Venice Pictures Guide, Italy

Panorama of Piazza San Marco and the heart of Venice, Italy. Wolfgang Morode

Panorama of Piazza San Marco and the heart of Venice. Photo by Wolfgang Moroder.

Venice Tourism

Basilica San Marco, Venice, Italy. CarlosIRT

Basilica San Marco, Venice, Italy. Photo by CarlosIRT

Venice is unique, timeless and of great historic importance as a hugely influential city state – the Republic of Venezia – in the middle ages, changing the world of finance,  maritime development, international trade and artistic styling – Venetians  were at the forefront of the Renaissance movement.   Now Venice and its  117 islands are gradually sinking into the lagoon’s muddy oblivion. A stunning, decaying city with no wheels, a labyrinth of mysterious streets and canals, surprise views, sublime buildings and particularly Piazza San Marco, ‘the finest drawing room in Europe’ according to Napoleon, and ‘pigeon paradise’ according to others.

The view from Campanile di San Marco tower offers a superb city overview while taking a vaporetto (water bus) along the Grand Canal and chugging past elaborate 14thC palaces and under the Rialto Bridge is one of life’s do-before-ye-die experiences.

Along with those sights and boat rides are a clutch of riveting museums, elaborate palaces and churches and sensational walks.

Like eating a box of chocolate liqueurs in one go‘ T. Capote

Rialto Bridge

Rialto bridge gondoliers, Venice, Italy. Saffron Blaze

Rialto Bridge gondoliers, Venice, Italy. Photo Saffron Blaze.

This iconic bridge is called Ponte di Rialto in Italian and wooden versions of it have collapsed at various times in the past but this stone update has lasted since  1591. With the numbers of tourists trekking over to San Polo canal to perch on the bridge and watch the vaporetti, gondolas and other water craft pass below, inevitably shops, cafés, restaurants and even a market have flourished in the Rialto surrounds, with endless souvenir shops selling at a slightly better price than in Piazza San Marco.

Venice Downsides

• With 55, 000 residents but 19 million tourists a year don’t expect to mix casually with locals.
• This poorly managed city is infamous for its ‘rip-off’ attitude to visitors, both official and individual, so beware double-charging tourists for water bus (vaporetti) tickets and overcharging foreigners just about anywhere, from bars and restaurants to hairdressers, though bars, restaurants and taxis are legally obliged to display tariffs (somewhere! ) so ALWAYS check before you order!
• Gondolas and food are expensive (unless you stick with pizzas and cicheti, see below for low-cost eating hints).
• Venice goes to bed early.

Venice weather

One of the essential elements to enjoying Venice is a delight in mystery. Venezia is such an odd place that it really looks better with a bit of mist hanging about, not with heat, regular tourist masses (as opposed to mad carnival masses) and stinking lagoon smells. We suggest not the summer months (highs of 27C/81F, lows of 17C/63F), or the high precipitation months of May and  June when views are compromised, skies are gloomy and grey and mosquitoes and flies may make a nuisance of themselves. So that leaves winter as a good choice…

Best: February-April when the environment may well be misty and romantic and tourists have the opportunity to join the completely bonkers Venice Carnival (take costumes! ); alternatively holiday outside the Carnival if you want elbow-room to do the floaty, romancy thing in glorious solitude (almost). Check festival dates. Average highs for this season will be 8C (46F) to 16C (61F) and lows from zero to 8C (46F).

 Flooded Piazza San Marco, Venice, Italy. Wolfgang Moroder

 Flooded Piazza San Marco in central Venice, not an unusual sight. Photo by Wolfgang Moroder.

On the right is the base of the Campanile, a medieval tower from which you can get a terrific panoramic view over the city. Distant right is the Doge’s Palace, another popular tourist sight it’s a museum highlighting the splendid base of the rulers of the Venice Republic.  See the photo at the top for a clearer idea of the location of the Campanile and Doge’s Palace.

Acqua alta (high water) is a regular occurence in Venice so consider packing some light waterproof boots, especially for a winter trip to Venice. Generally the water is not very deep, wooden walkways are put in place and as soon as the tide changes – a few hours – the water drains away, so it’s not a panic situation. High tides occur at irregular intervals so we can’t say ‘avoid such-and-such month’, but there is a tendency for the colder months to go under water more often.
Tourist offices sell an acqua alta map that indicate the higher, dry walking routes.

Venice Main Attractions

Caffé Florian

King Louis IV of France with his latest mistress in Caffé Florian, Venice, Italy.

King Louis IV of France with his latest mistress in Caffé Florian. The Sun King, for it is he, can just about afford a macchiato and brandy there.

Venice is a great walking city, especially after a couple of overpriced expressos with brandy.
The city centre is easy to navigate to and from, so tourists could start with a coffee at Café Florian in Piazza San Marco if you’re feeling flush (or stand at a bar if not), check out free-to-enter Basilica San Marco and its mosaics and ceiling, see more visiting tips below; the pink and white gothic Doge’s Palace, aka Palazzo Ducale (take a tour or audio-guide, the place is loaded with fascinating trivia) and the adjacent Bridge of Sighs.

One tip: if you are wandering randomly lonely as a clod and decide you need to find your way back somewhere, check out street signs that say ‘Per Something’, e.g. Per S Marco. Per means ‘To’. Otherwise it’s all down to a Smart Phone or orienteering.

San Marco – St Mark’s Basilica

San Alipio portico, Saint Mark's Basilica, Venice. Photo Roman Bonnefoy

Saint Mark’s Basilica, San Alipio portico. Photo Roman Bonnefoy

Basilica San Marco ceiling, Venice, Italy. Gary Ullah

San Marco’s ceiling. Photo by Gary Ullah

St Mark’s Basilica interior:
The highlight of the gorgeous cathedral of San Marco in the centre of Venice is the incredible mosaic work, 8000 sq. m of ancient gold, bronze and semi-precious stones. However, this is only lit up at 11. 30 am during the week and 2 pm on Sundays. Inevitably every tourist in-the-know wants to see this display so large queues form beforehand. . .

Skip the Queues:

The highlight of this gorgeous cathedral in the centre of Venice is the incredible mosaic work, 8000 sq. m of ancient gold, bronze and semi-precious stones. However, this is only lit up at 11. 30 am during the week and 2 pm on Sundays. Inevitably every tourist in-the-know wants to see this display so large queues form beforehand.

The Basilica is open during the week from 9. 45 am – 5 pm and and from 2pm on Sundays. Tourists are not supposed to hang about, 10 minutes is suggested.

The best way to beat the queues and suck up some interesting, free information is to join an official tour, 11 am daily except Sundays, April thru October. Tours meet in St Mark’s atrium next to the centre doorway, on the right and we believe that prior booking is not required for individuals. However if you want to be sure (or if you represent a group) then book at San Marco online from April to October; booking costs €1, the tour is free.

n. b. Suitable clothes only (no tank tops! ); no suitcases, backpacks or large bags allowed; no photos or video can be taken; the visit lasts for 10 minutes; and lastly, silence!

Cappella-Sagredo-San-Francesco-della-Vigna, Venice. Didier Descouens

Other churches and chapels also have some magnificent sights, such as the interior of Cappella Sagredo San Francesco della Vigna. Photo by Didier Descouens

gondola repair shop, venice, italy. Photo Didier Descouens

A Gondola repair shop, Squero di San Trovaso. Photo Didier Descouens

Tourists in Venice need to visit the elegant but busy Rialto Bridge over the Grand Canal, the Accademia Bridge and the Academy Gallery (one of Europe’s best art galleries, focusing on the glory of Venice since the 13thC). The nearby traditional gondola boatyard Squero di San Trovaso is interesting too.

Finally when you’re ready for a sit down take a vaporetto along the Grand Canal (see boats below) or a gondola if you are very plush of pocket. Interestingly the gondola – basic Venetian transport for several centuries – is a unique craft in so far as it is asymmetrical, with the left side longer than the right in order to keep the boat going straight even though the oar is situated on only one side (the right?).

After that it’s time to stumble around the back streets and find your own exquisite little sights.
For example, head north to Cannaregio’s untouristy 14thC Jewish Quarter or west to Dorsoduro and its triangular Dogana da Mar customs house, offering excellent views and off the normal package trail.

Venice Tourism now offers a leaflet of great, little-known walks called ‘Venezia Beyond San Marco’, available from near the old San Marco vaporetto stop.

Local Transport

gondolas parked in Venice, Italy

Transport here is legs, water bus (vaporetto), very pricey but evocative gondolas (that can get down the tiny back routes) or take a traghetto – a gondola ferry – from various places for a short trip across the Grand Canal; traditionally you stand during the crossing which makes it all the more interesting.

Vaporetti  will take you all over the lagoon for a fraction of the cost of a private boat or gondola. Line 2 is especially suitable for tourists as it swishes along the Grand Canal with fewer stops than Line 1 and returns via Giudecca for a few euros. Get it from Vallaresso stop near St Mark’s Square.
Another option is to buy a 3 day travel card  permitting ferry travel around all of the islands.

Vaporetti also run tourists from Marco Polo airport to St Mark’s Square for a few euros.

Very useful tourist passes can be bought at Marco Polo airport on arrival for buses from the airport to the city centre and unlimited use of water buses.

Self-drive boats are available in Cannaregio.

Tourist Cards/Passes

Santa_Maria_della_Salute-night-venice-italy

Santa Maria della Salute at night, more-or-less across the Grand Canal from Piazza San Marco.

Vaporetto dell’Arte is a hop-on-hop-off ferry that cruises the Grand Canal stopping at many prime attractions, museums and monuments.

ACTV is Venice’s public transport system both on water and on land. Considering how expensive these transport options are – particularly vaporetti –  it generally makes sense to buy a an ACTV travel card for at least a day or two. They sell travel cards in many options that will help keep travel costs down unless you’re a dedicated walker.

Venice City website is the main place to find passes such as the Venice Card and  book city services online, such as car parking. The Venice Card  doesn’t seem to be a particularly good deal  as  many of the best attractions are not included, but check for yourself online, offers change day-by-day.

Alternatively just take in the free stuff such as the awesome San Salvador and baroque Santa Maria della Salute churches, the Rialto’s markets, the bridges old and new, and the dead quiet cemetery on San Michele island.

Festivals

Bridge-of-Sighs-reds-venice-carnival-italy

The Bridge of Sighs, near to Piazza San Marco, is a popular posing place during the Carnival.

Main Festivals
February-April, Venice Carnival, do it once at least, it’s cramped but magic!
May, Vogalonga, boat race.
July, Festa del Redentore, a huge flotilla of decorated boats floti around the canals entertained by a regatta and fireworks.
November, La Salute (religious) festival at the beautiful Basilica Santa Maria della Salute.

For some precise dates or more information see: European Festivals

Arts/Culture

Gallerie dell Accademia, Giambattista Tiepolo, Venice Italy. Photo Didier Descouens

Gallerie dell Accademia, Giambattista Tiepolo ceiling art, Venice. Photo Didier Descouens

Museums and Galleries:

• The Doge’s Palace, Piazza San Marco. This museum is mostly about the magnificent rooms and artefacts belonging to the varied  Doges of Venice, supreme authorities in the state living here since 1178, including the Doge’s apartments, the courtyard and Opera zone (now museum). The guided tour called Secret Itinerary is highly recommended. Tickets for the Doge’s Palace include Museo Correr, Museo Archeologico Nazionale and Rooms of the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana. 

• the number one gallery is the Accademia, aka Galleria dell’ Accademia di Venezia. Venice’s best but also highly ranked throughout Italy.

• Then there’s (Collezione) Peggy Guggenheim museum (modern art).

Ca’ Pesaro, a  palace housing  modern Italian art and the Marco Polo Museum.  

• Correr Museum, a collection of globes from the 16th century onwards, a museum of Roman antiquities and a picture gallery. Admission also includes Doge’s Palace.

• Ca’d’ Oro-Galleria Franchetti; or possibly Museo Navale & Arsenale, for naval artefacts and kid-friendly ship models. Note that opening times change frequently so check on status when you arrive.

Classical Music: Goldoni, Palazzo Prigione Vecchie, Scuola Grande di San Giovanni evangelista, Pietà church for Vivaldi.

Dance/Opera: Fenice Opera, Palafenice.

Theatre: Teatro Malibran.

Live Music: Paradiso Perduto, Da Codroma. Check ‘Un Ospite di Venezia’ for event info/listings.

John Cabot's house in Venice, Italy. Photo Wolfgang Moroder

John Cabot’s house in Venice surrounded by some fine streets away from Venice’s lagoon. The ones near the lagoon tend to be narrow, or even very, very narrow. Photo Wolfgang Moroder.

Cabot was born in Italy, probably Venice,  around 1450 but moved to Bristol, England later in life before heading off on a grand voyage of exploration in 1497. Cabot was trying to get to Asia but bumped into Canada instead and claimed it on behalf of King Henry VII of England.

Cheapish Accommodation

venice hotel Canal Grande, Wolfgang-Moroder

A conveniently located hotel on the  Grand Canal. Photo by Wolfgang Moroder.

November to March is low season, apart from Christmas or Carnival time, and Venice is probably more gorgeous, mistily mysterious AND a lot less pricey then, so make it a winter trip outside Xmas/Carnival. You don’t need sunshine to enjoy Venice! And arrive there in mid-week for even better prices.

Hotels at the heart of this watery wonderland are notoriously expensive but thanks to austerity measures and depressed incomes B&Bs and holiday apartment rentals have sprung up on the city’s main island and are the best value accommodation option with major sights in stumbling distance.
If you are a backpacker budget traveller then there’s cheapo accommodation on the mainland in the Mestre district or camp sites and small hotels near the airport.

Keeping Food Costs Down

Beware of rip offs. Check prices carefully (preferably written), don’t be dragged in by a maitre d’ from outside, eat where Italians (probably tourists too! ) are eating and ask for a written bill/check at the end – “il conto per favore”.

Good value:
– The local, late-opening wine bars between the Rialto Bridge and the market are good value and non-touristy.
– Drinks consumed while standing in a bar or café should be half the price of those sitting down.
– Pizzas are the cheapest way to eat fully and two of the most popular are la Perla and Casa Mia, both in Cannaregio.
Secondi, main courses, can get pricey even in modest trattorias so avoid them.
– Remember, a coperto cover charge and 12 per cent service charge are often added to restaurant bills, so check before you sit. And don’t tip twice!
– Traditional Venetian bars – known as bacari – can be an economical way to eat as they often have delicious cicheti tidbits (kind of tapas) costing very little, similar to ‘antipasti’ you find in restaurants. They should be on display so point to what you fancy and eat while standing with a glass of house wine. A couple of the best bacari are Al Portego in Calle della Malvasia, Do More in Calle do Mori and Cantinone gia Schiavi in Fondamenta Nani.
– Take a picnic on the benches of the Ponte Lungo part of the Zattere, having picked up your goodies in the Billa supermarket at the west end of the Zattere.

For the best (woah $$$! ) dining experiences in Venice try either Hotel Cipriani’s gorgeous terrace restaurant, Da Fiore or Dalla Marisa in Cannaregio.
High society cafe scenes are a treat so go to Italy’s oldest cafes, Caffè Florian (remember to stand! ) or Gran Caffè Quadri, in Piazza San Marco for fine Italian Cuisine.

Shopping

Traditional tourist merchandise in Venice is mainly about glass or masks.
The highest quality and prices are found on the route from Piazza San Marco to the Ponte Rialto and on to the rail station, or better on a small cluster of islands a mile north of Venice at Murano’s glass factories. The merchandise, however, is all overpriced and clichéd. For more interesting, cheaper glass work try Ivano Soffiato in Dorsoduro and watch him at work.

Getting to Venice

The closest airport to Venice’s old town (centro storico) is Marco Polo Airport. Note that there is a mainland Venice too but tourists will doubtless be looking for the Centro Storico. 

Marco Polo Airport is located near Mestre Railway Station from where arrivals head off by train to other parts of Italy or catch a shuttle bus (ACTV or ATVO) to Piazzale Roma in order to reach Venice.

From Piazzale Roma take a water bus (vaporetti are frequent but not cheap!) or water taxi. Economise by buying a one to seven day Tourist Travel Card or a Venezia Unica pass for long-term visitors before getting on the vaporetto if you’ll be in Venice for longer than 7 days.

If you arrive by car there is long term parking at Piazzale Roma or Tronchetto which is incredibly expensive, or park near Mestre Rail Station and take a train to Venezia St. Lucia station. Free parking is rare but will be marked with a sign saying Gratuito.

Trips out of Venice centre

Short Trips
The Lido’s beach and casino, or the massive Tuesday morning market.
Murano island to see the fascinating and ancient art of glass blowing and the equally ancient art of selling/buying the stuff.

Longer Trips out
Italian railways are cheap, reasonably reliable and an easy way to explore Venice’s backside, the Veneto region.
– 30 minutes away medieval Padua not only offers a lively street scene but also incredible Giotto frescoes lavished over the Capella degli Scrovegni in 1306, though tourists must book ahead
– 45 minutes out is Vicenza, packed with fine examples of Palladio’s fine architecture.
– 1. 5 hours away, Verona sports ancient buildings, a Roman amphitheatre and superb riverside ambience.

Venice Map