Venice is one of the most filmed, photographed, painted and written about places on earth. So you’d be forgiven for having high expectations of your first visit.
But no matter what those expectations, Venice never fails to exceed them. The first time you catch sight of its distinctive skyline, you know you’re about to experience something a long way north of spectacular.
Even after a second or third visit there’s still a high risk of repetitive strain injury from constantly pointing out amazing things to companions.
Proust may have summed up the experience most succinctly: "When I went to Venice, I discovered that my dream had become - incredibly but quite simply - my address."
Several national carriers and budget airlines fly to Venice but because of changing schedules, and flight times that can vary depending on which day and month you want to travel, it’s difficult to suggest specific flights.
For more information on who flies to Venice and from where, check out our booking and travel planning section.
Marco Polo airport is around two hours flying time from the UK and eight miles from the city by road.
The quickest way to get to the city is by land bus or taxi to Piazzale Roma - the end of the line for all road traffic. ATVO runs an excellent non-stop coach service from just outside the arrivals hall.
It leaves every half hour from 6:20am onwards, takes 20 minutes and costs €6. Tickets are available in the arrivals hall or at the bus stop. Taxis are a little quicker but cost about €30.
If you’ve not been to Venice before, consider arriving by boat. It's a wonderful way to get to the city for the first time - or anytime - and not just a means of getting from A to V.
Turn left outside the terminal, follow the waterbus/water taxi signs, and in five minutes or so you’ll be lagoonside - the departure point for three types of water crossing.
If you want to arrive in style, a water taxi - beautiful wooden motor launches - will whisk you to Piazza San Marco in 30 minutes, but prices start at €95 for the privilege.
Almost as much fun is the Venice Shuttle, a shared water taxi transfer to several drop-off points and hotels around the city. This can get you to San Marco in 30 minutes or so and costs €25 per person - minimum 2 people.
The cheapest option is one of the Alilaguna blue or red-line waterbuses. These take about 70 minutes to reach San Marco, making a few stops on the way, and cost €15. Tickets are available in the arrivals hall or on the boat.
Ryanair flies to Treviso airport but this is 20 miles from Venice. ATVO runs a bus service linked to flight times; the €7 journey to Piazzale Roma takes 50 minutes. A taxi will be about €70.
Venice is made up of 117 islands connected by 400 bridges and 150 canals; and there are only two ways to explore it - by boat or on foot.
Public transport tickets must be validated at the start of your journey by stamping them in the yellow ticket machines.
For an ideal city introduction, take a waterbus up or down the two miles of Grand Canal; then do it again at nightfall.
Line 82 - the red ACTV route - takes half an hour from Piazzale Roma to Vallaresso at the mouth of the canal.
Official Gondola prices start at €80 for 40 minutes for up to six passengers but over-charging is commonplace, especially around tourist hotspots.
It’s always worth haggling and ignore plausible-sounding yet fictitious reasons for not negotiating, especially anything to do with the government forbidding it. And there's no need to tip the gondolier.
You can get a cheap, albeit very brief, gondola experience on one of the gondola ferries - traghetti - which cross the Grand Canal from San Marcuola, Santa Sofia, San Tomà, San Samuele and Santa Maria del Giglio for €2.
What To Visit
Venice is divided into six districts or sestieri. The busiest areas are San Marco, San Polo and Santa Croce, while Cannaregio, Castello and Dorsoduro allow you to escape the crowds.
But wherever you go, there’s plenty to see and lots of people photographing it. Here are some highlights.
Piazza San Marco is the opulent heart of Venice and contains three of the city’s most famous landmarks – the Basilica, the palace and the campanile. Map
The Campanile is a 325ft high bell tower that provides the best views in town and even has a lift. The 16th century original collapsed in 1902 but was rebuilt, and reopened in 1912.
Basilica di San Marco - this spectacular Byzantine masterpiece was designed to be the world’s most lavish church. It has been continually altered since it was consecrated in 1094, and in 1807 ceased to be the Doge’s private chapel for state ceremonies and became the city’s cathedral.
Palazzo Ducale, or the Doge’s Palace, was the seat of Venetian power for almost 900 years. It dates from the 9th century and is a jaw-dropping blend of Gothic, Byzantine and Renaissance architecture.
Inside it’s packed with the work of artists such as Bellini, Tintoretto, Titian and Veronese. Grand council chamber. Highlights include the building itself - inside and out - the armoury, the prisons and the Secret Itinerary tour.
The stalls have been selling fresh produce for hundreds of years but for me the fish market is the most interesting part. By noon traders are packing up, so you need to get there early to experience the real market bustle.
Gallerie dell’Accademia is in the Dorsoduro area and holds the world’s largest collection of Venetian art. Map It covers five centuries and includes masterpieces by Bellini, Carpaccio, Giorgione Tintoretto, Titian, Veneziano and Veronese.
It's a must for anyone interested in European and American art from the first half of the 20th century, and includes works by Balla, Dalì, Ernst, Kandinsky, Klee, Magritte, Miró, Moore, Mondrian, Picasso and Pollock.
Santa Maria Gloriosa de Frari - of the nearly 200 churches in Venice this vast 15th Gothic tour de force is worthy of special mention partly thanks to some of the greatest work of artists such as Titian, Bellini, Donatello and Bartolomeo Vivarini. Map
Campo Santa Margherita - Venice is full of fascinating and lively squares like Santa Margherita, which is surrounded by 14th and 15th century houses. You can browse the market stalls and shops, or imbibe at one of the bars and cafés. Map
It’s more informal than Piazza San Marco and you don’t have to remortgage your house to pay for an espressos.
Construction began in 1515 and in 1564 Tintoretto was commissioned to paint the central ceiling panel in the Sala dell’Albergo. He obviously decided that wasn’t enough and spent the next 23 years painting the rest of the building.
Venice is in the Veneto area of Italy, and has a variety of speciality dishes and excellent regional wines.
As you’d expect from any city built in the middle of a lagoon, seafood is popular with the locals, and a staple of most menus. Risotto and polenta, rather than pasta, are also typical of the region.
The Veneto is the country’s largest wine growing area and produces a significant number of Italy’s DOC and DOCG wines.
The downside of the city’s annual influx of 15 million visitors is that too many restaurants are tourist traps. To avoid paying a lot of money for a below average meal, steer clear of tourist hotspots and be choosy. If you want to book a restaurant, the dialling code is 00 39.
For special occasions, or if you just feel like a treat, Osteria Da Fiore in Calle del Scaleter is one of the city’s best restaurants, and unfortunately one of the most expensive. Closed Sunday and Monday - 041 721308. Map
Diners at the Hotel Monaco & Grand Canal in Calle Vallaresso can enjoy their meal on a spectacular terrace on the mouth of the Grand Canal, with the Santa Maria della Salute church in the background - 041 5200211. Map
Do Forni - there’s no confusing this excellent restaurant for anywhere else in Calle Specchieri. If you don’t walk straight into a replica dining car from the Orient Express, you’re in the wrong place - 041 5232148. Map
For something a little more mid-priced try Vini Da Gigio in Fondementa San Felice. Despite being away from the crowds, this intimate eatery is very popular, so it’s advisable to book. Closed Monday and Tuesday - 041 5285140. Map
Along a quiet and unpromising alleyway is one of Venice’s hidden culinary gems, Corte Sconta.
Its vine-shaded dining courtyard is the perfect setting for a perfect meal. Calle del Pestrin; closed Sunday and Monday - 041 5227024. Map
Cantinone Storico is a traditional trattoria with a typically Venetian menu. It’s worth going just for the seafood risotto with seasonable vegetables. You can also dine al fresco by the Rio de San Vio canal. Fondamenta Bragadin - near the Guggenheim - closed Sunday - 041 5239577. Map
Trattoria alla Rivetta - for a taste of real Venetian cooking at budget prices - and only a few minutes from Piazza S. Marco - head for this lively and friendly seafood restaurant at the foot of Ponte S. Provolo in Salizada S. Provolo.
It’s a favourite with locals, especially gondoliers, and always busy. It's also quite small, so you may have to share a table, which only adds to the experience. Closed Mon - 0039 0415287302. Map
Trattoria da Remigio in Salizida dei Greci offers excellent food and service at reasonable prices. A great place for seafood, and even simple dishes are outstanding. Closed Monday evening and Tuesday - 041 5230089. Map
Watching the world drift by from a bar or café is an important part of any trip to Europe, and this is especially true of Venice. Usually it’s best to contemplate things from an outside table, but there are a few exceptions, such as Caffè Florian in Piazza San Marco. Map
Opened in 1720, Florian's is the oldest café in Venice and was a favourite of Casanova, Byron and Proust among others. Though in Casanova's case it probably wasn't because of the coffee and cannolis.
Order one of the ridiculously indulgent cakes and enjoy the stunning muralled interior. It's not cheap but nowhere is around San Marco.
One way to enjoy the opulence and service of some of city’s best hotels without having to fork out for a room, is to pop in for tea or an aperitif. My favourite is the river terrace at the Gritti Palace.
Also worth a refreshment visit are the Danieli, the Metropole with its wonderful gardens, the Cipriani on La Giudecca, the Europa & Regina, and the city’s oldest hotel, the Luna Hotel Baglioni - frequented by Templar knights on their way to the Crusades.
You can also enjoy Harry’s Bar without having to pay the stratospheric prices to eat there by having a cocktail at the bar. A Bellini, created at Harry’s in the 1940s, costs around €14 and includes optional free celebrity spotting. Calle Vallaresso just off Piazza San Marco. Map
If you don’t fancy Harry’s, there are plenty of great bars and cafés where €14 goes a lot further than one cocktail.
These include Il Café in Campo San Stefano, Bar al Teatro in Campo San Fantin, all’Angolo in Campo San Stefano, da Baffo on Campo Sant’Agostino or Vinus in Calle del Scaleter.
Venice has a full calendar of festivals and events from traditional attractions such as Carnival to the more modern International Film Festival. Here are some highlights.
February - Carnival - steeped in history and tradition, this dazzling 10-day celebration in the run up to Lent turns the city into a giant open-air masked costume ball and culminates in a wild Mardi Gras.
May - La Sensa - this Ascension-day tradition dates back to AD997 and takes place in the lagoon in front of the San Nicolo church on Lido island. A flotilla of rowing vessels witnesses a ring being cast into the sea to symbolize Venice’s maritime supremacy.
July - Festa del Redentore - a Venetian favourite, this colourful festival is held on the third weekend in July. A temporary pontoon bridge is built across La Guidecca canal, people picnic in boats, there’s a massive firework display and the weekend ends with a gondola regatta.
August/September - International Film Festival - first staged in 1932, the festival runs for two weeks at the end of August and beginning of September on Lido Island.
This is a popular event and attracts big-name stars and directors, and films are screened day and night.
September - Regata Storica - the most spectacular and flamboyant of Venetian festivals is held on the first Sunday in September. A procession of 16th-century style boats with costumed occupants makes its way down the Grand Canal, after which there is a series of hotly contested rowing races.
At first glance it might appear that almost every shop sells carnival masks, glassware or handmade writing paper, but there’s plenty to tempt those interested in other things.
As befits the surroundings, this is a great city for all types of luxury goods. The main shopping areas are clustered in and around Piazza San Marco, but there are few streets that don’t offer some form of retail therapy.
Calle Larga XXII Marzo is the best place to go for fashion brands such as Fendi, Gucci, Prada and Valentino. Map
And if you fancy some designer fakes, these are often on sale near or outside the shops selling the genuine article.
Don’t forget to haggle and if the seller won’t budge on price, walk away and they’ll usually follow you budging frantically.
If gourmet foods, and wines and spirits are more your thing, you’ll be spoilt for choice, especially around the Rialto market where there’s a wide selection of specialist shops and delicatessens.
Venice makes a wonderful day out at any time of the year, but it gets very crowded during the summer months when mosquitoes and gnats can be a pest.
Crime, particularly violent crime, was almost unheard of but petty crime such as pickpocketing is on the increase. According to local police, this is because of an influx of criminals from one particular EU country. As a result you'll need to be much more vigilant, especially around tourist hotspots and on the vaporetti.
Wear flat comfortable shoes because even if you intend to do most of your sightseeing from the water, you still need to get on and off the boats.
Venice is a small city and regardless of which direction you go, if you follow the yellow landmark signs, sooner or later you’ll end up at Piazza San Marco, the Rialto, Ferrovia (the railway station) or Piazzale Roma.
But if you want the real Venetian experience, stay off the main tourist thoroughfares and try to get lost.
All major credit cards are widely accepted throughout the city, and there are plenty of ATMs and places to change money. The currency is the Euro; to find out how many there are to the pound, click here.
But if the service was good leave a few euros for the waiter. If service isn’t included, 12.5% is reasonable. Taxi drivers won't expect a tip.
Local time and other useful information.
Learning the language - if you'd like to brush up on your Italian, or you'd just like to learn some basic phrases, you might find these sites useful.
BBC Languages - multimedia courses for beginners and the more advanced.
Fodors - a range of useful phrases with audio and written pronunciation guides.
Ielanguages - basic to more advanced Italian with pronunciation guides.
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