Venice is a city that needs very little introduction. The subject of many songs and featured in literature through the centuries, it is a city that excites the imagination and conjures up images of romance, beauty, masked balls and intrigue and more history than you could shake a very big stick at.
Of course the obvious thing that springs to mind when anyone mentions Venice is the extensive and intricate system of canals that are an integral part of the way of life in Venice. There are many pretenders to the crown of being a "city on water" but in truth, nowhere even comes close to replicating what Venice has to offer. The city oozes history around every corner and is literally chock full of grand iconic and historic buildings. Whether you stay in the old centre on the canals or further afield, we have compiled your "must see" sights in this enigmatic city.
St. Mark's Square
If you don't visit St. Mark's Square (Piazza San Marco), you really can't claim to have seen Venice. The square is at the centre of Venice life and although it is no longer the arrival point for most visitors (this accolade now goes to the railway station), it remains at the heart of what makes Venice the city it is. Thronging with an endless parade of visitors throughout the year, there is a real carnival atmosphere in the square although it is not the place to go if you like solitude! The square is dominated at the eastern end by the fabulous Church of St. Mark (St. Mark's Basilica). The western side is flanked by large arches and marble decoration and further down is the mightily impressive Clock Tower (Italian:Torre dell'Orologio). As with most things in the centre of Venice, you are likely to find a hefty queue of people waiting to go up the Clock Tower for the fabulous picture opportunities it provides. Aside from the sites and the obligatory photos, the square is also a great place to pick up a gondola or city tour from the Grand Canal.
St. Mark's Basilica
Although we have already mentioned the basilica in the St. Mark's Square section, the significance and splendour of this building is such that it deserves its own write-up. It stands as a testament to the importance of the Venetian Republic and its former glory and is quite simply stunning. It was first consecrated as far back as 1094 and modelled on the Church of the Twelve Apostles in Istanbul (Constantinople at the time). Bedecked with golden mosaics, the church is also littered with priceless treasures (many plundered as the spoils of war) and a shiny marble pavement. This is one of the sites that is certainly worth queuing up for.
The Doge's Palace
Also on St. Mark's Square is the fabulous Doge's Palace which was the traditional home of the elected Doge or "Duke" of Venice. The position was highly sought after and one which involved a lot of intrigue and double-dealing in the election process. Nowadays visitors can marvel at the splendour of the Doge's Palace with its ornate Venetian gothic style, bedecked with intricate 14th century sculptures and a myriad of dark cramped chambers which were the nerve centre of the medieval Venetian beaurecrats.
The Grand Canal
The Grand Canal (and indeed the entire canal network) is a tourist attraction in its own right. Venice is justifiably famed for its unique canal system and the Grand Canal is the main artery of this, formerly taking visitors to the beating heart of Venice that is St. Mark's Square. Nowadays, it is tourist heaven with individual water taxis or gondolas and the public waterbuses (numbers 1 and 2) which dart about on the water in a timeless manner. The canal is flanked by history and the splendour of the Venetian republic with the former palazzos of the elite ruling classes on either side. One of the highlights of any canal trip is the passing of the world famous 16th century Rialto Bridge which is synonymous with everything that is Venice.
Think of Venice and Murano glass is something that will not be too far away from your thoughts. A day trip to Murano Island is therefore both a fascinating trip in its own right as well as a welcome break from the hordes of sightseers in St. Mark's Square. Here you can watch the glass-blowers hard at work using techniques that date back centuries. Aside from learning a little bit about glass making, you can enjoy the beauty of Murano Island and shop for some great glass souvenirs. Although many hotels will offer you free trips to the island, these are usually accompanied by a hard sell to buy souvenirs. For a more peaceful trip, take the water bus which is inexpensive and just 10 minutes from Fundament Nove.
The Palazzo Ducale was for a long time the nerve centre of the Venetian republic's political world. This stunning pink and white gothic palace was home to both the Doge (Duke) as well as a prison, and various government beaurecrats. The Doge's living area is exquisite and has numerous grandiose rooms decked out with paintings from some of Venice and Italy's finest. The series of state rooms culminates in the Sala del Maggiore which has one of the biggest oil paintings in the world in Tintoretto's Paradiso. Work your way through the complex network of corridors and you will ultimately arrive at the iconic Bridge of Sighs (Ponte dei Sospiri) which leads you across to the new prisons.
Venice is chock full of important artworks which tell the story of its past and importance as a major republic in its own right. The Gallerie dell'Accademia is home to probably the largest and most significant collection of works with pieces dating from the 14th to the 18th centuries. One of the highlights of the tour is the fabulous Crucifixion and Apotheosis by Carpaccio although this is just one of many highlights in a tour which is literally full of jaw-dropping moments.
The Ca' d'Oro (literally "the Golden House") is one of the best examples of the grand palazzos that flank the Grand Canal. Dating from the 15th century, the palace got its name from the ornate gilding that once covered important works of sculpture on the palace's facade. As with most of Venice's grand old buildings, the palace is also home to many paintings as well as many works of bronze and tapestries. For that obligatory tourist moment, you can even reach out from the balconies and touch the lion gargoyles that face the nearby Grand Canal!