There’s something heart-stopping about leaving the mainland behind you and crossing the Venetian lagoon towards this unlikely jewel in its marshy wilderness, and it doesn’t matter whether you’re doing it on a boat or in a train, for the first time or on a repeat visit.
Once in Venice, you’re faced with an embarrassment of riches. How many other areas of not much more than five square kilometres can boast artistic and architectural marvels in such concentration? You won’t know where to begin (though we hope this guide will help).
But as you delve into the Venetian labyrinth, that won’t be your only dilemma. The better you get to know the city, the more confidently you venture off the well-beaten trails and into the backstreets (and you should do this as soon as possible, for it’s here that many of Venice’s most rewarding, lesser-known treasures lie), the more you’ll have to cope with famously tetchy veneziani who grumble as they push past you on their crowded streets and bridges, and charge you a tourist ‘premium’ in their already expensive restaurants and bars. However much you love Venice, it isn’t always easy to love the Venetians.
Ironically, this is because the locals want you to see their city the same way that they do: these proud citizens want Venice to be marvelled at and appreciated by cultural connoisseurs, not goggled at by raucous day-trippers to an historic theme park; they want to be considered a normal city with a stunning, uplifting difference.
Venice’s history is marked by parabolas. From a group of fishing huts to world mercantile leader to washed-up backwater; from mecca for curious travellers to crumbling has-been to major tourist attraction. And if its cultural offerings are on an upwards curve, its social scene seemed to be dipping ever downwards. We ask whether a new breed of dedicated Venetians can help avert creeping Disneyfication.
In a relatively tiny area, Venice harbours a wealth of artistic and architectural wonders that even many large nations couldn’t lay claim to. Some of Venice’s unique and overwhelming sights are displayed in showcase churches and major galleries. Others are harder to find, concealed along warrens of medieval streets. Arm yourself with a map and a sense of adventure.
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Venice is famous for its tourist-trap restaurants and overpriced hotels. But we show you how to avoid them all, by eating where locals go and eating what locals eat, and by choosing your moment to benefit from some extremely tempting accommodation deals. There’s shopping advice, too, to steer you away from cheapo glass and made-in-Taiwan masks.
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Once Europe’s party capital, Venice is a quieter city now, and you’ll have to look hard to find an after-hours scene. But in its own way, Venice has it. Expect things to be low-key, though… except during the summer months when the nearby beach resorts rock. For a burst of high culture, there’s La Fenice; and fans of the seventh art should check out the film festival.
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Venice spread its control over terra ferma for centuries, encouraging a Renaissance building boom and also providing deep-pocketed patronage for church adornment. The cities of the Veneto each have their own character and their own treasures. In between are some beautiful Palladian villas; to the north are the magical winter playgrounds of the Dolomites.
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