The hot spots - Venice's most popular sites
St Mark's Square, the Campanile and Cafe Florian
Europe's most famous ‘drawing room', St Mark's Square, once an orchard, houses Europe's most celebrated coffee house, Cafe Florian, as well as the towering Campanile from the top of which Galileo once demonstrated his telescope to the then Doge. The Campanile was completely rebuilt, to its original design, after it collapsed in 1902. There is a lift to the viewing platform at the top.
Opening Hours : October to Easter - 9.30 to 15.45 Daily. Easter to September - 9.00 to Sunset Daily.
Sit outside Florian's on the Piazza in the summer and, along with tourists and Venetians alike, enjoy the house orchestra's waltzes and show tunes. This is the ultimate place for people-watching, with certainly no shortage of people! Hear the competing music drifting from the other cafes across the square, and console yourself that the price of your hot chocolate is probably paying half of the piano player's salary! If you prefer cool jazz standards, then sitting out around the corner at the cafe/bar opposite the Doge's Palace is more for you.
The Basilica of San Marco
Described in one guidebook as "the ideal temple for a seafaring people with a marked inclination towards piracy", this extraordinary building, full of plundered treasures including the building materials, has been the spiritual and temporal focus of Venetian life for many centuries.
Go early to visit the Basilica, with its exquisite marble floors and mosaic ceilings, and avoid the long queues. Don't overlook the beautiful external and entrance details, and don't be put off by the crowds.
Opening Hours : April to September - 9.30 to 17.00 Mon to Sat. 14.00 to 16.00 Sundays. October to March - 10.00 to 16.00 Mon to Sat. 14.00 to 16.00 Sundays.
The Doge's Palace and the Bridge of Sighs
This equally extraordinary building, with its airy pink and white marble wedding-cake exterior, was the HQ of the Venetian Republic for 800 years, with ornate staircases and a series of sumptuous state rooms decorated to impress the grandest visiting head of state, or tourist. Tintoretto's Paradiso, taking up an entire wall of the Great Council Hall, is the worlds largest single oil painting.
The famous Bridge of Sighs, which you can cross inside, leads through to the attic prison cells, long associated with Casanova who made his escape from here. Inside the palace is well worth seeing but save it for a rainy day.
Opening Hours : April to October - 9.00 to 17.00 Daily. November to March - 9.00 to 17.00. Last admission 90 mins before closing.
The Rialto Bridge and markets
The oldest quarter of the city, at the geographic centre of Venice, and trading central for centuries of Venetian public life.
The ever-crowded famous shop-lined bridge, described by Edward Gibbon as "a fine bridge, spoilt by two rows of houses upon it", and the surrounding souvenir stalls, fruit & vegetable and fish markets (Erberia and Pescheria) create a buzz all their own.
The Riva del Vin is one of the few accessible quaysides along the Grand Canal. If you're not trying one of the restaurants here, with their great views of the bridge and Grand Canal, then refresh yourself (in summer, and for 1.5 euro) with a cupfull of cubed fresh tropical fruits from a stall near the bridge, and find your way through to your own canalside vantagepoint behind the market stalls to enjoy it.
The Grand Canal
Venice's famous and exceptionally beautiful watery high street, with sumptuous, crumbling, and occasionally restored, palazzi built facing onto its entire length. Gondolas, delivery barges, vaporetti, water taxis, fire and police boats, and small private boats, they are all here.
Some guide books identify each palazzo and it's brief history. Take a vaporetto ride for its entire length, a no. 1 or a no. 2 from Piazzale Roma to Vallaresso or San Zaccharia, either side of St Mark's Square, find an outside seat if you can, at stern or bow, and be amazed.
Only five minute's walk from the Zattere vaporetto stop (or stop right outside if coming up the Grand Canal), the Accademia houses the greatest collection of Renaissance art in Venice, including major works by Bellini, Veronese, Titian, Giorgione and Carpaccio. As this is a large collection, most guidebooks helpfully suggest which rooms to focus upon.
The Galleria dell'Accademia is open seven days a week; Tuesday to Sunday 08.15 to 19.15. Monday 08.15 to 14.00 PM. To avoid the queues you can prebook online at http://www.tickitaly.com/tickets/academy-venice-tickets.php
If this is still too concentrated an experience then try visiting individual churches (and scuola) instead to see works by many of these, and other great Venetian artists, in their original context. There are several extraordinary churches listed in our 'Off the Beaten Track' section.
The Frari and Scuola San Rocco
Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, or the Frari as it is known, is a vast warehouse of a gothic church in San Polo which houses a number of Venetian masterpieces including two great paintings by Titian, an exquisite alterpiece by Bellini (at the front on the right) and the wooden carved Monks Choir which depicts reliefs of saints and scenes of Venetian life. It also houses the tombs of many Doges, and of the neo-classical sculptor Canova and the composer Monteverdi.
The nearby Scuola, built as a charitable institution for the sick, is on two floors with several cycles of vast and dramatic religious paintings by Tintoretto, covering the walls and ceilings throughout. Visiting the Scuola will give you some sense of the extraordinary way in which art, religion and everyday life were interwoven in medieval Venice.
The Peggy Guggenheim Collection
Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, 701 Dorsoduro
tel: 041 240 5411
10 minute walk from the Zattere vaporetto stop - no. 2 guggenheim-venice.it
A breath of fresh air in a city full of Renaissance paintings and statues. The ‘last Doge of Venice' was a formidable American heiress whose modest (and almost modernist) palazzo and courtyard on the Grand Canal houses her own unique collection of twentieth century artists and sculptors.
Many of them were friends, including Picasso, Braque, Chagall, Leger, Dali, Brancusi, Giacometti, Max Ernst (who she married), Klee, Kandinsky, Miro, Magritte, Rothko, De Kooning, Jackson Pollock, who she discovered, Bacon and many others.
There is an excellent sculpture garden outside, where the late Peggy is buried alongside her little dogs - and an excellent cafe to one side. An extraordinary collection in an extraordinary setting.
10:00 – 18:00 (10 AM - 6 PM)
Closed on Tuesdays and on 25 December
Open on national holidays (including Tuesdays)
Santa Maria della Salute
Built in thanksgiving by those who survived the last great plague, which wiped out nearly a third of Venice's population in 1630, this beautiful and imposing baroque church, the lifelong work of its architect, Longhena, has pride of place at the entrance to the Grand Canal. Henry James described it as like "some great lady on the threshold of her salon."
The front steps of the church are a great place to sit and enjoy the views across the Grand Canal. The best paintings inside, including works by Titian and Tintoretto, are in the Sacristy, and definitely worth the modest entry fee.