On 13 November 2019, the tides in Venice hit a maximum of 1.87 meters (6 feet) over flood stage and more than 85% of the city was flooded. For any other city on the world, this event would have been a disaster, but in Venice it is becoming commonplace.
Piazza San Marco – Better without the water!
Venice is situated in a shallow lagoon right offshore from Padua, Italy and is made up of 118 islands connected by 400 bridges. The city was originally founded as a refuge for Roman citizens fleeing successive invasions of Goths, Huns and Lombards. Because the islands were offshore in a swamp, the refugees were protected from the marauding hordes. While the exact date of the first settlement is not known, the traditional date of the city’s founding is 25 March 421 when the first church, to San Giacomo, was dedicated on the island of Rialto.
The Republic of Venice steadily gained wealth and power from its founding in 697 AD until 1797 when it was conquered by Napoleon. The 13th Century Venice was the most prosperous city in Europe. Today it is visited by up to 60,000 tourists a day who come to explore the fading grandeur of one of the world’s greatest cities.
Not everyone is welcomed though. During the 2019 Venice Biennale, one of the world’s truly great art shows, the anonymous graffiti artist, Banksy, was kicked out of the Piazza San Marco for setting up a stall to sell artwork without a permit! The artist even secretly filmed the police causing him to close down his stall and posted it online as a joke.
Venice is a fabulous place to visit, even though it can be crowded at times. I’d recommend the following “must-see” attractions:
- Piazza San Marco and the Campanile – this is the heart of the city and the best place to start your exploration of this historic gem!
- Mark’s Basilica – this beautiful edifice gives the square its name. The Basilica was founded to hold the remains of the Apostle Mark whose relics were stolen from Alexandria, Egypt in the Ninth Century to give Venice its patron saint.
The Grand Canal: Venice’s Highway
- The Doge’s Palace – this is also on the Piazza San Marco and holds the treasures of the once richest leader in the world!
- The Grand Canal – this serpentine waterway is a highway into the city
- The Guggenheim Museum – Peggy Guggenheim donated her palace and art collection to make this incredible museum of modern art in this ancient city!
World famous Murano Glass is a great Venice souvenir
Here’s a pro-tip: The tour of the Murano Glass Factory is a fun and interesting experience to see a unique and beautiful craft! The prices at the factory are also a good value for this valuable souvenir.
Venice is served by a new and very nice international airport named after the city’s famous resident, Marco Polo. You can also visit via cruise ship but these are becoming increasingly controversial because of pollution that these vessels leave behind. Once you cross over from the mainland to the ancient city, though, your only means of transport will be boats or walking. So, make sure to pack good walking shoes.
Here’s another pro-tip: The best time of the year to visit is between May and November when the rains are less and the weather is warm. The city is subsiding and, despite a huge project to protect it from flooding, Venice can be soggy during the winter.
A Gondola Tour is a must when you’re in Venice
Hospitality is Venice’s largest industry and this means that there are hotel options for almost any price range from the moderate and small venues to the colossally expensive! My favourites that are medium-priced include the five-star JW Marriott and beautiful St. Regis Venice. Other notable properties that won’t break the budget include Il Palazzo Experimental, a newly renovated property with excellent service and the Canal Grande which offer extraordinary views over the city!
Venice is known for its culinary specialities that naturally feature fresh seafood. The local cafes and ristorantes are excellent and a reasonable value. Three of my favourites are a bit more pricey but provide excellent quality and an unforgettable experience:
- La Zucca – the restaurant has excellent options for vegetarians because it offers an always-changing menu of seasonal local ingredients that are sourced daily.
- Local – this small venue has far-eastern influences that would have made Marco Polo proud!
- Ristorante Quadri – this three Michelin star venue is right on St. Mark’s Square and its interior was designed by Philippe Stark.
Enjoy a cocktail by the Ponte dei Frari Bridge!
Here’s a final pro-tip: world-famous events, like the Venice International Film Festival and the masquerade at the Carnival of Venice, are exciting but prices spike during these times. It is better to visit during the famous Biennale because the event is longer and crowds are not concentrated.
Whenever you decide to visit Venice, you’ll find it a truly grand experience!