Few places are as instantly recognisable as Venice. This must-see destination is one of the world’s most beguiling cities, with dazzling architecture, no cars, and water, water everywhere. Venice is unlike anywhere else in the world and regardless of how many pictures or films of it you may have seen, it is still an unforgettable experience to see it for yourself for the first time.
A great way to get a boat’s eye view of the city is from the Grand Canal on board a chugging vaporetto, a 230-passenger vessel. This is the main thoroughfare and the inspiration for countless paintings. How better to get a true slice of Venetian life than by sharing the waterways with gondolas and other local ‘road users’? (www.venicekayak.com).
The Grand Canal is crossed by three bridges, most famous of which is the Rialto. Buildings crowd the canal banks including homes where some of the city's wealthiest citizens reside. Their magnificently fussy, richly frescoed palaces, more than a hundred of them, are framed by coloured posts showing the livery of their owners.
A stone’s throw from the Grand Canal is St Mark’s Square (Piazza San Marco), best seen first thing in the morning when the city is just beginning to shake off her mantle of sleep and still retains a strange, ghostly emptiness. Unsurprisingly as the day goes on it gets crowded, after all, it is the city’s premier tourist attraction and most famous square in the world. Two centuries ago it pleased Napoleon so much that he pronounced it “the finest drawing room in Europe” as he boldly marched his troops into the city. This is somewhere to sit outside with a coffee while being serenaded by musicians at one of the square’s legendary
cafés and is where Casanova, Byron and Goethe came to sip their coffees.
Two showstopper buildings dominate the piazza – the Doges’ Palace and St Mark’s Basilica. Inside the splendid Byzantine church of St. Mark's, the life of Venice's patron saint is recalled in a series of handset mosaics. Next door is the splendid pink and white Verona marble and Istrian stone building, the Doges' Palace, containing a stunning collection of frescoes and paintings including Tintoretto's Paradiso, the world’s largest oil painting.
When hunger beckons, there are plenty of restaurants to choose from, or you could make like a local and go to a bàcaro, the Venetian version of an inn. Most of them are near the Rialto market. They usually serve antipasti – halved boiled eggs, squares of mortadella, gorgonzola, cured meats and fried sardines, which are eaten standing up and washed down with a spritz – a local drink of white wine and bitter – or an ombra, wine that was once tapped straight from the barrel behind the bar.
If you prefer to sit down while you eat, Al Chioschetto, (Dorsoduro 1406A, fondamenta delle Zattere) is a popular spot serving delicious panini and nibbles. You eat al fresco here, on the Giudecca Canal banks. Another nice place to linger over lunch is in the historic square of Campo Santo Stefano, with its interesting cross-section of pizzerias, fish restaurants and trattorias at prices that won’t shred your wallet. If you are looking for something a bit more classy but not too expensive, Vini da Gigio (Cannaregio 3628, fondamenta San Felice) offers a number of good meat and game options, homemade pastas and fish dishes such as tuna in a crust of sesame seeds. Service is typically Italian here, so be prepared to linger as you enjoy your meal. Naranzaria (130 San Polo) is a chic bistro serving sushi in art déco surroundings. This small eaterie provides a welcome respite from the bustle of the nearby market.