Discover the magic and mystery of Venice, a city built entirely on water. Along the iconic Piazza San Marco, elaborate buildings attest to its splendor and elegance. But the city’s character lies along crooked calli and across little bridges.
With its 150 canals, 400 bridges and magnificent 16th- and 17th-century palaces and piazzas, it is no surprise that Venice is considered one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Gloriously
romantic in spring, triumphant in summer, noble in autumn and seductive in winter, it is a popular city break destination year round.
Planning a Trip:
Venice is a city unlike any other. No matter how often you’ve seen it in photos and films, the real thing is more dreamlike than you could imagine. With canals where streets should be, water shimmers everywhere. The fabulous palaces and churches reflect centuries of history in what was a wealthy trading center between Europe and the Orient. Getting lost in the narrow alleyways is a quintessential part of exploring Venice, but at some point you’ll almost surely end up in Piazza San Marco, where tourists and locals congregate for a coffee or an aperitif.
When to Go
Spring: Late April through early June is a good time to visit Venice: the weather is mild, but the volume of tourists is larger than it is in summer.
Summer: Summers are warm and humid. The advantages are fewer tourists (but their numbers are still substantial), it almost never rains, and the beaches of the Lido are just a boat ride away.
Fall: Autumn, like spring, is a good time for visiting Venice. It’s usually pleasant and sunny well into October, and it doesn’t really begin to get cold until mid-November. Acquaalta is most frequent, and severe, in later November.
Winter: Venetian winters are relatively mild, with frequent rainy spells, but also many more sunny days than there are in Northern Europe or much of North America. There are substantial crowds during Carnevale, and prices for hotels and even in some restaurants skyrocket.
Aside from on boats, the only way to explore Venice is by walking — and getting lost repeatedly. You’ll navigate many twisting streets whose names change constantly and don’t appear on any map, and streets that may very well simply end in a blind alley or spill abruptly into a canal. You’ll also cross dozens of footbridges. Treat getting bewilderingly lost in Venice as part of the fun, and budget more time than you’d think necessary to get wherever you’re going.
Street Maps & Signage — The free map offered by the tourist office and most hotels has good intentions, but it doesn’t even show — much less name or index — all the calli (streets) and pathways of Venice. For that, pick up a more detailed map (ask for a piantadellacittà at news kiosks — especially those at the train station and around San Marco) or most bookstores. The best (and most expensive) is the highly detailed Touring Club Italiano map, available in a variety of forms (folding or spiral-bound) and scales. Almost as good, and easier to carry, is the simple and cheap 1:6500 folding map put out by StortiEdizioni (its cover is white-edged with pink, which fades to blue at the bottom).
Still, Venice’s confusing layout confounds even the best maps and navigators. You’re often better off just stopping every couple of blocks and asking a local to point you in the right direction (always know the name of the campo/square or major sight closest to the address you’re looking for, and ask about that).
As you wander, look for the ubiquitous yellow signs (well, usually yellow) whose destinations and arrows direct you toward five major landmarks: Ferrovia (the train station), Piazzale Roma, Rialto (the main bridge), San Marco, and the Accademia (also useful as the only other Grand Canal bridge below the train station).
History and Culture:
Venice, one of the most remarkable and extraordinary cities in Europe, has been a first-class cultural centre from time immemorial. The ‘Queen of the Adriatic’ has given birth to such eminent personalities such as Marco Polo and Giacomo Casanova, who are famous throughout the world. During the epoch of the Renaissance, Venice was among the most important art and cultural centres, with its own style of musical composition and a host of great painters and artists. Today, Venice is still a city of culture, which can be felt everywhere through its unique atmosphere of romance, art and architecture.
The charm of Venetian culture is best experienced during the marvelous festivals and carnivals that are the highlight of local cultural life. The most attractive event is undoubtedly the Carnival: a splendid celebration that makes both locals and tourists forget everything else within the eight days in January (or February) each year when this colourful event is carried out. The programme consists of a row of concerts, balls, theatre performances and emblematic processions with masked participants. Namely, the rich decorated masks and costumes with magnificent ornaments represent the major appeal of Carnival. Their mass production has become one of the most profitable branches of tourist industry in the city. The Venetian Carnival is the second most renowned and spectacular event of this kind in Europe after the Fasching in Germany. Carnival first appeared as a typical Catholic custom and its origins can be traced back to the 18th Century, when the glorious winter parties took place on the streets of Venice.
Venetian architecture and urban planning are also a characteristic feature of local culture. Splendid imposing palaces, cathedrals and churches reveal the high level of development of Venice’s economy and society during different historical periods, particularly the Renaissance. These cultural monuments of extraordinary significance symbolise Venice worldwide, as the countless canals and waterways are widely recognised as one of the most miraculous facilities in urban planning – ever. They give the ‘City of Water’ its unmatchable romantic and glamorous ambience.
For those who want to gain a more detailed impression of Venice – and its art and history – should by all means drop in at one of the various museums and art galleries that show valuable treasures from all fields of knowledge, science and culture. The best place to start your museum tour is at Doge’s Palace, an amazing building that amalgamates styles from all epochs; and all lords of the city throughout the years have left their own imprint on it. Today it is used as a massive museum with its spectacular interior and precious collections of paintings by great artists like Tintoretto, Veronese and Titian. Other exclusive museums are Marciano, with valuable manuscripts and mosaics on display; Correr, dedicated to the history and art of Venice; and the School of San Rocco, the greatest destination for art lovers in Venice.
Venice boasts a large number of prominent composers that brought the city fame as one of the musical centres of Europe during the Renaissance. The world-known Venetian School has produced extremely talented composers over the course of time, with Antonio Vivaldi and Tomaso Albinoni being the most important. Today the Venetian musical scene ranks among the most prestigious in the world with its top-level opera and musical performances that form a great part of the cultural programme of the city. If you are keen on theatre, Venice is the right place for you. The legendary Teatro Italia has given stage to world classics for more than 500 years.
Also, the emblematic Teatro la Fenice provides a delightful experience for art lovers of all tastes and preferences.
Museum houses of eminent citizens of Venice, or the ‘Queen of the Adriatic’, will also give you a special insight into the essence of Venetian culture. Quite possibly, the most famous person to ever live in Venice is Marco Polo. His house hosts interesting objects and documents concerning his life – plus priceless exhibits from the places in the Far East that he visited and popularised in Europe. Antonio Vivaldi, Titian and a galaxy of great artists and musicians also have museums and houses where tourist can become acquainted with their art and work.
As one of the most picturesque and romantic cities worldwide, Venice has an undeniable presence of works from all branches of visual arts and literature. Shakespeare’s tragedy, ‘Othello’, is set in Venice, as well as countless films such Casanova, James Bond and Indiana Jones. More than 100 pieces of visual art are connected to Venice, including a large quantity of video games.