venice, and purists still insist that the best way to hear his Four Seasons violin concertos is as a live performance in a Venetian church. It’s easier to do than you’d think: Venice is overrun with wig-wearing and costumed violinists ready to reel in the tourists. Book tickets to the deconsecrated church of San Vidal for a regular performance by the authentic Interpreti Veneziani for one of the least gimmicky recitals. You can buy tickets online or purchase them in the Museo della Musica just around the corner from the church.

Top tip:

The Museo della Musica is a free museum of period instruments, and it’s well worth a poke around whilst you’re here buying tickets for Vivaldi – look out for more unusual lyres and mandolins among the mass of 18th century violins.

  • Lido, Venice © Alex Friedel / Alamy Stock Photo.

    Long beach days

    Lido's beaches stretch on for 11km. The most popular public beach can be found at the end of the main street of Lido: Gran Viale Santa Maria Elisabetta. Book your Venice flight and hotel.£99 pp

    Plan your trip

7. Score an invite to a masked ball: Carnevale

It’s got to be one of Venice’s most unique sights: masked couples in full Venetian dress promenading along the canals, looking as if they’re just off to do the weekly shop. The best time to see these peculiar pedestrians is at Venice Carnevale. The re-established traditional festival breathes life into the city in low season. Starting in February, It’s essentially a two-week party that includes world’s largest masquerade ball and free revels in St Mark’s Square. If you miss Carnevale, get into the spirit and buy a Venetian mask. Transported back home with care, they make the perfect souvenir.

Top tip:

Find the best Venetian masks at Ca’ Del Sol where hand-made beauties have been crafted from paper since the 1980s. The shop also provides costume rental – in case you have a plague doctor fantasy to fulfil.

8. Chill on the city’s secret beach: the Lido

Venice Beach might conjure up thoughts of muscular Los Angelans, but the city of Venice, Italy, actually does have its own stretch of sand – on the Lido. In Venice’s stifling summer the canals start to show the effects of the heat, in which case a day on this long, skinny lagoon island might be just what you need. The Lido has a real resort feel, and it’s lovely and quiet – for the most part. In September, buy tickets for a screening at the busy Venice International Film Festival.

Top tip:

Take a day to explore Venice lagoon, dropping in on the islands of Murano and Burano. One is famous for its colourful glass, the other for colourful houses.

Tour Venice lagoon

9. Don’t miss the hottest event: Venice Biennale

The Venice Biennale occurs for over six months in summer time. It shows visionary contemporary art and the best new architecture on alternate years. Jump in a vaporetto to get there. You’ll find the main locations at the otherwise quiet and residential Venice Giardini and the old Venice Arsenale on the eastern side of the city. There’s an entrance fee, but you can also check out free installations around the city.

Top tip:

With the help of a map, hunt down the installations of every participating country: some are in galleries, some are set up dilapidated palazzos. It’s a great way to nose about parts of Venice you’d never normally be able to see.

10. Search for sunken treasure: Libreria Acqua Alta

Surely one of the world’s most atmospheric bookshops, the ‘Book Shop of High Water’ was flooded, destroying many of its wares. But it turned the disaster into a quirky perk: the now-dry bookshop is still crammed with ruined books. Cats creep over the faded pages, and there’s even a staircase made from raggedy hardbacks. Most of the books are Italian – and some of them are far too waterlogged to read. But this little corner of Venice oozes charm – and has a Gondola parked right in the middle of the shop. Find it on Calle Lunga.

Top tip:

You can buy notebooks, diaries and beautiful leather-bound keepsakes from Paolo Olbi, a famed gift and stationery shop in Dorsoduro.

Where to stay

No point trying to hide it – Venice is expensive. Luckily, these hotels give you what you’re paying for: the ultimate taste of luxury.

LaGare Hotel Venezia Mgallery Collection

If it’s not your first visit to the city, staying on one of the lagoon islands offers a very different experience, with resort style hotels providing a retreat away from the busy centre. LaGare Hotel Venezia Mgallery Collection lets you enjoy the island of Murano. This exclusive hotel boasts chic interiors and a delightful Venetian courtyard. A free speedboat transfer easily connects you to the airport.

Book a stay at LaGare Hotel Venezia Mgallery Collection

Hotel Danieli

The stupendous, romantic Hotel Danieli has one of the best locations in Venice. Steps from the Bridge of Sighs, it’s set in a series of Palazzos, adorned inside with Murano glass chandeliers and damask curtains. The special Terrazza Danieli is where you should go if you’re in the midst of a whirlwind romance – it's truly spectacular.

Book a stay at Hotel Danieli

Palazzina G

Palazzina G is a Mr and Mrs Smith boutique hotel with just a handful of rooms. Hip and gorgeous, famous designer Philippe Starck was responsible for the interiors’ striking good looks. Enjoy modern takes on Venetian cuisine in the restaurant.

Book a stay at Palazzina G