Grand canals and singing gondoliers provide the backdrop to the romantic city of Venice. Leave your Venice flight and enter a world where cars are banned and bridges keep the city connected. In Venice, everyone travels by boat. Along the narrow canals are small bacaros (traditional wine bars) and intimate restaurants packed with locals and tourists.
Venice’s historic centre is dividing into six quarters – San Marco, Dorsoduro, San Polo, Santa Croce, Cannaregio and Castello. Visitors can explore each quarter by hopping on a gondola and travelling down the Grand Canal, which intersects each district. The most famous of all, San Marco, can become very crowded with tourists in the summer and prices rise in the restaurants and cafés surrounding the popular square. Many travellers book flights to Venice during the off-season to avoid some of the crowds, not to mention the heat and the smells from the canals that float through the town in August. But at any time of year the jaw-dropping beauty of Venice is bound to impress. The town was once the centre of Italy’s commercial greatness and the palazzos and churches of the Renaissance period are spectacular.
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Summers are hot and sticky with daytime temperatures in the mid-20s (Celsius) and higher. The pollution limits the view, and the sirocco winds bring in more heat from the south. Late afternoon thunderstorms often hit briefly in summer. Winter starts with heavy rains, and the best chance of flooding is in November and December. January and February are the coldest months with temperatures ranging from zero to about 7. Spring is clear and crisp with lots of rain into June.
When to fly to Venice
Venice has visitors year-round and the busiest time is April to October, especially the periods from Easter to June and September through October. Christmas, New Year, and Carnevale (February) are also very busy. If you plan on visiting during these times, make reservations in advance.
Early spring may be the best time to visit. September has the next best weather, but October has fewer crowds.
The rain in November and December often causes flooding, and you may end up walking in water. With the dampness the winters can also be cool and sometimes the city is blanketed in snow. This is the time when hotels offer reductions on the rate of rooms and cheap flights to Venice may be easier to find.
Getting around Venice
Venice’s unique geography limits transport system to two methods: walking and boating. Cars and bicycles are banned in the city, but you can take water buses/ferries, water taxis and gondolas. The water buses (vaporetti) mainly serve the Grand Canal and you’ll have to wrestle with crowds in the summer. Water taxis aren’t cheap, and they’ll cost extra if you have large bags or are travelling at night, on Sundays or holidays. While gondolas may be the quintessential Venetian form of transport, they’re also very costly.
Walking is the most enjoyable way to get around the city. Embrace getting lost. The city isn’t very big and wandering through unknown streets and squares is part of the its charm.
Venice insider information
- The bridges are instantly recognisable - Rialto Bridge, Ponte dei Sospiri (Bridge of Sighs) and Ponte degli Scalzi (Bridge of the Barefoot). Ponte dell'Accademia gets its name from the Accademia di Belle Arti, Venice’s school of art, which has a magnificent collection of paintings by artists including brothers Gentile and Giovanni Bellini, Canaletto, Tintoretto and Titian.
- The 90-minute Secret Itineraries tour of the Doge (the residence of the ruler of Venice) includes the administrative offices, torture chambers and the prison cell from which Casanova, the famous adventurer, writer and lover, escaped.
- While touring the Grand Canal (the main street) by vaporetto or gondola, feast your eyes on the palaces. The most sublime are the Doge’s Palace, Palazzo Grassi, Ca' d'Oro (Palazzo Santa Sofia) and Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, which houses the Peggy Guggenheim Collection.
- The Piazza San Marco is dominated by Saint Mark's Basilica, which was built in the 11th century. The remains of Saint Mark the Evangelist, Venice’s patron saint, lie in the basilica.
- The Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute (Basilica of St Mary of Health/Salvation) is known as the Salute, and is one of the largest – and most beautiful – churches in Venice. It owes its existence to the plague, or more correctly, in 1630 with the city ravaged by plague, the Senate decreed that if Venice was spared further deaths, they would build a new church and dedicate it to the Virgin Mary.
- Take a day trip from Venice to the outlying islands in the lagoon; Murano, for its glass work, or Burano for its lace. Torcello, meanwhile, has a 7th-century cathedral. And there is also the beach of Lido di Venezia.
- For a taste of “local” Venice, head to the Rialto Market. That’s where Venetians go to buy fish and vegetables.