Frommer's Italy (2015)
A gondola along a Venice canal.
No place in the world quite looks like Venice. This vast, floating city of grand palazzos, elegant bridges, gondolas, and canals is a magnificent spectacle, truly magical when approached by sea for the first time, when its golden domes and soaring bell towers seem to emerge straight from the ocean. While it can sometimes appear that Venice is little more than an open-air museum, where tourists always outnumber the locals—by a large margin—it is still surprisingly easy to lose the crowds. Indeed, the best way to enjoy Venice is to simply get lost in its labyrinth of narrow, enchanting streets, stumbling upon a quiet campo (square), market stall, or cafe far off the beaten track, where even the humblest medieval church might contain masterful work by Tiepolo, Titian, or Tintoretto.
The origins of Venice are as muddy as parts of the lagoon it now occupies, but most histories begin with the arrival of refugees from Attila the Hun’s invasion of Italy in 453. By the 11th century, Venice had already emerged as a major trading city, with special dispensation from Byzantine taxes granted in 1082, and a seaborne empire was created by a huge navy and commercial fleet by the 13th century. Though embroiled with wars against Genoa and the Turks for much of the ensuing centuries, these were golden years for Venice, when booming trade with the Far East funded much of its grand architecture and art. Although it remained an outwardly rich city, by the 1700s the good times were over, and in 1797 Napoleon dissolved the Venetian Republic. You’ll gain a sense of some of this history touring Piazza San Marco and St. Mark’s Basilica, or by visiting the Accademia, one of Italy’s great art galleries, but only when you wander the back calli (streets), will you encounter the true, living, breathing side of Venice, still redolent of those glory days.
BY PLANE You can fly to Venice nonstop from North America via Delta Airlines (www.delta.com) from Atlanta (June-Aug only) and New York (Apr-Oct only), via American Airlines (www.aa.com) from Philadelphia, and via Rome or Milan with Alitalia or a number of other airlines year-round. You can also connect through a major European city with European carriers. No-frills easyJet (www.easyjet.com) flies direct from Berlin, London-Gatwick, Manchester, and Paris much cheaper than the major airlines, though rival budget carrier Ryanair (www.ryanair.com) uses the airport in nearby Treviso (a 1-hr. bus ride to Venice).
Flights land at the Aeroporto di Venezia Marco Polo, 7km (41⁄4 miles) north of the city on the mainland (www.veniceairport.it; 041-2609260). There are two bus alternatives for getting into town. The ATVO airport shuttle bus (www.atvo.it; 0421-594672) connects with Piazzale Roma not far from Venice’s Santa Lucia train station (and the closest point to Venice’s attractions accessible by car or bus). Buses leave for/from the airport about every 30 minutes, cost 6€ (11€ roundtrip); the trip takes about 20 minutes. Buy tickets at the automatic ticket machines in the arrivals baggage hall, or the ATVO ticket office (daily 8am-midnight). The local ACTV bus no. 5 ( 041-2424) also costs 6€, takes 20 minutes, and runs two to four times an hour depending on the time of day; the best option here is to buy the combined ACTV and “Nave” ticket for 12€, which includes your first vaporetto ride at a slight discount (the “vaporetto” is the seagoing streetcar of Venice, which goes to all parts of the city). Buy tickets at the newsstand just inside the terminal from the signposted bus stop. With either bus, you’ll have to walk to or from the final stop at Piazzale Roma to the nearby vaporetto (water bus) stop for the final connection to your hotel. It’s rare to see porters around who’ll help with luggage, so pack light.
A land taxi from the airport to Piazzale Roma (where you get the vaporetto) will run about 40€.
The most evocative and traditional way to arrive in Venice is by sea. For 15€, 14€ if you buy online, the Cooperative San Marco/Alilaguna (www.alilaguna.it; 041-2401701) operates a large motoscafo (shuttle boat) service from the airport (with stops at Murano), arriving after about 1 hour and 15 minutes in Piazza San Marco. The Linea Blu (blue line) runs almost every 30 minutes from about 6am to midnight. The Linea Arancio (orange line) has the same frequency, costs the same, and takes the same amount of time to arrive at San Marco, but gets there through the Grand Canal, which is much more spectacular and offers the possibility to get off at one of the stops along the way. This might be convenient to your hotel and could save you from having to take another means of transportation. The Linea Rossa (red line) runs to the Lido and Murano (8€). If you arrive at Piazza San Marco and your hotel isn’t in the area, you’ll have to make a connection at the vaporetto launches. (Your hotel can help you with the specifics if you booked before you left home.)
A good final alternative is Venice Link (www.venicelink.com; daily 8am-10pm; minimum 2 people for reservations), a shared water taxi (they carry 6-8 people) that will whisk you directly to many hotels and most of the major locations in the city for 21€ to 25€. It operates daily from 8am to 10pm. You must reserve online in advance.
A private water taxi (20-30 min. to/from the airport) is convenient but costly—there is a fixed 95€ fee to arrive in the city for up to four passengers with one bag each (10€ more for each extra person up to a maximum of 12, and another 10€ for 10pm-7am arrivals). It’s worth considering if you’re pressed for time, have an early flight, are carrying a lot of luggage (a Venice no-no), or can split the cost with a friend or two. The taxi may be able to drop you off at the front (or side) door of your hotel or as close as it can maneuver given your hotel’s location (check with the hotel before arriving). Your taxi captain should be able to tell you before boarding just how close he can get you. Try Corsorzio Motoscafi Venezia (www.motoscafivenezia.it; 041-5222303) or Venezia Taxi (www.veneziataxi.it; 041-723112).
BY TRAIN Trains from Rome (33⁄4 hr.), Milan (21⁄2 hr.), Florence (2 hr.), and all over Europe arrive at the Stazione Venezia Santa Lucia. To get there, all must pass through (although not necessarily stop at) a station marked Venezia-Mestre. Don’t be confused: Mestre is a charmless industrial city that’s the last stop on the mainland. Occasionally trains end in Mestre, in which case you have to catch one of the frequent 10-minute shuttles connecting with Venice; it’s inconvenient, so when you book your ticket, confirm that the final destination is Venezia Santa Lucia.
On exiting, you’ll find the Grand Canal immediately in front of you, with the docks for a number of vaporetti lines (the city’s public ferries or “water buses”) to your left and right. Head to the booths to your left, near the bridge, to catch either of the two lines plying the Grand Canal: the no. 2 express, which stops only at the San Marcuola, Rialto Bridge, San Tomà, San Samuele, and Accademia before hitting San Marco (26 min. total); and the slower no. 1, which makes 13 stops before arriving at San Marco (a 33-min. trip). Both leave every 10 minutes or so, but in the mornings before 9am and the evenings after 8pm the no. 2 sometimes stops short at Rialto, meaning you’ll have to disembark and hop on the next no. 1 or 2 that comes along to continue to San Marco.
Note: The vaporetti go in two directions from the train station: left down the Grand Canal toward San Marco—which is the (relatively) fast and scenic way—and right, which also eventually gets you to San Marco (at the San Zaccaria stop) if you are on the 2, but takes more than twice as long because it goes the long way around Dorsoduro (and serves mainly commuters). If you get the no. 1 going to the right from the train station, it will go only one more stop before it hits its terminus at Piazzale Roma.
BY BUS Although rail travel is more convenient and commonplace, Venice is serviced by long-distance buses from all over mainland Italy and some international cities. The final destination is Piazzale Roma, where you’ll need to pick up vaporetto no. 1 or no. 2 (as described above) to connect you with stops in the heart of Venice and along the Grand Canal.
BY CAR The only wheels you’ll see in Venice are those attached to luggage. Venice is a city of canals and narrow alleys. No cars are allowed, or more to the point, no cars could drive through the narrow streets and over the footbridges—even the police, fire department, and ambulance services use boats. Arriving in Venice by car is problematic and expensive—and downright exasperating if it’s high season and the parking facilities are full (they often are). You can drive across the Ponte della Libertà from Mestre to Venice, but you can go no farther than Piazzale Roma at the Venice end, where many garages eagerly await your euros. The rates vary with, for example, the public ASM garage (www.asmvenezia.it; 041-2727111) charging 26€ for a 24-hour period, while private outfit Garage San Marco (www.garagesanmarco.it; 041-5232213) costs 30€ for 24 hours.
Vaporetti lines 1 and 2, described above, both stop at Piazzale Roma before continuing down the Grand Canal to the train station and, eventually, Piazza San Marco.
TOURIST OFFICES The main office is in the Palazzetto Carmagnani, San Marco 2637, 10 minutes from Piazza San Marco (www.turismovenezia.it; 041-5298711; vaporetto: Giglio). It’s open daily from 9am to 7pm. A more convenient office lies in the arcades off Piazza San Marco at Calle de l’Ascension 71/f (daily 9am-7pm), and there are smaller offices at the Piazzale Roma garages (daily 9am-2:30pm), Stazione Venezia Santa Lucia (daily 1:30-7pm; a small kiosk is open 9am-2:30pm), in the arrivals hall at Marco Polo Airport (daily 9am-8pm), and at the Venice Pavilion inside the Giardinetti Reali (daily 9am-7pm), near Piazza San Marco.
The tourist office’s map helps you find only vaporetto lines and stops, so it’s well worth buying a street map at a news kiosk (see “Getting Around,” p. 307). More useful is the info-packed monthly (every 2 weeks in summer), “Un Ospite di Venezia” (www.unospitedivenezia.it); most hotels have free copies. Also very useful is “VeneziaNews” (www.venezianews.it), published monthly and sold at newsstands all over the city.
Even armed with the best map or a hefty smartphone data plan, expect to get a little bit lost in Venice, at least some of the time (GPS directions are notoriously unreliable here). Just view it as an opportunity to stumble across Venice’s most intriguing corners and vignettes. Keep in mind as you wander seemingly hopelessly among the calli (streets) and campi (squares) that the city wasn’t built to make sense to those on foot but rather to those plying its canals.
Venice lies 4km (21⁄2 miles) from terra firma, connected to the mainland burg of Mestre by the Ponte della Libertà, which leads to Piazzale Roma. Snaking through the city like an inverted S is the Grand Canal, the wide main artery of aquatic Venice. Central Venice refers to the built-up block of islands in the lagoon’s center, the six main sestieri (districts) that make up the bulk of the tourist city. Greater Venice includes all the inhabited islands of the lagoon—central Venice plus Murano, Burano, Torcello, and the Lido.
The Neighborhoods in Brief
SAN MARCO The central sestiere is anchored by the magnificent Piazza San Marco and St. Mark’s Basilica to the south and the Rialto Bridge to the north; it’s the most visited (and, as a result, the most expensive) of the sestieri. This is the commercial, religious, and political heart of the city and has been for more than a millennium. Although you’ll find glimpses and snippets of the real Venice here, ever-rising rents have nudged resident Venetians to look for housing in the outer neighborhoods: You’ll be hard-pressed to find a grocery store or dry cleaner, for example. This area is laced with first-class hotels—but we’ll give you some suggestions for staying in the heart of Venice without going broke.
A Note on Addresses
Within each sestiere is a most original system of numbering the palazzi, using one continuous string of 6,000 or so numbers. The format for addresses in this chapter is, where possible, the number with the actual street or campo on which you’ll find that address. Note that official mailing addresses (and what you’ll see written down in most places), is simply the sestiere name followed by the building number in that district, which isn’t especially helpful—for example, San Marco 1471. Be aware that San Marco 1471 may not necessarily be found close to San Marco 1473 and that many buildings aren’t numbered at all.
Piazza San Marco and the Campanile at night.
CASTELLO This quarter, whose tony waterside esplanade Riva degli Schiavoni follows the Bacino di San Marco (St. Mark’s Basin), begins just east of Piazza San Marco, skirting Venice’s most congested area to the north and east. Riva degli Schiavoni can sometimes get so busy as to seem like Times Square on New Year’s Eve, but if you head farther east in the direction of the Arsenale or inland away from the bacino, the crowds thin out, despite the presence of such major sights as Campo SS. Giovanni e Paolo and the Scuola di San Giorgio.
DORSODURO You’ll find the residential area of Dorsoduro on the opposite side of the Accademia Bridge from San Marco. Known for the Accademia and Peggy Guggenheim museums, it is the largest of the sestieri and has been known as an artists’ haven until recent escalations of rents forced much of the community to relocate elsewhere. Good neighborhood restaurants, a charming gondola boatyard, the lively Campo Santa Margherita, and the sunny quay called le Zattere (a favorite promenade and gelato stop) all add to the character and color that make this one of the city’s most-visited areas.
SAN POLO This mixed-bag sestiere of residential corners and tourist sights stretches northwest of the Rialto Bridge to the church of Santa Maria dei Frari, and the Scuola di San Rocco. The hub of activity at the foot of the bridge is due in large part to the Rialto Market—some of the city’s best restaurants have flourished in the area for generations, alongside some of its worst tourist traps. The spacious Campo San Polo is the main piazza of Venice’s smallest sestiere.
SANTA CROCE North and northwest of the San Polo district and across the Grand Canal from the train station, Santa Croce stretches all the way to Piazzale Roma. Its eastern section is generally one of the least-visited areas of Venice—making it all the more desirable for curious visitors. Less lively than San Polo, it is as authentic and feels light-years away from San Marco. The quiet and lovely Campo San Giacomo dell’Orio is its heart.
CANNAREGIO Sharing the same side of the Grand Canal with San Marco and Castello, Cannaregio stretches north and east from the train station to include the old Jewish Ghetto. Its outer reaches are quiet, unspoiled, and residential; one-quarter of Venice’s ever-shrinking population of 60,000 lives here. Most of the city’s one-star hotels are clustered about the train station—not a dangerous neighborhood but not one known for its charm, either. The tourist store-lined Lista di Spagna, which starts just to the left as you leave the train station, morphs into Strada Nova and provides an uninterrupted thoroughfare to the Rialto bridge.
LA GIUDECCA Located across the Giudecca Canal from the Piazza San Marco and Dorsoduro, La Giudecca is a tranquil working-class residential island where you’ll find a youth hostel and a handful of hotels (including the deluxe Cipriani, one of Europe’s finest).
LIDO DI VENEZIA This slim, 11km-long (63⁄4-mile) island, the only spot in the Venetian lagoon where cars circulate, is the city’s beach and separates the lagoon from the open sea. The landmark hotels here serve as a base for the annual Venice Film Festival.
Aside from traveling by boat, the only way to explore Venice is by walking—and by 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.
Venice’s Castello neighborhood.
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 pianta della città 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 1:6,500 folding map put out by Storti Edizioni (its cover is blue).
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 for 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 (the parking garage), Rialto (one of the four bridges over the Grand Canal), San Marco (the city’s main square), and the Accademia (the southernmost Grand Canal bridge).
BY BOAT The various sestieri are linked by a comprehensive vaporetto (water bus/ferry) system of about a dozen lines operated by the Azienda del Consorzio Trasporti Veneziano (ACTV; www.actv.it; 041-5287886). Transit maps are available at the tourist office and most ACTV stations. It’s easier to get around on foot, as the vaporetti principally serve the Grand Canal, the outskirts, and the outer islands. The crisscross network of small canals is the province of delivery vessels, gondolas, and private boats.
A ticket valid for 1 hour of travel on a vaporetto is a steep 7€, while the 24-hour ticket is 20€. Most lines run every 10 to 15 minutes from 7am to midnight, and then hourly until morning. Most vaporetto docks (the only place you can buy tickets) have timetables posted. Note that not all docks sell tickets after dark. If you haven’t bought a pass or extra tickets beforehand, you’ll have to settle up with the conductor onboard (you’ll have to find him—he won’t come looking for you) or risk a stiff fine, no excuses accepted. Also available are 48-hour tickets (30€) and 72-hour tickets (35€). If you’re planning to stay in Venice for a week and intend to use the vaporetto service a lot, it might make sense to pick up a Venezia Unica city pass (see “Venice Discounts,” on p. 339), with which you can buy 1-hour vaporetto tickets for 1.30€. All tickets must be validated in the yellow machines before getting on the vaporetto.
Just four bridges span the Grand Canal, and to fill in the gaps, traghetti skiffs (oversize gondolas rowed by two standing gondolieri) cross the Grand Canal at seven intermediate points. You’ll find a station at the end of any street named Calle del Traghetto on your map and indicated by a yellow sign with the black gondola symbol. The fare is .70€ for locals and 2€ for visitors, which you hand to the gondolier when boarding. Most Venetians cross standing up. For the experience, try the Santa Sofia crossing that connects the Ca’ d’Oro and the Pescheria fish market, opposite each other on the Grand Canal just north of the Rialto Bridge—the gondoliers expertly dodge water traffic at this point of the canal, where it’s the busiest and most heart-stopping.
BY WATER TAXI Taxi acquei (water taxis) charge high prices and aren’t for visitors watching their euros. The meter starts at a hefty 15€ and clicks at 2€ per minute. Each trip includes allowance for up to four to five pieces of luggage—beyond that there’s a surcharge of 3€ to 5€ per piece (rates differ slightly according to company and how you reserve your trip). Plus there’s a 10€ supplement for service from 10pm to 7am, and a 5€ charge for taxis on-call. Those rates cover up to four people; if any more squeeze in, it’s another 5€ to 10€ per extra passenger (maximum 10 people). Taking a water taxi from the train station to Piazza San Marco or any of the hotels in the area will put you back about 60€ (the Lido is 70€), while there is a fixed 95€ fee (for up to four people) to go or come from the airport. Taxis to Burano or Torcello will be at least 115€. Note that only taxi boats with a yellow strip are the official operators sanctioned by the city. You can book trips with Consorzio Moscafi Venezia online at www.motoscafivenezia.it or call 041-5222303.
CRUISING THE CANALS
A leisurely cruise along the Grand Canal (p. 334) from Piazza San Marco to the train station (Ferrovia)—or the reverse—is one of Venice’s must-dos. It’s the world’s most unusual Main Street, a watery boulevard whose palazzi have been converted into condos. Lower water-lapped floors are now deserted, but the higher floors are still coveted by the city’s titled families, who have inhabited these glorious residences for centuries; others have become the summertime dream homes of privileged expats, drawn here as irresistibly as the romantic Venetians-by-adoption who preceded them—Richard Wagner, Robert Browning, Lord Byron, and (more recently) Woody Allen.
As much a symbol of Venice as the winged lion, the gondola is one of Europe’s great traditions, incredibly and inexplicably expensive but truly as romantic as it looks (detractors who write it off as too touristy have most likely never tried it). The official, fixed rate is 80€ for a 40-minute gondola tour for up to six passengers. The rate bumps up to 100€ from 7pm to 8am, and it’s 40€ for every additional 20 minutes (50€ at night). That’s not a typo: 150€ for a 1-hour evening cruise. Note: Although the price is fixed by the city, a good negotiator at the right time of day (when business is slow) can sometimes grab a small discount, for a shorter ride. And at these ridiculously inflated prices, there is no need to tip the gondolier.
Aim for late afternoon before sundown, when the light does its magic on the canal reflections (and bring a bottle of prosecco and glasses). If the gondola price is too high, ask visitors at your hotel or others lingering about at the gondola stations if they’d like to share it. Though the price is “fixed,” before setting off establish with the gondolier the cost, time, and route (back canals are preferable to the trafficked and often choppy Grand Canal). They’re regulated by the Ente Gondola (www.gondolavenezia.it; 041-5285075), so call if you have questions or complaints.
And what of the serenading gondolier immortalized in film? Frankly, you’re better off without. But if warbling is de rigueur for you, here’s the scoop. An ensemble of accordion player and tenor is so expensive that it’s shared among several gondolas traveling together. A number of travel agents around town book the evening serenades for around 35€ per person.
There are 12 gondola stations around Venice, including Piazzale Roma, the train station, the Rialto Bridge, and Piazza San Marco. There are also a number of smaller stations, with gondolieri in striped shirts standing alongside their sleek 11m (36-ft.) black wonders looking for passengers. They all speak enough English to communicate the necessary details. Remember, if you just want a quick taster of being in a gondola, you can take a cheap traghetto across the Grand Canal.
Six water-taxi stations serve key points in the city: the Ferrovia, Piazzale Roma, the Rialto Bridge, Piazza San Marco, the Lido, and Marco Polo Airport.
BY GONDOLA If you come all the way to Venice and don’t indulge in a gondola ride, you might still be kicking yourself long after you have returned home. Yes, it’s touristy, and, yes, it’s expensive (see “Cruising the Canals” box on p. 309), but only those with a heart of stone will be unmoved by the quintessential Venetian experience. Do not initiate your trip, however, until you have agreed upon a price and synchronized watches. Oh, and don’t ask them to sing.
Acqua Alta During the tidal acqua alta (high water) floods, the lagoon rises until it engulfs the city, leaving up to 1.5 to 1.8m (5-6 ft.) of water in the lowest-lying streets (Piazza San Marco, as the lowest point in the city, goes first). Significant acqua alta can begin as early as late September or October, but usually takes place November to March. As many as 50 floods a year have been recorded since they first started in the late 1700s. The waters usually recede after just a few hours. Walkways are set up around town, but wet feet are a given and locals tend to wear high-topped wading boots. The complex system of hydraulic dams being constructed out in the lagoon to cut off the highest of these high tides (a controversial project due to its environmental impact) is well underway but won’t be operational for years. Tip: If you are curious to see acqua alta (and it is indeed a wonderful spectacle), but aren’t in Venice at the right time, you can still get lucky as very minor occurrences can happen all year-round.
Consulates See chapter 13.
Doctors & Hospitals The Ospedale Civile Santi Giovanni e Paolo ( 041-5294111), on Campo Santi Giovanni e Paolo, has English-speaking staff and provides emergency service (go to the emergency room, pronto soccorso), 24 hours a day (vaporetto: San Tomà).
Emergencies The best number to call in Italy (and the rest of Europe) with a general emergency is 112; this connects you to the military-trained (and English-speaking) Carabinieri who will transfer your call as needed. For the police, dial 113; for a medical emergency and to call an ambulance, the number is 118; for the fire department, call 115. All are free calls.
Internet Access Venice has traditionally lagged behind the rest of Italy when it comes to Internet speeds and access, though many hotels, hostels and bars now offer free Wi-Fi, and in 2009 Venice was one of the first cities in the nation to offer citywide Wi-Fi through a network of 200 hotspots. You can buy cheap packages online via www.veniceconnected.com: 5€ for 24 hr. (7 days in advance, otherwise 8€) or 20€ for 7 days. To purchase when you are in Venice, enter a Venice-connected Wi-Fi hotspot, connect to the network, and on the welcome page click on the “Acquista ora/Buy now” link. Alternatively, there are plenty of “Internet points” dotted around the city, particularly in the busy areas around the Rialto, Piazza San Marco, and the railway station. Most charge 6€ to 8€ per hour. Try ABColor-Internet Point ( 041-5244380), Lista di Spagna 220 in Cannaregio (a 3-min. walk from the train station), open daily 10am to 8pm, or Venetian Navigator ( 041-2771056), Calle Casselleria 5300 in Castello (a 3-min. walk from Piazza San Marco), open daily 10am to 10pm.
Mail The most convenient post offices are: Venezia Centro at Calle de la Acque, San Marco ( 041-2404149; open Mon-Fri 8:25am- 7:10pm and Sat 8:25am- 12:35pm); Venezia 4 at Calle de l’Ascension 1241 ( 041-2446711), off the west side of Piazza San Marco (Tues-Fri 8:25am-1:35pm, Sat 8:25am-12:35pm); and Venezia 3 at Campo San Polo 2012 ( 041-5200315; same hours as Venezia 4).
Pharmacies Venice’s pharmacies take turns staying open all night. To find out which one is on call in your area, ask at your hotel or check the rotational duty signs posted outside all pharmacies.
Safety Be aware of petty crime like pickpocketing on the crowded vaporetti, particularly the tourist routes, where passengers are more intent on the passing scenery than on watching their bags. Venice’s deserted back streets are virtually crime-free, though occasional tales of theft have circulated. Generally speaking, Venice is one of Italy’s safest cities.
WHERE TO STAY
Few cities boast as long a high season as that of Venice, which begins with the Easter period. May, June, and September are the best months weather-wise and, therefore, the most crowded. July and August are hot (few of the one- and two-star hotels offer air-conditioning; when they do, it usually costs extra). Like everything else, hotels are more expensive here than in any other Italian city, with no apparent upgrade in amenities. The least special of those below are clean and functional; at best, they’re charming and thoroughly enjoyable, with the serenade of a passing gondolier thrown in for good measure. Some may even provide you with your best stay in all of Europe.
It’s highly advisable to reserve in advance, even in the off-season. If you haven’t booked, come as early as you can on your arrival day, definitely before noon. Another alternative to reserve upon your arrival is through the A.V.A. (Venetian Hoteliers Association), online at www.veneziasi.it or 041-5222264. Simply state the price range you want to book, and they’ll confirm a hotel while you wait. There are offices at the train station, in Piazzale Roma garages, and in the airport.
SEASONAL CONSIDERATIONS Most hotels observe high- and low-season rates and the high-end hotels generally adapt their prices to availability. In the prices listed below, single figures represent rack rates, because the price varies too widely depending on availability, and you can usually get a room for much less, even in high season.
Anyone looking to get into the local swing of things in Venice should stay in a short-term rental apartment. For the same price or less than a hotel room, you could have your own one-bedroom apartment with a washing machine, A/C, and a fridge to keep your wine in. Properties of all sizes, styles, and price ranges are available for stays of 3 nights to several weeks.
It’s standard practice for local rental agencies to collect 30% of the total rental amount upfront to secure a booking. When you get to Venice and check in, the balance of your rental fee is normally payable in cash only, so make sure you have enough euros before you leave home. Upon booking, the agency should provide you with detailed “check-in” procedures. Normally, you’re expected to call a cell or office phone when you arrive in Venice, and then the keyholder will meet you at the front door of the property at the agreed-upon time. Before the keyholder disappears, make sure you have a few numbers to call in case of an emergency. Otherwise, most apartments come with a list of neighborhood shops and services. Beyond that, you’re on your own, which is what makes an apartment stay a great way to do as the Venetians do.
Cities Reference (www.citiesreference.com; 06-48903612) is the best all-around apartment rental agency for Venice, with over 300 properties listed. The company’s no-surprises property descriptions come with helpful information and lots of photos. You can expect transparency and responsiveness from the plain-dealing staff. Cross Pollinate (www.cross-pollinate.com; 06-99369799) is a multi-destination agency but with a decent roster of personally inspected apartments and B&Bs in Venice, created by the American owners of the Beehive hotel in Rome. GowithOh (www.gowithoh.com; 800/567-2927 in the U.S.) is a hip rental agency that covers 12 European cities, including Venice. The website is fun to navigate, offers money-saving tips, and lists 185 apartments for rent in the city. Rental in Venice (www.rentalinvenice.com; 041-718981) has an alluring website—with video clips of the apartments—and the widest selection of midrange and luxury apartments in the prime San Marco zone (there are less expensive ones, too).
Corte Di Gabriela This gorgeous boutique hotel is just a short walk from Piazza San Marco, combining contemporary design and classical Venetian style—ceiling murals, marble pillars, and exposed brick blend with designer furniture and appliances (including free use of iPads, strong Wi-Fi, and hundreds of satellite TV channels). The fully renovated property dates from 1870, once serving as the home and offices of Venetian lawyers. It’s the attention to detail that makes a stay here so memorable, with breakfast one of the highlights and well worth lingering over: fresh pastries made by the owners the night before, decent espresso, and a spread of crepes and omelets made on request.
Calle degli Avvocati 3836. www.cortedigabriela.com. 041-5235077. 10 units. 320€-440€ double. Rates include buffet breakfast. Vaporetto: Sant’ Angelo. Amenities: Bar; babysitting; concierge; room service (limited hours); Wi-Fi (free).
Locanda Orseolo This enticing inn comprises three elegant guesthouses operated by the friendly Peruch family and located right behind Piazza San Marco. The place oozes character, with exposed wood beams and heavy drapes giving a medieval feel and rooms lavishly decorated with Venetian-style furniture and tributes to the masks of the Carnevale—a cross between an artist’s studio and Renaissance palace. Lounge with an aperitif on the terrace overlooking the Orseolo canal, and enjoy eggs and crepes made to order at breakfast, while watching the gondolas glide by.
Corte Zorzi 1083. www.locandaorseolo.com. 041-5204827. 15 units. 150€-240€ double. Rates include buffet breakfast. Vaporetto: San Marco. Amenities: Babysitting; concierge; Wi-Fi (free).
Locanda Fiorita Hard to imagine a more picturesque location for this little hotel, a charming, quiet, campiello draped in vines and blossoms—no wonder it’s a favorite of professional photographers. Most of the standard rooms are small (bathrooms are tiny), but all are furnished in an elegant 18th-century style, with wooden floors, shuttered windows, and richly patterned fittings (A/C and satellite TV are included). The helpful staff more than make up for any deficiencies, and breakfast is a real pleasure, especially when taken outside on the campiello.
Campiello Novo 3457a. www.locandafiorita.com. 041-5234754. 10 units. 85€-195€ double. Rates include continental breakfast. Vaporetto: Sant’Angelo (walk to the tall brick building and go around it, turning right into Ramo Narisi; at a small bridge turn left and walk along Calle del Pestrin until you see a small piazza on your right [Campiello Novo]; the hotel is immediately opposite). Amenities: Babysitting; concierge; room service; Wi-Fi (free).
Violino d’Oro The relatively spacious rooms in this handsome 18th-century building have been traditionally adorned in a neoclassical Venetian style with exposed wooden beams, crystal chandeliers, and heaps of character. Most rooms also overlook the romantic San Moisè canal, and Piazza San Marco is just a 5-minute stroll away. At this price point (with incredible deals in low season), it’s reassuring to know you get proper air-conditioning, satellite TV, and a decent elevator. Breakfast is an event, with a vast spread of homemade cakes, savory pies, and muffins complementing one of the best cappuccinos in the city.
Calle Larga XXII Marzo 2091. www.violinodoro.com. 041-2770841. 26 units. 80€-199€ double. Rates include buffet breakfast. Vaporetto: San Marco-Vallaresso (walk straight up Calle di Ca’ Vallaresso, turn left on Salizada San Moisè, and cross the footbridge; the hotel is across the campiello on the left). Amenities: Bar; concierge; room service; Wi-Fi (free).
Metropole This five-star behemoth with a prime location on the water is part luxury hotel, part eclectic art museum, with antiques, Asian artworks, and exhibits of ancient fans, corkscrews, and tapestries dotted throughout. It’s no dusty grand dame, however; on the contrary, the hotel is a chic boutique with rooms furnished with a classic Oriental theme. The building has an incredible history, beginning life in the Middle Ages as the Ospedale della Pietà, serving as a charitable institution for orphans and abandoned girls, and later a music school (Vivaldi taught violin here in the early 18th c.). Converted into a hotel in 1895, Sigmund Freud was an early guest, along with Thomas Mann in 1900, who allegedly wrote parts of “Death in Venice” here.
Riva degli Schiavoni 4149. www.hotelmetropole.com. 041-5205044. 67 units. 172€-325€ double. Buffet breakfast 30€ (sometimes included). Vaporetto: San Zaccaria (walk along Riva degli Schiavoni to the right; the hotel is next to La Pietà church). Amenities: Restaurant; bar; babysitting; concierge; room service; Wi-Fi (free).
Al Piave Al Piave is a cozy, old-fashioned family-run hotel just 5 minutes from Piazza San Marco. Rooms are simply but attractively furnished with richly woven rugs and carpets, marble floors, and some of the original wood beams exposed (some come with a terrace, while the family suites are a good value for groups). Bathrooms are relatively big, and the A/C a welcome bonus in the summer, but there are no elevators, so be prepared if you get a higher floor. Outside of peak months (July, Sept), Piave is an exceptionally good value, given its proximity to the piazza.
Ruga Giuffa 4838. www.hotelalpiave.com. 041-5285174. 20 units. 90€-190€ double. Rates include continental breakfast. Closed Jan 7 to Carnevale. Vaporetto: San Zaccaria (find Calle delle Rasse beyond Palazzo Danieli, and walk to the end of the street; turn left and then immediately right; continue straight until you get to tiny Ponte Storto, cross and continue until you reach Ruga Giuffa—the hotel is on the left). Amenities: Babysitting; concierge; Wi-Fi (free).
Casa Verardo Tucked away across a small bridge in the warren of central Castello, this enchanting hotel occupies a 16th-century palazzo, though it’s been a hotel since 1911. Rooms (over four floors, with an elevator) sport an old-fashioned Venetian style, with Florentine furniture, hand-painted beds, and colorful textiles (there are precious antiques and paintings scattered throughout the property), but updated with air-conditioning and satellite TV. Some rooms have a view over a canal, others over the shady courtyard and the city. Don’t miss the top floor, where the panoramic terrace is a pleasant spot for an aperitif. They’ll also take you to Murano for free, but you have to find your own way back.
Calle Drio La Chiesa 4765 (at foot of Ponte Storto). www.casaverardo.it. 041-5286138. 25 units. 90€-340€ double. Rates include buffet breakfast. Vaporetto: San Zaccaria (walk straight on Calle delle Rasse to Campo SS. Filippo e Giacomo; continue straight through the campo to Calle della Sacrestia, then Calle Drio La Chiesa until you reach Ponte Storto, and look for the hotel on the left). Amenities: Bar; babysitting; concierge; room service; Wi-Fi (1st hr. free).
Ai Tagliapietra This cozy B&B is run by the amicable Lorenzo (who will bend over backward to make your stay a memorable one), and a real bargain in this part of town. Rooms are basic, but spotless, modern, and relatively spacious with private showers. The small, shared kitchenette is available for guests’ use (with refrigerator and free tea). Lorenzo will usually meet you at San Zaccaria, give you a map, print your boarding passes, and generally organize your trip if you desire, making this an especially recommended budget option for first-time visitors.
Salizada Zorzi 4943. www.aitagliapietra.com. 347-3233166. 4 units. 75€-100€ double. Rates include breakfast. Vaporetto: San Zaccaria (walk straight on Calle delle Rasse to Campo SS. Filippo e Giacomo; continue straight through the campo to Calle della Sacrestia, then take the first left; cross Salita Corte Rotta and continue on to Salizada Zorzi). Amenities: Wi-Fi (free).
B&B San Marco With just three rooms, this exquisite B&B in a peaceful, residential neighborhood fills up fast, so book ahead. It’s a comfortable, charming yet convenient option, the kind of place that makes you feel like a local, but not too far from the main sights. Your hosts are the bubbly Marco and Alice Scurati, who live in the attic upstairs, happy to provide help and advice. Rooms overlook the Schola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni and offer wonderful views of the canal and streetscapes nearby, and are furnished with original antique family furniture. Two rooms share a bathroom; the third has a private shower. Breakfast is self-service in the shared kitchen; yogurts, croissants, pastries, punchy espresso, cappuccino, juice, and tea.
Fondamenta San Giorgio dei Schiavoni 3385. www.realvenice.it. 041-5227589. 3 units. 70€-135€ double. Rates include breakfast. Vaporetto: San Zaccaria (walk straight on Calle delle Rasse to Campo SS. Filippo e Giacomo; continue straight through the campo to Calle della Sacrestia, cross the canal and take a left at Campo S Provolo along Fondamenta Osmarin; turn left where the canal ends at a larger canal, and walk up to the bridge that connects to Calle Lion; at the end of the street turn left along the canal; this is Fondamenta San Giorgio dei Schiavoni). Amenities: Wi-Fi (free).
Moresco An incredibly attentive staff, a decadent breakfast that includes prosecco (to mix with orange juice, ahem), and a lavish 19th-century Venetian decor away from the tourist hubbub make this a justly popular choice. Rooms seamlessly blend Venetian style with modern design. Some rooms have a terrace (with views over the canal or garden), while others have a spa bathtub; all have flatscreen TVs with satellite channels. If the weather cooperates, take breakfast in the courtyard garden to really soak up the ambience. The hotel is just a 5- to 10-minute walk from Piazzale Roma and the train station, but note that there are a number of bridges and stairs to negotiate along the way.
Fondamenta del Rio Novo 3499, Dorsoduro. www.hotelmorescovenice.com. 041-2440202. 23 units. 195€-305€ double. Rates include continental buffet breakfast. Vaporetto: Ferrovia/Piazzale Roma (from the train station walk south west along Fondamenta Santa Lucia, cross Ponte della Costituzione and turn left onto Fondamenta Santa Chiara; cross Ponte Santa Chiara and turn right onto Fondamenta Papadopoli, continuing across Campiello Lavadori then along Fondamenta del Rio Novo). Amenities: Bar; concierge; free trips to Murano; room service; Wi-Fi (free).
Galleria Just around the corner from the Accademia, right on the Grand Canal, this hotel occupies a 19th-century palazzo in one of the most inviting locations in the city. It’s been a hotel since the 1800s, hosting poet Robert Browning in 1878, and maintains a Venetian 18th-century theme in the rooms, with wood furniture and rococo decor. Hosts Luciano and Stefano serve a simple breakfast in your room. Note that the smallest rooms here really are tiny, and there is no A/C (rooms are supplied with fans when it gets hot), but the fridge of free water and sodas is a lifesaver in summer.
Dorsoduro 878a (at foot of Accademia Bridge). www.hotelgalleria.it. 041-5232489. 9 units, 6 with bathroom. 100€-180€ double. Rates include continental breakfast. Vaporetto: Accademia (with Accademia Bridge behind you; hotel is just to your left). Amenities: Babysitting; concierge; room service; Wi-Fi (free in public areas).
Pensione Accademia This spellbinding hotel with a tranquil blossom-filled garden has a fascinating history. The Gothic-style Villa Maravege was built in the 17th century as a family residence, but served as the Russian Embassy between World Wars I and II before becoming a hotel in 1950. If that’s not enticing enough, the rooms are fitted with Venetian-style antique reproductions, classical hardwood furnishings, handsome tapestries, and A/C, with views over either the Rio San Trovaso or the gardens. Breakfast is served in your room, in the dining hall, or on the garden patio.
Fondamenta Bollani 1058. www.pensioneaccademia.it. 041-5210188. 27 units. 175€-270€ double. Rates include buffet breakfast. Vaporetto: Accademia (turn right down Calle Gambara, which doglegs 1st left and then right; it becomes Calle Corfu, which ends at a side canal; walk left to cross over the bridge, and then turn right back toward the Grand Canal and the hotel). Amenities: Bar; babysitting; concierge; room service; Wi-Fi (1€ per day).
Ca’ Barba B&B Like most good B&Bs, what you’ll remember most about Ca’ Barba is the host, Alessandro, who will usually meet you at the Rialto vaporetto stop; inspire your daily wanderings with tips, maps, and books; and provide fresh breads and pastries from the local bakery for breakfast. Of the four rooms (advance reservations are essential), no. 201 is the largest and brightest, with a Jacuzzi tub (202 also has one). All rooms come with antique furniture, 19th-century paintings of Venice, wood-beamed ceilings, LCD TVs, air conditioning, and strong Wi-Fi.
Calle Campanile Castello 1825. www.cabarba.com. 041-5242816. 4 units. 175€-240€ double. Rates include breakfast. Vaporetto: Rialto (walk back along the Grand Canal, and turn left when you reach Calle Campanile Castello). Amenities: Concierge; Wi-Fi (free).
Pensione Guerrato Dating, incredibly, from 1227, it’s tough to find a more historic place to lay your head than this. The building’s long and complicated history—it was once the “Inn of the Monkey,” run by nuns, the original mostly destroyed by fire in 1513—is well worth delving into (the owners have all the details). Rooms are simply but classically furnished, with wood floors, exposed beams, air conditioning, and private bathrooms—some rooms still contain original frescos, possibly dating from the medieval inn. Note that some rooms are on the sixth floor—and there’s no elevator.
Calle Drio La Scimia 240a (near the Rialto Market). www.pensioneguerrato.it. 041-5227131. 19 units. 100€-145€ double. Rates include buffet breakfast. Closed Dec 22-26 and Jan 8-early Feb. Vaporetto: Rialto (from the north side of the Ponte Rialto, walk straight through the market until the corner with the UniCredit Banca; go 1 more short block and turn right; the hotel is halfway along Calle Drio La Scimia). Amenities: Babysitting; concierge; Wi-Fi (free).
Antiche Figure The most convenient luxury hotel in Venice lies directly across the Grand Canal from the train station, a captivating 15th-century palazzo adjacent to an ancient gondola workshop (seriously). History aside, this is a very plush choice, with rooms decorated in a traditional neoclassical Venetian style, with gold leaf, antique furniture, red carpets, silk tapestries, and aging Murano glass and chandeliers, but also LCD satellite TVs and decent Wi-Fi. With the soothing nighttime views across the water it’s certainly a romantic choice, and the staff is worth singling out—friendly and very helpful. There is an elevator, just in case you were wondering.
Fondamenta San Simeone Piccolo 687. www.hotelantichefigure.it. 041-2759486. 22 units. 142€-260€ double. Rates include buffet breakfast. Vaporetto: Ferrovia (from the train station you just need to cross the Scalzi bridge on your left and take a right). Amenities: Restaurant; bar; babysitting; concierge; room service; Wi-Fi (free).
Ai Due Fanali Originally a wooden oratory frequented by fishermen and farmers (later rebuilt), this beguiling hotel features small but artsy rooms, even for Venice: Headboards have been hand-painted by a local artist, exposed wood beams crisscross the ceiling, vintage drapes and curtains add a cozy feel, and work by 16th-century Mannerist painter Jacopo Palma the Younger adorns the public areas. The bathrooms are embellished with terracotta tiles and Carrera marble. The location is close to the train station, and the roof terrace is the best place to soak up a panorama of the city (breakfast is served up here). It’s incredibly popular—book months ahead.
Campo San Simeon Profeta 946. www.aiduefanali.com. 041-718490. 16 units. 76€-135€ double. Rates include buffet breakfast. Closed most of Jan. Vaporetto: Ferrovia (cross the Scalzi bridge over the Grand Canal; once you are to the other side, continue straight, taking the 2nd left and keep walking to the Campo San Simeon Profeta). Amenities: Bar; concierge; room service; Wi-Fi (free).
Falier This tranquil budget hotel is set in a quiet neighborhood, next to the Frari Church and just a 10-minute walk from the train station. Rooms are fairly compact (potentially cramped for some), but par for this price point in Venice, and all are air-conditioned. The elegant garden is a great place for the continental breakfast (you can also have it in the dining room), featuring warm croissants, cheese, a selection of yogurts and cereals, plus teas, coffee, and fruit juices. The hotel provides free entrance to the Venice casino and a free tour of a Murano glass factory, but the friendly English-speaking staff will also set you up with all manner of tour options.
Salizada San Pantalon 130. www.hotelfalier.com. 041-710882. 19 units. 80€-150€ double. Rates include continental breakfast. Vaporetto: Ferrovia. (From the train station, cross the Scalzi Bridge, turn right along the Grand Canal an walk to the first footbridge; turn left before crossing the bridge and continue along the smaller canal to Fondamenta Minotti; turn left here, and the street becomes Salizada San Pantalon.) Amenities: Concierge; Wi-Fi (free).
Al Ponte Antico Yes it’s expensive, but this is one of the best, most exclusive hotels in Venice, steps from the Rialto Bridge, with a private wharf on the Grand Canal—forget those giant five-stars, to indulge your James Bond fantasy, look no further. Part of the attraction is size—there are only seven rooms—but the attention to lavish detail is astounding, with opulent rooms and bright, rococo wallpaper, rare tapestries, elegant beds, and Louis XV-style furnishings that make this place seem like Versailles on the water. The building was originally a 16th-century palazzo; don’t miss the charming balcony where breakfast is served, and where fabulous Bellinis are offered in the evenings.
Calle dell’Aseo 5768. www.alponteantico.com. 041-2411944. 7 units. 210€-430€ double. Vaporetto: Rialto (walk up Calle Large Mazzini, take the 2nd left and then continue to walk through Campo San Bartolomio; continue north along Salizada S.G. Grisostomo until you see Calle dell’Aseo on the left). Amenities: Bar; concierge; room service; Wi-Fi (free).
Arcadia This sensational, modestly advertised boutique set in a 17th-century palazzo has an appealing blend of old and new: The theme is Byzantium east-meets-west, combining elements of Venetian and Asian style, but the rooms are full of cool, modern touches—rainforest showers, A/C, flatscreen TVs, bathrobes, slippers, and posh toiletries, with a lobby crowned with a Murano glass chandelier. It’s a 5-minute walk from the train station.
Rio Terà San Leonardo 1333, Cannaregio. www.hotelarcadia.net. 041-717355. 17 units. 130€-230€ double. Rates include continental buffet breakfast. Vaporetto: Guglie (take a left into the main street Rio Terà San Leonardo; Arcadia is just 30m [98 ft.] on the left). Amenities: Bar; concierge; room service; Wi-Fi (free).
Bernardi This hotel is an excellent deal, with small, basic but spotless rooms in a 16th-century palazzo (the superior rooms are bigger), owned and managed by the congenial (and English-speaking) Leonardo and his wife, Teresa. Most rooms come with one or two classical Venetian touches: Murano chandeliers, hand-painted furniture, exposed wood beams and tapestries. The shared showers are kept very clean (11 rooms have private bathrooms), and fans are provided in the hot summer months for the cheaper rooms (no A/C). Breakfast is very basic, however, and note that the more spacious annex rooms, which have air-conditioning (nearby the main building) don’t appear to get good Wi-Fi coverage.
Calle de l’Oca 4366. www.hotelbernardi.com. 041-5227257. Hotel 18 units, 11 with private bathroom. 45€-120€ double. Rates include breakfast. Vaporetto: Ca’ d’Oro (walk straight to Strada Nova, turn right toward Campo SS. Apostoli; in the square, turn left and take the 1st side street on your left, which is Calle de l’Oca). Amenities: Babysitting (on request); concierge; room service; Wi-Fi (free).
San Geremia An excellent budget option just 10 minutes from the train station. Rooms are small and simple but adequate, with most featuring air-conditioning and views across the canal or campo. Note that there is no elevator (some rooms are up 3 flights of stairs), and breakfast is not provided. There are no TVs in the rooms but there is strong Wi-Fi, and computers for use in the lobby (1€ for 15 min., or 3€ per hour). The dorm rooms are a good deal at just 21€ to 25€ per night.
Campo San Geremia 283. www.hotelsangeremia.com. 041-715562. 20 units, 14 with private bathroom. 46€-100€ double. Closed the week of Christmas. Vaporetto: Ferrovia (exit the train station, turn left onto Lista di Spagna, and continue to Campo San Geremia). Amenities: Babysitting; concierge; room service; Wi-Fi (free).
WHERE TO EAT
Eating cheaply in Venice is not easy, though it’s by no means impossible. The city’s reputation for mass-produced menus, bad service, and wildly overpriced food is, sadly, well warranted, and if you’ve been traveling in other parts of the country, you may be a little disappointed here. Having said that, everything is relative—this is still Italy after all—and there are plenty of excellent options in Venice (see below). As a basic rule, value for money tends to increase the further you travel from Piazza San Marco, and anything described as a menù turistico, while cheaper than a la carte, is rarely any good in Venice (exceptions noted below). Note also that compared with Rome and other points south, Venice is a city of early meals: You should be seated by 7:30 to 8:30pm. Most kitchens close at 10 or 10:30pm, even though the restaurant may stay open until 11:30pm or midnight.
While most restaurants in Italy include a cover charge (coperto) that usually runs 1.50€ to 3€, in Venice they tend to instead tack on 10% to 12% to the bill for “taxes and service.” Some places in Venice will very annoyingly charge you the cover and still add on 12%. A menu should state clearly what extras the restaurant charges (sometimes you’ll find it in miniscule print at the bottom) and if it doesn’t, take your business elsewhere.
Antico Martini CONTEMPORARY ITALIAN/ VENETIAN Founded in 1720 as a coffee house, this historic spot was reborn as a gourmet restaurant in 1952. Since 2006, the new owners have been crafting more contemporary interpretations and small plates of Venetian cuisine, such as classical Venice-style liver (fegato alla veneziana), stewed salt cod on thyme semolina cream, and an incredibly complex presentation of fried and marinated sardines with onions and vinegar. In truth, everything here is creatively and beautifully presented, with seasonal vegetables and fresh fish to the fore. Reservations are required.
Campiello della Fenice 2007. www.anticomartini.com. 041-5224121. Main courses 28€-44€. Daily 10am-midnight. Vaporetto: Santa Maria del Giglio (walk straight up from the vaporetto stop and turn right out of the campo, cross the bridge, follow the street that goes to the left and then the right before opening onto the broad Calle Larga XXII Marzo; turn left up Calle delle Veste into Campo San Fantin).
Seafood, a Venice specialty.
Da Fiore TRATTORIA/VENETIAN Classy but laid-back Venetian trattoria (not to be confused with the posher osteria with the same name). The menu features typical Venetian dishes like squid ink pasta, but the specials here are the most fun, with moeche (local soft-shell crab) a particular treat (the two main seasons are Mar-Apr and Oct-Nov). Desserts are another specialty, with all sorts of sugary golosessi on offer, from buranelli to zaletti (cornmeal cookies, typically eaten dipped in sweet wine or chocolate), and an exceptional sgroppino al limone (lemon sherbet). Make sure you visit the associated bar and cicchetteria next door, the Bacaro di Fiore (Wed-Mon 9am-10pm), which has been around since 1871, serving cheap wine and snacks like fried fish, fried vegetables (zucchini, pumpkin flowers, and artichokes), and crostini with creamed cod.
Calle delle Botteghe 3461, off Campo Santo Stefano. www.dafiore.it. 041-5235310. Main courses 16€-26€. Wed-Mon noon-3pm and 7-10pm. Closed 2 weeks in Jan and 2 weeks in Aug. Vaporetto: Accademia (cross bridge to San Marco side and walk straight ahead to Campo Santo Stefano; as you are about to exit the campo at northern end, take a left at Bar/Gelateria Paolin onto Calle delle Botteghe; also close to Sant’Angelo vaporetto stop).
BACARI & CICCHETTI
One of the essential culinary experiences of Venice is trawling the countless neighborhood bars known as bacari, where you can stand or sit with tramezzini (small, triangular white-bread half-sandwiches filled with everything from thinly sliced meats and tuna salad to cheeses and vegetables), and cicchetti (tapaslike finger foods, such as calamari rings, speared fried olives, potato croquettes, or grilled polenta squares), traditionally washed down with a small glass of wine, or ombra. All of the above will cost approximately 2€ to 6€ if you stand at the bar, as much as double when seated. Bar food is displayed on the countertop or in glass counters and usually sells out by late afternoon, so though it can make a great lunch, don’t rely on it for a light dinner. A concentration of popular, well-stocked bars can be found along the Mercerie shopping strip that connects Piazza San Marco with the Rialto Bridge, the always lively Campo San Luca (look for Bar Torino, Bar Black Jack, or the character-filled Leon Bianco wine bar), and Campo Santa Margherita.
Le Bistrot de Venise VENETIAN Though it looks a bit like a wood-paneled French bistro, the menu here is primarily old-school Venetian, specializing in rare wines and historical recipes from the 14th to 18th centuries. It’s gimmicky, but it works; think old-fashioned fennel soup, an incredible shrimp pie, and cod fillet with almonds in a light ginger and saffron sauce, served with wild berries and garlic pudding. The “historical” tasting menu is a splurge but we recommend it as the best introduction. Whatever you opt for, expect service to be top-notch.
4685 Calle dei Fabbri. www.bistrotdevenise.com. 041-5236651. Main courses 26€-34€; classic Venetian tasting menu 48€; historical 5-course Venetian menu 90€. Daily: bar 10am-midnight, restaurant noon-3pm and 7pm-midnight. Vaporetto: Rialto (turn right along canal, cross small footbridge over Rio San Salvador, turn left onto Calle Bembo, which becomes Calle dei Fabbri; Bistrot is about 5 blocks ahead).
Rosticceria San Bartolomeo DELI/VENETIAN Also known as Rosticceria Gislon, this no-frills spot has a cheap canteen section popular with locals and a more expensive upstairs sit-down dining room, but don’t be fooled by appearances—the downstairs section is just as good, with a range of grilled fish and seafood pastas on offer (lots of scampi, clams, and mussels), and there is a discount if you order to take out. Otherwise just sit at the counter and soak up the animated scene, as the cooks chop, customers chat, and people come and go. Order the roast chicken, salt cod, or polenta—typical Venetian fare without all those extra charges.
Calle della Bissa 5424. 041-5223569. Main courses 10€-22€. Daily 9:30am-9:30pm (Mon until 3:30pm). Vaporetto: Rialto (with bridge at your back on San Marco side of canal, walk straight to Campo San Bartolomeo; take underpass slightly to your left marked SOTTOPORTEGO DELLA BISSA; the rosticceria is at the 1st corner on your right; look for GISLON above the entrance).
Alle Testiere ITALIAN/VENETIAN This tiny restaurant (with only nine tables, seating for around 25), is the connoisseurs’ choice for fresh fish and seafood, with a menu that changes frequently and a shrewd selection of wines. Dinner is served at two seatings (reservations are essential), where you choose from appetizers such as scallops with cherry tomatoes and orange, and clams that seem to have been literally plucked straight from the sea. The John Dory fillet with aromatic herbs is always an exceptional main choice, but the pastas—ravioli with eggplant and pesto, or the ricotta with prawns—are all superb. Finish off with homemade peach pie or chestnut pudding. In peak season, plan to make reservations at least 1 month in advance, and note that you’ll have a less rushed experience in the second seating.
Calle del Mondo Novo 5801 (off Salizada San Lio). www.osterialletestiere.it. 041-5227220. Main courses 26€, but many types of fish sold by weight. Tues-Sat noon-3pm and 2 seatings at 7 and 9:15pm. Vaporetto: Equidistant from either the Rialto or San Marco stops. Look for store-lined Salizada San Lio (west of the Campo Santa Maria Formosa), and from there ask for the Calle del Mondo Novo.
Corte Sconta SEAFOOD/VENETIAN One of Venice’s finest restaurants, where a budget of around 80€ will buy you a delicious seafood meal. Everything is first-class, but the stuffed squid and Venetian-style tuna with white polenta are especially good, as are the fried soft-shelled crabs, in season. Start with the pesto artichokes and round the evening off with the homemade limoncello. The outdoor area, a small ivy-cloaked garden and courtyard, is a tranquil spot for dinner, but you’ll need to make reservations. The staff is very friendly and speak fluent English, but just be careful with daily specials, which are usually tempting but expensive—always confirm the price with your waiter before ordering.
Calle del Pestrin 3886. 041-5227024. Main courses 24€-29€. Tues-Sat 12:30-3:30pm and 7-10:30pm. Closed Jan 7-Feb 7 and July 15-Aug 15. Vaporetto: Arsenale (walk west along Riva degli Schiavoni and over the footbridge; turn right up Calle del Forno, and then as it crosses Calle Crosera, veer right up Calle del Pestrin).
Al Vecio Canton ITALIAN/PIZZA Venice is not known for pizza, partly because fire codes restrict the use of traditional wood-burning ovens, but the big, fluffy-crusted pies here—made using natural mineral water—are the best in the city. They also do a mean T-bone steak, cooked tableside on a granite slab, accompanied by truffle or red pepper sauce, and some of the pastas are pretty good, too—stick with seafood versions like cuttlefish, and the seasonal moeche (soft-shell crabs fried in batter) and schie, small gray shrimp caught in the lagoon. Wash it all down with the drinkable house wine, or for a change, tasty craft beers from Treviso-based 32 Via dei Birrai.
Castello 4738a (at the corner of Calle Ruga Giuffa). www.alveciocanton.it. 041-5287143. Main courses 12€-22€. Wed-Mon 11:30am-3pm and 6-10:30pm. Vaporetto: San Zaccaria (head down the road that flanks the left side of the Hotel Savoia e Jolanda to Campo San Provolo; take Salizada San Provolo on the north side of the campo, cross the 1st footbridge on your left, and the pizzeria is on the 1st corner on the left).
EATING CHEAPLY IN VENICE
You don’t have to eat in a fancy restaurant to enjoy good food in Venice. Prepare a picnic, and while you eat alfresco, you can observe the life in the city’s campi or the aquatic parade on its main thoroughfare, the Grand Canal.
Mercato Rialto Venice’s principal open-air market has two parts, beginning with the produce section, whose many stalls, alternating with those of souvenir vendors, unfold north on the San Polo side of the Rialto Bridge. The vendors are here Monday to Saturday 7am to 1pm, with some staying on in the afternoon. Behind these stalls are a few permanent food stores that sell delicious cheese, cold cuts, and bread selections. At the market’s farthest point, you’ll find the covered fish market, still redolent of the days when it was one of the Mediterranean’s great fish bazaars. The fish merchants take Monday off and work mornings only.
Campo Santa Margherita On this spacious campo, Tuesday through Saturday from 8:30am to 1pm, a number of open-air stalls set up shop, selling fresh fruit and vegetables. There’s also a conventional supermarket, Punto SMA, just off the campo in the direction of the quasi-adjacent campo San Barnaba, at no. 3019.
San Barnaba This is where you’ll find Venice’s heavily photographed floating market operating from a boat moored just off San Barnaba at the Ponte dei Pugni. This market is open daily from 8am to 1pm and 3:30 to 7:30pm, except Wednesday afternoon and Sunday.
The Best Picnic Spots Given its aquatic roots, you won’t find much in the way of green space in Venice (if you are desperate for green, walk 30 min. past San Marco along the water, or take a vaporetto, to the Giardini Pubblici, Venice’s only green park, but don’t expect anything great). A much more enjoyable alternative is to find some of the larger campi that have park benches, such as Campo San Giacomo dell’Orio (in the quiet sestiere of Santa Croce). The two most central are Campo Santa Margherita (sestiere of Dorsoduro) and Campo San Polo (sestiere of San Polo).
For a picnic with a view, scout out the Punta della Dogana (Customs House) near La Salute Church for a prime viewing site at the mouth of the Grand Canal. Pull up on a piece of the embankment here and watch the flutter of water activity against a canvaslike backdrop deserving of the Accademia Museum. In this same area, another superb spot is the small Campo San Vio near the Guggenheim, which is directly on the Grand Canal (not many campi are) and even boasts two benches as well as the possibility to sit on an untrafficked small bridge.
To go a bit farther afield, you can take the vaporetto out to Burano and then no. 9 for the 5-minute ride to the near-deserted island of Torcello. If you bring a basketful of bread, cheese, and wine you can do your best to reenact the romantic scene between Katharine Hepburn and Rossano Brazzi from the 1955 film “Summertime.”
Alla Basilica VENETIAN Considering this restaurant is just around the corner from the Doge’s Palace and St. Mark’s, lunch here is a phenomenally good deal. Don’t expect romance—it’s a large, noisy, canteenlike place—but the simple, freshly prepared meals comprise a pasta course like creamy lasagna or spaghetti con ragu, a meat or fish main (think grilled pork chops or dentice al vapore con zucchini grigliate, steamed red snapper with grilled zucchini), and mixed vegetables for just 14€, with bread and bottled water. Add a liter of extremely drinkable house wine for just 10€. Basilica is a favorite of local workers and English is rarely spoken, so you’ll need to practice your Italian skills here.
Calle degli Albanesi 4255, Castello. www.allabasilicavenezia.it. 041-5220524. Lunch set menu 14€. Tues-Sun noon-3pm. Vaporetto: San Marco (as you disembark, the entrance to Calle degli Albanesi is a short walk to the left).
Ai Artisti VENETIAN This unpretentious, family-owned osteria and enoteca is one of the best dining experiences in Venice, with a menu that changes daily according to what’s available at the market (because the fish market is closed on Mon, no fish is served that day). Grab a table by the canal and feast on stuffed squid, pan-fried sardines, and an amazing, buttery veal scallopini, or opt for one of the truly wonderful pastas. The tiramisu and chocolate torte are standouts for dessert. Something that’s likely to stay with you in addition to the food is the impeccable service; servers are happy to guide you through the menu, and offer brilliant suggestions for wine pairing.
Fondamenta della Toletta 1169A. 041-5238944. Main courses 21€-25€. Mon-Sat noon-4pm and 6:30-10pm. Vaporetto: Accademia (walk to around Accademia and turn right onto Calle Gambara; when this street ends at Rio di San Trovaso, turn left onto Fondamenta Priuli; take the 1st bridge over the canal and onto a road that soon leads into Fondamenta della Toletta).
Ai Cugnai VENETIAN The name of this small trattoria means “at the in-laws,” and in that spirit the kitchen knocks out solid, home-cooked Venetian food, beautifully prepared and very popular with locals and hungry gondoliers. The classics are done especially well: The spaghetti vongole here is crammed with sea-fresh mussels and clams, the caprese and baby octopus salad perfectly balanced appetizers, and the house red wine is a top value. Our favorite, though, is the sublime spaghetti with scallops, a slippery, salty delight. There are just two small tables outside, so get here early if you want to eat alfresco.
Calle Nuova Sant’Agnese 857. 041-5289238. Main courses 17€-25€. Tues-Sun noon-3:30pm and 7-10pm. Vaporetto: Accademia (head east of bridge and Accademia in direction of Guggenheim Collection; restaurant will be on your right, off the straight street connecting the 2 museums).
Montin VENETIAN Montin was the famous ex-hang-out of Peggy Guggenheim in the 1950s, and was frequented by Jimmy Carter, Robert De Niro, and Brad Pitt, among many other celebrities, but is the food any good? Well, yes. Grab a table in the wonderfully serene back garden (completely covered by an arching trellis), itself a good reason to visit, and sample Venetian classics such as sardines in “soar” (a local marinade of vinegar, wine, onion, and raisins), and an exquisite seppie in nero (cuttlefish cooked in its ink). For a main course, it’s hard to beat the crispy sea bass (branzino) or legendary monkfish, while the lemon sorbet with vodka is a perfect, tangy conclusion to any meal.
Fondamenta di Borgo 1147. www.locandamontin.com. 041-5227151. Main courses 21€-28€. Daily 5pm-midnight. Vaporetto: Ca’Rezzonico (walk straight along Calle Lunga San Barnaba for around 1,000 ft., then turn left along Fondamenta di Borgo).
Da Sandro ITALIAN/PIZZERIA No-frills pasta and pizza since 1962, where the simplest dishes are the best. Go for the clam spaghetti, stuffed full of juicy, fresh clams; crispy thin pepperoni pizza; classic Venetian spaghetti with squid ink sauce; or pasta with onions and anchovies, rich with the flavors of the ocean. It’s a little shabby and very small (just five tables inside two dining rooms, on either side of the street, and some communal bench tables outdoors), but this is an extremely good value for central Venice. Tasty red ales on tap, too (6€).
Campiello dei Meloni 1473. 041-5234894. Main courses 12€-24€. Sat-Thurs 11:30am-11:30pm. Vaporetto: San Silvestro (with your back to Grand Canal, walk straight to Ruga Vecchia San Giovanni and turn left; walk toward Campo San Polo until you hit Campiello dei Meloni).
Do Spade VENETIAN It’s tough to find something so authentic and local this close to the Rialto Bridge these days, but Do Spade has been around since 1415. Most locals come here for the cicchetti (you can sit on benches outside if it’s too crowded indoors), typical Venetian small plates such as fried calamari, meatballs, mozzarella, salted cod (mostly 1.50€), and decent wines (3€ a glass). The more formal restaurant section is also worth a try, with seafood highlights including a delicately prepared monkfish, scallops served with fresh zucchini, and a rich seafood lasagna, though the seasonal pumpkin ravioli is one of the best dishes in the city.
Sottoportego do Spade 860. www.cantinadospade.com. 041-5210574. Main courses 12€-21€. Daily 10am-3pm and 6-10pm. Vaporetto: Rialto or San Silvestro (at San Polo side of Rialto Bridge, walk through the market to the intersection with a pharmacy and the Cassa di Risparmio di Venezia bank; take a left here and then take 2nd right onto Sottoportego do Spade).
Do Mori WINE BAR/VENETIAN Serving good wine and cicchetti since 1462 (check out the antique copper pots hanging from the ceiling), Do Mori is above all a fun place to have a genuine Venetian experience, a small, dimly lit bàcari that can barely accommodate ten people standing up. Sample the baby octopus and ham on mango, lard-smothered crostini, and pickled onions speared with salty anchovies, or opt for the tramezzini (tiny sandwiches). Local TV (and BBC) star Francesco Da Mosto is a regular, but note that this institution is very much on the well-trodden tourist trail—plenty of cicchetti tours stop by in the early evening. Local wine runs around 3.50€ to 4€ per glass.
San Polo 429 (entrances on Calle Galiazza and Calle Do Mori). 041-5225401. Tramezzini and cicchetti 1.80€-2.50€ per piece. Mon-Sat 8:30am-8pm (Wed until 2pm; June-Aug closed daily 2-4:30pm). Vaporetto: Rialto (cross Rialto Bridge to San Polo side, walk to end of market stalls, go left on Ruga Vecchia San Giovanni and then immediately right; look for small wooden CANTINA sign on right).
Al Bacco Felice ITALIAN This quaint, friendly neighborhood restaurant is convenient for the train station and popular with locals, with a real buzz most evenings. Stick with the basics and you won’t be disappointed—the pizzas, pastas, and fish dishes are always outstanding, with classic standbys spaghetti alle vongole, pasta with spicy arrabbiata, and carpaccio of swordfish especially well done. The meal usually ends with complimentary plates of Venetian cookies, a nice touch.
Santa Croce 197E (on Corte dei Amai). 041-5287794. Main courses 12€-24€. Mon-Fri noon-3:30pm and 6:30-11pm, Sat and Sun noon-11:30pm. Vaporetto: Piazzale Roma (you can walk here in 10 min. from the train station; from the Piazzale Roma vaporetto stop keep the Grand Canal on your left and head toward the train station; cross the small canal at the end of the park and immediately turn right onto Fondamenta Tolentini; when you get to Campo Tolentini turn left onto Corte dei Amai).
L’Orto dei Mori VENETIAN Traditional Venetian cuisine cooked up by a young Sicilian chef, so expect some subtle differences to the usual flavors and dishes. Everything on the relatively small menu is exceptional—the baccalà (salted cod) especially so—and the setting next to a small canal is enhanced by candlelight at night. This place can get very busy—the waiters are normally friendly, but be warned, expect brusque treatment if you turn up late or early for a reservation. Don’t be confused: The restaurant prefers to serve dinner, broadly, within two seatings, one early (7-9pm) and one late, so that’s why waiters will be reluctant to serve those that arrive early for the second sitting—even if there’s a table available, you’ll be given water and just told to wait.
Campo dei Mori 3386. www.osteriaortodeimori.com. 041-5243677. Main courses 19€-25€. Wed-Mon 12:30-3:30pm and 7pm-midnight, usually in 2 seatings (July-Aug closed for lunch Mon-Fri). Vaporetto: Madonna dell’Orto (walk through the campo to the canal and turn right; take the 1st bridge to your left, walk down the street and turn left at the canal onto Fondamenta dei Mori; go straight until you hit Campo dei Mori).
Taverna del Campiello Remer VENETIAN Eating on a budget in Venice doesn’t always mean panini and pizza slices. This romantic taverna overlooks the Grand Canal from a small, charming piazza, and while the a la carte options can be pricey, the secret is to time your visit for the buffets. The 20€ lunch buffet is a fabulous deal, with fish soup, fresh pastas, seasonal vegetables, a choice of two or three quality main dishes (such as Venice-style liver with polenta, or pan-fried squid), a huge range of desserts, and coffee, water, and wine, all included. The evening aperitivo is an even better deal, just 8€ for as much smoked meats, sausage, salads, seafood risotto and pasta as you can eat, plus one Aperol spritz, vino, or prosecco. Normal service resumes after the buffet is cleared, with live music (Latin, soul, jazz) most nights at 8:30pm, but as long as you order a few drinks it’s fine to stick around and take in the scene.
Campiello del Remer 5701, Cannaregio. www.alremer.com. 041-5228769. Lunch buffet 20€; aperitivo (5:30-7:30pm) 8€, Mon, Tues, and Thurs-Sat noon-2:30pm and 5:30pm-midnight; Sun 5:30pm-midnight. Vaporetto: San Marcuola (walk left from the boat dock across Campo San Marcuola and 200m along the canal to Campiello del Remer).
Venice fish market.
Is the gelato any good in Venice? Italians might demur, but by international standards, the answer is most definitely yes. As always, though, remember that gelato parlors aimed exclusively at tourists are notorious for poor quality and extortionate prices, especially in Venice. Try to avoid places near Piazza San Marco altogether. Below are two of our favorite spots in the city. Each generally opens midmorning and closes late. Winter hours are more erratic.
Il Doge GELATO Definite contender for best gelato in Venice, with a great location at the southern end of the campo (don’t confuse Il Doge with the newer ice cream place next door). These guys use only natural, homemade flavors and ingredients, from their exceptional spicy chocolate to their specialty, “Crema de Doge,” a rich concoction of eggs, cream, and real oranges. Look for refreshing granitas in summer.
Campo Santa Margherita 3058, Dorsoduro. 041-5234607. Cone from 1.50€. Vaporetto: Ca’Rezzonico.
La Mela Verde GELATO The popular rival to Il Doge for best scoop in the city, with sharp flavors and all the classics done sensationally well: pistachio, chocolate, nocciola and the mind-blowing lemon and basil. The overall champions: mela verde (green apple), like creamy, frozen fruit served in a cup, and the addictive tiramisu flavor.
Fondamenta de L’Osmarin, Castello 4977. 349-1957924. Cone from 1.50€. Vaporetto: Zaccaria.
Venice is notorious for changing and extending the opening hours of its museums and, to a lesser degree, its churches. Before you begin your exploration of Venice’s sights, ask at the tourist office for the season’s list of museum and church hours. During the peak months, you can enjoy extended museum hours—some places stay open until 7 or even 10pm—but unfortunately these hours are not released until some time around Easter each year. Even then, little is done to publicize the information, so you’ll have to do your own research.
Basilica di San Marco (St. Mark’s) CATHEDRAL One of the grandest, and certainly the most exotic of all cathedrals in Europe, Basilica di San Marco is an imperious treasure-heap of Venetian art and all sorts of lavish booty garnered from the eastern Mediterranean. Legend has it that St. Mark, on his way to Rome, was told by an angel his body would rest near the lagoon that would one today become Venice. Hundreds of years later, the city fathers were looking for a patron saint of high stature, more in keeping with their lofty aspirations, and in 828 the prophecy was duly fulfilled when Venetian merchants stole the body of St. Mark from Alexandria in Egypt (the story goes that the body was packed in pickled pork to avoid the attention of the Muslim guards).
Modeled on Constantinople’s Church of the Twelve Apostles, the shrine of St. Mark was consecrated in 832, but in 976 the church burned down. The present incarnation was completed in 1094 but extended and embellished over subsequent years, serving as the personal church of the doge. Even today San Marco looks more like a Byzantine cathedral than a Roman Catholic church, with a cavernous interior exquisitely gilded with Byzantine mosaics added over some 7 centuries and covering every inch of both ceiling and pavement. For a closer look at many of the most remarkable ceiling mosaics and a better view of the Oriental carpet-like patterns of the pavement mosaics, pay the admission to go upstairs to the Museo di San Marco (the entrance to this is in the atrium at the principal entrance); this was originally the women’s gallery, or matroneum, and also includes the outside Loggia dei Cavalli. Here you can mingle with the celebrated Triumphal Quadriga of four gilded bronze horses dating from the 2nd or 3rd century A.D.; originally set on the Loggia, the restored originals were moved inside in the 1980s for preservation. (The word quadriga actually refers to a car or chariot pulled by four horses, though in this case there are only the horses.) The horses were taken to Venice from Constantinople in 1204 along with lots of other loot from the Fourth Crusade. A visit to the outdoor Loggia dei Cavalli (where replicas of the horses now stand) is an unexpected highlight, providing a panoramic view of the piazza below.
The basilica’s greatest treasure is the magnificent altarpiece known as the Pala d’Oro (Golden Altarpiece), a Gothic masterpiece encrusted with over 2,000 precious gems and 83 enameled panels. It was created in 10th-century Constantinople and embellished by Venetian and Byzantine artisans between the 12th and 14th centuries. It is located behind the main altar, whose green marble canopy on alabaster columns covers the tomb of St. Mark (skeptics contend that his remains burned in the fire of 976). Also worth a visit is the Tesoro (Treasury), with a collection of the crusaders’ plunder from Constantinople and other icons and relics amassed by the church over the years. Much of the loot has been incorporated into the interior and exterior of the basilica in the form of marble, columns, capitals, and statuary. Second to the Pala d’Oro in importance is the 10th-century “Madonna di Nicopeia,” a bejeweled icon also purloined from Constantinople and exhibited in its own chapel to the left of the main altar.
In July and August (with much less certainty the rest of the year), church-affiliated volunteers lead free tours Monday to Saturday, four or five times daily, beginning at 10:30am (note that not all tours are in English). Groups gather in the atrium, where you’ll find posters with tour schedules.
Piazza San Marco. www.basilicasanmarco.it. 041-2708311. Basilica free admission; Museo di San Marco (includes Loggia dei Cavalli) 5€, Pala d’Oro 2€, Tesoro (Treasury) 3€. Basilica, Tesoro, and Pala d’Oro Mon-Sat 9:45am-5pm, Sun 2-5pm (winter closes Sun at 4pm). Museo di San Marco daily 9:45am-4:45pm. Vaporetto: San Marco.
Campanile di San Marco (Bell Tower) ICON An elevator will whisk you to the top of this 97m (318-ft.) bell tower where you get an awe-inspiring view of St. Mark’s cupolas. It is the highest structure in the city, offering a pigeon’s-eye panorama that includes the lagoon, its neighboring islands, and the red rooftops and church domes and bell towers of Venice—and, oddly, not a single canal. Originally built in the 9th century, the bell tower was then reconstructed in the 12th, 14th, and 16th centuries, when the pretty marble loggia at its base was added by Jacopo Sansovino. It collapsed unexpectedly in 1902, miraculously hurting no one except a cat. It was rebuilt exactly as before, using most of the same materials, even rescuing one of the five historical bells that it still uses today (each bell was rung for a different purpose, such as war, the death of a doge, religious holidays, and so on).
Piazza San Marco. www.basilicasanmarco.it. 041-2708311. Admission 8€. Easter to June and Oct daily 9am-7pm; July-Sept daily 9am-9pm; Nov-Easter daily 9:30am-3:45pm. Vaporetto: San Marco.
Canal Grande (Grand Canal) NATURAL ATTRACTION A leisurely cruise along the “Canalazzo” from Piazza San Marco to the Ferrovia (train station), or the reverse, is one of Venice’s (and life’s) must-do experiences. Hop on the no. 1 vaporetto in the late afternoon (try to get one of the coveted outdoor seats in the prow), when the weather-worn colors of the former homes of Venice’s merchant elite are warmed by the soft light and reflected in the canal’s rippling waters, and the busy traffic of delivery boats, vaporetti, and gondolas that fills the city’s main thoroughfare has eased somewhat.
Best stations to start/end a tour of the Grand Canal are Ferrovia (train station) or Piazzale Roma on the northwest side of the canal and Piazza San Marco in the southeast. Tickets 7€.
Know Before You Go
The guards at the cathedral’s entrance are serious about forbidding entry to anyone in inappropriate attire—shorts, sleeveless shirts, cropped tops, and skirts above the knee. Note also that you cannot enter the basilica with luggage, and that photos and filming inside are forbidden. With masses of people descending on the cathedral every day, your best bet for avoiding the long lines is to come early in the morning. Although the basilica is open Sunday morning for anyone wishing to attend Mass, you cannot enter merely to gawk as a tourist.
Palazzo Ducale and St. Mark’s Square.
Palazzo Ducale and Ponte dei Sospiri (Ducal Palace and Bridge of Sighs) PALACE The pink-and-white marble Gothic-Renaissance Palazzo Ducale, residence of the doges who ruled Venice for more than 1,000 years, stands between the Basilica di San Marco and the sea. A symbol of prosperity and power, it was destroyed by a succession of fires, with the current building started in 1340, extended in the 1420s, and largely redesigned again after a fire in 1483. Forever being expanded, it slowly grew to be one of Italy’s greatest civic structures. If you want to understand something of this magnificent place, the fascinating history of the 1,000-year-old maritime republic, and the intrigue of the government that ruled it, take the Secret Itineraries tour (see “Secrets of the Palazzo Ducale,” p. 336). Failing that, at least download the free iPhone/Android app (see the website) or shell out for the infrared audioguide tour (available at entrance, 6€) to help make sense of it all. Unless you can tag along with an English-speaking tour group, you may otherwise miss out on the importance of much of what you’re seeing.
The 15th-century Porta della Carta (Paper Gate) opens onto a splendid inner courtyard with a double row of Renaissance arches (today visitors enter through a doorway on the lagoon side of the palace). The self-guided route through the palace begins on the left side of the main courtyard, where the Museo dell’Opera contains assorted bits of masonry preserved from the Palazzo’s exterior. Beyond here, the first major room you’ll come to is the spacious Sala delle Quattro Porte (Hall of the Four Doors), with a worn ceiling by Tintoretto. The Sala dell’Anticollegio, the next main room, is where foreign ambassadors waited to be received by the doge and his council. It is covered in four works by Tintoretto, and Veronese’s “Rape of Europa” , considered one of the palazzo’s finest. It steals some of the thunder of Tintoretto’s “Mercury & the Three Graces” and “Bacchus and Ariadne” —the latter considered one of his best by some critics. The highlight of the adjacent Sala del Collegio (the Council Chamber itself) is the spectacular cycle of ceiling paintings by Veronese, completed between 1575 and 1578 and one of his masterpieces. Next door lies the most impressive of the interior rooms, the richly adorned Sala del Senato (Senate Chamber), with Tintoretto’s ceiling painting, “The Triumph of Venice.” Here laws were passed by the Senate, a select group of 200 chosen from the Great Council. After passing again through the Sala delle Quattro Porte, you’ll come to the Veronese-decorated Stanza del Consiglio dei Dieci (Room of the Council of Ten, the Republic’s dreaded security police), of particular historical interest. It was in this room that justice was dispensed and decapitations ordered. Formed in the 14th century to deal with emergency situations, the Ten were considered more powerful than the Senate and feared by all. Just outside the adjacent chamber, in the Sala della Bussola (the Compass Chamber), notice the Bocca dei Leoni (Lion’s Mouth), a slit in the wall into which secret denunciations and accusations of enemies of the state were placed for quick action by the much-feared Council.
SECRETS OF THE PALAZZO DUCALE
The Itinerari Segreti (Secret Itineraries) guided tours of the Palazzo Ducale are a must-see for any visit to Venice lasting more than a day. The tours offer an unparalleled look into the world of Venetian politics over the centuries and are the only way to access the otherwise restricted quarters and hidden passageways of this enormous palace, such as the doges’ private chambers and the torture chambers where prisoners were interrogated. It is highly advisable to reserve in advance via the website (www.palazzoducale.visitmuve.it.), by phone (toll-free within Italy 848-082-000, or from abroad 041-4273-0892) or in person at the ticket desk. Tours often sell out at least a few days ahead, especially from spring through fall. Tours in English are daily at 9:55am, 10:45am, and 11:35am, and cost 20€ for adults, 14€ for children ages 6 to 14 and students ages 15 to 25. There are also tours in Italian at 9:30am and 11:10am, and French at 10:20am and noon. The tour lasts about 75 minutes.
The main sight on the next level down—indeed, in the entire palace—is the Sala del Maggior Consiglio (Great Council Hall). This enormous space is animated by Tintoretto’s huge “Paradiso” at the far end of the hall above the doge’s seat. Measuring 7×23m (23×75 ft.), it is said to be the world’s largest oil painting; together with Veronese’s gorgeous “Il Trionfo di Venezia” (“The Triumph of Venice”) in the oval panel on the ceiling, it affirms the power emanating from the council sessions held here. Tintoretto also did the portraits of the 76 doges encircling the top of this chamber; note that the picture of the Doge Marin Falier, who was convicted of treason and beheaded in 1355, has been blacked out—Venice has never forgiven him. Tours culminate at the enclosed Ponte dei Sospiri (Bridge of Sighs), built in 1600 and which connects the Ducal Palace with the grim Palazzo delle Prigioni (Prison). The bridge took its current name only in the 19th century, when visiting northern European poets romantically envisioned the prisoners’ final breath of resignation upon viewing the outside world one last time before being locked in their fetid cells. Some attribute the name to Casanova, who, following his arrest in 1755 (he was accused of being a Freemason and spreading antireligious propaganda), crossed this very bridge. One of the rare few to escape, something he achieved 15 months after his imprisonment began, he returned to Venice 20 years later. Some of the stone cells still have the original graffiti of past prisoners, many of them locked up interminably for petty crimes.
San Marco, Piazza San Marco. www.palazzoducale.visitmuve.it. 041-2715911. Admission only with San Marco Museum Pass (see “Venice Discounts,” p. 339). For an Itinerari Segreti (Secret Itineraries) guided tour in English, see “Secrets of the Palazzo Ducale,” above. Daily 8:30am-7pm (Nov-Mar until 5:30pm). Vaporetto: San Marco.
Rialto Bridge ICON This graceful arch over the Grand Canal, linking the San Marco and San Polo districts, is lined with overpriced boutiques and is teeming with tourists. Until the 19th century, it was the only bridge across the Grand Canal, originally built as a pontoon bridge at the canal’s narrowest point. Wooden versions of the bridge followed; the 1444 incarnation was the first to include shops, interrupted by a drawbridge in the center. In 1592, this graceful stone span was finished to the designs of Antonio da Ponte (whose last name fittingly enough means bridge), who beat out Sansovino, Palladio, and Michelangelo with his plans that called for a single, vast, 28m-wide (92-ft.) arch in the center to allow trading ships to pass.
Ponte del Rialto. Vaporetto: Rialto.
Torre dell’Orologio (Clock Tower) MONUMENT As you enter the magnificent Piazza San Marco, it is one of the first things you see, standing on the north side, next to and towering above the Procuratie Vecchie (the ancient administration buildings for the Republic). The Renaissance Torre dell’Orologio was built between 1496 and 1506, and the clock mechanism still keeps perfect time (although most of the original workings have been replaced over the years). Two bronze figures, known as “Moors” because of the dark color of the bronze, pivot to strike the hour. Visits are by guided tour only (included in the price of admission).
Piazza San Marco. www.torreorologio.visitmuve.it. 848-082000 or 041-42730892. Admission 12€, 7€ for children ages 6-14 and students ages 15-25; the ticket also gets you into the Museo Correr, the Museo Archeologico Nazionale, and the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana (but not Palazzo Ducale). Daily 10am-5pm; tours in English Mon-Wed 10am and 11am, Thurs-Sun 2pm and 3pm. There are also tours in Italian and French. Vaporetto: San Marco.
Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni MUSEUM One of the most beautiful spaces in Europe, the main hall of the Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni once served as a meeting house for Venice’s Dalmatian community (schiavoni, literally “Slavs”), built by the side of their church, San Giovanni di Malta, in the early 16th century. The main reason to visit is to admire the awe-inspiring narrative painting cycle that smothers the walls, created by Renaissance master Vittore Carpaccio between 1502 and 1509. The paintings depict the lives of the Dalmatian saints George, Tryphon, and Jerome and also feature Carpaccio’s masterful “Vision of St. Augustine.”
Venice hosts the latest in contemporary art and sculpture from dozens of countries during the prestigious Biennale d’Arte (www.labiennale.org; 041-5218711), one of the world’s top international art shows. It fills the pavilions of the Giardini (public gardens) at the east end of Castello (with fringe events in the Arsenale), as well as in other spaces around the city from June to November every odd-numbered year. Tickets cost 25€, 20€ for those 65 and over, and 14€ for students and all those 26 and under.
Calle dei Furlani 3259A. 041-5228828. Admission 5€. Mon 2:45-6pm, Tues-Sat 9:15am-1pm and 2:45-6pm, Sun 9:15am-1pm. Vaporetto: Rialto.
SS. Giovanni e Paolo CHURCH This massive Gothic church was built by the Dominican order from the 13th to the 15th century and, together with the Frari Church in San Polo, is second in size only to the Basilica di San Marco. An unofficial Pantheon where 25 doges are buried (a number of tombs are part of the unfinished facade), the church, commonly known as Zanipolo in Venetian dialect, is also home to many artistic treasures.
Visit the Cappella del Rosario to see three restored ceiling canvases by Paolo Veronese, particularly “The Assumption of the Madonna.” The brilliantly colored “Polyptych of St. Vincent Ferrer” (ca. 1465), attributed to a young Giovanni Bellini, is in the right aisle. You’ll also see the foot of St. Catherine of Siena encased in glass.
Anchoring the large and impressive campo outside, a popular crossroads for this area of Castello, is the statue of Bartolomeo Colleoni , the Renaissance condottiere who defended Venice’s interests at the height of its power and until his death in 1475. The 15th-century work is by the Florentine Andrea Verrocchio; it is considered one of the world’s great equestrian monuments and Verrocchio’s best.
Campo Santi Giovanni e Paolo 6363. www.basilicasantigiovanniepaolo.it. 041-5235913. Admission 2.50€. Mon-Sat 9am-6pm, Sun noon-6pm. Vaporetto: Rialto.
Gallerie dell’Accademia (Academy Gallery) MUSEUM Along with San Marco and the Palazzo Ducale, the Accademia is one of the highlights of Venice, a magnificent collection of European art and especially Venetian painting from the 14th to the 18th centuries. Visitors are currently limited to 300 at one time, so lines can be long in high season—advance reservations are essential. Things will improve after the long-awaited expansion of the gallery is completed. There’s a lot to take in here, so buy a catalog in the store if you’d like to learn more—the audioguides are a little muddled and not worth 6€.
Rooms are laid out in rough chronological order, though the on-going renovation means some rooms may be closed when you visit (call ahead or check the website to see if any galleries are closed). Room 2 includes Carpaccio’s grim “Crucifixion & Glorification of the Ten Thousand Martyrs of Mount Ararat” and his much lighter “Presentation of Jesus in the Temple,” but the real showstoppers of the collection reside in rooms 4 and 5, with a gorgeous “St. George” by Mantegna and a series of Giovanni Bellini “Madonnas.” Pride of place goes to Giorgione’s enigmatic and utterly mystifying “Tempest” .
Rooms 6 to 8 feature Venetian heavyweights Tintoretto, Titian, and Lorenzo Lotto, while Room 10 is dominated by Paolo Veronese’s mammoth “Feast in the House of Levi” . Tintoretto canvases make up the rest of the room, including his three legends of St. Mark. Opposite is Titian’s last painting, a “Pietà” intended for his own tomb. Room 11 contains work by Tiepolo, the master of 18th-century Venetian painting, but also Tintoretto’s “Madonna dei Tesorieri.” The next rooms contain a relatively mediocre batch of 17th- and 18th-century paintings, though Canaletto’s “Capriccio: A Colonnade” (Room 17), which he presented to the Academy when he was made a member in 1763, certainly merits a closer look for its elegant contrast between diagonal, vertical, and horizontal lines.
Venice offers a somewhat bewildering range of passes and discount cards. We recommend buying an ACTV travel card (p. 302) and combining that with one of the first two museum passes listed below: The more complicated Venice Connected and Venice Card schemes are not as good a value and are valid for a much shorter period.
The Museum Pass (www.vivaticket.it) grants admission to all the city-run museums over a 6-month period. That includes the museums of St. Mark’s Square—Palazzo Ducale, Museo Correr, Museo Archeologico Nazionale, and the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana—as well as the Museo di Palazzo Mocenigo (Costume Museum), the Ca’ Rezzonico, the Ca’ Pesaro, the Museo del Vetro (Glass Museum) on Murano, and the Museo del Merletto (Lace Museum) on Burano. The Museum Pass is available at any of the participating museums and costs 24€ for adults, and 18€ for students under 30 and kids aged 6-14. There is also a San Marco Museum Pass (valid for 3 months) that lets you into the four museums of Piazza San Marco for 16€, and 10€ for students under 30 and kids aged 6-14.
The Chorus Pass (www.chorusvenezia.org) covers every major church in Venice, 16 in all, for 10€ (7€ for students under 30), for up to 1 year. For 20€, the Chorus Pass Family gives you the same perks for two adults and their children up to 18 years old.
The Venice Card or Venezia Unica (www.veneziaunica.it) is the Museum Pass on steroids, with a juiced-up price to match: 39.90€, or 29.90€ for those 6 to 29, but it’s only valid for 7 days. It includes, among other things, everything the Museum Pass offers (free entrance to the Doge’s Palace and the other 10 Musei Civici di Venezia), the 16 churches under the Chorus Pass, the Jewish Museum, and discounts on temporary exhibits. You can pick one up at any of the Hellovenezia (www.hellovenezia.com) offices around town (there’s one in the train station as well as at the Rialto and Santa Zaccaria vaporetto stops) or at the tourist information offices.
Also, for tourists between the ages of 14 and 29, there is the Rolling Venice card (see also www.hellovenezia.com). It’s valid until the end of the year in which you buy it, costs just 4€, and entitles the bearer to significant (20%-30%) discounts at participating restaurants (but only applies to cardholder’s meal), and a similar discount on ACTV travel cards (20€ for 3 days). Holders of the Rolling Venice card also get discounts in museums, stores, language courses, hotels, and bars across the city (it comes with a thick booklet listing everywhere that you’re entitled to get discounts). The card can be acquired at the same places as the Venice Card (see above).
Room 20 is filled by Gentile Bellini’s cycle of “The Miracles of the Relic of the Cross” , painted around 1500. The next room contains the monumental cycle of pictures by Carpaccio illustrating the Story of St. Ursula . Finally, in room 24, there’s Titian’s “Presentation of the Virgin,” actually created to hang in this space along with a triptych by Antonio Vivarini and Giovanni d’Alemagna.
Campo della Carità 1050, at foot of Ponte dell’Accademia. www.gallerieaccademia.org. 041-5200345. Admission 9€ adults (includes Palazzo Grimani). Reservations by phone or online incur a 1.50€ charge. Daily 8:15am-7:15pm (Mon until 2pm). Vaporetto: Accademia.
Peggy Guggenheim Collection MUSEUM Though the Peggy Guggenheim Collection is one of the best museums in Italy when it comes to American and European art of the 20th century, you might find the experience a little jarring given its location in a city so heavily associated with the High Renaissance and the baroque. Nevertheless, art aficionados will find some fascinating work here, and the galleries occupy Peggy Guggenheim’s wonderful former home, the 18th-century Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, right on the Grand Canal. Guggenheim purchased the mansion in 1949 and lived here, on and off, until her death in 1979. Highlights include Picasso’s extremely abstract “Poet,” and his more gentle “On the Beach,” several works by Kandinsky (“Landscape with Red Spots No. 2” and “White Cross”), Miró’s expressionistic “Seated Woman II,” Klee’s mystical “Magic Garden,” and some unsettling works by Max Ernst (“The Kiss,” “Attirement of the Bride”), who was briefly married to Guggenheim in the 1940s. Look out also for Magritte’s “Empire of Light,” Dalí’s typically surreal “Birth of Liquid Desires,” and a couple of gems from Pollock, his early “Moon Woman,” which recalls Picasso, and “Alchemy,” a more typical “poured” painting. The Italian Futurists are also well represented here, with a rare portrait from Modigliani (“Portrait of the Painter Frank Haviland”).
The sculpture garden at Peggy Guggenheim Collection.
Calle San Cristoforo 701. www.guggenheim-venice.it. 041-2405411. Admission 14€ adults; 12€ 65 and over, and for those who present a train ticket to Venice on 1 of Italy’s fast trains (Frecciarossa, Frecciargento, or Frecciabianca), dated no more than 3 days previous; 8€ students 26 and under and children ages 10-18. Wed-Mon 10am-6pm. Vaporetto: Accademia (walk around left side of Accademia, take 1st left, and walk straight ahead following the signs).
San Sebastiano CHURCH Lose the crowds as you make a pilgrimage to this monument to Paolo Veronese, his parish church and home to some of his finest work. Veronese painted the ceiling of the sacristy with the “Coronation of the Virgin” and the “Four Evangelists,” while he graced the nave ceiling with “Scenes from the Life of St. Esther.” He also decorated the organ shutters and panels around the high altar in the 1560s with scenes from the life of St. Sebastian. Although Veronese is the main event here, don’t miss Titian’s sensitive “St. Nicholas” (left wall of the first chapel on the right).
Campo San Sebastiano. 041-2750462. Admission 3€. Mon-Sat 10am-5pm. Vaporetto: San Basilio.
Santa Maria della Salute (Church of the Virgin Mary of Good Health) CHURCH Generally referred to as “La Salute,” this crown jewel of 17th-century baroque architecture proudly reigns at a commercially and aesthetically important point, almost directly across from the Piazza San Marco, where the Grand Canal empties into the lagoon.
The first stone was laid in 1631 after the Senate decided to honor the Virgin Mary for delivering Venice from a plague that had killed around 95,000 people. They accepted the revolutionary plans of a young, relatively unknown architect, Baldassare Longhena (who would go on to design, among other projects, the Ca’ Rezzonico). He dedicated the next 50 years of his life to overseeing its progress (he would die 1 year after its inauguration but 5 years before its completion). Today the dome of the church is an iconic presence on the Venice skyline, recognized for its exuberant exterior of volutes, scrolls, and more than 125 statues. Its rather sober interior is livened by the sacristy, where you will find a number of important ceiling paintings and portraits of the Evangelists and church doctors by Titian. On the right wall of the sacristy, which you have to pay to enter, is Tintoretto’s “Marriage at Cana” , often considered one of his best paintings.
Campo della Salute 1. 041-5225558. Free admission to church; sacristy 3€. Daily 9am-noon and 3-6pm. Vaporetto: Salute.
Scuola Grande dei Carmini CHURCH The former Venetian base of the Carmelites, finished off in the 18th century, is now a shrine of sorts to Giambattista Tiepolo, who painted the ceiling of the upstairs hall between 1739 and 1749. It’s truly a magnificent sight, Tiepolo’s elaborate rococo interpretation of “Simon Stock Receiving the Scapular” now fully restored along with various panels throughout the building.
Campo San Margherita 2617. www.scuolagrandecarmini.it. 041-5289420. Admission 5€. Daily 11am-5pm. Vaporetto: San Basilio.
Squero di San Trovaso HISTORIC SITE One of the most intriguing (and photographed) sights in Venice is this small squero (boatyard), which first opened in the 17th century. Just north of the Zattere (the wide, sunny walkway that runs alongside the Giudecca Canal in Dorsoduro), the boatyard lies next to the Church of San Trovaso on the narrow Rio San Trovaso (not far from the Accademia Bridge). It is surrounded by Tyrolean-looking wooden structures (a true rarity in this city of stone built on water) that are home to the multigenerational owners and original workshops for traditional Venetian boats. Aware that they have become a tourist site themselves, the gondoliers don’t mind if you watch them at work from across the narrow Rio di San Trovaso, but don’t try to invite yourself in.
Dorsoduro 1097 (on the Rio San Trovaso, southwest of the Accademia). Vaporetto: Zattere.
San Polo & Santa Croce
Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari (Church of the Frari) CHURCH Known simply as “i Frari,” this immense 14th-century Gothic church was built by the Franciscans and is the largest church in Venice after San Marco. It houses a number of important works, including two Titian masterpieces: the “Assumption of the Virgin” over the main altar, painted when the artist was only in his late 20s, and his “Virgin of the Pesaro Family” in the left nave. For the latter work, commissioned by one of Venice’s most powerful families, Titian’s wife posed for the figure of Mary (and then died soon afterward in childbirth). Don’t miss Giovanni Bellini’s “Madonna & Child” over the altar in the sacristy; novelist Henry James was struck dumb by it, writing, “it is as solemn as it is gorgeous.”
Campo dei Frari 3072. www.basilicadeifrari.it. 041-2728611. Admission 3€. Mon-Sat 9am-6pm; Sun 1-6pm. Vaporetto: San Tomà (walk straight ahead on Calle del Traghetto and turn right and immediately left across Campo San Tomà; walk straight ahead, on Ramo Mandoler then Calle Larga Prima, and turn right when you reach beginning of Salizada San Rocco).
Scuola Grande di San Rocco (Confraternity of St. Roch) MUSEUM Like many medieval saints, French-born St. Rocco (St. Roch) died young, but thanks to his work healing the sick in the 14th-century, his cult became associated with the power to cure the plague and other serious illnesses. When the saint’s body was brought to Venice in 1485, this scuola began to reap the benefits, and by 1560 the current complex was completed, work beginning soon after on more than 50 major paintings by Tintoretto. Today the scuola is primarily a shrine to the skills of Tintoretto. Begin at the upper story, the Sala dell’Albergo, where an entire wall is smothered by Tintoretto’s mind-blowing “Crucifixion” (as well as his “Glorification of St. Roch,” the painting that actually won him the contract to paint the scuola). In the chapterhouse, Old Testament scenes adorn the ceiling, while the paintings around the walls, based on the New Testament, are generally regarded as a master class of perspective, shadow, and color. The paintings on the lower floor were created much later in the 1580s, led by one of the most frenzied “Annunciations” ever painted, while “The Flight into Egypt” is undeniably one of Tintoretto’s greatest works.
Campo San Rocco 3052, adjacent to Campo dei Frari. www.scuolagrandesanrocco.it. 041-5234864. Admission 10€ adults (price includes audioguide); 8€ ages 18-26; 18 and under free. Daily 9:30am-5:30pm. Vaporetto: San Tomà (walk straight ahead on Calle del Traghetto and turn right and immediately left across Campo San Tomà; walk straight ahead on Ramo Mandoler, Calle Larga Prima, and Salizada San Rocco, which leads into the campo of the same name—look for crimson sign behind Frari Church).
Galleria Giorgio Franchetti alla Ca’ d’Oro MUSEUM This magnificent palazzo overlooking the Grand Canal, the “golden house,” was built between 1428 and 1430 for the noble Contarini family. Baron Giorgio Franchetti bought the place in 1894, and it now serves as an atmospheric art gallery for the exceptional collection he built up throughout his lifetime. The highlight here is “St. Sebastian” by Paduan artist Andrea Mantegna, displayed in its own marble chapel built by the overawed baron. The so-called “St. Sebastian of Venice” was the third and final painting of the saint by Mantegna, created around 1490 and quite different to the other two (in Vienna and Paris, respectively); it’s a bold, deeply pessimistic work, with none of Mantegna’s usual background details to detract from the saint’s suffering.
Strada Nuova 3932. www.cadoro.org. 041-520-0345. Admission 6€, plus 1.50€ reservation fee (or 12€ during special exhibitions, usually June-Nov). Mon 8:15am-2pm; Tues-Sun 8:15am-7:15pm. Vaporetto: Ca’ d’Oro.
Canal entrance to Ca’ d’Oro.
Museo Ebraico di Venezia (Jewish Museum of Venice) MUSEUM/SYNAGOGUE In the heart of the Ghetto Nuovo, the Jewish Museum contains a small but precious collection of artifacts related to the long history of the Jews in Venice, beginning with an exhibition on Jewish festivities in the first room; chandeliers, goblets, and spice-holders used to celebrate Shabbat, Shofàrs (ram’s horns) and a Séfer Torà (Scroll of Divine Law). The second room contains a rich collection of historic textiles, including Torah covers, and a rare marriage contract from 1792. A newer exhibition area explores the immigration patterns of Jews to Venice, and their experiences once here. For many the real highlight, though, is the chance to tour three of the area’s five historic synagogues (ladies must have shoulders covered and men must have heads covered; no photos): German (Scuola Grande Tedesca); Italian (Scuola Italiana), founded in 1575; Sephardic (Scuola Levantina), founded in 1541 but rebuilt in the second half of 17th century; Spanish (Scuola Spagnola), rebuilt in the first half of 17th century; and the baroque-style Ashkenazi (Scuola Canton), largely rebuilt in the 18th century. It’s difficult to predict which three you’ll visit on any given day, as it depends on which synagogues are being used (and on the whim of your guide); the Levantina and the Spanish are the most lavishly decorated, with one usually included on the tour.
Cannaregio 2902B (on Campo del Ghetto Nuovo). www.museoebraico.it. 041-715359. Museum 4€ adults, 3€ children; museum and synagogue tour 10€ adults, 8€ children. Museum Sun-Fri 10am-7pm (Oct-May until 5:30pm); synagogue guided tours in English hourly 10:30am-5:30pm (Oct-May last tour 4:30pm). Closed on Jewish holidays. Vaporetto: Guglie.
Il Ghetto and the Jews of Venice
Jews began settling in Venice in great numbers in the 16th century, and the Republic soon came to value their services as moneylenders, physicians, and traders. In 1516 however, fearing their growing influence, the Venetians forced the Jewish population to live on an island where there was an abandoned 14th-century foundry (ghetto is old Venetian dialect for “foundry”), and drawbridges were raised to enforce a nighttime curfew. By the end of the 17th century, as many as 5,000 Jews lived in the Ghetto’s cramped confines. Napoleon tore down the Ghetto gates in 1797, but it wasn’t until the unification of Italy in 1866 that Jews achieved equal status with their fellow citizens. It remains the spiritual center for Venice’s ever-diminishing community of Jewish families; although accounts vary widely, it’s said that anywhere from 500 to 2,000 Jews live in all of Venice and Mestre, though very few live in the Ghetto. Aside from its historic interest, this is also one of the less touristy neighborhoods in Venice (although it has become something of a nightspot) and makes for a pleasant and scenic place to stroll. Venice’s first kosher restaurant, Gam Gam, opened here in 1996, at 1122 Ghetto Vecchio (www.gamgamkosher.com; 366-2504505), close to the Guglie vaporetto stop. Owned and run by Orthodox Jews, it is open Sunday to Thursday noon to 10pm, noon to 2 hours before Shabbat (sunset on Fri evening), and on Saturday from 1 hour after Shabbat, until 11pm (excluding summer).
Giudecca & San Giorgio
Il Redentore CHURCH Perhaps the masterpiece among Palladio’s churches, Il Redentore was commissioned by Venice to give thanks for being delivered from the great plague (1575-77), which claimed over a quarter of the population (some 46,000 people). The doge established a tradition of visiting this church by crossing a long pontoon bridge made up of boats from the Dorsoduro’s Zattere on the third Sunday of each July, a tradition that survived the demise of the doges and remains one of Venice’s most popular festivals.
The interior is done in grand, austere, painstakingly classical Palladian style. The artworks tend to be workshop pieces (from the studios or schools, but not the actual brushes, of Tintoretto and Veronese), but there is a fine “Baptism of Christ” by Veronese himself in the sacristy, which also contains Alvise Vivarini’s “Madonna with Child & Angels” alongside works by Jacopo da Bassano and Palma il Giovane, who also did the “Deposition” over the right aisle’s third chapel (be warned, however, that the sacristy is often closed).
Campo del Redentore 195, La Giudecca. 041-523-1415. Admission 3€. Mon-Sat 10am-5pm. Vaporetto: Redentore.
San Giorgio Maggiore CHURCH This church sits on the little island of San Giorgio Maggiore across from Piazza San Marco. It is one of the masterpieces of Andrea Palladio, the great Renaissance architect from nearby Padua. Most known for his country villas built for Venice’s wealthy merchant families, Palladio designed this church in 1565 and it was completed in 1610. To impose a classical front on the traditional church structure, Palladio designed two interlocking facades, with repeating triangles, rectangles, and columns that are harmoniously proportioned. Founded as early as the 10th century, the interior of the church was reinterpreted by Palladio with whitewashed stucco surfaces, stark but majestic, an unadorned but harmonious space. The main altar is flanked by two epic paintings by an elderly Tintoretto, “The Fall of Manna,” to the left, and the more noteworthy “Last Supper” to the right, famous for its chiaroscuro. Through the doorway to the right of the choir leading to the Cappella dei Morti (Chapel of the Dead), you will find Tintoretto’s “Deposition.”
To the left of the choir is an elevator that you can take to the top of the campanile—for a charge of 5€—to experience an unforgettable view of the island, the lagoon, and the Palazzo Ducale and Piazza San Marco across the way.
On the island of San Giorgio Maggiore, across St. Mark’s Basin from Piazza San Marco. 041-5227827. Free admission. Mon-Sat 9:30am-12:30pm; daily 2:30-6pm (Oct-Apr to 4:30pm). Vaporetto: Take the Giudecca-bound vaporetto (no. 82) on Riva degli Schiavoni and get off at the 1st stop, San Giorgio Maggiore.
Exploring Venice’s Islands
Venice shares its lagoon with three other principal islands: Murano, Burano, and Torcello. Guided tours of the three are operated by a dozen agencies with docks on Riva degli Schiavoni/Piazzetta San Marco (all interchangeable). The 3- and 4-hour tours run 20€ to 35€, usually include a visit to a Murano glass factory (you can easily do that on your own, with less of a hard sell), and leave daily around 9:30am and 2:30pm (times change; check in advance).
You can also visit the islands on your own conveniently and easily using the vaporetti. Line nos. 4.1 and 4.2 make the journey to Murano from Fondamente Nove (on the north side of Castello). For Murano, Burano, and Torcello, Line no. 12 departs Fondamente Nove every 30 minutes; for Torcello change to the shuttle boat (Line 9) that runs from Burano, timed to match the arrivals from Venice. The islands are small and easy to navigate, but check the schedule for the next island-to-island departure (usually hourly) and your return so that you don’t spend most of your day waiting for connections.
The island of Murano has long been famous throughout the world for the products of its glass factories. A visit to the Museo del Vetro (Museum of Glass), Fondamenta Giustinian 8 (www.museovetro.visitmuve.it; 041-739586), provides context, charting the history of the island’s glassmaking and definitely worthwhile if you intend to buy a lot of glassware. Daily hours are 10am to 6pm (Nov-Mar to 5pm), and admission is 8€ for adults and 5.50€ children 6 to 14 and students 30 and under.
Dozens of fornaci (kilns) offer free shows of mouth-blown glassmaking almost invariably hitched to a hard-sell tour of their factory outlet. These retail showrooms of delicate glassware can be enlightening or boring, depending on your frame of mind. Almost all the places will ship their goods, but that often doubles the price. On the other hand, these pieces are instant heirlooms.
Murano also has two worthy churches: the largely 15th-century San Pietro Martire , with its altarpieces by Veronese and Giovanni Bellini, and the ancient Santa Maria e Donato , with its intricate Byzantine exterior apse and 6th-century pulpit and columns inside resting on a fantastic 12th-century inlaid floor.
Lace is the claim to fame of tiny, historic Burano, a craft kept alive for centuries by the wives of fishermen waiting for their husbands to return from the sea. Sadly, most of the lace sold on the island is made by machine elsewhere these days. It’s still worth a trip if you have time to stroll the back streets of the island, whose canals are lined with the brightly colored, simple homes of the Buranesi fishermen. The local government continues its attempt to keep its centuries-old lace legacy alive with subsidized classes.
Visit the Museo del Merletto (Museum of Lace Making), Piazza Galuppi (www.museomerletto.visitmuve.it; 041-730034), to understand why something so exquisite should not be left to fade into extinction. It’s open Tuesday to Sunday 10am to 6pm (Nov-Mar to 5pm), and admission is 5€ adults, 3.50€ children 6 to 14 and students 29 and under.
Torcello is perhaps the most charming of the islands, though today it consists of little more than one long canal leading from the vaporetto landing past sad-sack vineyards to a clump of buildings at its center.
Torcello boasts the oldest Venetian monument, the Basilica di Santa Maria dell’Assunta , whose foundation dates from the 7th century ( 041-2702464). It’s famous for its outstanding 11th- to 12th-century Byzantine mosaics—a “Madonna and Child” in the apse and “Last Judgment” on the west wall—rivaling those of Ravenna’s and St. Mark’s basilicas. The cathedral is open daily 10:30am to 6pm (Nov-Feb to 5pm), and admission is 5€. Also of interest is the adjacent 11th-century church of Santa Fosca (free admission) and a small archaeological museum, the Museo Archeologico di Torcello ( 041-730761); the church closes 30 minutes before the basilica, and the museum is open Tuesday to Sunday 10am to 5:30pm (Nov-Feb to 5pm). Museum admission is 3€.
THE FILM FESTIVAL
The Venice International Film Festival , in late August and early September, is the most respected celebration of celluloid in Europe after Cannes. Films from all over the world are shown in the Palazzo del Cinema on the Lido as well as at various venues—and occasionally in some of the campi. Ticket prices vary, but those for the less-sought-after films are usually modest. Visit www.labiennale.org/en/cinema for more details.
Peaceful Torcello is uninhabited except for a handful of families and is a favorite picnic spot (you’ll have to bring the food from Venice—there are no stores on the island; there is a bar/trattoria and one rather expensive restaurant, the Cipriani, of Hemingway fame, which is worth a splurge). Once the tour groups have left, the island offers a very special moment of solitude and escape.
Although a convenient 15-minute vaporetto ride away from San Marco, Venice’s Lido beaches are not much to write home about and certainly no longer a chic destination. For bathing and sun-worshipping there are much better beaches nearby—in Jesolo, to the north, for example. But the parade of wealthy Italian and foreign tourists (plus a good number of Venetian families with children) who still frequent this coastal area throughout summer is an interesting sight indeed, although you’ll find many of them at the elitist beaches affiliated with such deluxe hotels as the legendary Excelsior (in a sign of the times, the equally storied de Bains hotel went out of business in 2010 and now serves as luxury apartments).
There are two main beach areas at the Lido. Bucintoro is at the opposite end of Gran Viale Santa Maria Elisabetta (referred to as the Gran Viale) from the vaporetto station Santa Elisabetta. It’s a 10-minute stroll; walk straight ahead along Gran Viale to reach the beach. San Nicolò, about 1.5km (1 mile) away, can be reached by bus B. You’ll have to pay 1€ per person (standard procedure at Italy’s beaches) for use of the cabins and umbrella rental. Keep in mind that if you stay at any of the hotels on the Lido, most of them have some kind of agreement with the different bagni (beach establishments).
Vaporetto line nos. 1, 2, 5.1, 5.2, and LN cross the lagoon to the Lido from the San Zaccaria-Danieli stop near San Marco. Note that the Lido becomes chilly, windswept and utterly deserted between November and April.
Because of the sheer number of sights to see in Venice, some first-time visitors like to start out with an organized tour. Although few things can really be covered in any depth on these overview tours, they’re sometimes useful for getting your bearings. Avventure Bellissime (www.tours-italy.com; 041-970499) coordinates a plethora of tours (in English), by boat and gondola, though the walking tours are the best value, covering all the main sights around Piazza San Marco in 2 hours for 22€. For something with a little more bite, try Urban Adventures (www.urbanadventures.com; 348-9808566), which runs enticing cicchetti tours (3 hr.) for 65€.
CARNEVALE A VENEZIA
Carnevale traditionally was the celebration preceding Lent, the period of penitence and abstinence prior to Easter; its name is derived from the Latin carnem levare, meaning “to take meat away.” Today Carnevale in Venice builds for 10 days until the big blowout, Shrove Tuesday (Fat Tuesday), when fireworks illuminate the Grand Canal, and Piazza San Marco is turned into a giant open-air ballroom for the masses. The festival is a harlequin patchwork of musical and cultural events, many of them free of charge, which appeals to all ages, tastes, nationalities, and budgets. Musical events are staged in some of the city’s dozens of piazze—from reggae and zydeco to jazz and baroque. Special art exhibits are mounted at museums and galleries. Book your hotel months ahead, especially for the 2 weekends prior to Shrove Tuesday. Check www.carnevalevenezia.com for details on upcoming events.
For those with more energy, learn to “row like a Venetian” (yes, literally standing up), at Row Venice (www.rowvenice.com; 347-7250637), where 11⁄2-hour lessons take place in traditional, hand-built “shrimp-tail” or batele coda di gambero boats for 40€ per person (80€ minimum). Or you could abandon tradition altogether and opt for a Venice Kayak tour (www.venicekayak.com; 346-4771327), a truly enchanting way to see the city from the water. Day trips are 120€ per person for 2 to 5 persons with guide (10am-4 or 5pm).
Especially for Kids
It goes without saying that a gondola ride (p. 309) will be the thrill of a lifetime for any child (or adult). If that’s too expensive, consider the convenient and far cheaper alternative: a ride on the no. 1 vaporetto (p. 334).
Judging from the squeals of delight, feeding the pigeons in Piazza San Marco (purchase a bag of corn and you’ll be draped in pigeons in a nanosecond; p. 331) could be the high point of your child’s visit to Venice, and it’s the ultimate photo op. Be sure your child won’t be startled by all the fluttering and flapping.
A jaunt to the neighboring island of Murano (p. 346) can be as educational as it is recreational—follow the signs to any fornace (kiln), where a glassblowing performance of the island’s thousand-year-old art is free entertainment. But be ready for the guaranteed sales pitch that follows.
Before you leave town, take the elevator to the top of the Campanile di San Marco (the highest structure in the city; p. 334) for a scintillating view of Venice’s rooftops and church cupolas, or get up close and personal with the four bronze horses on the facade of the Basilica San Marco. The view from its outdoor loggia is something you and your children won’t forget. Climbing the Torre dell’Orologio (p. 337) or the bell tower at San Giorgio Maggiore (p. 344) should also be lots of fun.
The winged lion, said to have been a kind of good luck mascot to St. Mark, patron saint of Venice, was the very symbol of the Serene Republic and to this day appears on everything from cafe napkins to T-shirts. Who can spot the most flying lions? They appear on facades, atop columns, over doorways, as pavement mosaics, on government stamps, and on the local flag.
In a city that for centuries has thrived almost exclusively on tourism, remember this: Where you buy cheap, you get cheap. Venetians, centuries-old merchants, aren’t known for bargaining. You’ll stand a better chance of getting a good deal if you pay in cash or buy more than one item. In our limited space below, we’ve listed some of the more reputable places to stock up on classic Venetian items.
Shopping Streets & Markets
A mix of low-end trinket stores and middle-market-to-upscale boutiques line the narrow zigzagging Mercerie running north between Piazza San Marco and the Rialto Bridge. More expensive clothing and gift boutiques make for great window-shopping on Calle Larga XXII Marzo, the wide street that begins west of Piazza San Marco and wends its way to the expansive Campo Santo Stefano near the Accademia. The narrow Frezzeria, just west of Piazza San Marco and running north-south, offers a grab bag of bars, souvenir shops, and tony clothing stores like Louis Vuitton and Versace. There are few bargains to be had; the nonproduce part of the Rialto Market is as good as it gets for basic souvenirs, where you’ll find cheap T-shirts, glow-in-the-dark plastic gondolas, and tawdry glass trinkets. The Mercatino dei Miracoli ( 041-2710022), held only six times a year in Campo Santa Maria Nova (Cannaregio), is a fabulous flea market with all sorts of bric-a-brac and antiques sold by ordinary Venetians—haggling, for once, is acceptable. It usually takes place on the second Saturday or Sunday of March, April, May, September, October, and December, from 8:30am to 8pm. The Mercatino dell’Antiquariato (www.mercatinocamposanmaurizio.it) is a professional antiques market in Campo San Maurizio, San Marco; it takes place 4 times a year (usually Mar-Apr, June, Sept, and Dec; check the website for dates).
Arts & Crafts
Venice is uniquely famous for local crafts that have been produced here for centuries and are hard to get elsewhere: the glassware from Murano, the delicate lace from Burano, and the cartapesta (papier-mâché) Carnevale masks you’ll find in endless botteghe (shops), where you can watch artisans paint amid their wares.
Now here’s the bad news: There’s such an overwhelming sea of cheap glass gewgaws that buying Venetian glass can become something of a turnoff (shipping and insurance costs make most things unaffordable; the alternative is to hand-carry anything fragile). There are so few women left on Burano willing to spend countless tedious hours keeping alive the art of lace-making that the few pieces you’ll see not produced by machine in China are sold at stratospheric prices; ditto the truly high-quality glass (although trinkets can be cheap and fun). The best place to buy glass is Murano itself—the “Vetro Artistico Murano” trademark guarantees its origin, but expect to pay as much as 60€ for just a wine glass.
Atelier Segalin di Daniela Ghezzo Founded in 1932 by master cobbler Antonio Segalin and his son Rolando, this old leather shoe store is now run by Daniela Ghezzo (the star apprentice of Rolando), maker of exuberant handmade shoes and boots, from basic flats to crazy footware designed for Carnevale (shoes from 650€-1,800€). It’s open Monday to Friday 10am to 1pm and 3pm to 7pm, and Saturday 9am to 12:30pm. Calle dei Fuseri 4365, San Marco. www.danielaghezzo.it. 041-5222115. Vaporetto: San Marco.
Il Canovaccio Remember the creepy orgy scenes in Stanley Kubrick’s “Eyes Wide Shut”? The ornate masks used in the movie were made in this vaunted store, a relative newcomer founded in 1995. All manner of traditional, feathered, and animal masks are knocked out of their on-site workshop. It’s open daily 10am to 7:30pm. Calle delle Bande 5369 (near Campo Santa Maria Formosa), Castello. www.ilcanovaccio.com. 041-5210393. Vaporetto: San Zaccaria.
Il Grifone Toni Peressin’s handmade leather briefcases, satchels, bound notebooks, belts, and soft-leather purses have garnered quite a following, and justly so—his craftsmanship is truly magnificent (he makes everything in the workshop out back). Items start at around 15€. Hours can be erratic, but it’s usually open Tuesday to Saturday 10am to 1pm and 4 to 7:30pm. Fondamenta del Gaffaro 3516, Dorsoduro. 041-5229452. Vaporetto: Piazzale Roma.
La Bottega dei Mascareri High-quality, creative masks—some based on Tiepolo paintings—crafted by the brothers Sergio and Massimo Boldrin since 1984. Basic masks start at around 15€ to 20€, but you’ll pay over 75€ for a more innovative piece. The original branch lies at the foot of the Rialto Bridge (San Polo 80; 041-5223857). Both locations tend to open daily 9am to 6pm. Calle dei Saoneri 2720, San Polo. www.mascarer.com. 041-5242887. Vaporetto: Rialto.
Marco Polo International This vast showroom, just west of the Piazza San Marco, displays quality glass direct from Murano (although it’s more expensive than going to the island yourself), including plenty of easy-to-carry items such as paperweights and small dishes. It opens daily 10am to 7pm. Frezzeria 1644, San Marco. www.marcopolointernational.it. 041-5229295. Vaporetto: San Marco.
Venini Convenient, classy, but incredibly expensive, Venini has been selling quality glass art since 1921, supplying the likes of Versace and many other designer brands. Their workshop on Murano is at Fondamenta Vetrai 50 ( 041-2737211). Both locations tend to open Monday to Saturday 9:30am to 5:30pm. Piazzetta Leoncini 314, San Marco. www.venini.it. 041-5224045. Vaporetto: San Marco.
Art glass for sale at Venini.
Making a Carnevale mask.
ENTERTAINMENT & NIGHTLIFE
If you’re looking for serious nocturnal action, you’re in the wrong town—Verona and Padua are far more lively. Your best bet is to sit in the moonlit Piazza San Marco and listen to the cafes’ outdoor orchestras, with the illuminated basilica before you—the perfect opera set—though this pleasure comes with a hefty price tag. Other popular spots to hang out include Campo San Bartolomeo, at the foot of the Rialto Bridge (although it is a zoo here in high season), and nearby Campo San Luca. In late-night hours, for low prices and low pretension, the absolute best place to go is Campo Santa Margherita, a huge open campo about halfway between the train station and the Accademia bridge.
Visit one of the tourist information centers for current English-language schedules of the month’s special events. The monthly “Ospite di Venezia” is distributed free or online at www.unospitedivenezia.it and is extremely helpful but usually available only in the more expensive hotels.
Performing Arts & Live Music
Venice has a long and rich tradition of classical music, and there’s always a concert going on somewhere; this was, after all, the home of Vivaldi. People dressed in period costumes stand around in heavily trafficked spots near San Marco and Rialto passing out brochures advertising classical music concerts, so you’ll have no trouble finding up-to-date information.
Santa Maria della Pietà The so-called “Vivaldi Church,” built between 1745 and 1760, holds concerts throughout the year; check the website for specific dates. Lauded ensemble I Virtuosi Italiani gives a concert series here every September. Tickets are usually around 25€. Riva degli Schiavoni 3701, Castello. www.chiesavivaldi.it. 041-5221120. Vaporetto: San Zaccaria.
Interior of Teatro La Fenice.
Teatro La Fenice One of Italy’s most famous opera houses (it officially ranks third after La Scala in Milan and San Carlo in Naples), La Fenice opened in 1836, but was rebuilt after a devastating fire and reopened in 2003. The opera season runs late November through June, but there are also ballet performances and classical concerts. Tickets are expensive for the major productions; around 77€ for the gallery, and 110€ to 205€ for a decent seat. Campo San Fantin 1965, San Marco. www.teatrolafenice.it. 041-2424. Vaporetto: Giglio.
For tourists and locals alike, Venetian nightlife mainly centers on the many cafes in one of the world’s most remarkable piazze: Piazza San Marco. It is also the most expensive and touristed place to linger over a Campari or anything else for that matter, but it’s a splurge that should not be dismissed too readily.
Caffè dei Frari Established in 1870, the walls of this inviting bar and cafe are still adorned with the original murals, an antique wooden bar, and a wrought-iron balcony upstairs. The seafood is especially good here, and there are usually at least three excellent German beers on tap. The laid-back owner doubles as DJ Friday and Saturday evenings (he’s pretty good). Open daily 8am to 9pm. Fondamenta dei Frari 2564, San Polo. 041-5241877. Vaporetto: San Tomà.
Caffè Florian Occupying prime piazza real estate since 1720, this is one of the world’s oldest coffee shops, with a florid interior of 18th-century mirrors, frescoes and statuary. If you sit outside expect to pay 12€ for a cappuccino, 13€ for a beer and 20€ for a Bellini (prosecco and fresh peach juice), plus another 6€ if the orchestra plays (Mar-Nov). Open daily 9am-midnight (closed Wed in winter). Piazza San Marco 56. 041-5205641. Vaporetto: San Marco.
Caffè Lavena Said to be Wagner’s favorite cafe (look for the plaque inside), and the hangout of fellow composer Franz Liszt, Lavena lies on the opposite side of the piazza to Florian and was founded just a few decades later in 1750. Expect the same high prices and surcharges here (a famous case in 2013 saw seven tourists charged 100€ for four coffees and three liqueurs), though unlike Florian, if you stand and drink at the bar you’ll pay much less than sitting at a table (coffee is just 1€). Open daily 9:30am-11pm (closed Tues in winter). Piazza San Marco 133-134. www.lavena.it. 041-5224070. Vaporetto: San Marco.
Il Caffè (aka Caffe Rosso) Established in the late 19th century, Il Caffè has a history almost as colorful as its clientele, a mixture of students, aging regulars, and lost tourists. This is an old-fashioned, no-nonsense Venetian cafe/bar, with reasonably priced drinks and sandwiches, and plenty of seating on the campo. Open Monday to Saturday 7am to 1am. Campo Santa Margherita 2963, Dorsoduro. www.cafferosso.it. 041-5287998. Vaporetto: Ca’Rezzonico.
Birreria, Wine & Cocktail Bars
Although Venice boasts an old and prominent university, dance clubs barely enjoy their 15 minutes of popularity before changing hands or closing down (some are open only in the summer months). Young Venetians tend to go to the Lido in summer or mainland Mestre. Evenings are better spent lingering over a late dinner, having a pint in a birreria, or nursing a glass of prosecco in one of Piazza San Marco’s or Campo Santa Margherita’s overpriced outdoor bars and cafes. (Note: Most bars are open Mon-Sat 8pm-midnight.)
Musicians perform at a cafe on Piazza San Marco.
Al Prosecco Get acquainted with all things bubbly at this smart enoteca, a specialist, as you’d expect, in Veneto prosecco. Features plenty of tasty cichetti to wash down the various brands, and a gorgeous terrace from which to observe the campo below. Drinks 3€ to 5€. Open Monday to Saturday 9am to 10:30pm (closes at 8pm in winter; closed Aug and Jan). Campo San Giacomo da l’Orio 1503, Santa Croce. www.alprosecco.com. 041-5240222. Vaporetto: San Stae.
Caffè Centrale Not really a cafe but a super hip bar and restaurant, located within the 16th-century Palazzo Cocco Molin, just a short walk from Piazza San Marco. Intriguing selection of local and foreign beers (5.50€-7.50€), and a huge cocktail list (10€-12€)—Bellinis are 12€ here. Get a table by the canal or lounge on one of the super comfy leather sofas. Open daily 6:30pm to 1am. Piscina Frezzeria 1659, San Marco. www.caffecentralevenezia.com. 041-2413952. Vaporetto: Vallaresso.
Harry’s Bar Possibly the most famous bar in Venice (and now a global chain), established in 1931 by Giuseppe Cipriani and frequented by the likes of Ernest Hemingway, Charlie Chaplin, and Truman Capote. The Bellini was invented here in 1948 (along with carpaccio 2 years later), and you can sip the signature concoction of fresh peach juice and prosecco for a mere 17€. Go for the history but don’t expect a five-star experience—most first-timers are surprised just how ordinary it looks inside. It also serves very expensive food, but just stick to the drinks. Open daily 10:30am to 11pm. Calle Vallaresso 1323, San Marco. www.cipriani.com. 041-5285777. Vaporetto: Vallaresso.
Margaret DuChamp Popular student and fashionista hangout, with plenty of chairs on the campo for people-watching, cocktails, and a spritz or two (most cocktails just 7€). Also serves decent panini and tramezzini (2€ at the table, or 1.50€ at the bar). Free Wi-Fi. Open Wednesday to Monday 10am to 2am. Campo Santa Margherita 3019, Dorsoduro. 041-5286255. Vaporetto: Ca’ Rezzonico.
Paradiso Perduto “Paradise Lost” is the most happening bar in this neighborhood, crammed with students most nights and featuring the occasional live music set (full concerts every Mon and every first Sun of the month), great cichetti (piled in mountains at the bar) and cheap(ish) wine. Some people come to dine on the tasty seafood, but it’s usually too busy and noisy to enjoy a proper meal here—stick to the drinks and the snacks. Open Monday and Thursday 6pm to midnight, Friday and Saturday noon to 1am, and Sunday noon to midnight (closed Tues-Wed). Fondamenta della Misericordia 2540, Cannaregio. 041-720581. Vaporetto: Madonna dell’Orto.
DAY TRIPS FROM VENICE
If you only have 3 days or so, you will probably want to spend them in the center of Venice. However, if you are here for a week—or on your second visit to the city—head over to the mainland to see some of the old towns that lie within the historic Veneto region.
40km (25 miles) W of Venice
Tucked away within the ancient heart of Padua lies one of the greatest artistic treasures in all Italy, the precious Giotto frescoes of the Cappella degli Scrovegni. Although the city itself is not especially attractive (it was largely rebuilt after bombing during World War II), don’t be put off by the urban sprawl that now surrounds it; central Padua is refreshingly bereft of tourist crowds, a workaday Veneto town with a large student population and a small but intriguing ensemble of historic sights.
GETTING THERE The most efficient way to reach Padua is to take the train from Santa Lucia station. Trains depart every 10 to 20 minutes, and take 25 to 50 minutes depending on the class (tickets range from 3.60€-15€ one-way). The main station is a short walk north up Corso del Popolo from the Cappella degli Scrovegni and the old city.
VISITOR INFORMATION The tourist office at the train station is usually open Monday to Saturday 9am to 7pm, and Sunday 9:15am to 12:30pm (www.turismopadova.it; 049-8752027), while the office in the old city at Piazetta Pedrocchi ( 049-8767927) is open Monday to Saturday 9am to 1:30pm and 3 to 7pm.
The one unmissable sight in Padua is the Cappella degli Scrovegni (www.cappelladegliscrovegni.it; 049-2010020; daily 9am-7pm) at Piazza Eremitani, an outwardly unassuming chapel commissioned in 1303 by Enrico Scrovegni, a wealthy banker, but with an interior smothered by an astonishing cycle of frescoes completed by Florentine genius Giotto 2 years later. The frescoes depict the life of the Virgin Mary and the life of Jesus, culminating with the Ascension and Last Judgment. Seeing Giotto’s powerful work in the flesh is spine-tingling; this is where he makes the decisive break with Byzantine art, taking the first important steps toward the realism and humanism that would characterize the Renaissance in Italy.
Ancient statues in Padua.
Entrance to the chapel is limited, involving groups of 25 visitors spending 15 minutes in a climate-controlled airlock, used to stabilize the temperature, before going inside for another 15 minutes. To visit the chapel you must make a reservation at least 24 hours in advance. You must arrive 45 minutes before the time on your ticket. Tickets cost 13€ (6€ for kids ages 6-17 and students under 27).
If you have time, try and take in Padua’s other historic highlights. The vast Palazzo della Ragione on Piazza del Erbe (Tues-Sun Feb-Oct 9am-7pm, Nov-Jan 9am-6pm; 4€) is an architectural marvel, completed in 1219, and decorated by frescoes completed by Nicola Miretto in the 15th century. Pay a visit also to the Basilica di Sant’Antonio (www.basilicadelsanto.org; 049-8225652; daily Apr-Sept 6:20am-7pm, Oct-Mar 6:20am-7:45pm; free admission) on the Piazza del Santo, the stately resting place of St. Anthony of Padua, the Portuguese Franciscan best known as the patron saint of finding things or lost people. The exterior is a bizarre mix of Byzantine, Romanesque, and Gothic styles (largely completed in the 14th c.), while the interior is richly adorned with statuary and murals. Don’t miss Donatello’s stupendous equestrian statue of the Venetian condottiere Gattamelata (Erasmo da Narni) in the piazza outside, raised in 1453 and the first large bronze sculpture of the Renaissance.
WHERE TO EAT
Padua offers plenty of places to eat, and you’ll especially appreciate the overall drop in prices compared to Venice. It’s hard to match the location of Bar Nazionale , Piazza del Erbe 40 (Mon-Sat 9am-11:30pm), on the steps leading up to Palazzo della Ragione, though it’s best for drinks and snacks (excellent tramezzini) rather than a full meal. For that, make for Osteria dei Fabbri , Via dei Fabbri 13, just off Piazza del Erbe (www.osteriadeifabbri.it; 049-650336; Mon-Sat noon-3pm and 7-11pm), which cooks up cheap, tasty pasta dishes for under 10€.
115km (71 miles) W of Venice
The affluent city of Verona, with its gorgeous red and peach-colored medieval buildings and Roman ruins is one of Italy’s major tourist draws, though its appeal owes more to William Shakespeare than real history. He immortalized the city in his (totally fictional) “Romeo and Juliet,” “The Two Gentlemen of Verona,” and partly, “The Taming of the Shrew.” Though it does attract its fair share of tourism, Verona is not Venice; this is a booming trading center, with vibrant science and technology sectors.
GETTING THERE As with Padua, the best way to reach Verona from Venice is by train. Direct services depart every 30 minutes and take 1 hour, 10 minutes to 2 hours, 20 minutes, depending on the type of train you catch (tickets range from 7.60€-23€ one-way). From Verona station (Verona Porta Nuova), it’s a 15-minute walk to the old center and the Roman Arena in Piazza Bra.
Piazza del Erbe in the center of Verona.
VISITOR INFORMATION The tourist office is off Piazza Bra at Via Degli Alpini 9 (www.tourism.verona.it; 045-8068680; Mon-Sat 9am-7pm, Sun 10am-4pm); stop there for maps, hotel reservations, discount cards, and guided tour information.
“Two households, both alike in dignity, in fair Verona …” So go the immortal opening lines of “Romeo and Juliet,” ensuring that the city has been a target for lovesick romantics ever since. Though Verona is crammed with genuine historic goodies, one of the most popular sites is the ersatz Casa di Giulietta, Via Cappello 23 (Mon 1:30-7:30pm, Tues-Sun 9am-7:30pm; 6€), a 14th-century house (with balcony, naturally), said to be the Capulets’ home. In the courtyard, the chest of a bronze statue of Juliet has been polished right down thanks to a legend claiming that stroking her right breast brings good fortune. Juliet’s Wall, at the entrance, is quite a spectacle, covered with the scribbles of star-crossed lovers; love letters placed here are taken down and, along with 5,000 letters annually, are answered by the Club di Giulietta (a group of locally based volunteers). There’s not much to see inside the house.
Once you’ve made the obligatory Juliet pilgrimage, focus on some really amazing historic ruins: the Arena di Verona (Roman Arena; Mon 1:30-7:30pm, Tues-Sun 9am-7:30pm; 6€), in the spacious Piazza Bra, completed in the 1st century, is the third largest in Italy after Rome’s Colosseum and the arena at Capua—it could seat some 25,000 spectators and still hosts performances today (see www.arena.it). To the northwest on Piazza San Zeno, the Basilica di San Zeno Maggiore (Mar-Oct Mon-Sat 8:30am-6pm, Sun 1-6pm; Nov-Feb Tues-Sat 10am-1pm and 1:30-5pm, Sun 1-5pm; 2.50€) is the greatest Romanesque church in northern Italy. The present structure was completed around 1135, over the 4th-century shrine to Verona’s patron saint, St. Zeno (who died in 380). Its massive rose window represents the Wheel of Fortune, while the impressive lintels above the portal represent the months of the year. The highlight of the interior is “Madonna and Saints” above the altar, by Mantegna.
WHERE TO EAT
Even in chic Verona, you’ll spend less on a meal than in Venice. The most authentic budget Verona restaurant is Osteria Sottoriva, Via Sottoriva 9 ( 045-8014323; Thurs-Tues 10:30am-10:30pm) one of the most popular places in town for lunch or dinner; try the trippa alla parmigiana (braised tripe) or the addictive, hopelessly rich gorgonzola melted over polenta (mains 6€-10€). The Caffè Monte Baldo, Via Rosa 12 ( 045-8030579), is an old-fashioned cafe transformed into trendy osteria, serving classic pastas, and scrumptious crostini with wine in the evenings (many bottles from nearby vineyards).