A labyrinth of busy squares, colourful canals and marble palazzos, this floating city floods the imagination with its classical beauty
Venice welcomes you with an enchanting serenade, as gondoliers glide their way through the intricate web of the city’s many waterways, carrying loved-up couples from all over the world. The beating heart of the city is the Grand Canal, a reflection of architectural glories with exquisite palazzos and gothic museums lining its banks. On land, narrow backstreets twist past and over bridges to unveil a treasure trove of art and culture. The city is divided into six districts (the sestieri), each with its own charm and character. One way or another, you’re bound to wind up at San Marco. At the core of the city, it is where iconic sights, such as St. Mark’s Basilica and the Doge’s Palace can be found. Across the Rialto Bridge is San Polo with its lively bar scene, while the artisans’ neighbourhood of Dorsoduro is brimming with prestigious art galleries. The largest of the sestieri, Castello is where you can watch elderly Venetian women gossip between windows and children playing ball in the piazzas. Lose yourself in the winding alleyways and discover why visitors flock to this fairytale-like city.
Doze off to the lullabies of the city
The artsy one: Officially declared a National Monument on account of its beauty, Ca Sagredo Hotel is an art-lovers dream-stay. Make your way up the magnificent 18th century Scalone dei Giganti staircase that’s entirely surrounded by frescoes, and wander through hallways adorned with original masterpieces by Venetian painters including Niccolò Bambini and Giambattista Tiepolo.
The grand one: It’s easy to understand why the Clooney’s chose to spend their wedding night at this sumptuous 16th century palazzo. Aman Venice welcomes you with its own brand of luxury – think trompe-l’oeil grandiose staircase, Murano glass chandeliers, Rubelli silk wall coverings and Rococo works of art, to name a few.
The cosy one: Tucked away in the charming Dorsoduro district, Ca’ Maria Adele draws style-conscious travellers with its unique take on Venetian décor. The boutique hotel boasts five concept rooms, each with its own design and story. Book the Sala Noire and relish in its delicious decadence while the Sala del Doge will make you feel like a duke with its swathes of scarlet boldness.
The bella vista one: For gorgeous city views, the terrace at Al Ponte Antico is a fantastic place to have a drink while gazing at the Grand Canal and the Rialto. Its central location also means that some of the best sights in Venice are within walking distance.
These hidden gems will result in a serious case of bibliophilia
The bookstore: Libreria Acqua Alta Here, books fill old gondolas, canoes, bathtubs and barrels. Encyclopaedias line the walls to make an
intriguing staircase and fluffy cats inhabit every corner as if they rule the place. This chaotic yet charming book shop is the city’s best-kept secret and a dream come true for bargain hunters due to its second-hand literary treasures.
The library: Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana Considered one of the oldest and most stunning libraries in Italy, this architectural beauty is home to the largest classical texts collections in the world, including manuscripts, incunabula, and works printed between 1500 and 1600.
Take a piece of the city back home
A tradition that dates back thousands of years, mask-making is an integral part of the city’s culture. Avoid paying over the odds at touristy souvenir shops and opt for making one yourself at Ca’Macana – the family owned store is known for creating the masks that appeared in the film Eyes Wide Shut. camacana.com
Watching a Murano glass sculpture come to life is as fascinating as its translucent beauty, and the island of Murano is the only place on the planet that produces these coveted pieces of art. Get an insider look at different glass techniques thanks to the dedicated tours on offer at Mazzega Glass Factory.
It’s said that King Louis XIV of France wore an original Burano lace collar on the day of his coronation. Suffice to say, it’s an artwork in its own right. But you don’t need to go all the way to Burano Island to get these lovely crafts, as the famous Il Merletto shop in Venice displays a wide selection of original work.
ALL IN GOOD TASTE
Discover the lagoon city’s hidden food haunts
The Venetian version of tapas, Cicchetti is a must-try while in Venice. These traditional bites, served on small plates designed to share, will have your taste buds shouting “mamma mia!” Enjoy it the local way at Cantina Do Mori,but don’t expect to be seated; you’ll have to eat it like the locals do – standing up. For lunch, head to Ristorante Upupa and be sure to order their famous Spaghetti al Nero di Seppia. The distinctive pasta dish will win you over with its delicious flavour and charcoal black colour (courtesy of the squid ink). End the evening at one of the oldest cafés in Europe, Caffè Florian (caffeflorian.com). Having opened its doors in 1720, it exudes old-world charm and boasts a stunning outdoor terrace on St Mark’s Square.
UP AND AWAY
To get a thorough understanding of how beautiful this city is, you need to get on top of it. Not only does the St Mark’s Campanile offer a breathtaking view of the Venetian Lagoon, it’s also home to one of the largest bells in the city, la Marangona. Just a short boat-ride away, San Giorgio Maggiore is a defining point on the Venice skyline, and its unrivalled panoramic views of the city makes it unlike any other. Hidden on a quiet street in the bustling tourist centre of St. Mark’s Square, Scala Contarini del Bovolo is instantly recognisable due to its snail’s shell-like spiral staircase. Ascend the tower’s twisting steps, pausing to look at the views revealed at every twist and turn. Once you reach the top, you’ll be awed by the picturesque view.
UNDER A BRIDGE
Each with its own story, Venetian bridges unveil the city’s deep-seated history
Legend has it that lovers who kiss on a gondola at sunset under the Ponte dei Sospiri will be granted eternal love and happiness. Designed by Italian architect Antonio Conatino, the bridge connects the Doge’s Palace to the city’s historic prisons. It’s said that prisoners, on taheir way to incarnation, got to take one last peek at the city through the bridge’s tiny gaps. Overcome with its beauty, it prompted them to sigh, hence its moniker: the Bridge of Sighs.
One of the last remaining Venetian bridges without guardrails, Ponte Chiodo in the Cannaregio neighbourhood is the place to get your thrills of the day. If you’re feeling courageous, you can capture that coveted Instagram shot of your legs dangling over the edge.
One of only four bridges to span the Grand Canal, Ponte dell’Accademia charms with its peaceful ambience and unique views of the city. Something of an undiscovered gem, the bridge packs less crowds than the city’s main attraction, the Rialto Bridge, making it your ideal sunset destination.
ASK A LOCAL
Carlo Bettuolo, destination wedding photographer, shares his top tips for exploring the city.
“Get lost in Castello, the oldest district in the city, and admire the architectural details of buildings steeped in more than eight centuries of history. For the perfect Instagram shot, head to San Moisè Bridge – its colourful background will ensure your feed pops. For anyone visiting for the first time, I always recommend the guided tour of Teatro la Fenice, which is one of the most beautiful opera houses in the world. The city is brimming over with first-class dining venues but my absolute favourite is Algiubagió. Be seated at a table on the wooden platform overlooking the lagoon and tuck into delicious Venetian staples and fresh seafood dishes. The restaurant’s stunning views will stay with you long after you leave.”
BRICK IN THE WALL
From exquisite marble palaces to hidden gems on the Grand Canal, there are numerous architectural marvels to discover. St Mark’s Basilica (basilicasanmarco.it)is hard to miss with its luminous gold mosaics and profusion of grand domes. Dating back to the 11th century, the Venetian cathedral is a leading example of Byzantine architecture.
A short walk away is Doge’s Palace (palazzoducale.visitmuve.it), a gothic masterpiece that is the formerly the seat of Venetian government. Its interior is equally stunning with highlights including the Sala del Maggior Consiglio (the grand council hall) and Sansovino’s golden stairway, Scala d’Oro.
If you tire of pounding the pavements, why not give in to the classic tourist bucket-list experience of a gondola tour along the canals. Splash out on a private guide who can steer you past all the top sites and into the smaller, more tranquil canals that offer a glimpse of everyday city life.
Inspired to go? Click here for the latest offers.
Click here to see the 33 best swimming spots in the world!