Venice at a glance
Because Venice is both unique and uniquely beautiful – there is no other city like it in the world. It is a place that everybody must visit at least once in their lifetime.
A short step from the tourist-thronged Rialto Bridge, the colonnades around the Rialto Market are full of small bars and eateries, and are the perfect early evening hang-out for a spritz (the signature Venetian cocktail of prosecco and a dash of bitter Aperol) and a few cicchetti (Venetian tapas).
You probably didn’t know
The population of the historic city of Venice is in chronic decline and at the Farmacia Morelli in Campo San Bortolomeo a population counter records the downward trend: from a peak of 174,755 people in 1951 in April 2015 it read 56,250.
Suggested reading and viewing
Read The City of Falling Angels (2006), a journalistic portrait of the city by John Berendt; watch Don’t Look Now (1973) – creepy but also hauntingly beautiful.
- Population: 265,500 (including mainland Venice)
- Annual visitor numbers: 700,000 (2014)
- January mean temperature: 11.5°C
- August mean temperature: 30°C
Things to do in Venice
For lunch on the go, Dal Moro’s is a tiny but brilliant pasta joint. Choose your freshly made pasta and then your sauce (the tomato, basil and mozzarella is fabulous) and it is served in a cardboard container to take away (there’s no seating here). Find it on Calle de la Casselleria, five minutes walk north of Piazza San Marco in the direction of Campo Santa Maria Formosa.
Osteria alle Testiere
To taste the best Venice has to offer, try to get a table at Osteria alle Testiere. The casual appearance and laidback service belies a razor-sharp kitchen that prepares age-old Venetian recipes with a modern twist: think gnocchi with calamari spiced with cinnamon. It’s essential to book in advance (online only) for evening sittings but you may get lucky dropping by at lunchtime.
You don’t get decent pizza in Venice because local fire regulations forbid wood-fired ovens. An exception is Muro Frari, which is a modern pizzeria-restaurant that does good, thick-crust classics and specials at good prices (€7-€12), served in a smart, modern interior overlooking a pretty little square. It also specialises in German beer. Find it on San Polo, just west of the Campo San Polo.
Osteria Al Timon
For grazing rather than formal dining, feast on cicchetti: small plates similar to Spanish tapas. Try Osteria Al Timon on the Fondamenta Ormesini in the Cannaregio neighbourhood. It’s a creaky old taverna with wooden beams and a great selection of cicchetti, with most dishes around the €2 mark. It’s packed with locals most lunchtimes and evenings.
Enoteca Al Prosecco
Enoteca Al Prosecco is a friendly little wine bar on the Campo San Giacomo da l’Orio, a neighbourhood square off the main tourist drag. It specialises in organic wines, many by the glass, as well as the fizzed-up wine from which the place takes its name. It’s in San Polo, midway between the train station and Rialto.
Campo Santa Margherita
For a particularly lively take on Venice by night head over to the Campo Santa Margherita, a square close to the university. It is fringed by student-filled cafés and bars, including the slightly bohemian and shabbily elegant Caffè Rosso – the Red Café – which is a hugely fun place.
Embrace Venetian glamour at Harry’s Bar, which has counted the likes of Ernest Hemingway, Truman Capote, Noel Coward, Charlie Chaplin and, more recently, Kate Moss, as patrons. It’s where the Bellini (prosecco and white peach purée) was invented and where it continues to be sold at a ridiculous price to slightly bemused tourists who – looking around the tiny, rather ordinary room – are probably wondering what all the fuss is about.
Salizada San Moisè, Calle Larga XXII Marzo and Salizada San Samuele
Most of the big designer names – Fendi, Gucci, Prada, Versace etc – cluster on or just off Salizada San Moisè and Calle Larga XXII Marzo, immediately west of Piazza San Marco. For more bespoke but equally upscale shopping, check out the boutiques on Salizada San Samuele, which is just west of Campo Santo Stefano.
Banco Lotto No.10
Banco Lotto No.10 (a former lottery ticket shop) is a non-profit boutique selling hand-sewn fashion items made by the inmates of a local women’s prison. It’s lavish stuff: jackets, dresses and bags made using silks, velvets, brocades and tapestry. The workshop even produces period costumes.
Venice is full of shops selling Carnival masks, but the best are sold at Ca’ Macana, which has three branches around Dorsoduro. It has everything from the traditional Commedia dell’arte characters (from €32) to pierrots, moon-faces and gilded jokers. It also organises mask-making courses for small groups and families.
Piazza San Marco
It can get horrendously crowded during the peak summer tourist season, but you do have to visit Piazza San Marco, Venice’s vast main square, for the fairytale Basilica di San Marco, the glorious Doge’s Palace and the 99 metre-high Campanile, the 10th-century tower that offers a superb view of the city, where you can take in the lagoon and outlying islands.
Santa Maria della Salute
If you are only going to visit one church in Venice, then make it the Santa Maria della Salute. This is the grand, domed church at the entrance to the Grand Canal, built in 1681 in honour of the city’s deliverance from the plague. It contains important artworks including paintings by Titian and Tintoretto. Get here by walking across the Accademia Bridge or by disembarking at the Salute vaporetto stop.
The Peggy Guggenheim Collection
Right on the Grand Canal, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection must rank as one of the world’s loveliest art museums. It’s housed in a low-rise, 18th-century palazzo and hosts a permanent collection of modern works from big-hitters including Bacon, Dali, Giacometi, Kandinsky, Klee, Magritte, Miro, Mondrian, Picasso and Pollock. There’s a good café, a beautiful garden and a stunning waterside terrace.
Ride the Grand Canal on board a vaporetto
A great alternative to a pricey gondola ride is to ride the Grand Canal on board a vaporetto, one of the city’s busy waterbuses. It’s a three-and-a-half kilometre trip from the train station to San Marco, passing countless magnificent waterside palazzi. Tickets for a single trip are €7, or you can get an limited 24-hour pass for €20.
Events to look out for:
- Carnevale (Janaury–February)
- Venezia Jazz Festival (Jan–Apr and June–Aug)
- Vogalonga (May)
- Art Biennale (May–November, odd years)
- Architecture Biennale (June–November, even years)
- Festa del Redentore (July)
- Venice International Film Festival (August–September)
- Regata Storica di Venezia (September)
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