Venice is one of the planet’s most iconic destinations. It is located on one of 117 small islands connected by over 400 bridges spanning the 177 canals which together make up the Venetian Lagoon. The city is a World Heritage Site of incomparable beauty with stunning architecture lining its complex network of waterways. Visitors discover the many treasures of its historic centre on foot or by water as it is inaccessible to motor vehicle transport. But there is an enormous price to pay for a city commonly referred to as the “Queen of the Adriatic”, as it simply cannot cope with the 30 million people who visit Venice every year.
The worst threat to the city’s delicate eco-system is the frequent arrival of enormous cruise ships which sail up the Grand Canal bringing around 1.7 million annual passengers to the city. Less than 50 years ago locals were swimming in these waters but today the famous Grand Canal is a place of utter chaos as water taxies and tourist gondolas vie for space with a whole host of motorised vessels and barges which carry out their commercial activities on the waterways. In spite of the cruise ships and the estimated 80,000 tourists who wander the narrow streets and alleys of Venice every day the city remains one of Europe’s top attractions and this isn’t likely to change any time soon.
Top Attractions and Events
One of the highlights of Venice for many visitors is a trip on the Grand Canal which many tourists like to see from one of the many gondolas. These tours usually only last about 40 minutes and are fairly pricey. A cheaper and more practical form of transport is the ‘Vaporetto’ which is a water taxi service running along a number of scheduled lines connecting different areas of the city as well as linking with other islands. Multi day tickets are the most economical option.
Back on dry land the centrepiece of every trip to Venice is the magnificent Piazza San Marco which is home to St Mark’s Basilica. Commonly referred to as the ‘Church of Gold’ this beautiful building serves as the most visible reminder of the city’s historic wealth and power. Standing next to the Basilica is the ‘Campanile di San Marco’ which is a bell tower which reaches almost 100 metres in height and is probably Venice’s most recognisable monument. Before leaving San Marco be sure to look out for the Clock Tower on the eastern side of the square then head along the shopping street, Le Mercerie, on your way to the Rialto Bridge. This is the oldest of the four bridges in Venice which cross the Grand Canal having become a fixed wooden structure as far back as the year 1255.
The city of Venice is a popular destination for international conferences and festivals. The annual Venice Film Festival takes place on the island of the Lido and is recognised as the world’s oldest film festival. It takes place as part of a major contemporary art exhibition known as ‘Venice Biennale’. Probably the city’s best known event is the Venice Carnival which takes place in February and has become famous worldwide thanks to the ornate Venetian masks and elaborate costumes worn by participants. More of a local event takes place in mid-July with the Festa del Redentore which celebrates the ridding of plague from Venice which killed an estimated 50,000 people in the 16th century. As well as religious celebrations there are fantastic fireworks over the city on the Saturday night.
Getting to Venice
Strictly speaking Venice has two airports:
Venice Marco Polo which lies 13km from the city on the mainland overlooking the Venetian lagoon. Road transfers take no more than 15 minutes entering the city via the Ponte della Libertà which is the road bridge connecting the city of Venice with the mainland.
Venice Treviso which is marketed by some budget airlines simply as ‘Venice’ even though it lies some 40km inland. In spite of the extra distance the journey from Treviso to the city of Venice shouldn’t take any more than 45 minutes including the crossing of the Ponte della Libertà.
From Marco Polo Airport there are bus services and private boat transfers to the city. You’d be well advised to contact Shuttledirect to arrange your transfer to accommodation throughout Venice by means of shuttle water taxis or by means of a luxury sedan combined with a water taxi. They can also provide any transport you may require from Treviso Airport.
Where to Stay
If you have money to spend, Venice will always oblige in helping you do so! That short gondola ride mentioned above could cost you as much as €100 whilst the historic Caffè Florian coffee house will charge you €6 for the privilege of sitting outside before hitting you with a bill of around €25 for a coffee and cake. But these prices pale into insignificance next to accommodation prices at some of the city’s upmarket hotels where a room can easily set you back €1000 a night:
Belmond Hotel Cipriani (Giudecca 10): This is without doubt one of Europe’s top hotels which is located just ten minutes from St Mark’s Square travelling on the hotel’s private boat which runs back and to 24 hours a day. George Clooney is one of the hotel’s frequent celebrity visitors.
Hotel Danieli (Sestiere Castello, 4196): An iconic establishment which became popular amongst the rich and famous during the 19th century. The price of such historic charm is frightening but views overlooking the lagoon take some beating.
Gritti Palace (Campo Santa Maria del Giglio, 2467): This historic palace on the Grand Canal exudes Venetian charm and lies within a few minutes stroll of Piazza San Marco. An evening drink on its terrace overlooking the canal will be a memorable highlight of your stay here.
Bauer Hotel (Campo San Moise, 30124): This is another traditional property which stands on the Canal within easy walking distance of St Mark’s Square with great views of the water traffic.