Venice, or Venezia, is a distinguished 1,700-year-old city that was at the nexus of major European art, music and political developments. It was an instigator of the Renaissance and is thought to have been the world's first financial center.
Today, it is one of Italy's most important cities and a supremely romantic travel destination, where you can stroll alongside miles of winding canals. There are, in fact, 150 canals with more than 400 bridges that connect Venice's 118 small islands in the Venetian Lagoon, some large enough for magnificent churches and palaces, squares and museums, amazing restaurants and beautiful shops.
How to Get to Venice
The best way to arrive in Venice is by train from the Santa Lucia Train Station on the northwestern edge of the city. The bus terminal and parking garages are nearby in Piazzale Roma, but you have to cross the Grand Canal to get there. Venice also has the small Marco Polo Venice Airport, and from there, you can take a bus or boat to other points in Europe.
Transportation in Venice
The Grand Canal, which cuts through the center of the city, is like Venice's main street, and the vaporetti (boats), its cars. They are the main public transport in this canal-filled city and pay the principal waterways. The #1 Vaporetto runs along the Grand Canal from the train station and makes many stops, so it's a good way to cruise the main canal and get a good overview of the city.
If you want something more up close and personal, take a taxi and a gondola, though they tend to be more expensive.
Gondolas, a symbol of life in Venice, are a romantic way to get from point A to point B, but today these costly diversions are used mainly by tourists.
You'll find guided tours for just about every place worth visiting, from well-known palaces to lesser-known destinations.
Plus, there are food tours and classes in rowing, cooking or making those beautiful theatrical masks Venice is famous for.
Where to Stay
Start your hotel search by looking through a list of top-rated Venice hotels, many of which are in the San Marco neighborhood, near Saint Mark's Square, which is the most popular tourist popular area. If you're looking for a lovely place to stay with your better half, there are plenty of romantic hotels in Venice.
The Districts of Venice
The old city center of Venice is divided into six districts or sestieri. The Cannaregio district, the most populated, is near the station. The Castello district, the largest, and the famous San Marco district, home to its namesake square and basilica, are on the same side of the Grand Canal. The Santa Croce district, the only one with a bridge to the mainland and some car traffic, is across the Grand Canal from the train station. The San Polo district with its famous eponymous church and the Dorsoduro district, situated on Venice's hardest and most stable island, are across the canal from St. Mark's. A sestiere map will help you navigate the narrow streets.
When to Go
Since it's near the sea, Venice has moderate weather, although there can be rain nearly all year round.
Summers are humid and winters can be foggy and wet. To avoid large crowds, spring and fall are the best seasons to visit. Venice experiences high-water flooding or aqua alta about 60 days a year, from October through early January. In Venice, make sure you have some way to check the changeable weather every day.
Venice's Carnevale held 40 days before Easter, is one of the most lively and colorful pre-Lent celebrations in Italy. The Venetians go all out, donning festive masks and costumes for a 10-day street party. In July, there's the Redentore Regatta, an important festival held right on the Grand Canal.
What to Buy
There are so many beautiful artisanal products in Venice, it's hard to know where to begin, but you could start with Venetian glass, especially glass from the island of Murano.
Gorgeous handmade carnival masks make great gifts or souvenirs. You might also find some Venetian marbled paper you love or some pretty Venetian lace. And as you walk along the canals, you might see a watercolor of Venice that you want to take back as well.
What to Do in Venice
Venice has an amazing collection of world-famous museums and other attractions, but you'd be surprised how much you might love just wandering along the canals off the main tourist tracks or taking advantage of other free diversions this ancient city offers. Some of Venice's most famous attractions include:
- Saint Mark's Square: Piazza San Marco is the main square of Venice surrounded by chic sidewalk cafés and fancy shops. While it's a great place to take in the scenery and people, you will definitely pay top euro to sit at an outdoor table. In the evening, you can listen to live music, too. Walking in the piazza and taking photos is, of course, free.
- Saint Mark's Basilica: Basilica di San Marco, consecrated in 832 AD, is a beautiful church blending the architecture of East and West.
- Doge's Palace: Palazzo Ducale, also on St. Mark's Square, is the most impressive building in Venice and well worth a tour. It was the political and judicial hub of Venetian government until the fall of the Venetian Republic in 1797. The palace was connected to its prisons by the famous Bridge of Sighs.
- Grand Canal (Canal Grande): This is the main thoroughfare of Venice. It is full of many types of boats and lined with beautiful buildings.
- Rialto Bridge (Ponte di Rialto): This is the main bridge crossing the Grand Canal in the heart of Venice and it's more than 400 years old. Nearby is the Rialto Market, an interesting and lively food market with lots of little shops.
- Galleria del Accademia: This impressive institution is one of Italy's most important art museums, with 24 rooms in three historic buildings. Get there early to avoid the crowds.
- Venice's Islands: Visit one or more of the 118 islands on a day trip. Two of the most popular are Murano, famous for it exceptionally beautiful handmade glass products, and Burano, famous for its lace and colorful houses.
Tourist Information Offices: The train station tourist office is almost always very crowded, but agents there have lots of information and can help with hotel reservations. The main tourist office is near Saint Mark's Square. Most staff speak at least some English.
What to Eat in Venice
Seafood is a big part of the delicious Venetian cuisine, as are polenta and rice. Seppia, or cuttlefish, is popular and risotto nero (black rice) is colored with its ink. Try the zuppa di pesce (fish soup) here, too. Radicchio trevisano, red chicory, comes from nearby Treviso. Cicchetti, or little appetizers, are served in the bars of Venice and are often eaten before lunch or dinner, but, like Spanish tapas or Greek meze, you can also order a few for a light meal. Finish with an exquisite Venetian pastry and an espresso. Buon appetito!