Few places have been as romanticised as Venice – the picturesque waterways and ornate architecture, singing gondoliers in stripes, cobbled streets and hidden campi. There’s something special about Venice that draws people back to it, time after time. There’s so much to see, do and taste that every visit, you’ll fall in love with the city all over again.
Venice is just two hours from London by plane (and can cost as little as £15 each way) and once you land, you’re only 40 minutes from the city centre. It’s also close to Rome – just an hour in the air – and Verona, Milan and Florence are all less than two hours away by train.
There are over a hundred islands in the Venetian Lagoon, and you can tick all the biggies off in just one day using the city’s water-bus service. It’s a great way to dip a toe into a more authentic version of Italian life that’s largely unaltered by tourism, without having to leave the city for long. Try Torcello, which existed before Venice, or Mazzorbo, which is covered in vineyards and artichoke fields. San Giorgio Maggiore is the perfect place to watch the sun set.
The food scene
In this city, you’re just as likely to find Michelin-starred restaurants as market stalls, and the cuisine is varied, too – think pasta, roasted meats, soup, fresh fish from the lagoon and deep-fried vegetables – making eating out, even if you’re travelling with veggies or fussy kids, so enjoyable. On one visit, try Bistrot de Venise for special occasions, or La Tecia Vegana if your diet is meat-free. Another time drop in at the wine bar Cantine del Vino già Schiavi when you’ve already eaten – the Venetians know a thing or two about wine as well.
Venice is practically bursting at the seams with great buildings that make you feel like you’re stepping back in time, from the Venetian gothic Doge’s Palace and St Mark’s to the Ca’ D’Oro with its Islamic influences. Be sure to keep looking up and don’t be afraid to get lost – there are hundreds of architectural gems to uncover away from the crowds. And coming back throughout the year will show you very different sides of the city.
The coffee culture
There are few places in the world where coffee is ingrained in the culture. But Venice is one of them. Venetians always start their day with a cappuccino and follow lunch and dinner with a shot of espresso to aid digestion. There are rules on the price, too: if you stand at the bar to drink your coffee, like the locals, you pay one price (around £1) and if you take a seat, you pay another (say £2). Caffe Florian is one of the oldest cafés in Europe, so make that your first port of call each time you visit.
Picturesque, calming, full of romantic gondolas, the canals are what make Venice Venice. But having canals also means no cars. So when you’re on land, you can amble around and take your time without having to worry about anything faster than an enthusiastic tourist – or maybe a moped – bumping into you. It’s the best of both worlds.
During Carnevale di Venezia, over-the-top costumes, rowing races, street parades and even a flying lion descend on the city. It’s a real bucket-list experience and although it does get really crowded, the fun atmosphere makes up for it. The theme is different every year, so there’s always a reason to come back.
There’s something for everyone
Whether you’re travelling as a couple, taking the family or visiting with friends, who you go with will also change how you explore Venice. You’ve got gondola rides, candlelit cruises and fancy meals to choose from, as well as museums with activities designed with kids in mind. A tour of the best bacaris followed by dancing in Campo Santa Margherita will seal the deal for party people.
Venice has had its fair share of knocks over the years, but it always gets back up again. Its theatre Teatro La Fenice is known as The Phoenix because it has quite literally risen from the ashes of not one, not two, but three fires, and today it draws opera fans from all over the world.
Similarly, St Mark’s bell tower collapsed in the 1900s, spraying rubble all over the balcony beneath, and now it’s a tourist hotspot. And every year, residents move to the upper levels of their homes, shops stow their wares in floating vessels and streets are closed during the acqua alta – and life goes on. Visit in October to see for yourself (and save money on flights).