Compact, beautiful and uniquely free of road traffic, Venice is charming and packed with culture. With a cityscape that’s remained largely the same for hundreds of years, a walk through its narrow alleys or a ride on its picturesque waterways will feel like travelling into a Renaissance masterpiece. Although it has a reputation for being pricey, there’s something to suit every budget and you don’t need to spend a fortune to make the most of your visit. It’s also well located with easy public transport access to Padua, Verona or Lake Garda if you fancy a multi-stop itinerary.
The Gallerie dell’Accademia is where you’ll find exquisite Venetian paintings – including Titian’s Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple. Ornate decorations and frescoes adorn the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, where Tintoretto painted 50 ceilings in the wake of a plague that killed 50,000 locals.
Venice’s churches are richly adorned. Visit San Zaccaria, where the altarpiece by Giovanni Bellini has hung for 500 years, and where you’ll find works by Tintoretto and Tiepolo. The Frari is home to works by Titian and Bellini, and San Sebastiano is known as Veronese’s church, as he was responsible for most of the frescoes, ceiling paintings and altarpieces.
Modern art is plentiful. The Peggy Guggenheim Collection, located in her former home, Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, houses exhibitions and a Sculpture Garden. The Palazzo Grassi and Punta della Dogana galleries are also worth visiting. For contemporary finds, the Venice Biennale is the world’s most prestigious creative showcase, and the annual Venice Film Festival brings A-listers flocking to the small city’s shores.
Often listed as one of the world’s 10 most colourful places, the island of Burano is famous for painted houses and lace making. Elderly women still embroider on its streets and you can visit their shops in the Piazza Galuppi or find out more at the Museo del Merletto (lace museum). The Town Hall and the statue of Baldassare Galuppi are worth seeing, or head to Terranova’s marble bridge to view Burano’s leaning bell tower.
The island of Murano is famous for its glass. There are foundries to see the glassblowers – Mazzega Glass Factory being a standout. The Museo del Vetro is a museum dedicated to glass production.
For churches, check out the Santa Maria degli Angeli with its frescoes, while Basilica di Santa Maria e San Donato has a set of rib bones said to belong to a dragon slayed by San Donato (although it’s most likely a large plesiosaur).
Venice’s most famous landmark is St Mark’s Square, which is home to the Basilica di San Marco and St Mark’s Campanile, the Museo Correr, Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace) and high-end restaurants Caffe Florian and Caffe Quadri.
It’s said that Napoleon described it as “the drawing room of Europe” and it’s teeming with tourists, but although it’s a must-stop on any visit to the city, there’s much, much more to Venice.
The Merceria, a thoroughfare, runs from St Mark’s Square to the Rialto – the commercial heart of the city and where you’ll find the famous Rialto Bridge. Window-shop your way across the Grand Canal and wander the winding alleys. Every nook and cranny of this historic district is postcard-worthy, so getting lost in the maze of pathways is one of the best ways to see the city.
The romantic and iconic Grand Canal itself is worth cruising. Gondolas are expensive so an alternative is the river bus – vaporetto – that offers good value with breath-taking views. It’s the city’s only real public transport, as the lack of roads means that away from the water the whole place is pedestrianised.
Eat and drink
Typical Venetian cuisine mixes influences of the Mediterranean and Adriatic Seas with classic Italian flavours. Risi e bisi is a staple dish – somewhere between a soup and risotto, it’s the ultimate comfort food and perfect for refuelling after hours spent wandering.
Pomodoro e mozzarella gnocchi is another simple but classic dish, and try spaghetti al nero di sepia (spaghetti with cuttlefish ink). Seafood sourced from the lagoon is popular, but there’s also more standard pizza, pasta or meat options at every turn.
Come happy hour, try cicheti (Venetian tapas) in one of the city’s bars, washed down with an Aperol Spritz or prosecco – classic Veneto drinks. For sweet treats, cool down with gelato or affogato, or try a traditional cookie – a bussola or esse – from a Pasticceria.
Where to stay
Stay at the elegant Hotel Nuovo Teson, where prices start at £63 per night (Lastminute.com). Located midway between the relaxed Giardini area and the hustle and bustle of St Mark’s Square, it’s an easy, beautiful walk alongside the lagoon to reach either. Alternatively, there are plenty of vaporetto stops nearby for travelling further afield.
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