A Bitesize Guide to Holidays in Venice, Italy

The Venetian Riviera

Arguably Italy's most compellingly beautiful city, Venice is unique, a city built on water in the midst of a lagoon, with a plethora of churches and museums to experience. Its heart is Piazza San Marco and the great Basilica di San Marco, while elsewhere stately palaces line the canals and tantalizing streets and squares invite interest.

There are days when tourists outnumber locals by 2 to 1, but it never loses its charm. The lack of cars, bridges, canals and boats will keep your children interested throughout your trip. Whilst I am sure you will be tempted, it is not necessary to hire a Gondola to explore the city, you will never be far away from a bridge that will take you to the more quieter parts of they city.

The campsites that dot the area around Venice are situated in towns such as Lido, Cavallino, Caorle, etc all have access to Venice by road or water. Your campsite will have details of the nearest boat service, which is an exciting way to reach the city. However, for those who don't fancy the boat trip, there is also a bus service to Venice, which is reasonably quick and cheaper that the boat. Getting around Venice is possible by hopping on a waterbus 'Vaporetti' or a water taxi or if you fancy spending upwards of 150€ for an hour's travel, you can hire a gondola.

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Visit Venice - St Mark's Square

This is the historic heart of Venice, with some of the city's finest architecture, bordered by compelling museums, chic shops and cafés. As you emerge from the narrow surrounding streets into the piazza, its sheer scale is breathtaking. Within the arcades that line three sides of the piazza are Florian's and Quadri's, two historic cafés with plush interiors, impeccable service and tables outside on the piazza. They are very expensive, but a drink here is quite an experience, often accompanied by an orchestra.

At the east end of the piazza's stands the Basilica di San Marco. The open space runs down to the water's edge, St. Mark's Basin, and is flanked on the right by the Biblioteca Marciana and the Zecca, and the Palazzo Ducale on the left. A winged lion, the symbol of Venice, and St. Theodore, the city's first patron saint, top its two columns.

The arcaded buildings that run down the long sides of the piazza are the offices of the Procurators of San Marco; the 16th-century Procuratie Vecchie, to the north, and the Procuratie Nuove, built a century later, to the south.

Our tips In peak season, come early or late to avoid the crowds. Choose a clear day to go to the top of the campanile as heat haze or mist significantly reduces visibility. And don't miss the Piazzetta or Torre dell' Orologio.

Visit Venice - Basilica of St Mark

This great Venetian basilica is a reflection of Venice's historic role as a bridge between East and West. The spiritual heart of Venice and the focal point of the Piazza di San Marco, it is one of the world's finest medieval buildings, filled with mosaics and precious objects.

The best approach is by foot from the west end of the Piazza. Aim to arrive early before the queues build up, and be prepared to wait. There's a fixed route round the interior. Allow your eyes to accustom to the low light levels, and take your time; this is an overwhelming building. For a superb overview of the basilica, climb the steep stairs from the atrium to the gallery, where you'll find yourself at eye level with the mosaics. From here you can gain access out onto the Loggia, a splendid vantage point from which to view the piazza. Also here are replicas of the famous bronze horses (the originals are inside). These powerfully evocative creatures were looted from Constantinople in 1204 and are the only surviving four-horse chariot group from antiquity. It is thought that they were made for the Hippodrome in the third century, but could be as much as 500 years older. Apart from a brief spell in Paris in the Napoleonic years, they have stood at San Marco for 800 years.

The present basilica, built between 1063 and 1094, is the third to occupy this site. The original was built in 832 to house the remains of St. Mark the Evangelist, brought by merchants from Alexandria to become the city's patron saint.

Our tips
Cover your arms and shoulders when visiting the basilica. Queues start to build up by about 9.30am and the wait can be more than an hour, so get there early. It tends to get quieter just before closing time. You can get access to the basilica for prayers from 8am via the side door.

Visit Venice - Grand Canal

Take a boat ride along one of the world's most mesmerizing waterways. A host of magnificent palazzi and churches line its famous banks and sit back and watch the water traffic that keeps Venice alive and on the move.

Disecting the city, the Canal Grande is Venice's main thoroughfare, a sinuous waterway lined with a procession of glorious buildings spanned by three bridges. It is 4km (2.5 miles) long and varies in width from 30m to 70m (100ft to 230ft), with an average depth of around 5m. Along its length are traghetti stations, from where gondolas ply back and forth across its width. There are few places where you can walk or sit beside the canal; the best places are at the railway station, at San Marcuola and Santa Sofia, by the Ponte di Rialto, on Campo San Vio, in front of Santa Maria della Salute and at San Marco. The best way to appreciate it is to board the No. 1 vaporetto at Piazzale Roma or Ferrovia and relax as far as Vallaresso or San Zaccaria. The whole trip takes 45 minutes.

The present 1950s railway station (ferrovia) replaced the original 1846 construction, built when the causeway to the mainland was created; the stone-built Ponte dei Scalzi went up in 1934. On the right is the domed church of San Simeone Piccolo (1738) and on the left is the ornate façade of the Scalzi (1656), followed shortly by the entrance to the wide Canale di Cannaregio, the gateway to Venice in its pre-causeway days. Across the water lie the pescheria (fish market) and Rialto market stalls; the long building beside them is the Tribunale Nuove (1555), now the Assize Court.

Running northwest to southeast, the Canal Grande was originally the main thoroughfare for merchants approaching the Rialto. An uninterrupted sequence of palazzi and churches lines the canal, their façades lapped by water. Built across four centuries, these superlative buildings cover the whole span of Venetian styles of architecture.

Our tips The vaporetto is the cheapest and probably most entertaining way of seeing the Canal Grande. Gondolas; a water taxi is a more expensive options. It is best to begin at the station end and keep San Marco for the end of the trip. For the best chance of getting a good vantage point (and a seat) get on at Piazzale Roma. Vaporetti can be very crowded, particularly during the morning and evening rush hours. The best time is between 12.30 and 3 (siesta), along with very early or late in the day. Few palazzi along the Canal Grande are floodlit, but a night ride is still a great experience.

Visit Venice - Galleria dell' Accademia

A comprehensive overview of the very best of Venetian painting is to be found here, well displayed in three historic buildings.

The Accademia's 24 rooms take a couple of hours to see properly. Pick up a plan from the entrance desk, and if you're interested in art, an audioguide. Visit early or late to avoid the crowds, it is particularly busy on Sundays.

The rooms are arranged chronologically except for 19-24, which are specific collections. The Accademia di Belle Arte, which houses the Galleria dell' Accademia, was founded in 1807 under Napoleon, who had suppressed dozens of churches and monasteries an needed somewhere to house their artworks. The art school still exists, but today the Accademia is primarily known as one of Europe's finest specialized art collections. It takes over three connected former religious buildings, the Scuola Grande della Carità, its adjacent church of Santa Maria, and the monastery of the Lateran Canons.

Our tips Staffing shortages mean that sometimes certain rooms are closed, so if there is something specific that you want to see, ask before you buy your ticket. The combined ticket for the Gallerie Academia, Ca' d'Oro and Museo Orientale is a good bargain.

Visit Venice - Palazzo Ducale

The political and judicial hub of the Venetian government, the Palazzo Ducale is the biggest, grandest and most opulent civic building in Venice. Connected to the Basilica di San Marco at the east end of the Piazza di San Marco, the Palazzo Ducale is a 45- minute walk or half-an-hour ride by vaporetto from the railway station.

Founded as a castle in the ninth century, its present appearance as a masterpiece of Venetian Gothic architecture dates from the 14th century, a magnificent reminder of the city's past glories. Approached via the water or by strolling through the piazza, the first impressions of this fairy-tale palace are unforgettable.

The Anticollegio, the Collegio and the Sala del Senato The extraordinarily rich decoration of the state rooms in the Palazzo Ducale is intended to illustrate the history of Venice and was painted by some of the greatest 16th-century Venetian artists. The aim was to impress visiting emissaries, many of whom passed through the palace on official business. The Anticollegio served as a waiting room for ambassadors hoping to see the Doge; four mythological paintings, created in 1577-78 by Tintoretto (1518-94), hang on the walls, while facing the window is Veronese's Rape of Europa. From here, the ambassadors moved to the adjoining Collegio to be received. This was also the room where the inner cabinet met. Venice triumphs yet again in Tintoretto's painting in the middle of the ceiling in the next door Sala del Senato, where the 300-strong senate met to receive reports from returning ambassadors and debate questions of commerce, war and foreign policy.

From the 14th century only those noble families listed in the socalled Libro d'Oro (Golden Book) sat on the councils, and the building reflects their power, wealth and prestige as well as that of Venice itself. The Palazzo Ducale began to assume its present shape in 1340 when a new hall for the Maggior Consiglio (Great Council) was built. Much of the rest of what we see today dates from the mid-15 th century. There were devastating fires in 1574 and again in 1577, but it was decided to restore the damage rather than replace it with something new, leaving the magical Gothic exterior unaltered. Since the fall of the Republic in 1797, the Palazzo Ducale has had many different functions; today, as well as being open to the public, it houses various city offices.