American novelist Henry James once said, “A visit to Venice is a perpetual love affair.”
Venice is a city like no other – intriguing, beguiling, exhilarating. Few cities anywhere in the world offer such a wealth of beauty, charm and history. The fabulous palaces and churches reflect centuries of history in what was once a wealthy trading center between Europe and the Orient.
Made up of 118 islands, Venice is separated by 177 canals and linked by 355 bridges. Transportation is by boat or on foot, as cars are banned within the city proper.
Nicknames for Venice Italy
Venice has many nicknames such as “Serenissima,” “Queen of the Adriatic,” “Bride of the Sea,” “City of Bridges,” “City of Water.”
Evidence of worldwide admiration for Venice is how many other cities built on canals have been described as the “Venice” of their region. For example, St. Petersburg, Russia is referred to as “Northern Venice, while “Western Venice” is Amsterdam.
Until you witness it in person, Venice is hard to imagine. Streets have been replaced by shimmering canals and meandering pedestrian alleys. No matter how many times you’ve seen Venice in photos or movies, there’s nothing like experiencing this dreamland in real life.
Like many Italian cities, Venice is easily walkable, though winding cobblestone passageways can make navigating a bit of a challenge. Our favorite way—and the simplest —of traversing the city is by vaporetto, or water bus.
The real key to falling in love with Venice is to unlock its magic by knowing where to go and what to see. Here are the definite not-to-ever-be-missed things to experience in Bella Venezia.
- Nicknames for Venice Italy
- Best Thing to do in Venice
- Churches in Venice Italy
- Peggy Guggenheim Museum in Venice
- Where to Stay in Venice
Best Thing to do in Venice
Take a Personal Tour
Though visitors can see Venice on their own, the ideal way to become entrenched in the history and culture of the city, skip long lines at palaces, gondolas and other top attractions is by taking a tour. When my group of 10 friends visited together, we opted for a private guided tour through Tours by Locals. You can interview and choose your own guide and ours was not only was born, raised, and lived in Venice her entire life, but she was a college history major.
Everyone in our group was incredibly impressed.
The Grand Canal
We found that one of the best introductions to Venice was hopping on Vaporetto 1 or 2 (Venetian water buses) as both run the entire length of the Grand Canal. Often referred to as Venice’s main street, this two-mile aquatic thoroughfare is lined with hundreds of prestigious Gothic and Byzantine houses and palaces.
The Grand Canal practically crosses the entire city passing under multiple bridges including the famous iconic Rialto. It’s the ideal way to get your bearings on the city.
Doge’s Palace (Palazzo Ducale)
Formerly the residence of the Doge, the elected ruler of Venice, the Doge’s Palace served as the seat of the Venetian government. This masterpiece of Gothic architecture in Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square) is one of the most stunning landmarks of the city. Purchasing tickets ahead and getting there early is a must to avoid long lines.
Tours through the magnificent palace take visitors past massive statues of Neptune and Mars, into the doge’s private rooms and administrative chambers filled with famous paintings and superb tapestries from great artists like Tintoretto and Veronese.
The world-renowned limestone-constructed Bridge of Sighs passes over the palace connecting to prisons built in the late 16th century. Legend has it prisoners on their way to their austere Dungeness cells or the execution chamber would sigh as they caught their last glimpse of freedom through its tiny windows.
No visitor should leave Venice without taking a gondola ride. These longboats are unique to Venice because they were actually constructed centuries ago as a way to navigate the water-filled city.
It’s unforgettable, romantic, relaxing, and the perfect way to glide gracefully through an enchanting web of more than 150 sleepy side canals. The gondoliers today don’t sing as they once did in the past, but it’s like watching art in motion as the black and white stripe-shirted, straw-hatted, red-scarved professionals expertly maneuver their way through the meandering canals.
The Rialto Bridge
Venice boasts hundreds of bridges located throughout the city and over its canals. The most famous and oldest of the four spanning the Grand Canal is the Rialto whose construction was completed in the late 1500s.
One of the best ways to experience the beauty of this lovely stone overpass is by taking a Gondola ride. Your gondolier will proudly point out this wonderful piece of Venice’ fascinating history.
Strolling through the lively canal-side Rialto Market made us feel like kids in a candy store.
The expansive daily market is filled with stall after stall of fresh seafood, fruits, vegetables, and local goods. The seafood market is a sight to behold—with fresh daily catches selling almost as fast as they arrive. Though we’ve experienced fish markets around the world, some of the exotic creatures here didn’t resemble anything we’d seen before. The variety of fruits and vegetables were so incredible, we couldn’t leave the market empty-handed.
Venice During Carnevale
We’ve had the privilege of being in Venice during this incredible time of year (mid-February), and it is something every visitor should experience at least once in their lifetime.
The event is world famous for its elaborate Venetian masks and intricately detailed costumes as well as magicians, musicians and impressive acrobats. Every part of the city takes part, in the squares, canals, side streets and bridges. Many of the restaurants hosts events and the palaces of Venice throw unbelievably elaborate parties. It’s quite unforgettable to say the least.
Island of Murano
Murano glass is famous all over the world and for good reason. The magnificent colorful glassware has been made on the Venetian island of Murano for centuries. It’s well worth a side trip to explore this incredible place.
Arriving by boat is half the fun as we headed straight to the Vetreria Murano Arte glass factory for a fascinating personal demonstration of traditional glassmaking and blowing. Afterward, we toured the factory’s showroom filled with a dazzling array of everything from jewelry and vases to magnificent chandeliers.
The island itself is so fascinating we could have spent an entire day browsing its glass museum and charming boutique shops.
Dining in Venice
Venice has hundreds of restaurants and bars. In a city where the streets are made of water, seafood definitely dominates the menu. Traditional Venetian food is heavily influenced by the bounty of the lagoon and sea with fish and seafood enhanced by vegetables grown on surrounding islands such as asparagus and artichokes.
For those into authentic cuisine of a location and willing to be adventurous, Venice has some unique foods to try. Sarde in Saor is a classic Middle Eastern-inspired dish said to have been born from the necessity to preserve fish for as long as possible. It consists of fried sardine fillets marinated in a sweet and sour mixture of vinegar, raisins, sautéed sliced onions and pine nuts.
Another quintessential Venetian dish is nero di sepia, sliced cuttlefish in rich, jet-black ink sauce. It can be served with both risotto and pasta. Of course, you can always find your share of pizza, pasta, and of course, that amazing Italian gelato.
Churches in Venice Italy
St. Mark’s Basilica (Basilico di San Marco)
Also located in St. Mark’s Square, this basilica was originally built as the final resting place of St. Mark, whose body was smuggled out of Alexandria by two Venetian merchants in 828 A.D. His remains are interred under the high altar.
Unlike most Italian Catholic cathedrals, St. Mark’s reflects a distinctive Byzantine flavor with almost mosque-like features. Dating back to the 11th century, the basilica is richly embellished with gold glass mosaic walls, marble mosaic floors, and stiff stark images reminiscent of the Eastern Roman empire. The Pala d’Oro located behind the altar is comprised of more than 2,000 precious stones and ornate panels and is one of the basilica’s greatest treasures.
Like many Roman Catholic churches throughout Italy, women must have their shoulders covered and short shorts for men and women are not permissible. Although this appears to be subjectively enforced, we didn’t take any chances.
Peggy Guggenheim Museum in Venice
The Peggy Guggenheim Museum in Venice, formally referred to as the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, is located on the Grand Canal between the Accademia Bridge and the Church of Santa Maria della Salute in Guggenheim’s former home, Palazzo Venier dei Leoni. The Peggy Guggenheim Collection is the most important museum of European and American Modern Art (20th Century) in Italy.
Guggenheim (b. 1898, New York; d. 1979, Camposanpiero, Italy) was an heiress, socialite and art collector. Her industrialist father died on the Titanic. Her uncle, Solomon R. Guggenheim, is the namesake of the Guggenheim Museum in New York.
Her artworld connections ran deep and numerous. She was personal friends with Marcel Duchamp and many of the early 20th century’s great masters. She married Max Ernst. She was an early and devout champion of Jackson Pollock. When she opened the famed Art of This Century Gallery in NYC in 1942, on view were then up-and-coming New York based artists like Robert Motherwell, Pollock, Mark Rothko, and Clyfford Still. This is the sort of artwork you’ll see prominently displayed at the Peggy Guggenheim Museum in Venice.
“I loved Europe more than America, and when the war ended I couldn’t wait to go back. … On my way there, I decided Venice would be my future home. I had always loved it more than any place on earth and felt I would be happy alone there,” Guggenheim said.
In 1947, she returned to Europe and displayed the growing Peggy Guggenheim Collection at the 1948 Venice Biennale. This was the first European showing of Pollock and Rothko.
European essentials Georges Braque, Salvador Dalí, Robert Delaunay, Piet Mondrian, Francis Picabia, Fernand Léger, Constantin Brancusi also fill the Peggy Guggeheim Collection Venice.
Where to Stay in Venice
Because of its small size and enormous popularity as a tourist destination, finding hotel accommodations in Venice can be tricky – and expensive! Plan early and use the map below to find something suitable for you.
Be it James, Guggenheim or Truman Capote, who said, “Venice is like eating an entire box of chocolate liqueurs in one go,” Venice takes ahold of peopld. Just like chocolate, it’s addicting and we can’t wait to go back.destinationhistoricmuseumVenice