If you’re arriving in Venice by bus, train or car, public vaporettos are the best way to reach your hotel. If you’re flying in, you can either take Alilaguna from Marco Polo Airport to the ferry stop nearest your hotel or engage a private transfer. Alilaguna also offers private and shared transfers (VeniceLink). Information on fares, fees and schedules are available at: http://www.alilaguna.it/
There are no cars in Venice. Bring comfortable walking shoes and buy a transit pass, which you can purchase at the airport, bus terminal, and several vaporetto stops. For information on the price and duration of the various passes, visit: http://www.actv.it/en/movinginvenice/movinginvenice
Here’s a bare-bones map of Venice to familiarize you with the city’s districts: http://100habits.com/wp-content/uploads/venice-sestieri-map.png
There are five cardinal points in Venice: Ferrovia, Piazzale Roma, Piazza San Marco, Rialto and Accademia. Knowing where they are on the map will help you navigate the city. If you get lost, prominent yellow signs throughout the city will direct you to those locations.
ST. MARK’S SQUARE
Without a doubt, the most-visited tourist site in Venice is St. Mark’s Plaza and St. Mark’s Basilica. A must-see for its eye-popping mosaics, the church holds many relics and artistic treasures, most of them looted by the Venetians. Among them are the bones of St. Mark the Evangelist (stolen from Alexandria), the Horses of St. Mark (stolen from Constantinople) and the porphyry statue of the Tetrarchs (also stolen from Constantinople). A visit to the Basilica usually lasts about 10 minutes and is free, though the wait to get in averages about 45 minutes. You can also visit the Museum, the Treasury, the Pala d’Oro and the Campanile for separate fees.
For info on St. Mark’s Basilica & The Campanile: http://www.basilicasanmarco.it/eng/index.bsm
Located next to St. Mark’s is The Doge’s Palace, which formerly housed the Doge and the governmental apparatus of Venice. You can visit the Palace or take the “Secret Itineraries Tour,” which takes you into hidden rooms and chambers that housed the Chancellor (Archivist), Inquisition, torture rooms and prison cells.
For info on the Doge’s Palace: http://palazzoducale.visitmuve.it/en/home/
ALONG THE GRAND CANAL
The following sites are on the #1 Vaporetto line, and within very easy walking distance of the stop indicated in parentheses. This list does NOT cover every stop – only those with the most interesting attractions. From San Marco/Vallaresso/Giardinetti, take the vaporetto headed in the direction of Piazzale Roma.
La Salute (Salute) – The dome of La Salute is one of the most recognizable landmarks in Venice. In 1630-31, as plague ravaged Venice (one third of the population died), the city fathers vowed to build a church in honour of the Virgin if she would come to their aid. The plague ended and the church was built; every November 21st, the Archbishop leads a procession across a pontoon bridge strung along the Grand Canal to give thanks.
Accademia (Accademia) – Founded in the 18th century and housed in the Scuola della Carita since Napoleonic times, the Accademia showcases Venetian painting through the 18th century.
For info on the Accademia: http://www.gallerieaccademia.org/?lang=en
Ca’ Rezzonico (Ca’ Rezzonico) – Once the home of the Rezzonico family, the palazzo now operates as the Museum of 18th Century Venetian Culture. Furnished in period style, highlights are paintings and frescoes by the celebrated artists of the day, including Giambattista and Giandomenico Tiepolo, Francesco Guardi, Pietro Longhi and Canaletto.
For info on Ca’ Rezzonico: http://carezzonico.visitmuve.it/en/home/
Peggy Guggenheim Collection (On the Grand Canal between Salute and Accademia) – This museum houses an outstanding collection of modern art from the first half of the 20th century. The museum contains major works by artists such as Picasso, Braque, Duchamp, Brancusi, de Chirico, Mondrian, Giacometti, Ernst, Magritte, Pollock and Calder.
For info on the Peggy Guggenheim Collection: http://www.guggenheim-venice.it/inglese/default.html
Frari (S Toma) – Built in the Venetian Gothic style, Frari is the second largest church in Venice. Among the masterpieces inside are Titian’s Assumption of the Virgin (over the altar), Virgin of the Pesaro Family (in the left nave) and Bellini’s wooden triptych Madonna and Child (in the sacristy); the woodcarving of St John the Baptist is by Donatello. The church also holds the tombs of the sculptor Canova and Titian, who died in 1576 in one of the city’s many outbreaks of plague.
From the vaporetto stop, walk up Calle Traghetto Vecchio (near the rio). Turn left on Calle Campanile Castello, then make a quick right onto Calle Larga Prima. Turn right again on Calle Seconda del Cristo, which becomes Calle Corli. Turn left when the street ends, then turn right. The church is on your left.
Rialto Bridge and Markets (Rialto & Mercato) – Another famous Venetian landmark. The current stone bridge dates to the late 16th century and is lined with shops. The San Polo side of the Rialto Bridge is home to the city’s markets. Cross the bridge, turn right onto Naranzaria, which leads you into the Erbaria (where Casanova and other young blades used to show off their latest conquests). Bear left through Erbaria and exit on the right, which brings you to Casaria and the green market paralleling the Canal. At the far end is the Pescaria (fish market), which extends to the left. Exit the Pescaria via Ruga degli Speziale (Street of the Spice Vendors), which leads into Ruga degli Orefici (lined with goldsmiths and souvenir shops) and, ultimately, back to the bridge. You can also visit the markets by disembarking at the “Mercato” stop.
Ca’ D’Oro (Ca’ d’Oro) – Known as the “Golden House,” this 15th century palazzo was once covered in gilt and polychrome, giving it a glittering appearance. Now a museum, it houses the extensive art collection of its last owner, Baron Giorgio Franchetti. Tickets must be booked in advance.
For info on Ca’ d’Oro: http://www.cadoro.org/?lang=en
The Jewish Quarter/Ghetto (Ferrovia) – The Ghetto was instituted in the 16th century, when Jews were forced to live apart in a walled enclave. Tours of the Ghetto’s five Synagogues are offered by the Museo Ebraica, located in the Campo del Ghetto Nuovo.
Get off at Ferrovia and walk back along the Rio Terra Lista di Spagna through the Campo San Geremia and over the Ponte delle Guglie. Turn left on the Fondamenta di Cannaregio and look for a doorway with Hebrew etched across the threshold. This is the entrance to the Calle del Ghetto Vecchio, which leads to the Campo del Ghetto Nuovo.
You can also take the #52 line to the P.te d Guglie stop. Walk up the Fondamenta to the Ghetto’s entrance.
Piazzale Roma (P Roma) – This is the bus station, the last stop the line. Nothing exciting here, but if you’re departing via cruise ship, get off and locate the People Mover that takes you to the Maritime Terminal.
If you take the Vaporetto #1 from San Marco in the opposite direction (Lido), you’ll find yourself in the Castello district:
San Zaccaria (S Zaccaria) – An easy walk along the Riva degli Schiavone from St. Mark’s, should you not wish to ride the vaporetto. This church was built in the 15th-16th centuries in a mix of Gothic and Renaissance styles; artwork inside includes paintings by Bellini (the altarpiece), Tintoretto, Tiepolo, and Van Dyck.
Arsenale (Arsenale) – These are the old state-owned shipyards and armories, established in the 12th century. The southeast area of the Arsenale has been renovated into galleries and exhibition spaces; every two years, the Arsenale becomes one of the exhibition spaces for the Venice Biennale.
For info on the Biennale: http://www.labiennale.org/en/biennale/index.html
Museo Storico Navale (Arsenale) – This museum holds five floors of naval history, and is located near the Arsenale. Exhibits include artillery, model ships, a reproduction of the Bucintoro (the Doge’s Barge), several very ornate gondolas, and exhibitions on 17th century naval hero Francesco Morosini and the Battle of Lepanto.
San Giorgio Maggiore – Located on a small island directly across from the Piazzetta. Designed by Andrea Palladio, the perfect proportions of this church are a great counterpoint to St. Mark’s. The Benedictines gave a few of the side chapels to wealthy families but kept control of their decoration. As a result, the interior is restrained, allowing the beauty of the building itself to show through. The church holds several Tintorettos. Other Palladian churches include Il Redentore and Le Zitelli, both on Giudecca.
Accessible via vaporetto (#2 line – S Giorgio) or traghetto. You can’t use your transit pass on the traghetto, but they run much more frequently.
For info on all the churches of Venice: http://www.churchesofvenice.co.uk/
Teatro La Fenice (Campo San Fantin) – One of the preeminent opera houses in the world, La Fenice was built at the end of the 18th century and rebuilt after a fire in 1996. Self-guided 45-minute audio tours of the building and grounds are available at the box office, or splurge on tickets to a performance.
San Michele (#41 line – Cimitero) – The final resting place of numerous Venetians, as well as international luminaries like Igor Stravinsky, Sergei Diaghilev and Ezra Pound. This might just be the perfect Halloween destination.
Info on Isola San Michele: http://www.nytimes.com/1993/05/16/travel/venice-s-isle-of-the-dead.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm
Museo del Vetro (# 41 line – Murano Museo) – Murano is the celebrated island of the glass blowers, and this museum (in the Palazzo Giustinian) showcases some of their finest works over the centuries. The island also has any number of glass foundries, showrooms and glass shops.
For info on the Museo del Vetro: http://museovetro.visitmuve.it/en/home/