Italy’s lagoon city is a magical land of ancient palaces, belltowers and bridges with myriad delights tucked away in a labyrinth of secret passageways. If you only have 48 hours to criss-cross the canals of this fair city, here are the must-see star attractions and coolest places to hang out.
The Art: Venice is renowned for its modern art and most notably for playing host to the prestigious Art Biennale which showcases works by the biggest names in the art world and launches the careers of the up-and-coming. The 2011 Biennale (the event is staged every other year and this year is the 54th International Art Exhibition) showcases exhibitions, installations and events held in the historic Arsenale, in national pavilions, and public gardens across the city. Whatever time of year you visit, the Peggy Guggenheim Museum (Dorsoduro 701, Fondamenta Venier dei Leoni), which houses a stunning collection of 20th-century art, is a must-see.
The Landmarks: Run through Piazza San Marco (St Mark’s Square), with thousands of pigeon wings flapping above your head, then take a seat at one of the cafés for the perfect people watching opportunity and caffeine fix. Take a tour of the interior of the stunning St. Mark’s Basilica, and the Campanile (the belltower of St Mark’s), visit the Doge’s Palace, and if you’re here on a romantic break, steal a kiss on the famous Rialto Bridge. By all means treat yourselves to one gondolier ride to glide past the palaces and churches of Grand Canal but for general sightseeing, travel like the locals and go by vaporetti – small ferry boats that plough up and down the main canals with numerous stops across the city.
The Islands: Tear yourself away from Grand Canal and explore the islands that dot the lagoons around Venice. For picture-perfect photo opportunities, take the ferry for a trip to Burano, a pretty island famous for its brightly-coloured fishermen’s houses and lace making. Take a stroll around the harbour and visit the lace-making museum (Museo del Merletto). Or visit Murano, an island town close to Venice’s northern shore, famous for glassmaking. Here, you can visit the many glassmaking factories, watch the artisans at work and buy beautiful glasswares and jewellery direct from the factory shops and showrooms that line the main canalsides. To learn more about the island’s history of glass-making, visit the Glass Museum (Museo del Vetro).
Be seen at…
The Carnival: While Carnevale celebrations in all other towns across Italy are made for kids, in Venice this annual shindig is very much an adult affair with lavish costume parades, mulled wine and cocktails and the famous masked balls. Hotels encourage their guests to join in by at least wearing a mask – readily available in stores throughout the city – and you can enjoy free entertainment and public shows around St. Mark’s Square and watch costumed characters parade through the streets. The 2011 Carnival runs from February 26 – March 8 and if you want to go to one of the masked balls, book your tickets well in advance – they sell out fast.
The beach: The Lido, an 11 km long sandbar, which separates the central part of the Venetian lagoon from the Adriatic Sea, is Venice’s beach and home to swanky hotels including the Excelsior and Hotel Des Bains, the setting for Thomas Mann’s classic novel Death in Venice. Most of the beaches are private, but you’ll find two public beaches situated in the northern and southern ends of the island. The gritty sands aren’t particularly pretty by usual Med holiday standards but the Lido is the place to be in summer and it’s always packed in high season.
The bar: Of all the bars in Venice, it has to be Harry’s Bar (Calle Vallaresso, San Marco). Synonymous with the city, this up market watering hole across from the famous Cipriani Hotel was graced by the likes of Proust and Byron and today is no stranger to celebrities. Soak up the atmosphere but steel yourself for the bill, which will back a bigger punch than its signature Bellini cocktail – a cheeky blend of fresh peach juice and prosecco.
This post was written by Natalie Walsh, travel expert at Specialist Italy Holidays website www.citalia.com