Like a siren rising from a watery landscape, Venice has been beguiling travellers for centuries.
This is a destination that will exceed your expectations in every way. Defined by a turbulent history, La Serenissima has staved off the ravages of time and tide to top the modern-day ‘bucket list’ for visitors from all over the world.
Enjoy this Venice travel guide.
Five Venice tours we love
Serious shoppers will love this half day tour of the Venetian islands of Murano and Burano. Your expert local guide will introduce you to the handcrafts that have made these small islands world-famous. You’ll watch Murano glass and Burano lace being produced, and learn the history of these fascinating decorative products.
Take a walking tour of Venice with a local guide and discover charming squares, hidden laneways and picturesque bridges. Then climb on board a classic Venetian gondola to explore the Grand Canal.
‘Where to eat’ is the eternal question in Venice — there are so many options! You’ll get plenty of recommendations during this three-hour walking tour of the city with a local guide. Enjoy at least 13 tastings from restaurants and bars along the way.
Beat the tourist queues and enjoy a two-hour guided tour of the historic Doge’s Palace and the Basilica di San Marco. You’ll follow in the footsteps of the doges — the elected officials who ruled Venice for centuries — and explore the cathedral with its stunning mosaics.
There’s no better way to explore Venice than by water, and this fabulous kayak tour lets you do it in an exciting and eco-friendly way.
Top cultural experiences in Venice
The city’s galleries and museums house a priceless cache of Renaissance, Gothic, and Byzantine art and antiquities.
Venice’s jaw-dropping centrepiece, the Basilica di San Marco, looms large over the Grand Canal and dazzles with four miles of golden mosaics and 800 years of history.
Venice is also home to a vibrant contemporary cultural scene that includes the world-famous Art Biennale and the Venice Film Festival, but the jewel in her cultural crown is the masked magnificence of the Carnevale. This two-week celebration in February is undeniably the greatest theatrical street event in Europe.
Venice for history lovers
Literally built on top of the water (on thousands of wooden pilings), this city was never going to do things by the book.
From its swampy marshlands origins around 400 AD, the Venetian Empire evolved into a cosmopolitan centre of culture, but almost went full circle due to the devastation of the plague in the 1700s.
To really get to grips with the city’s storied past, the exquisite Gothic Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace) is a historical showcase like none other. Various wings date back to different eras.
For a taste of Venice’s extensive maritime heritage, the Naval History Museum is full of fascinating relics from the past and worth visiting for the architecture alone.
Great places to eat in Venice
It’s Italy, and it’s Venice, so the ambience of even the simplest meal eaten ‘al fresco’ cannot be replicated anywhere else in the world.
For the ultimate romantic dinner (think Johnny and Ange in The Tourist) loosen the purse strings and book a table at Quadri on Piazza San Marco. It’s fine dining with all the trimmings, including plenty of celebrity sightings.
For the most divine seafood in the city, Osteria alle Testiere in Castello is a tiny restaurant serving up gigantic regional flavours fresh from the daily fish markets.
The one place you can’t afford to miss is Harry’s Bar — which over the years has welcomed everyone from the King of Spain to Ernest Hemingway. If you haven’t sipped a Peach Bellini at Harry’s at sunset overlooking the canal, well, you haven’t really been to Venice.
Where to shop in Venice
Venice is a confusing hotchpotch of high-class artisan products and cheap tourist tat.
The basic rule of thumb is you get what you pay for, so if you’re looking for authentic handmade products, be prepared to pay. For authentic Venetian masks, Ca Macana uses ancient papier-mâché techniques and you can even attend a workshop.
For intricate heirloom lace and linen Emilia on Burano is as charming a retail space as you’ll ever find, packed with handmade beauty.
Where else would you go for Murano glass but the island itself? Only authentic artisans are allowed to display the Murano trademark and you can spend hours exploring the wares of the wonderful ateliers.
Ways to relax in Venice
For relaxing things to do in Venice, the straw-hatted Gondolier deftly steering adoring lovers down the Grand Canal is as good as it gets.
If your budget doesn’t stretch to a gondola ride, a trip in the vaporetto (water bus) is a pretty good substitute.
Throw away your maps and turn off your apps because Venice is a city to get lost in. The best way to relax is just to wander the backstreets and let your next adventure find you. With no traffic and myriad secrets to uncover, there’s no such thing as a wrong turn.
At aperitivo time, cool your heels in the elegant shadow of the Rialto bridge at one of the many bars (check out the uber cool Ardidos) overlooking the Grand Canal and imagine the life that could be yours — if only you’d been born Venetian…
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Additional images: Bigstock
About the writer
Julietta Henderson is a Melbourne-based travel and feature writer. Originally planning to visit London for six months, she ended up staying for ten years and now divides her time between her home in Australia and several months of the year in the UK, Italy and France. Julietta has travelled extensively through Europe, North America, Indonesia, New Zealand, Australia and Russia, and believes the keys to a great travel experience are an open heart, an open mind and an open-ended ticket.