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Venice is unique, its elegant buildings and palaces peering over an ancient maze of narrow streets and labyrinth of canals. Tourists here wake up to the morning calls of gondoliers before venturing out to lose themselves among the twists and turns of this famously romantic haven.
The city rests on one of 117 islands distributed throughout the Venetian lagoon. The aptly named Grand Canal splits the city, running from the Santa Lucia railway station past the famous Rialto Bridge to Piazza San Marco, home to the cathedral of Basilica di San Marco which is adorned with endless mosaics that sparkle at sunset.
The historic centre is divided into six quarters: San Marco, Dorsoduro, San Polo, Santa Croce, Cannaregio and Castello. Countless waterways wind their way through the city. While some choose to pick their way over the more than 400 bridges, by far the most popular way to get around is to cruise the waterways onboard vaporetto boats or iconic gondola.
Known for its inventive cuisine, lavish spreads of cicheti (Venetian tapas) can be found in bars around the city while canalside bistros offer spectacular fine dining experiences. Venice's penchant for outlandish fashion gave the world eyeglasses, dresses without corsets and platform shoes, and the annual carnival is renowned for the elaborate masks on display.
Venice extends beyond its six sestieri to the islands of Murano, Burano and Torcello. These are known for glass and lace-making respectively, and Torcello is noted for the magnificent Byzantine Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta resting on its soil. Trips by boat to the islands provide a pleasant escape from the busier historic quarters.
The Grand Canal is a hub of activity in Venice, encircled by the elegant facades of the palazzi testifying to the city's past opulence. The best way to explore the architectural splendour of these Renaissance buildings is on board a vaporetto. Although a gondola ride along the Grand Canal is glorious, it is often better to explore the smaller waterways by gondola, as the Grand Canal can become crowded and stressful in peak season. Palaces and buildings to look out for include the Ca da Mosto; the House of Gold; and Palazzo Corner-Spinelli and Palazzo Vendramin Calergi, which combine classical and Byzantine elements. Architect Jacopo Sansovino was inspired by Codussi's style and infused this in his creation of the Palazzo Corner (Ca Granda). Another notable Palazzo is the Grimani di San Luca, designed by Michele Sanmicheli. Pedestrian access across the canal is only provided along three bridges situated at the station, Rialto and Academia.
The city's first citadel and church were erected on the Piazza San Marco: the Palazzo Ducale and the Basilica di San Marco, respectively. The latter is a unique juxtaposition of Byzantine, western European and Islamic architectural styles. Its most precious relic is the Pala d'Oro, a Venetian-Byzantine gold relief adorned with precious gems. Tourists pay dearly to eat or drink at the elegant cafes that spill onto the Piazza. Designer shops line the streets radiating from the square. There are other worthwhile places such as Museo Correr, the Archaeological Museum and the Museo del Risorgimento, housed within the Procuratie Nuova. Attached to the Procuratie Vecchie is the Torre dell'Orologio, its adjoining archway guiding one through to the Mercerie, Venice's main commercial street stretching to the famous Rialto Bridge.
One of Venice's most iconic landmarks, the Rialto Bridge is often described as the heart of the city. It is the oldest bridge spanning the Grand Canal, and is one of only four that do. The structure standing today is over 400 years old, but still isn't the original structure. Today, the Rialto area still resembles the bustling fruit and vegetable market of former times. If you are visiting Rialto to take pictures of the bridge or explore the area for the first time, it's best to go early in the morning when the throngs of visitors won't disturb you. There are also loads of lovely restaurants and cafes in the area too.
The Basilica dei Frari was constructed in the 14th century, and is primarily known as the burial place of Titian and the Venetian sculptor Antonio Canova. Titian's tomb in the south aisle watches over the large marble pyramid created for Venetian sculptor Antonio Canova. The interior of the church is adorned with a number of famous pieces, such as Donatello's St John the Baptist, Bellini's triptych of the Madonna and Saints and Titian's Assumption of the Virgin. This great Franciscan church is well worth the effort for art lovers and anybody interested in Gothic architecture. The church receives rave reviews and is consistently one of the top rated attractions in Venice according to visitor reviews.
San Rocco is known for the canvases of Jacopo Tintoretto adorning its interior. Tintoretto was commissioned to decorate the School in 1564 and dedicated 23 years to this task. The paintings are arranged in chronological order that can be followed by beginning on the second floor in the Sala dell'Albergo. Notable among his works are the scenes from the Life of the Virgin and the Crucifixion. The interior is ornate and quite overwhelming in its artistry and you would be hard put to find somebody who doesn't rave about the experience of exploring San Rocco.
This famous gallery was established in 1807 to house the artwork removed from Venetian churches and public buildings on Napoleon's orders. It's housed in three old religious buildings: the Scuola Grande di Santa Maria della Carita, built in 1344; the Church of the Carita; and the Convento della Carita, a monastery from 1561. The gallery's display follows the progression of Venetian art from the 14th to 18th centuries. Notable works in the gallery include Paolo Veneziano's Coronation of Mary, Carpaccio's Crucifixion and Apotheosis, Giovanni Bellini's Madonna with Child between Saints Catherine and Mary Magdalene, Giorgione's Tempest, Lorenzo Lotto's Portrait of a Young Gentleman in His Studio, Paolo Veronese's Feast in the House of Levi, and Tintoretto's Theft of St Mark's Body and Crucifixion.
The Peggy Guggenheim Collection is housed in the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, becoming one of the most illustrious collections of modern art in Italy. It spans the artistic movements of Cubism, European Abstraction and Surrealism, with notable works by Kandinsky, Picasso, Rothko, Ernst, Dali, Pollock and many more. Guggenheim built up her collection between 1938 and 1947, and bought the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni in 1948, where she lived until her death in 1979. This exciting, prestigious and often bizarre collection is a great departure from the overwhelming amount of Gothic, Byzantine and Renaissance art pervading Venice.
Originally built in the 9th century, this 318 feet (97m) bell tower is the highest structure in Venice, offering visitors breathtaking views of the cupolas of St Mark's, the lagoon and neighbouring islands, as well as church domes and red rooftops. When the air is clear, one can even spot snow-capped peaks of the distant Dolomite Mountains. Once a lighthouse to assist navigation on the lagoon, the tower collapsed unexpectedly in 1902 but was rebuilt exactly as before, even rescuing one of the five historical bells that are still in use today. Each bell was rung for a different purpose, such as war, the death of a doge or religious holidays.
Surely one of Italy's most iconic images is that of gondolas being oared through the narrow canals of Venice by stripe-shirted, serenading gondoliers. These flat-bottomed boats are unique to the canals and waterways of Venice, meaning it's an obligatory tourist activity. Although expensive, a gondola ride in Venice is sure to leave you with a warm and lasting memory of your vacation in Italy. Tourists are encouraged to make the most of the investment by taking a trip down the back canals of Venice and not the Grand Canal, as it's too crowded and impersonal. Pick an ornately-carved gondola, with a comfortable seat and blankets if it's cold.
With such a rich and diverse cultural history, many would think that Venice would be a dull holiday destination for kids. But on the contrary, this beautiful canal city offers its younger visitors plenty to see and do.
Obviously a ride on one of the famed gondolas will be a memorable experience for children of all ages, and highlights are guaranteed to include spotting the fire fighters' boat, the ambulance craft and more. While parents are admiring the architecture in St Mark's Square, be sure the kids have enough breadcrumbs to feed the hundreds of pigeons this square is known for.
Kids will also enjoy the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, as there is lots of space to run around outside, and Parco delle Rimembranze is probably the best-suited park for children in Venice. It's a great place to head for a picnic or a stroll, while for outdoorsy families, a hike or walk in the Po Delta Natural Park is a must.
On rainy days, visit some of the museums this historic city has to offer, such as the Naval Museum or the Museum of Natural History. Kids will love the Museum of Natural History, which is home to the skeleton of an Ouranosaurus excavated in the Sahara Desert by a Venetian palaeontologist in 1973. The museum also features an aquarium where children will be able to view and learn about marine life living off the Venetian coast.
Talking about the water, Venice's Naval Museum is also a great place for kids to explore, displaying intricate models and, in many cases, the real-life thing. A trip to the nearby island of Murano is also a must, where children will be mesmerised by the glass-blowers and their incredible creations.
Venice has a Mediterranean climate and experiences very high humidity, with hot weather in July and August, the height of summer. Average temperatures in summer (June to August) usually range between 64°F (18°C) and 82°F (28°C), dropping in winter (December to February) to between 32°F (0°C) and 37°F (3°C). Venice often experiences thunderstorms and rain showers which, particularly in spring and autumn, tend to cause flooding. It is best to pack waterproof shoes or boots to avoid a soaking in these seasonal floods. Spring, summer and autumn are all considered peak tourist season, with April to October being the busiest. However, it is a popular destination all year round and can get uncomfortably crowded.
While Venice's cuisine can't quite compare with many other Italian destinations, the city does have some wonderful restaurants featuring the cuisine of the Veneto. Near the Rialto Bridge is a string of restaurants with tables along the canal, where you can enjoy the quintessential Venetian practice of dining by the canal lights. The Dorsoduro area has the highest concentration of places where locals, especially students, go to eat.
One of Venetian cuisine's most celebrated ingredients is cuttlefish and its ink. This powerful black ink serves as an ingredient and a sauce in polenta, risotto and pasta dishes. Despite the intensity in colour, the ink has an unexpectedly mild taste. Also popular in Venetian restaurants and bars is cicchetti (Italian tapas), usually made up of small servings of fish, little sandwiches, plates of olives or even very small servings of regular full-course meals.
For top quality produce, visit the street market stalls. If self-catering, the Rialto food markets are the best place to find fruit, vegetables and cheese, along with chilled coconut and a huge range of seafood, most of it fresh out of the lagoon.
Travellers looking for authentic Venetian cuisine and prices should avoid establishments with menus in six different languages displayed in the windows, and rather head away from the tourist centre to look for quaint and welcoming eateries tucked away in the city's nooks and crannies.
Oozing with old-fashioned romance and elegance coupled with breathtaking views across St Mark's Square, Ristorante Quadri lays it on thick when it comes to fine dining and style. Try the steamed sea bass in rosemary with vegetable ratatouille, or the lamb cutlets and loin flavoured with thyme and parsley and served with a foundant of potato and eggplant. This restaurant might be perceived as being kitsch, but it definitely doesn't disappoint. Open daily, closed on Mondays between 1 November and 31 March. Reservations essential.
Enjoy sitting outside on a starry night, taking in a beautiful view of the Giudecca from the deck at Lineadombra, one of Venice's most modern restaurants. The bass fillet with potatoes and vanilla perfume comes highly recommended.
Popular with tourists and featuring grand paintings that occupy entire walls, Persian carpets and beautiful views onto the square of the Fenice Theatre, Antico Martini is one of the oldest restaurants in Venice, steeped in almost 300 years of history. The superb cuisine will not disappoint and is always made from the freshest ingredients. Open daily from 11.30am to 11.30pm. Reservations essential.
This bustling seafood eatery serves some of the most authentic Venetian cuisine and for the right price too. Locals and tourists alike flock to this restaurant for delicious pastas, seafood and other mouth-watering Italian fare. Even in the off-season there can be a waiting list. Open from Tuesday to Sunday for lunch and dinner. Closed Mondays. Reservation recommended.
Located away from Venice's tourist hubs, you know Alla Vedova must be good because this is where all the locals eat. With marble counters, charismatic furniture, a cosy atmosphere and some of the tastiest Venetian cuisine in town, diners can feast on dishes such as the delicately grilled cuttlefish , (lasagna with sausage, radicchio, and béchamel sauce).
Located in Calle Vallaresso, this elegant restaurant belongs to the Hotel Monaco and Grand Canal, serving traditional Venetian cuisine of seafood and fresh vegetables. Celebrities such as Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie have been spotted dining here and, only a few metres from the vaporetto stop, the location is both convenient and appealing, with a very romantic terrace to sit on.
The airy spaciousness of this Venetian restaurant owned by the local Rossi family, coupled with its wonderfully varied menu creates a wonderful dining experience. Located in the heart of the Cannaregio district, this eatery is popular with both locals and tourists alike. Try the delicious homemade pastas with mouth-watering sauces, or the gondola, a fish baked with tomatoes, olives, capers, potatoes and white wine in parchment paper and then folded to look like a gondola. Indoor and outdoor dining available. Open daily for lunch and dinner.
This authentically Venician restaurant is famous for its great wine selection from the Veneto region and for its flagship dish, (Italian tapas) made up of wedges of Mortadella sausage speared with curly, piquant Tuscan peppers and crostini topped with creamy tuna and shredded leeks. Cantinone-già Schiavi's lively atmosphere and warm and friendly locals is what Venice dining is all about. Travellers will love the food, prices and authentic Italian cuisine at one of Venice's best kept secrets. Closed on Sundays.
Not somewhere many tourists would know about, unless escorted here by a local, La Cantina is run and owned by the passionate Francesco who is temperamental yet obsessive about food. Come here for some indulgent and lip-smacking crostini piled with tongue, chopped pickle, smoked ricotta and layers of fresh horseradish shavings, washed down with a glass of local wine. Open when the owner feels like it - usually closed on Sundays and Mondays.
This cosy pizzeria is located alongside the canal where diners can pull their boats in, sit under an umbrella at a shady table and feast on homemade crusted pies filled with roasted figs and prosciutto, among other exotic flavour combinations. Open for lunch and dinner from April to October. Closed for lunch on Mondays.
Originating in the 12th-century, the Carnival of Venice is one of the world's most famous festivals, and fills the whole city with musicians, acrobats, clowns, magicians, puppeteers, beautiful masks, elaborate costumes, and parades. People come from around the world to participate in masked balls and general festivities in the ancient Venetian tradition, and to enjoy theatrical performances, exhibitions and concerts along the canals, squares and the magnificent palaces of the city. The Carnival begins 14 days before Ash Wednesday and culminates in Mardi Gras on Shrove Tuesday. Carnival traditions are the same, but every year the theme is different. Masks are central to the Venetian celebrations, and although the reason they were originally worn is not certain, some historians argue that being in disguise allowed class distinctions to dissolve; the thrill of anonymity still plays a big role in the mystique of carnival. One of the biggest parties in the world, Carnival is a special time in Venice and the romance of the festival never seems to fade.
One of Venice's most important religious festivals, the Feast Day of The Redeemer (Il Redentore) is also one of the most traditional. The festival dates back to 1576 in commemoration of the end of the plague that wiped out a third of the city's population. The Church of the Redentore was built on Giudecca Island, and a promise was made by the Doge to lead a procession of thanksgiving every year to the church. At sunset on the third Sunday of July annually the waterways are filled with hundreds of brightly lit and decorated boats, while the banks of the canal are lined with crowds of people celebrating, feasting and dancing. The highlight is the tremendous fireworks display accompanied by music, considered by many to be one of the most spectacular in the world. Regattas, rowing competitions, and special services in the Redentore Church (reached via the boat bridge) also form part of the festivities. Venice is great at spectacle and this religious festival is also a big party and a visual extravaganza.
The Venice Film Festival (Mostra Internazionale d'Arte Cinematografica di Venezia) was founded in 1932 and is the oldest film festival in the world as well as one of the most prestigious and famous. The festival takes place at the end of August and beginning of September each year on the island of Lido. Screenings take place in a number of wonderful venues including the historic Palazzo del Cinema. Take a water bus to the Lido to enjoy the presentations, mingle with the stars and catch sneak previews of some of the top films of the forthcoming year. Just be sure to book your accommodation and cinema tickets early because the Venice Film Festival is extremely popular and this is a busy period to visit the city.
The Venice Film Festival is part of the Venice Biennale, an extremely well-respected cultural institution, founded in 1895, which also hosts Venice's International Art Exhibition, International Architecture Exhibition, Festival of Contemporary Music, Theatre Festival, and Festival of Contemporary Dance, which all contribute to Venice's status as a hotbed of cultural activity.
Outside carnival time, Venice isn't famed for a hectic nightlife. But persistent party animals will find some excitement if they look in the right places. Piazza San Marco has the most popular social venues, and the tourist information centres have current English-language schedules of special events which are very useful to travellers in search of a good time.
Cafes abound in Venice and some host live music performances, with the Rialto Bridge and St Mark's Square are good areas to start when looking for sedate evening entertainment. Nightclubs are more limited and generally more plentiful in summer as some venues close down during the colder and quieter months.
Visitors are often better off trying their luck at one of the city's casinos when looking for round-the-clock fun and entertainment, the most acclaimed is Casino Municipale di Venezia where a passport and jacket are required for entry. Otherwise, there are regular classical music concerts, with the Vivaldi Church, San Stefano, Chiesa di Vivaldi and the Scuola di San Giovanni Evangelista being popular venues.
Although shopping in Venice is fun, it can also be a challenge due to the crowds and the fact that the city's waterways can be difficult to navigate. You should buy items you want immediately, rather than risk not being able to find the store later on. The Rialto is the commercial core of Venice, famous for being the site where the first bridge over the Grand Canal was built. It's the best place to start your shopping adventures in the city.
Visit Venetia Studium on San Marco for fine velvets and silks of every imaginable colour, woven into subtle scarves, delicate evening bags and luxurious pillows. You can buy unique costumes and masks at Atelier Marega, where you can often see the preparation and painting of the masks. Francis Model sells locally-crafted leather goods, and for gloves and accessories go to Fanny, on Calle dei Saoneri and Campo San Polo. Handmade paper and beautiful miniature buildings, made by Moro, can also be found in Venice. Look out for handmade examples of Venetian glass (Murano glass) and fine lace sold throughout the city.
As you might expect from a city famous for its canals, water is the main medium of transport in Venice. Water buses, known as vaporetti, ply the Grand Canal and make scheduled stops. The vaporetti are a far cheaper way to get around Venice than the famous gondolas, piloted by stripe-shirted gondoliers who for an extra fee will serenade passengers. Travelling down the Grand Canal is obligatory but the vaporetti are well-suited for this purpose. Once ashore, the only way to explore is on foot, through the narrow alleys and lively squares; there are no cars at all in Venice. Make sure you have a good map as the city can become a confusing labyrinth.
Mention Venice and the image of beautifully-lit canals and graceful gondoliers come to mind. But this romantic city boasts many more excellent tourist attractions. The Grand Canal (Canalazzo), Venice's main waterway, divides the city with city quarters to the west and east of it. It's the core around which much of the activity in Venice is conducted, surrounded by the elegant facades of the palazzi. A 'must-see' is St Mark's Square (Piazza San Marco) in the heart of Venice, while the 14th-century Basilica dei Frari, a Gothic Franciscan church, is mostly known for being the resting place of Titian and the Venetian sculptor, Antonio Canova.
Explore the School of St Roch or the Gallerie dell'Accademia, which houses one of Europe's finest art collections from the 14th to 18th centuries. Visit the historic La Fenice Theater or the Jewish Ghetto of Venice, from where the word 'ghetto' derives. Jewish culture is still very active in the ghetto, home to five synagogues as well as various shops and restaurants.
The traditional mode of transport in Venice is by foot or boat, so enjoy the strolls and relaxed boat trips. All visitors to Venice should buy a Venice Card, as it gives you use of the main tourist services, including optional discounted airport transfers, vaporetto services and admission to some museums and attractions.
On the Lido de Jesolo is Aqualandia, an extremely popular water and theme park that has been earning rave reviews from visitors to Italy. Aqualandia is situated on an island near Venice, and just strolling around the place and lounging on the beaches is an adventure. Aqualandia has something like 26 attractions, including one of the highest water slides in the world, a sky-high bungee jumping tower and a huge central pool. There are fun shows and live music acts, as well as restaurants, shops and the popular Vanilla Club for those who want to party. A fun day at a water park is a great treat for children and a nice break from traditional cultural sightseeing.
Padua is often tragically overlooked due to its close proximity to Venice. The fabulous architecture of the old town, dating back as far as 1,000 AD, is a magnificent backdrop for its deep wealth of culture. The main attraction is the cathedral dedicated to St Anthony, its high altar is decorated with bronzes by Donatello, who is also responsible for the proud equestrian statue (il Gattamelata) in the Piazza del Santo. Padua also has picturesque canals, a number of markets and many impressive churches filled with beautiful frescoes. It also boasts Europe's oldest botanical garden, established in 1545, and a fun and festive nightlife, thanks to its youthful university population.
The Venetian Islands of Murano are joined by several bridges, making for a great trip for the whole family and the perfect place to seek out special Venetian souvenirs. In 1291, all the glass makers in Venice were sent to the islands for fear of fires starting in the wooden buildings of the city, meaning Murano has been a centre of glass crafts ever since. Visitors can enjoy watching the local art of glass-blowing, developed over centuries in the place that made Venetian glass so famous and sought-after. Murano is a picturesque mini-Venice with its own Grand Canal, boasting colourful old buildings and great restaurants. There are also some interesting churches to visit: the Basilica dei Santa Maria e San Donato has stunning 12th-century mosaics; and the Church of Saint Peter the Martyr houses two artworks by Bellini.
A flatland along the Adriatic Coast, the vast Po Delta is one of the most stunning natural landscapes in Italy. It's divided into two regional parks: the Emilia-Romagna and Veneto. The latter, easily accessible from Venice, encompasses woodlands, extensive farmlands, marshes, lagoons, beaches and rivers, as well as historical monuments and even cities. Visitors to the Po Delta Natural Park can enjoy a day exploring the great outdoors. Discover the park by bike, boat, canoe, horseback or on foot. Tours are also available for those who want to visit the more protected areas of the park, and avid fisherman can enjoy the lagoons, where bream, bass and grey mullet are plentiful. There are great bird-watching opportunities here too, so pack your binoculars. There are many areas to camp and wonderful walking trails.
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