Cultured, romantic, historical and endlessly pretty, Venice is a classic destination for a European city break. The kind of place everyone should visit at least once, the city has that usual Italian mix of great food and high fashion, as well as a fair few must-see sights. With that in mind, here’s a handy list of places to go and things to do when visiting the City of Bridges.
Places to be a tourist…
Visiting the lovely St Mark’s Basilica is a bit of a no-brainer; be sure to be appropriately dressed to be admitted, then marvel at the gilded carvings and priceless treasures that lie within. There’s no photography allowed inside, but snap away to your heart’s content from the busy and incredibly popular San Marco Piazza outside – the impressive domes of the Cathedral deserve endless admiration. The Piazza is also the perfect place to get your shop on; a thriving hub of trendy fashion houses and cafes, it’s the place to be in Venice.
If you’re an old romantic at heart, you must try a gondola ride – it’s one of the top reasons that Venice is frequently voted Europe’s best destination for couples. Even if you find the whole thing a bit cheesy and, frankly, a strain on the wallet, don’t leave Venice without seeing it from the water; a Vaporetti (water taxis) trip is a relatively cheap way to experience the famous Grand Canal – a two day travel card for unlimited use costs around €30.
In a city full of bridges and waterways it’s something a bit special when one of them stands out, and the Rialto Bridge certainly does that. Having stood for 800 years in one form or another (the current stone incarnation has been there since 1591) the bridge is an iconic Venice landmark, and the nearby market makes it well worth the visit too.
Places to be cultured…
Another of Venice’s most famous sights, The Doge’s Palace is one of the more distinctive buildings on the Grand Canal. The divine sculpture-work which appears on the building’s exterior gives the building a Gothic quality, and the fascinating art museum inside attracts over a million visitors every year.
The Guggenheim Museum in Dorsoduro has a wonderful collection of art from the twentieth century and, with a whole range of works from the Cubism, Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism movements, is one of Europe’s best.
The Teatro La Fenice is one of Europe’s finest Opera Houses. Restored after a devastating fire in 1996, the theatre is Venice’s oldest, and is gorgeously ornate. With a terrific programme of operas and ballets, there’s no finer way to spend an evening in Venice.
Hidden gems not to be missed…
The view from the bell tower of San Giorgio Maggiore is not to be missed; possibly the most beautiful and beguiling view over Venice, take the short boat ride over to the San Giorgio Maggiore island, explore its distinctive church for free and pay an nominal charge for the lift up to the famed viewpoint.
Book lovers would be silly to miss the cavern-like Libreria Acqua Alta, a short distance from St Mark’s square; books line the walls, encyclopaedias become staircases and repurposed gondolas are filled with texts of every language and literary genre.
The Caffe Florian in the Procuratie Nuove of Piazza San Marco isn’t exactly a hidden gem – in fact, as Italy’s oldest coffee house, it’s a world-famed Venice institution – but it is very often overlooked. A decadent treat, the café has beautiful frescoes on its walls, and has played host to such historical luminaries as Marcel Proust, Lord Byron, Charles Dickens, Ernest Hemmingway and Casanova. It’s a must.
Places to Eat & Drink…
It’s virtually impossible to select a stand-out restaurant from Venice’s superb collection of eateries and Osterias. It’s not a bad idea to head down to the Rialto Bridge, where the canal-side restaurants are of a high quality. To get a more authentic experience (and lower prices) you’ll have to stray from the main tourist drag and explore the back streets – El Sbarlefo on Sestiere Cannaregio and Osteria Bancogiro on Campo San Giacometto are both well worth looking up.
The best way to tell if a restaurant is targeted toward the tourist crowd is to look at the wine list – if all the bottles are over €20, steer clear. You can expect to pay around €60 for a nice meal for two, including the house wine and any cover charges, but you can easily eat more cheaply at a pizzeria for around €15 per head.
After a long morning of sightseeing, there’s nothing better than kicking back with a glass of something refreshing, and there’s no better place to do that than Al Prosecco’s terrace on Campo San Giacomo dell’Orio – easily one of Venice’s most picture-perfect streets.
Last, but by no means least, what would a trip to Italy be without gelato? You’ll find a whole host of wonderful gelaterias dotted all over the city; Alaska Gelateria, on Calle Larga dei Bari, comes highly recommended.
Heading on a Venice city break this year? Let us know what you plan to see in our comments section below!