Venice Travel Guide

Venice Travel Guide

If there’s a city that needs no introduction, it’s Venice. This grandiose lagoon city in Italy’s north is a masterclass in the sublime. Centuries-old palazzi line canals bustling with vaporetto water buses, which cut across the shapely lines of its famed gondolas (and gondoliers). As one of the art capitals of the world, the 118 islands that make up this UNESCO World Heritage Site are awash with galleries. While there’s no defined gay quarter, its famed month-long carnival is surely one of the campest events on the planet, and this ancient trading city has a long tradition of ‘live and let live’. Once you’ve ticked off Saint Mark’s Square, Grand Canal, and Rialto Bridge, dip into its narrow romantic alleyways and join residents for a Veneziano – better known as an Aperol spritz – in a sunny square, and experience Venice sightseeing at its very best.

The best hotels in Venice

Located on its own island midway between Lido and Giudecca, San Clemente Palace Kempinski Venice is the ultimate luxury escape. With private boat transfers between the island and Saint Mark’s Square, you can take advantage of an exclusive lagoon location while remaining close to Venice points of interest. Expertly decorated with a contemporary take on authentic Venetian style, the San Clemente offers guests access to a swimming pool, tennis court, and private park. Just 400 metres from Saint Mark’s, Hotel Moresco boasts a similarly impressive interior, combining feature wallpapers, stained glass, and spacious shared spaces. Recalling the city’s heyday as a far-reaching trading nation, its rooms are a perfect mix of ancient and modern, east and west. Situated at the western end of the Grand Canal, Hotel Antiche Figure has a great location between the San Marco, Santa Croce, and Cannaregio districts. Replete with reproduction Louis XIV furniture, the rooms also boast large windows and handblown Murano glass chandeliers among their best features.

Located on the central portion of the Grand Canal is Hotel Palazzo Barbarigo Sul Canal Grande. Incorporating original sixteenth-century elements into its otherwise modern style of soft-curved black furniture and plush furnishings, each room also offers views of either the Grand Canal or Rio San Polo. At the eastern end of the Grand Canal, beside the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute and opposite Saint Mark’s, Ca Maria Adele is one of the city’s most romantic stays. Rich fabrics nod to Venice’s links to the east, while the rooms also feature impressive chandeliers and ancient stonework, all just a few steps from some of the city’s most photographed views. The crisp contemporary interiors of Palazzo Cristo come as a surprise given this hotel’s thirteenth-century origins but are rich in sophistication thanks to the use of Carrara marble, travertine limestone, and exotic hardwoods. With each apartment offering fully-equipped kitchenettes and dining areas, this is a great option for those seeking the freedom to fashion their own culinary creations.

Palazzo Barbarigo

Palazzo Barbarigo

Palazzo Barbarigo

Palazzo Barbarigo

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Recommended hotels in Venice
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Photo: Elisha Terada

Photo: Elisha Terada

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If local food and drink are on the agenda, visit the island of Mazzorbo, home to the unique white wines of the Venissa Vineyard

Things to do in Venice

Wherever your hotel is located in the city, a Grand Canal boat tour is a right of passage for visitors to Venice. Do it in the style befitting a Doge – the city’s historic leader – with a two-hour cruise along Venice’s most famous waterway in a luxury speedboat. Enjoy the most important sights as they were originally intended to be seen, then stop off at the Basilica of San Giorgio Maggiore for spectacular views towards Saint Mark’s. Of course, Venice is most famous for another form of water transport, the gondola, which are still built from scratch in the city. Where there were once hundreds of workshops, now only a handful remain: Although it’s generally closed to official visits, the laborious endeavours of the artists of Squero di San Trovaso can be observed from the waterside pavements of the Fondamenta Maravegie canal. But the network of 170 canals certainly isn’t the only way to see the city, as joining a Venice Free Walking Tour will quickly prove. Run by enthusiastic residents who are seeking to support local businesses, these tours are one of the best things to do in Venice no matter how many times you have previously visited.

To truly experience Venice like a local, spend an evening in the trendy Cannaregio area of the city. Here visitors can enjoy an Aperitivo Wine & Bites Private Tour, taking in authentic bacaro wine bars and sampling cicchetti tapas-like bites. Also in the Cannaregio district is Teatro Malibran, one of the city’s major art venues, which hosts a long season of events that run in conjunction with its more famous brother, La Fenice Opera House. However, if local food and drink are firmly on the agenda, you shouldn’t miss the chance to visit the island of Mazzorbo, home to the unique white wines of the Venissa Vineyard, of which only 3,500 bottles are produced from each grape harvest.

Photo: Engjell Gjepali

Photo: Engjell Gjepali

Venissa | Photo: Francesco Galifi

Venissa | Photo: Francesco Galifi

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Recommended experiences in Venice
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What to see in Venice

There’s much more to Venice than the Grand Canal and Saint Mark’s Square. To discover the city’s hidden jewels, head instead to Torcello Island. A peaceful eastern antidote to the hum of the historic centre, its basilica also offers fantastic panoramas towards the island of Burano. A getaway closer to the historic centre is Cannaregio, the historic Jewish quarter, and a district where locals still outnumber tourists. It was founded as the world’s first ghetto – a term originally devoid of its modern connotations – way back in 1516. Today, its narrow streets remain full of history, as well as a good cluster of tempting bakeries and restaurants. The area is also home to the serene Parco di Villa Groggia, a rare green space on the lagoon that is a popular oasis for both residents and visitors.

One of the finest art galleries in Venice, Ca d’Oro Palace should be on every visitor’s list of what to do in Venice. Meaning ‘House of Gold’ in the Venetian dialect of Italian, its walls display an incredibly important collection of works. This includes canvases by Titian and Bellini (who were both Venetian), amid the exquisite Byzantine-style architectural flourishes of this fifteenth-century palazzo on the Grand Canal. Also on the historic circuit is the Scuola Grande dei Carmini, a former traveller’s rest house (and site of the city’s first flagellation order), which preserves its original period interior furnishings of stuccoed ceilings, wall frescoes, and finely carved wood.

San Marco | Photo: Falco Negenman

San Marco | Photo: Falco Negenman

Photo: Ingeborg Gartner Grein

Photo: Ingeborg Gartner Grein

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The only restaurant with two Michelin stars, Antica Osteria Cera should take top billing in any foodie’s Venice travel guide

Where to eat in Venice

The only restaurant with two Michelin stars, Antica Osteria Cera should take top billing in any foodie’s Venice travel guide. Whether you opt for the prix fixe or a la carte menus, you’re guaranteed the freshest of produce, perfectly plated. With just nine tables, Il Ridotto offers its diners an intimate experience and a Michelin-starred menu of traditional dishes. Likewise, Fiola at Dopolavoro Venezia takes fine dining on a seasonal excursion, using vegetables sourced from the kitchen garden and produce bought directly from the fishmongers of the acclaimed Rialto Market, the lagoon’s soft-shell crab among them. Specialising in the cuisine of the Veneto region is Bistrot de Venise. The opulently decorated interior is the perfect backdrop to a romantic menu that spins modern classics out of historic recipes, such as veal ragout, and duck in peverada sauce.

For a less formal meal, the All’Arco bistro is locally renowned for its cicchetti, which bring together the best-sliced meats, cheeses, and breads on a platter best enjoyed the Venetian way – as a languid mid-morning snack alongside a glass of prosecco. Alternatively, whip up your own plate of cicchetti at the Mercato Biologico Solidale Aeres market each Thursday, which specialises in bringing small quantities of artisan foodstuffs and crafts to the people of the city.

Osteria Alla Frasca also offers a range of Venetian specialities, from fried fish to rigatoni with langoustine, all rounded off with a menu of classic desserts exemplified by the homemade tiramisu. However, if it’s tiramisu you’re after, the I Tre Mercanti bakery has 25 different varieties – the traditional cocoa and coffee-flavoured sponge is a gateway into versions with strawberry, passion fruit, and limoncello. At La Tecia Vegana, even vegans get to enjoy the desserts, such as mango and chocolate cake, and sweet cannolo. But whether you head there for antipasto, secondi piatto, or dolce, the strictly vegan menu is sure to bring tantalising flavours to your taste buds.

Photo: Liubov Ilchuk

Photo: Liubov Ilchuk

Dopolavoro

Dopolavoro

Shopping in Venice

A thriving multi-brand department store, Al Duca d’Aosta has been providing unmatched style to the people of Venice for more than a century. Its unique branding strategy sees it stock a wide array of traditional, avant-garde, and little-known Italian labels, side-by-side with its own collection of menswear staples. Local brand Barena has a smaller but equally well-curated collection in its wood-panelled store, a luxurious space in which to try on its high-end blazers, shirts, and trousers. Inspired by Prince Edmond de Polignac, an eighteenth-century composer and lover of all things beautiful, concept store Edmond à Venise in the Palazzo Contarini-Polignac showcases the best of contemporary Venetian arts and crafts. Decorated with furnishings that originated in the palazzo, you’ll find everything from jewellery to sculpture, from clothing to canvases.

The wittily named The Merchant of Venice on Murano Island is dedicated to the glassblowing for which the island is synonymous internationally. As a result, the boutique counts among its treasures individual one-off pieces signed by the likes of master glassblower Igor Balbi, and combines them with the island’s only perfumery; the result is one of the more idiosyncratic Venice things to do. Murano glass can also be found at Marina de Grandis Legatrice e Restauratrice, alongside a fine display of carnival masks. However, the real reason to plan a stop here is to examine the premium artisan leatherwork, which includes notebooks, wallets, and purses Marina has handcrafted from start to finish.

Edmond a Venise | Photo: Milda Bend

Edmond à Venise | Photo: Milda Bend

Photo: Geoffroy Hauwen

Photo: Geoffroy Hauwen

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Mixing some of the most unusual flavour combinations around, Il Mercante’s experimental cocktails delight just as much as the fin de siècle gentlemen’s club décor does

Venice nightlife

While nearby Padova (Padua), on the Italian mainland, may be the heart of the region’s nightspots, there are still a good number of gay bars and clubs in Venice proper. One of the trendiest is Caffè Centrale, a chic industrial space carved out of the fifteenth-century residence just a minute’s walk from Saint Mark’s Square. It offers to dine until 1 am, and a vibrant atmosphere with a mixed, if slightly older, clientele. With an atmosphere so laid-back it’s close to comatose, Café Noir is popular with Venice’s student-age population. There’s indoor and outdoor seating, good music, and an even better cocktail list. The music seeping out of Venice Jazz Club should need no further explanation. The knowledgeable crowd that drink here creates quite a buzz around the baby grand and small bar tables whatever the time of night, while this brooding space also hosts regular concerts.

The oldest wine bar in Venice, Enoteca Al Volto is another drinking spot with a relaxed atmosphere, which definitely takes the edge off the daunting 1,000 vintage strong wine list. The Skyline Rooftop Bar on the eighth floor of the Hilton Molino Stucky offers not only fine champagne and a long list of sumptuous cocktails, but also incredible views across the city, a regular series of DJ sets, live music, and pool parties. Mixing some of the most unusual flavour combinations around, Il Mercante’s experimental cocktails (the ‘Flowers and Thorns’ manages to bring together gin, artichoke sprouts, elderflower, rose, salt, and pepper) delight just as much as the fin de siècle gentlemen’s club décor does. But if it’s a night on the dance floor you’re after, look no further than Altavoz. A favourite of any Venice gay nightlife guide, it specialises in electronica and techno and has welcomed a long line of international DJs over the ten years it’s been wowing the crowds.

Skyline Bar Venice

Skyline Bar Venice

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