Venice: city guide. The Grand Canal, St Mark’s Square and Hotel Cipriani for romance and culture

Why go

Despite tourists outnumbering locals two to one most days, Venice remains one of the most beautiful and romantic cities in the world. With enchanting canals at every turn, world famous art and architecture and a whole lagoon of islands to explore, the city built on water known in Italian as La Serenissima (the most serene) pulls everyone under its spell.

Travel. Family holiday. Venice gondolas at dawn

Explore the secret squares, spectacular palazzi or just watch the world go by. Venice can be overpriced and some days it can feel like a stepping on to a conveyor belt of tourists but it is downright swoon-worthy, an open air museum quite unlike anywhere else on earth.

What to do

A must-do is a trip down the Grand Canal by vaporetto (waterboat). Glide down the main canal in Venice into San Marco, Venice’s most famous square, and make sure you look out for the stunning Ca D’Oro (house of gold) on route.

Travel. Family holiday. Venice houses on canals


Once in San Marco, you can see five major sites in one stop. The magnificent Piazza with its pigeons and cafes (Café Florian is the best-known.) Explore St Mark’s Basilica, the Doge’s Palace, and the stunning Torre dell’Orologio, the 500-year old clock. Get a bird’s-eye view of Venice by climbing the 99m Campanile, the city’s tallest building. See the famous Bridge of Sighs too. No trip to Venice is complete without a gondola ride, but be prepared to pay 80 Euros for 6 people for 40 minutes.

Venice Canal, Flickr

Art-lovers should visit the Galleria dell’Accademia di Venezia, Venice’s premier art museum near the Grand Canal. Enjoy collections by Titian, Canaletto and many more. For a modern art fix drop in to the Peggy Guggenheim Gallery.

The Rialto Bridge and Market area are a feast for the senses. This picturesque area is dotted with shops galore and fresh produce stalls, it’s where the Venetians get their groceries. Head for the Cannaregio quarter too, one of the least touristy parts of the city, find delicatessens, shops and everyday Venetian life in action.

Make time to tour the islands of the lagoon. A short hop across the water takes you to the beautiful glass and lace-making islands of Murano and Burano and Lido, the Venetians’ holiday island, with its popular beach.

Where to stay

Venice’s hotel prices can make you wince. Check into the famous Hotel Cipriani opposite San Marco if you are seriously splashing out. For more manageable budgets, rent a small apartment near one of the markets (great for self-catering).

Convents are also quirky alternatives. Try the Istituto San Giuseppe. Also recommended is Il Sole Palace, which is perched above a lovely canal in the Santa Croce quarter and the Domus Orsoni and set in a wonderful old glass factory in the tranquil Canareggio quarter. Alternatively try staying on one of the islands, such as Burano or Lido, for easy access to Venice without mainland prices.

Where to eat

Try some Venetian dishes like oca in onto (goose in its own fat) or freshwater lagoon fish. Get the best polpette (meatballs) in Venice at Ca d’Oro Alla Vedova in Canareggio. For a blow-the-budget dinner, head for Osteria Da Fiore (Calle del Scaleter, San Polo), where Venetians queue for tables. And for a table with a view enjoy the waterside delights of Taverna del Campiello Remer overlooking the Grand Canal.

Venetians flock to the Boutique del Gelato, Salizzada San Lio, for their ice cream. Huge crowds are guaranteed.

Getting around

Venice was built for exploring on foot and you can get just about anywhere within a one-hour stroll. You can also buy a travel card by the week or hour for the excellent public water-bus system. Venetians walk quickly, and if you hear ‘permesso,’ step out of their way! Don’t be afraid of getting lost in Venice, it is one of the best ways to see the city. Look out for clearly marked yellow tourist signs.

Belmond Hotel Cipriani, Venice
The Hotel Cipriani, once of Venice’s finest
When to go

In hot weather the city can get quite smelly so head in spring and autumn for pleasant temperatures and fewer people. August is often muggy and overcrowded so best avoided. Temperatures plummet in winter but prices do too.

Three things we like
  1. Getting lost among Venice’s romantic, labyrinthine streets and canals.
  2. Every Tuesday morning, joining the Venetians on the ferry to the Lido, for the sprawling, weekly street market.
  3. Seeing a Verdi or Puccini opera at the newly restored Teatro La Fenice, the city’s famous 1836 opera house.
Something we don’t

The prices. Venice is expensive, even some churches now charge exorbitant prices for admission. Take enough currency with you.

Don’t miss

The Venice Film Festival, in August-September turns Lido into a mini-Hollywood. A fabulous event and perfect for celebrity spotting.

A sunny Day in Venice, Flickr

High50 insider tips
  • Venice is generally a safe city for exploring but avoid the Mestre or Marghera train stations at night.
  • If you buy Doge’s Palace tickets online, be aware that some expire within 30 days of purchase.
  • When in Venice, drink like the Venetians. Blend in by asking for a Spritz Veneziano (or just Veneziano). A mix of prosecco, liqueur and sparkling water and don’t forget the cicchetti – Venetian tapas.
  • Try booking tickets for the famous sights to avoid the queues. For popular attractions go early in the morning.
Travelling with teens

Venice is a place for all ages for its sheer spectacle, but the weight of the crowds will add at least an hour to any excursion, so build this in to your itinerary. Travel light, with comfy footwear and plenty of water.

Need to know
  • Currency: Euro
  • Telephone codes: 00 39 041 for Venice numbers from abroad, 041 from inside Italy.
  • Time difference: +1 hour GMT/BST
  • Flight time: London to Venice is around two hours
  • Tourist office: The main office is on the lagoon-facing promenade between the San Marco waterbus stop and the Piazza San Marco.
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