Venice: the most beautiful city in the world
Last year, we visited Venice on occasion of the 59th Art Biennale. We chose to visit in November, and it was absolutely the right decision. The weather was really good and although there were tourists at the main attractions, there were very few of them and we didn’t have to queue anywhere. That meant we were able to enjoy the essence of this incredible city, free of cars, motorbikes, bicycles and scooters! And we were able to calmly wander along the canals… We stress this because although it is beautiful beyond comparison, it’s true that there are people that don’t quite enjoy it due to the masses of visitors who, whether you like it or not, always end up marring the experience…
As you know, everything there is to say about Venice has been said. It is the most visited city in Italy and one of the most visited in the world, so one inevitably has a preconceived idea of this destination, whether or not you have been there. Having said that and knowing in advance that we won’t be reinventing the wheel, we would like to propose a list of recommendations so that you can make the most of it if you are planning on visiting soon. So here they are!
The first thing to take into account is how you want to arrive in Venice. That is to say, once you land you can access the city by boat or by bus. We recommend you do so by boat. It’s amazing! When we arrived, there was fog, and it was like something out of a film. To reach this fascinating city by sea, as it emerges before your eyes is an unparalleled experience.
What to see and visit:
Gallerie dell’Accademia: The Gallerie dell’Accademia is on the southern bank of the Grand Canal, in the Dorsoduro district, at the foot of the Ponte dell’Accademia (the Accademia Bridge). At the beginning of the 18th century, while Venice was a prosperous community of artists, the painters were members of an artisan guild and unlike in other cities, there was no academy of art. It was founded in December 1766 when the Senate ordered the construction of an academy of painting, sculpture and architecture, similar to those in the main cities of Italy and Europe. The museum is currently home to a collection of paintings of Venice and the region by artists such as Bellini, Giorgione, Veronese, Tintoretto, Tiziano, Giambattista Tiepolo, Canaletto, Bellotto or Longhi. This visit is a must.
Ponte dell’Accademia: It is the fourth bridge that crosses the Grand Canal and is located right in front of the Gallerie dell’Accademia. It is 48 metres long and connects the Gallerie dell’Accademia and the Palazzo Cavalli-Franchetti. The original bridge was made of iron and was inaugurated in 1854. However, immediately after its opening, a tender was launched for the construction of a stone bridge in that very same spot. The winning project was never carried out and a wooden bridge was later built based on the project by the engineer Eugenio Miozzi. It was inaugurated in 1933 and, due to subsequent interventions, iron elements were added to the original bridge. The views from this bridge are spectacular.
The Peggy Guggenheim Collection: It is one of the most important museums of European and American art of the first half of the 20th century in Italy, and one of the most important in Europe. It is located in the beautiful Palazzo Venier dei Leoni.
As you will be able to see when you visit it, the permanent collection includes masterpieces of Cubism, Futurism, Metaphysical Painting, European Abstract Art, Surrealism and American Abstract Expressionism such as “Two” by Pollock, “Birth of Liquid Desires “ by Dalí, “Piano and Mandola” by Georges Braque, “Untitled (Red)” by Rothko or “Pipe, Glass, Bottle of Vieux Marc” by Picasso, among others. Additionally, the Nasher Sculpture Garden presents sculptures by Giacometti, Arp, Anish Kapoor, Miró, Yoko Ono, Calder or Duchamp-Villon, that complement the museum’s permanent collection.
*Curious facts: Escaping from World War II, Peggy Guggenheim stayed in the United States for six years. In 1947, she decided to return to Europe where she showed her collection for the first time at the Venice Biennale in 1948, in what was to be her first European exhibition. The presence of Cubist, Abstract and Surrealist art made the pavilion the most coherent vision of Modernism ever presented in Italy. That same year, Peggy bought the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni on the Grand Canal in Venice, where she took up residence. In 1949, she held a sculpture exhibition in the mansion’s garden and in 1951, she opened her collection to the public. During her thirty years in Venice, Peggy Guggenheim continued to collect pieces of art and to equally support both American and European artists. In 1962, Peggy Guggenheim was named Honorary Citizen of Venice.
The Grand Canal: It divides the city in two and is the longest canal (4km long) in the city of Venice, the largest area of water in this country thanks to the multiple canals of different lengths and widths that flow through it in Italy.
It can be crossed in a vaporetto, although the most pleasant option is to do so by taking a traghetto, a gondola that aims to cross the Grand Canal through places with no bridges. They are very affordable and full of charm. Of course, it can be crossed on foot and along other bridges such as the Ponte di Rialto which is the most charming as well as the oldest bridge in Venice, the Ponte dell’Accademia which we mentioned earlier, the Ponte degli Scalzi (the bridge of the barefoot monks) also known as the Ponte della Stazione (Station Bridge) and the Ponte della Ferrovia (Railway Bridge) due to its proximity to the Santa Lucía railway station or the Ponte della Constituzione (Constitution Bridge) which is the most modern bridge in Venice, designed by the Spaniard Santiago Calatrava, which communicates Piazzale Roma with the Santa Lucía Railway Station area.
Scuola Grande di San Rocco: This was a fraternity formed by Venetian citizens in 1478 which became particularly prosperous at the beginning of the 16th century. It was created to assist citizens in times of the plague. San Rocco (Saint Roch), whose relics are kept in the neighbouring San Rocco Church, was declared the patron saint of the city in 1576. Every year, on his festivity (16th August), the Doge of Venice went on a pilgrimage to the church. This place is breathtaking and extraordinary. The decoration of the walls and the ceilings of the building are by Tintoretto, who created a remarkable set of paintings that marked a milestone in his career. The Scuola also features several other works of art, such as a canvas by Tiziano.
Palazzo Grassi/Punta Della Dogana: Located close to the Grand Canal, the palace which is owned by the affluent Grassi family from Bologne was a project by Giorgio Massari and built in Istrian stone. It is the last monumental building commissioned before the extinction of the Republic of Venice. In the 1980s, the small palace was refurbished by Gae Aulenti to become the headquarters of the Grassi Foundation, established by Fiat. Today, together with Punta della Dogana, it is the headquarters of the François Pinault Foundation and its premises hold numerous internationally acclaimed themed exhibitions of great interest.
On this occasion, we enjoyed two large exhibitions: We saw “Marlene Dumas. Open-end” at Palazzo Grassi and “Bruce Nauman: Contrapposto Studies” at Punta della Dogana.
Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo: It is a marvellous late Gothic-Italian style building located close to Campo Manin, facing the San Luca river. Its aesthetic is partly reminiscent of the Tower of Babel. This palace dates back to the 15th century, and was built by the Contarini family, who were dubbed the “bovolo” (snail shell) when they placed a striking spiral staircase at the front of the building. It’s very much worth the visit.
Piazza San Marco: It is the only square in Venice and the main tourist spot in the city. It is surrounded by some of the most important buildings in the city such as Basilica di San Marco, Palazzo Ducale and the Campanile, the Basilica’s bell tower which stands next to it.
Piazza San Marco is the lowest part of Venice and when the sea rises due to storms from the Adriatic Sea or due to heavy rains, it is the first place to flood. The water runs through the drains directly to the Grand Canal, which is ideal when it rains but when the tide rises (from the Italian: acqua alta) it has the reverse effect, the water from the canal rises through the drains to the square. So that the city does not become impassable, they have created metal structures that act as elevated walkways that allow you to cross the square without being covered by water.
We recommend you visit this unique place first thing in the morning or at the end of the day.
Incidentally, the luxurious Hotel Danieli can be found very close to the square. You won’t be allowed access unless you are a guest, but the lobby is well worth a visit. Another excuse to go in and enjoy its incredible views is to book a table at its restaurant. A legendary café, Caffè Florian, can also be found in the same square.
Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace) : It is one of the symbols of the power of Venice and the main representation of Venetian Gothic style. Its two most visible façades look over the Venetian lagoon and Piazza San Marco. The palace was the residence of the doge, the supreme magistrates and the top leaders of the Republic of Venice. It was also the seat of the government and the courts of justice and the prison of the Republic of Venice. Of course, it must be visited, because in addition to contemplating its majestic courtyard and the rest of the rooms, there are always interesting exhibitions to see there.
Museo Ca’ Rezzonico: Since October 2022 it has been closed to the public due to major renovation and restoration works. As well as being a magnificent palace, it is also the Museum of 18th century Venice. It was designed by Venice’s greatest Baroque architect, Baldassare Longhena.
Palazzo Manfrin Venier: This is a palatial building, its façade overlooks the Cannaregio Canal, to the left of Palazzo Savorgnan. It is currently the headquarters of the Anish Kapoor Foundation in Venice.
Palazzo Fortuny: It was built for the Pesaro family in the 15th century in Venetian Gothic style. From 1902, it was the residence of Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo – a Spanish painter, engraver, photographer, textile designer, fashion designer and set designer – and his wife Henriette Negrin. It is currently home to the Fortuny Museum, that is part of the Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia.
The visit is really beautiful and interesting.
Fondamenta della Misericordia: In Venice, the fondamenta is the name given to the stretch of the street that borders a canal or a river.. So the Fondamenta della Misericordia is just that, but it also stands out for its beauty and for being in an area that is not bustling with tourists and is inhabited by Venetians.
This is also the location of the Scuola Grande della Misericordia, where we saw a stunning and titanic art installation by Oscar Murillo, titled “A Storm Is Blowing from Paradise”. This included a series of new paintings, together with a large and interactive presentation called “Frequencies”, its long-term collaborative project with students and schools from all over the world. In recent years, Murillo has worked to develop new ways of opening this archive on an international level and to create new opportunities so that its rich content may be experienced by means of digital interaction and material expressions. We were thrilled by the exhibition and also by the place itself.
Palazzo Cavalli-Franchetti: It is currently the head office of the Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Letteri ed Arti, located between Campo Santo Stefano and the Grand Canal. It stands out for its stairway and iconic façade. We were lucky enough to see “Fashion, Love, War”, the photography exhibition by Lee Miller and Man Ray.
Lee Miller, for those of you who don’t know her, was a model, photographer, muse and the first female war correspondent to document the horror of the concentration camps liberated by American troops, an icon of the 20th century. Man Ray was first her teacher, then her love and eventually became a great friend. It can be seen until the 10th April 2023.
The Migrant Child by Banksy: This graffiti is on a seemingly abandoned house by the Novo River that goes from Piazzale Roma to the Grand Canal next to Ca’ Foscari. If you are a fan of Banksy, don’t think twice.
Acqua Alta Bookshop: An interesting bookshop famous for having adapted to the “Acqua Alta” phenomenon that takes place in Venice, during certain months of the year. In fact, the owner Luigi, in an attempt to protect his books, gathered boats, gondolas and even the odd bathtub in which to put his prized books and save them from the water. A visit here is a must, as is approaching the back of the shop…
Mercato di Rialto: It is the best-known local market in Venice. It preserves its authenticity thanks to its family-run fish and seafood stalls.
Fundación Querini Stampalia: It is the work of the architect Carlo Scarpa, a cultural institution that was founded at the end of the 19th century in Venice. In this case, we decided to visit it because we wanted to see the expository project on occasion of this year’s Venice Biennale. In collaboration with White Cube, the exhibition featured work by the Danish-Vietnamese artist Danh Vo, together with work by the North American sculptor of Japanese origin Isamu Noguchi, and by the Korean painter Park Seo-Bo. Between them, they establish a complex dialogue within the spaces of this extraordinary building. Marvellous.
Fundaco dei Tedeschi: In the past, it has been used as a commercial space by German traders- in fact, Tedeschi means Germans in Italian -, a customs house under Napoleon Bonaparte and a post office under Benito Mussolini. It dates back to 1228 and was rebuilt between 1505 and 1508, after being destroyed in a fire.
In 2016 it opened its doors as a luxury shopping centre including a new terrace which has become an unbeatable hotspot in the city thanks to its views over the Grand Canal from two different angles, as well as a 360° perspective.
Of course, we recommend that you walk and walk and stray a little from the town centre. Cannaregio or Zattere are beautiful districts and there are a lot less tourists per square metre. In any case, remember that the best time to visit Venice is not during the summer months, Easter or Christmas.
Where to stay
In any case, and according to your budget, the city offers many other options.
Where to go for food and drinks
Coffee at: Torrefazione Cannaregio – the only specialty coffee in Venice -; Caffè del Doge – Venice’s own coffee brand -.
Caffè Florian – right in the middle of Piazza San Marco. It’s expensive but the location is worth it. Important figures such as Charles Dickens, Claude Monet, Coco Chanel and Andy Warhol have sat at its tables. It is over 300 years old; Caffè La Serra, it’s next to the Biennale pavilions and really beautiful; and at Pasticceria Rizzardini or Pasticceria Rosa Salva where they have delicious homemade sweets and pastries.
To eat at: Sullaluna, a vegetarian and vegan restaurant, inside a bookshop and with a terrace right by the canal. It is in Cannaregio and next to Fondamenta de Misericordia, the most genuine part of Venice in our opinion, where the Venetians really live and where you can feel the genuine local savoire faire.
Also, it is beautiful and an ideal area to wander aimlessly and allow yourselves to be surprised by its infinite beauty.
Cantine del vino già Schiavi, a bar that is ideal for enjoying a true Venetian appetiser consisting of a chilled Apperol and different cicchetti (the equivalent of Spanish tapas). The place is really cosy and, weather permitting, it’s ideal for enjoying its delights by the canal right next to it or on the opposite pavement, where there is a small lawn and a seating area; Hostaria Castello, where you can taste delicious dishes of a cuisine that is Venetian but updated and always elaborated with select produce sourced from small local farms; Ostaria La Zucca, it’s a must. The food is incredible, and the service is really good. Its menu includes seasonal Venetian dishes, with many vegetarian options.
Quadrino bristro, it’s expensive but worth it. This eclectic spot offers a variety of delicious Venetian dishes, as well as creative “cicchetti” coupled with a glass of wine as an appetiser; at Birraria La Corte the winning combination is pizza and craft beer. It is on a beautiful square and it is worth eating outside; Regina Sconta has a typically Venetian atmosphere and décor. Its kitchen is closely related to tradition and local produce.
Osteria Giorgione da Masa is our favourite. Its chef Masahiro Homma, commonly known as Masa, is from Okayama (Japan). He has worked in Italian kitchens – first in Japan and then in Italy- for over twenty years, finally deciding to settle down in the heart of Venice, at the Osteria Giorgione, where he cooks as he likes to cook: a fusion of Japanese dishes with Italian touches. The result is absolutely exquisite.
As you can already imagine, if you want to make sure you get a spot in any of these restaurants, it’s best to book in advance.
Have a drink at: Harry’s bar is legendary for its bellinis and for welcoming the crème de la créme from Venice and from all over the world. It is expensive, but it is also an experience in itself. We don’t recommend that you stay for dinner because the prices on the menu are extortionate and, from what we have been told, the quality of the food isn’t remarkable.
Experimental Cocktail Club is the cocktail bar at the Il Palazzo Experimental hotel. It is small, but they prepare delicious cocktails, and the space is gorgeous.
We’ll say no more but, as we said at the start, Venice is a city that should be visited several times in one lifetime, and especially during an Art Biennale, as the Stendhal moment is guaranteed once, twice, three times over… Venice has won our hearts for good and we can confidently say that it is the most beautiful city in the world.
(*) Photos by Ely Sánchez & Cecilia Camacho.