Venice is an exquisite city, one of both mystery and serenity. Its endless, meandering waterways have seen countless explorers and partygoers over the centuries, and as one of the most romantic places on earth, plenty of lovers too.
It’s an unlikely city, being supported by stilts – some hundreds of years old – but beautiful palaces and churches float on the water like mirages at an oasis. It beguiles first-time visitors to its charm, especially those who come to get lost in its labyrinthine streets and alleyways. Admire awe-inspiring architecture on every corner and see Renaissance art at its peak. And discover after your short flight to Venice, that its past as a luxury destination is still very much alive. Superb iconic hotels and gourmet restaurants sit on beautiful piazzas, perfect for a lavish holiday, while the beach resorts on Lido Island wait on you hand and foot. But more than that, Venice is for lovers, for romance and public displays of affection. So hold hands as you saunter through the streets, be serenaded by a singing gondolier and kiss under bridges – no one will blink an eye.
San Marco is the city’s unofficial centre, and a neighbourhood that most will associate as being archetypically Venetian. The number of iconic sights, including the stunning byzantine architecture of St Mark’s Basilica and the world-renowned La Fenice Theatre, will appease any sightseeing needs quickly. San Marco is definitely worth braving the high density of visitors, as its historic design and epic scenery is truly unforgettable. If you are here with a loved one, don’t forget the almost-compulsory sunset gondola ride, or stay at the romantic Gritti Palace overlooking the Grand Canal.
Stroll along the picturesque waterfront in Castello, whose lush park spaces house 12th century churches and old markets. The spice market is now home to Danieli, which is like a living museum. You’ll enjoy spectacular views of the Doge’s Palace, before discovering the neighbourhood’s naval past at the fascinating Museo Storico Navale. Venture into its narrow streets to see laundry drying in the breeze overhead, creating a calm space, away from the bustling chaos of San Marco. You will find some beautiful churches, like the Santi Giovanni e Paoloin alongside tiny bars and second-hand bookshops.
Soak up the bohemian vibe of Dorsoduro, a cultural haven full of iconic architecture and stunning palazzos. Because it is separated from San Marco and Venice’s heart, Dorsoduro is a bit quieter, yet still busy enough to warrant fantastic restaurants and hip bars. Stay at the contemporary Centurion Palace, a great luxurious base in a fashionable area. You’ll find the famous Peggy Guggenheim Collection here and the Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice’s former art-school. If you go further west, you’ll find a vibrant student scene in the old industrial quarter, ideal for a cheap night out.
Formerly home to the isolated Jewish Ghetto (the world’s first), until the end of the 18th century, Cannaregio is now a vibrant and community-minded area. Find superb gelato shops, kosher cuisine and photo opportunities galore among the quiet and understated alleyways. Separated from Venice by the Grand Canal, this is a great area for those who prefer a tranquil time, even in high summer, when the crowds are at their highest. Don’t miss the great nightlife along the Fondamenta della Misericordia, and a chance to stay at the fantastic Carnival Palace overlooking the canal.
Despite being the smallest district in Venice, San Polo has one of the largest busiest squares, which is used for outdoor concerts in the summer months. Hotspots include the beautiful Rialto Bridge – the oldest stone bridge in the city – and the renowned Rialto Markets, with stalls that have provided produce to the local restaurants for centuries. Weave through San Polo’s winding streets toward the oldest church in town, San Giacomo di Rialto – supposedly built in the 5th century. It is a busy area full of nice surprises, like the stunning L'Orologio Venezia, one of Venice’s most exclusive spots.
Escape the hustle of San Marco and San Polo in the charming streets of Santa Croce. Being the least visited area in Venice, it is ideal for those more curious to see another side to the city. The Carlton on the Grand is a great hotel nearby to the Campo San Giacomo dell’Orio, in the heart the neighbourhood, which feels more provincial than most other districts. The graffiti scrawled walls remind you that you are in a working city, not just a Renaissance museum – a refreshing change from the rest of central islands.
Venture out of Venice to the 11km-long beach area which makes up Lido Island. The island separates the Veneta Lagoon from the Adriatic Sea, and features stunning fin-de-siècle architecture at the resorts, like the beautiful Le Boulevard Hotel. The annual Venice Film Festivals takes place on Lido each September, so expect celebrity splendour alongside a residential-village atmosphere, which could be seen as an odd combination. The lagoon is a wonderful place to while away the days, with ice cold beers and a good book, looking out across Venice’s horizon.
Known as the Glass Island due to its rich history of glass blowing and glass-making – artisans have been making glass products here since the 13th century. Glassblowing dominates the island still, and factories produce their stunning, glistening collectibles throughout the year. Why not stay at the wonderful LaGare Hotel Venezia Mgallery Collection, housed in an old furnace at the heart of the island? The island itself is an archipelago made up of smaller islands joined together, away from busy canals. Murano is a perfect place for romantic holidays, full of great little restaurants and bars, with spectacular views of Venice across the water.
Connected to Venice by rail and road bridges, the Mestre or mainland town is a modern hub that lacks the city’s historic beauty. For budget-friendly shopping however, it is the place to go. Head for the Centro Le Barche mall and the retail strip leading to the Piazza Ferretto – watch the bustle from a café on this attractive square. Afterwards, visit the landmark 18th-century church, Duomo di San Lorenzo. And don’t miss the suburb of Marghera, a garden city famous for its laid-back lifestyle and farm-fresh food markets, a place to relax away from the hubbub of the city.