Engineers love Venice — a completely man-made environment rising from the sea, with no visible means of support. Romantics revel in its atmosphere of elegant decay, seeing the peeling plaster and seaweed-covered stairs as a metaphor for beauty in decline. And first-time visitors are often stirred deeply, awaking from their ordinary lives to a fantasy world unlike anything they’ve ever experienced before. Built on a hundred islands with wealth from trade with the East, its exotic-looking palaces are laced together by sun-speckled canals. The car-free streets suddenly make walkers feel big, important, and liberated. It’s basically one giant amusement park for grown-ups, centuries in the making. By day, Venice is a city of museums and churches, packed with great art. Linger over lunch, trying to crack a crustacean with weird legs and antennae. At night, when the hordes of day-trippers have gone, another Venice appears. Dance across a floodlit square. Glide in a gondola through quiet canals while music echoes across the water. Pretend it’s Carnevale time, don a mask — or just a fresh shirt — and become someone else for a night.
At a Glance
▲▲▲ St. Mark’s Square Venice’s grand main square.
▲▲▲ St. Mark’s Basilica Cathedral with mosaics, saint’s bones, treasury, museum, and viewpoint of square.
▲▲▲ Doge’s Palace Art-splashed palace of former rulers, with prison accessible through Bridge of Sighs.
▲▲▲ Rialto Bridge Distinctive bridge spanning the Grand Canal, with a market nearby.
▲▲ Correr Museum Venetian history and art.
▲▲ Accademia Venice’s top art museum.
▲▲ Peggy Guggenheim Collection Popular display of 20th-century art.
▲▲ Frari Church Franciscan church featuring Renaissance masters.
▲▲ Scuola San Rocco “Tintoretto’s Sistine Chapel.”
▲ Campanile Dramatic bell tower on St. Mark’s Square with elevator to the top.
▲ Bridge of Sighs Famous enclosed bridge, part of Doge’s Palace, near St. Mark’s Square.
▲ La Salute Church Striking church dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
▲ Ca’ Rezzonico Posh Grand Canal palazzo with 18th-century Venetian art.
▲ Punta della Dogana Museum of contemporary art.
▲ Ca’ Pesaro International Gallery of Modern Art in a canalside palazzo.
▲ Scuola Dalmata di San Giorgio Exquisite Renaissance meeting house.
Church of San Zaccaria Final resting place of St. Zechariah, plus a Bellini altarpiece and an eerie crypt.
Church of San Polo Ninth-century church with works by Tintoretto, Veronese, and Tiepolo.
▲▲ Burano Sleepy island known for lacemaking and a lace museum.
▲ San Giorgio Maggiore Island across the lagoon featuring church with Palladio architecture, Tintoretto paintings, and fine views back on Venice.
▲ Murano Island famous for glass factories and glassmaking museum.
▲ Torcello Near-deserted island with old church, bell tower, and museum.
San Michele Cemetery island on the lagoon.