Venice is always a rewarding destination. Whether you want a romantic weekend or to see the history of past glories, the city in the lagoon holds an infinite range of options in store. Opera lovers find their holy grail at the Teatro La Fenice, and art fans go to the Arsenale, where the Biennale keeps them up-to-date about the latest trends in the visual arts. And if you like to be surrounded by glamour, go to the Lido, where the annual film festival takes place and A, B and C-list celebrities hold court. Venice seems to be unaffected by all of this. No crumbling plaster, no sinking piles beneath the palazzi, not even the myriad tourists who flood into the city every day on huge cruise ships can affect the beauty of the city. “La Serenissima” (The Most Serene, as Venice calls itself) lies in the lagoon as if she were still the wonderful centre of the world.
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TO VENICE BY PLANE, CAR OR RAIL
Many airlines fly directly to Venice. Marco Polo Airport is approx. 10 kilometres from the city centre. By bus or vaporetto (water bus) it takes about 30 minutes to reach Piazzale Roma. A water taxi provides more comfort, but is relatively expensive (about 120 €). The train station in Venice, Santa Lucia, is approx. 2 hrs 30 minutes from Milan by intercity train. If you arrive by car, you will have to leave it in a car park outside the city. To get around in Venice, walk or take a vaporetto or water taxi.
If you want to arrive by rail, find a suitable connection here:
THE LAGOON CITY
Exploring Venice means walking. Start your tour of discovery where everyone else goes: on the marketplace. From the piazzetta on the shore of the lagoon, walk past the Doges’ Palace to San Marco Basilica. Here you will see well-known sights: the basilica, an infinite number of pigeons, and cafés with grand pianos and violinists. It is pleasant to watch the musicians, but the moment you sit down, it gets expensive. Continue to the Academia. You will cross little canals, pass through wide and narrow alleys, see the less impressive rear side of some palazzi, and rest on one of the lovely squares along the way. Go with the flow and enjoy the variety of urban impressions.
GREETINGS FROM THE ORIENT: SAN MARCO BASILICA
Five domes crown the basilica, which was built in the tradition of Byzantine churches and consecrated in 1094. Centuries passed, however, before construction work was completed, which means that today we see an unusual mix of different styles. Inside, magnificent mosaics covering over 4,000 square metres tell stories from the Bible, and many treasures of religious art testify to the wealth of Venice. If you want to visit the church, expect to queue for admission.
WHERE THE DOGES ONCE RULED THE “WORLD”
The Palazzo Ducale was the centre of Venetian power. Here the doges lived, here the senate and great council met, here decisions were taken about war and peace in Europe. The outside of this impressive building is Gothic, but the interiors and furnishings are in the elegant, classical Renaissance style. A visit to the palazzo is highly recommended, but you may well have to wait a while to get inside. Smart visitors book a ticket or a guided tour in advance on the internet.
A MAZE OF HOUSES
The numerous narrow lanes of Venice are not as confusing as they might appear at first sight. All you really have to do is note the direction that you want to take: to the Academia, Rialto, Ferrovia and of course San Marco. Then it is easy. Simply follow the little yellow signs that have been placed at almost every corner. And if you should lose your way, simply go back a few paces, or perhaps explore one more corner of authentic old Venice.
A VAPORETTO TO THE BEGINNING …
Take vaporetto no. 2 from S. Zaccaria (right next to the Doges’ Palace) to Santa Lucia Station. This takes you along the Giudecca Canal, where the big cruise ships enter and leave Venice, for a wonderful impression of the city’s location in the lagoon. At the station, change vaporetto and return to San Marco.
… AND BACK TO THE HEART OF THE CITY
From Piazzale Roma now take vaporetto no. 1 along the entire Grand Canal, the finest approach to the city. For Venetians, this “main street” is the vibrant artery of the city; for visitors it is an overwhelming experience. Vaporetti, boats carrying freight and gondolas criss-cross the waterway ceaselessly, and one superb palazzo stands next to another. You pass under the Rialto Bridge, see the magnificent Church of Santa Maria della Salute and the open lagoon behind it. At the Doges’ Palace you have reached the city centre again, and it is time to leave the vaporetto.
VENICE AT NIGHT
To have your aperitif in a stylish way, go to Harry’s Bar. It maybe is a world-famous place to enjoy drinks. Even Ernest Hemingway once drank his gimlets there. The famous “Bellini” was created in this bar – a drink mixed from the flesh of white peaches and prosecco. It’s really delicious, but to have a few of them is hard on your wallet.
For dinner, find a table in one of the countless trattorias, for example on the San Polo side of the Rialto bridge, and enjoy some of the simple but tasty Venetian cuisine. (Spaghetti vongole tastes sensational almost everywhere!).
Round off the evening with a stroll through night-time Venice and maybe have a last drink in one of the little bars along the way. Venetians go to bed early, so by midnight most bars are closed.
RIALTO IN THE MORNING …
The market on the Rialto Bridge is for early risers. But it is worth getting out of bed – nowhere will you see so much of Venetian life as on the little marketplace behind the bridge. Fruit, vegetables, meat and of course fish, all of it fresh, are on offer for relatively low prices. The market is not just about buying. Stopping for a chat is part of the experience. Around the market there are many small bars and cafés where you can drink an espresso or cappuccino to go with a dolce for breakfast. Just as the locals do. After that, cross the Rialto Bridge and stroll towards Canareggio.
… THEN THE JEWISH QUARTER
The Cannaregio quarter is on the margins of the tourist crowds. This was once the Jewish quarter, the first ghetto in the world. The name comes from the Venetian expression “gheto”, meaning casting metal, because the metal factories stood here. Today the district is home to ordinary workers and fishermen, and visitors get an impression of the city as it may have been before the tourist invasion. Synagogues and museums are testimony to the thriving Jewish culture of past times, so it is worth stopping here and there. The same applies to all the little restaurants and bars.
AN AFTERNOON IN MURANO …
Take a vaporetto from Fondamenta Nuova to Murano. This is the home of the famous Venetian glass with its quirky, often highly colourful designs. Murano glass is no longer produced only on the island, but you can still see genuine glass blowers at work. In the Museo Vetrario you can learn about more than 2,000 years of the history of glass. Take care with your purchases. Glass easily get broken! Almost all of the shops therefore offer a delivery service to your home address.
… OR WITH THE FISHERMEN ON BURANO
If you have enough time (approx. 4 hours) for an excursion, take a boat to Burano (line 12 from Fondamenta Nuova). The fishing village lies on four small islands and is famous for its pastel-coloured houses. This is a short trip back in time. The slow pace of life on Burano can make you forget that the bustle of Venice is only an hour away by boat. The highlight here is to enjoy some tranquillity and relaxation in picturesque surroundings.
A SENSUAL FEAST IN THE EVENING
The theatre named La Fenice, “the phoenix”, was once one of the world’s best opera houses. Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti and also Verdi, of course, staged world premieres of their operas here. A few years ago the theatre burned down, not for the first time, but today it has been restored to its former splendour. The auditorium looks like a doll’s house or a model of the Vienna State Opera. But don’t be deceived – grand opera awaits you here. The whole classic opera repertoire is on the programme, and La Fenice benefits from its closeness to La Scala in Milan, making it possible to engage artists that a theatre as small as this could not otherwise afford. La Fenice is a must for all music lovers!
A GONDOLA IS ALSO A FERRY
Admittedly, I felt slightly uneasy. In a gondola, in this case a taghetto, with seven other passengers, crossing the Grand Canal standing up (!) – quite an experience. Above all, a very cheap (2 €) experience, compared to the prices for a normal tourist trip in a gondola. There are very few places (e.g. near the Fish Marked or the Academia), where you can cross the canal in the age-old way. This public ferry is truly a highlight of a visit to Venice, especially when you are back on dry land.
SANTA MARIA DELLA SALUTE: MEMORIES OF THE PLAGUE
In an extremely prominent position, at the tip of the Dorsoduro quarter at the entrance to the Grand Canal, stands the Basilica of Santa Maria della Salute. After the end of a devastating outbreak of plague in 1630, the senate decided to build a church in honour of the Virgin Mary. It was consecrated in 1687, and since then has been one of Venice’s prominent landmarks. Famous sculptors and painters have worked on decorating the basilica, for example Tintoretto with his Wedding at Cana and Titian with several works and the large ceiling painting.
PEGGY GUGGENHEIM AND MUCH MORE
Peggy Guggenheim’s collection of classic modern art is world-famous and definitely worth a visit. In fact Venice has much more to offer than this. A host of museums and galleries spread across the entire city almost amount to a survey of the whole of art history. And then, of course, there is the Biennale. Every summer and autumn, art enthusiasts from all over the world flock to Venice. Alternating between fine art and architecture, each year the show gives an overview what is happening in the arts. At this time the area around the Arsenale is one big gallery.
SOME SHOPPING TO FINISH OFF
In Venice there are abundant opportunities for shopping. Almost all the major designers have a store in the city, most of them in the San Marco quarter. Beyond that, on all sides you will find small shops with interesting assortments. The masks that are on sale in countless varieties all over the city are a famous Venetian product. Beware of the hawkers! Bags marked with every brand name are on offer at low prices, but they are pirated copies, and it is illegal to buy them. The Guardia di Finanza carries out frequent checks, and drastic fines are imposed on purchasers (!).
Picture credits: all photos BKB Verlag GmbH except: