Spectacular Venice is an aesthetic delight of iconic canals and splendid architecture, whichever way you turn. The city’s network of ancient waterways linked by bridges and narrow cobbled alleys is a joy to explore. As a visitor, half the fun involves getting blissfully lost before stumbling upon a tranquil piazza, where you can refresh with a coffee or prosecco.
Piazza San Marco
An undisputed focal point for first time visitors, St Mark’s Square is home to the landmark Italo-Byzantine Catholic cathedral, the 11th century Basilica di San Marco, along with the stunning Doges Palace and its famed Bridge of Sighs. Take the elevator to the top of Venice’s tallest building, the 323 foot high campanile (bell tower). Here you can enjoy superb views across Piazza San Marco, the Basilica and the Venetian lagoon as far as the island of Murano. To avoid lengthy queues, book advance tickets and a time slot for your visit via the official website.
A short walk from bustling Piazza San Marco lies the significantly quieter and highly pleasant Dorsoduro neighbourhood. The city’s university district is home to a growing number of artists and designers. The streets around Campo Santa Margherita brim with trendy shops, excellent value bars and eateries, and buzzing nightlife. Exceptional art galleries include the Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice’s principal museum, which showcases works by Venetian masterpieces including Titian and Tintoretto. The Peggy Guggenheim Collection houses a superb collection of modern art within its stately residence abutting the Grand Canal.
To Gondola or not to Gondola?
Cheesy and overpriced, or an essential, immersive experience for first timers to Venice? Your instinct and your wallet will determine if a gondola ride is a must-do. Should you take the plunge, negotiate a price and journey time before you step aboard. If you’re hoping for a serenade, this will set you back extra Euros.
A more budget-friendly way to see Venice from the water is aboard one of the vaporetti (water buses). The linea no. 1 vaporetto leaves Piazzale Roma and journeys the length of the Grand Canal all the way out to Lido, taking in Piazza San Marco en route.
Venturing east of St Mark’s Square you’ll discover laid back Castello, a wonderful neighbourhood of historic churches, attractive piazzas, verdant parks, and excellent bars and restaurants. The main thoroughfare, Via Garibaldi, has a village like atmosphere with abundant cicchetti (Venetian style tapas bars), bespoke shops and a weekday fruit and vegetable market.
The Rialto Bridge
The elegant stone arch Ponte di Rialto has undergone several transformations since its humble beginnings as a wooden pontoon in 1173. The oldest of four bridges that straddle the Grand Canal, the Rialto connects the two neighbourhoods (sestieri) of San Polo and San Marco. Its current construction, unveiled in 1591, was hailed as a ground breaking example of Renaissance architecture and engineering. The bridge features three sets of stairs, and today pricey shops and stalls fill the central staircase. This beautiful structure is unsurprisingly another highly popular viewpoint for selfie-stick wielding visitors, particularly at sunset, when the views across the Grand Canal are sublime.
Escape the crowds and take the vaporetto to this picturesque island in the lagoon. Lido exudes a laid back charm and boats a superb seven mile swathe of sandy beach fringed by the Adriatic. On the attractive main street (Gran Viale) you’ll find restaurants, hotels and beautiful art deco architecture. The island plays host to the annual Venice Film Festival from August to September; for the rest of the year this tranquil residential district receives far fewer visitors than the city’s main tourist hotspots. Hire a bike to explore the Alberoni Oasis, a protected nature reserve of pine forests, sand dunes and abundant wildlife on Lido’s southern tip.
For a taste of authentic Venice, head to the former Jewish ghetto of Cannaregio. This lively shopping and entertainment neighbourhood dates back to the 16th century and contains some excellent bars and restaurants. In bustling Strada Nuova you’ll find an array of outlets ranging from upscale fashion boutiques to artisan craft shops. See if you can find Venice’s narrowest street, Calle Varisco, a secluded narrow alley which measures a meagre 21 inches wide!
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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com