Explore Venice

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Explore Venice
Explore Venice's bridges, piazzas, churches, and canals by foot and by vaporetto (water bus) to experience the history and culture of this storied Italian city.
By Rocky Casale, AFAR Local Expert
Photo by Frederick Simeon
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    From Trade to Tourism
    From its modest beginnings in an inhospitable lagoon, to its rise as one of Europe's maritime powers, Venice's story is layered, complicated, and fascinating. Shipbuilding and trade in spices, textiles, and other precious cargo made the Venetian republic rich, and its influence could be felt throughout the Mediterranean. While the economy of the region has come to rely less on trade and more on tourism, Venice remains an important destination, renowned for its key contributions to European history and to Italian culture, art, architecture, and food.
    Photo by Frederick Simeon
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    Venice Landmarks
    Venice is filled with landmarks, even outside the Piazza San Marco. At the tip of Dorsoduro, the triangular shape of the Punta della Dogna—a customs house turned contemporary art museum—stands in contrast to the domed Santa Maria della Salute basilica. Accademia Bridge is one of four spanning the Grand Canal; also make sure you see the Rialto. The island of San Giorgio Maggiore has been home to Benedictine monks for over one thousand years, and frequent ferries make the trip each day from San Marco. If you're looking for quiet and green space, check out the Giardini Pubblicci (Public Gardens) in the Castello district.
    Photo by Kristen Fortier
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    Venetian Crafts
    In Venice, shoppers can find everything from inexpensive souvenirs to high-end designer products by international brands. For a truly Venetian experience, though, stick to what Venice does best: jewelry, glassware, leather, lace, and masks—all of which can be found near Piazza San Marco. If you're looking for top-notch glass, try Venini, which has been in the business since 1921. Carnevale masks are cartapesta (papier-mâché), and the Boldrin brothers at La Bottega dei Mascareri are well-known for their artisanship. If you're looking for Burano lace, go straight to the source—Burano island is in the Venetian lagoon, a mere 40 minutes away by vaporetto (water bus).
    Photo by Kristen Fortier
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    Fine Art Museums
    In Venice, your museum-going is only limited by time and interest. Just off Piazza San Marco, the Palazzo Ducale (Doge's Palace) is a good place to get your feet wet. This former palace (and prison) is now open to the public, showing architecture and art from Venice's colorful past. Paintings by Tintoretto, Tiziano, and Tiepolo, among others, are on display at the Accademia Galleries in Dorsoduro, and the nearby Peggy Guggenheim Collection shows contemporary works by artists that include Kandinsky, Mondrian, Dalí, and Picasso. To get a feel for the lavish lifestyles of 18th-century Venetians, visit the Ca'Rezzonico, a palace in which several floors of art and furnishings are on display.
    Photo by Murissa Shalapata
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    Venice Restored
    Time, salt, and water are taking their toll on the buildings and canals of the floating city. In addition to facing wear and decay, Venice is actually sinking, albeit only a tiny fraction of an inch per year. Still, the slow decline of this World Heritage site has spurred on several non-profit organizations to collect donations for restoration. The city itself has also partnered with corporations to undertake larger projects (Coca-Cola helped rebuild the Bridge of Sighs), and there is a nightly tax levied at Venetian hotels for the same purpose. To see the result of these efforts, contact Save Venice Inc about their tours, or visit the Venice in Peril web site to see a list of past and current restoration projects.
    Photo by Kristen Fortier
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    Venice for Kids
    For many kids, the thrill of getting around on canals instead of roads is impressive enough, but the excitement of Venice doesn't stop there. The Campanile (bell tower) in Piazza San Marco is over 300 feet high; climb to the top to look out over the city. Venice's Museum of Natural History (in the Fondaco dei Turchi on the Grand Canal) is entertaining and educational, and has programs for children. Although cycling is not permitted in the main city of Venice, you and the kids can take a ferry to the island Lido, where there are bicycles for hire. Once the little ones have run out of energy, take them to a street stand for a slice of real Italian pizza.
    Photo by Heinz K├╝hbauch/age fotostock
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    Public Squares
    Piazza San Marco, the most iconic Venetian square, is also the only true piazza in the city. All other public squares are called campi, and they are typically dominated by fabulously ornate and monumental churches. Campo San Polo and Campo Santa Maria Formosa fit this description, but Campo dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo is so large, and the church is so impressive, that locals also call it "Campo delle Meraviglie" (Square of Marvels). Campo San Luca, in the center near San Marco, is a bustling commercial district that attracts shoppers. Campo Santa Margherita is the site of a small fish-and-produce market during the day, and comes to life after dark when students descend on the lively snack bars and restaurants.
    Photo by Charissa Fay
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    Peek into Venice's Gardens
    Most Venetian gardens are hidden behind a grand palazzo and are rarely open to the general public, making those that are all the more cherished. The garden at Ca'Zenobio is reached via the gates into the expansive courtyard. Walk the path through groves of trees and past flowerbeds and statues. Adjacent to Palazzo Venier dei Leoni—Peggy Guggenheim's home on the Grand Canal—is her garden, called the Nasher Sculpture Garden, which mixes nature and art. Finally, the island of Sant'Erasmo supplies the city with much of its fresh fruit and vegetables, and Torcello is known for its artichokes as well as other produce.
    Photo by Sebastiano Scattolin/age fotostock
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    The Lagoon and Islands
    There are dozens of islands in the Venetian lagoon, so your destination will depend on your interests. With much of the island a nature reserve, Torcello is quiet and green, and the site of the 7th-century Cathedral of Santa Maria Dell'Assunta. Burano is famous for its artisan lace, and—like Mazzorbo—has plenty of restaurants and B&Bs. Probably the most popular day trip is to Murano Island, where the art of Venetian glassblowing originates, and though it may sound somewhat macabre, the ornate mausoleums on Isola di San Michele are particularly alluring. Finally, those looking to cycle or sunbathe should visit Lido.
    Photo by Angelo Kruger/age fotostock
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    Galleries Displaying Contemporary Art
    The workshop of painter Emilio Vedova, Spazio Vedova was converted after his death into an exhibition space for contemporary art. Located in the Dorsoduro district in the former Magazzini del Sale—a 14th-century salt warehouse on the banks of the Canale della Gudecca—the gallery was transformed by architect Renzo Piano. Punta della Dogana, also in Dorsoduro, houses the huge contemporary art collection of François Pinault. The French businessman and art collector also leases Palazzo Grassi in San Marco, an enormous space near Campo San Samuele in which major temporary exhibitions are held.
    Photo by Alessandro Villa/age fotostock
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