Activities and Things to do in Venice
1. See three major sights in one square
Standing in the middle of the magnificent piazza San Marco is an experience in itself: Napoleon referred to it as the ‘drawing room of Europe’, apt today as, at times, it appears that much of Europe’s population is crammed into this great square. But it's St Mark’s basilica (Basilica di San Marco), often seen as the living testimony of Venice’s links with Byzantium; Doge’s Palace, once Venice's political and judicial hub; and Torre dell’Orologio, a clock tower built between 1496 and 1506, that are, not just the square's, but some of the city's main attractions.
2. Get around in a gondola
No trip to Venice would be complete without a punt down one of the city's picturesque waterways in an iconic gondola. The Istituzione per la Conservazione della Gondola e Tutela del Gondoliere. Prices below are for the hire of the gondola, for six passengers or less. Having your own personal crooner will push the fare up.
3. Tour the Venetian masters of art
Venice is a unique and precious repository of art. From the late middle Ages until the mid 18th century, artists of the highest calibre left their mark all over the city and works by Venice's grand masters Titian (c1488-1576), Tintoretto (c1518-94), Canaletto (1697-1768) and Tiepolo (1727-1804) can still be viewed in situ today. See Titian’s glorious 'Assumption' above the high altar at I Frari, Tintoretto's epic masterpiece 'Crucifixion' at Scuola Grande di San Rocco, and Tiepolo's monumental frescos at the Pietà and Ca’ Rezzonico.
For a one-stop-shop of Venice’s foremost artistic treasures, head for the Gallerie dell’Accademia.
4. Take some aperitivo time
Italians are assiduous frequenters of their favourite bar for an eveningaperitivi. At aperitivo time Venice’s cool crowd line up drinks and cicheti (snacks) in the bars at the north-western foot of the Rialto Bridge. Stake your claim at a Grand Canal-facing table at Naranzaria or Bancogiro. Alternatively, head to Ardidos for the coolest design, Al Marcà for an ombra (bit of shade) on the hoof or Skyline Bar for a drink with a view.
5. Get a bird's-eye view of Venice
At almost 99m (325ft), the Campanile is the city’s tallest building, originally built between 888 and 912 (in July 1902 it collapsed, imploding in a neat pyramid of rubble. It was rebuilt exactly 'as it was, where it was', as the town council of the day promised). Holy Roman Emperor Frederick III rode a horse to the top of the original in 1451; these days’ visitors take the lift. The view is superb, taking in the Lido, the whole lagoon and (on a clear day) the Dolomites in the distance.
6. Take a tour of the Grand Canal
A wonderful way to take in the Grand Canal is on board a vaporetto (a rounded 230-passenger boat). The canal may no longer be teeming with merchandise-laden cargo boats, but it is still the main thoroughfare of Venice, and only a little imagination is needed to understand its historical importance. The three and a half kilometre (two-mile) trip from the railway station to San Marco provides a superb introduction to the city, telling you more about the way Venice works – and has always worked – than any historical tome.
7. Get a taste for true Venetian cuisine
Try traditional dishes from the Veneto – like oca in onto (goose in its own fat) or freshwater lagoon fish done in saor at Antica Adelaide, get the best polpette (meatballs) in Venice at Ca d’Oro (Alla Vedova), and a strong selection of Venetian antipasti, including raw sea food, at Vini da Gigio.
8. Be seduced by the contemporary art scene
Venice has a contemporary art scene that lives up to its glorious art history. An impressive 77 nations sent works by 90 artists to the 2009 Biennale a two-yearly artistic bunfight where deals are hatched and hopefuls vie with big names for a piece of the action. The Peggy Guggenheim Collection of 20th-century masters has long been the city's third most visited attraction, while the Punta della Dogana, which opened in 2009, brought works by contemporary giants including Dan Flavin, Jeff Koons, Jean Tinguely and Rachel Whiteread to the city.
9. Down a glass (or two) of Venetian vino
The wine-growing area that stretches from the Veneto north-east to Friuli is, after Tuscany and Piedmont, one of Italy’s strongest, with good whites like tocai and soave backed up by solid reds like valpolicella and cabernet franc. This means that, even in Venice’s humbler establishments, you’ll find that the house wine is often surprisingly refined. Try Pane, Vino e San Daniele – a chain specialising in the wine and ham of the Friuli region; La Favorita, which has a fine selection of bottles from the north-east; Alla Maddalena, where the house wine comes from the family’s own vineyards; Alle Testiere, which has a small but well-chosen wine list; and Naranzaria, a nouveau-bacaro which offers a selection of fine wines – many of them produced by co-owner Brandino Brandolini.
10. Experience (well-played) Vivaldi in Venice
For many, experiencing Vivaldi in Venice is an absolute must. But more discerning music-lovers might feel somewhat Baroqued out by the predictable programmes performed by local groups, whose technical ability rarely goes beyond the so-so to fairly good range. Exceptions are the Venice Baroque Orchestra, a global success, and the orchestra of La Fenice, one of the best in the country. As well as its opera and ballet seasons, La Fenice has at least two concert seasons a year. The Teatro Malibran shares the Fenice’s programmes and also has its own chamber music season, with performances by the Società Veneziana dei Concerti.