Venice has a strong claim to be one of Europe’s most romantic cities. Most visitors on a city break to Venice imagine gondola rides under Rialto Bridge – the oldest of the four bridges spanning the Grand Canal. But there’s so much more to experience in Venice, from the local food to its undiscovered neighbourhoods.
The city itself, which is located in a lagoon in north-east Italy, is a mosaic of 118 small islands linked by no less than 417 bridges. This means that its land-based attractions, which include St Mark’s Cathedral – together with piazza San Marco and Basilica di San Marco to give them their Italian names – and the masterpiece of Gothic architecture that is Doge’s Palace, are easy to navigate on foot.
In fact, Venice has no roads or cars. But if a walking tour of Venice’s historical treasures doesn’t appeal, there’s the option of taking a Vaporetto – a public boat that travels the length of the Grand Canal and beyond to the Lido and the islands of Murano and Burano.
You can pick up 24, 48 and 72-hour tickets for the Vaporetto services depending on your length of city break. For a beautiful view of the city head to the back of the Vaporetto and travel the full length of the canal from Santa Lucia train station to St Mark’s Square.
GO LOCAL WITH YOUR FOOD
Italy is a country that is noted for its food and drink and Venice is no exception. When going out for a meal during a city break to Venice, try to seek out a trattoria that is bustling with locals where you’ll be guaranteed some authentic fresh Venetian cuisine, such as spaghetti with squid ink, and wine.
Alternatively, ask your waiter what fish they have on their specials for the day. If you’ve yet to build up an appetite for a full meal, why not drop into a bacari and try chiccheti – the Venetian version of tapas?
Venice is famed for a couple of drinks, including the Bellini; a cocktail of Prosecco sparkling wine and peach puree which was invented between 1934 and 1948 by Giuseppe Cipriani, the founder of the exclusive Harry’s Bar that is found a short stroll from St Mark’s Square.
The districts of Venice (Canneregio, Santa Croce, San Polo, Castello, Dorsodoro, San Marco & Giudecca) are divided by the Grand Canal so numerous crossings of the Rialto Bridge are guaranteed.
For visitors to Venice with a sense of adventure, why not try crossing one of the city’s two bridges that do not have a parapet? Ponte de Chiodo is found in the Cannaregio area and the other one is on the nearby island of Torcello.
Another hidden gem is the grand Gothic building that is Frari Church, which is filled with masterpieces by Donatello, Bellini and Canova’s tomb, not forgetting two paintings by Titian who is among the most important Venetian artists of all times and is buried in the church.
SHOPPING IN VENICE
Venice is also well known for its cartapesta (papier-mâché) Carnevale masks. For some of the best examples, pop over to the Dorsoduro area and visit Ca’Macana – the shop famous for creating the masks for the Stanley Kubrick film Eyes Wide Shut. While there are quite a few similar shops in the area, Ca’Macana stands out for the quality of its hand-made creations.
Other products Venice is noted for include delicate lace from the island of Burano and glassware from the island of Murano. One of the best ways of finding traditional Venitian souvenirs is to continue to explore the city by foot. However, if time is short the Murano Art Shop at San Marco 1232 (parallel to the western border of the Piazza San Marco) contains a wide selection of crafts from the city’s most creative artisans.
To get a taste of real Venice, however, be sure to pay a visit to Rialto Market, where vendors sell fresh seafood as well as local produce. It’s open every day of the week except Sunday and is the best way to see the city’s vibrant social life, especially on Saturday mornings when everyone comes to do their grocery shopping.
VENICE AFTER DARK
Despite it being a city for romantics, Venice is not noted for its nightlife. In fact, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Venice shuts down after 8:30 pm. The usually bustling streets becoming unusually quiet after the array of shops close for the evening.
The student quarter and hidden social hub of Venice that the average tourist may not stumble upon is Campo Santa Margherita, a square lined by restaurants and lively bars in the evening.
Alternatively, Venice is home to one of the most prominent opera houses in Italy. Teatro La Fenice – also known as The Phoenix due to it having risen again after falling victim to three fires – dates back to 1792 but now adopts a modern approach to opera and schedules regular shows of Verdi’s La Traviata and Puccini’s Madame Butterfly.