Venice is unlike anywhere else. A car-free set of islands on stilts, where canals take the place of roads. A film-set of grand palaces, mansions and villas, virtually unchanged since the 1700s. A gorgeous time-capsule of architecture, art and music from centuries of shipping and trading wealth.
It’s flooding more than ever, the buildings are gently crumbling, the locals are gradually moving out – but it’s still one of the great must-visits of the world. And no citybreak destination has more must-sees or must-dos for the visitor. And now with Flavours of Italy's new Painting Holiday in Venice coming in 2013, we'll take a look at ten of Venice's essential attractions.
1 Grand Canal
Public transport isn’t usually like this. Take a boat trip past waterfront palaces and under the iconic Rialto bridge. The ideal introduction to Venice – a Canaletto come jaw-droppingly to life.
2 Rialto Markets
Piles of fish, fruit and vegetables, and – if you get here early morning, before the tourists arrive – a genuine local buzz.
3 Piazza San Marco
The heart of Venice, and arguably the world’s most beautiful square. The sweep of majestic buildings will take your breath away. As will the price of a coffee – but there’s nowhere better in the world to enjoy a people-watching cappuccino.
4 Basilica di San Marco
The awesome cathedral, with 800 years of golden and bejewelled architecture, and enough mosaics to cover a football pitch, is a world-class attraction on its own.
5 Palazzo Ducale
What other government building would dare have gold-lined staircases, Tintoretto ceilings, and paintings by Veronese? In Venice’s heyday, style and luxury mattered as much as authority.
6 Campanile di San Marco
Take a lift to the top of the bell-tower for breathtaking views of the city, the lagoon, even – on a clear day – the Alps.
7 Explore the alleys
Get a good map and wander those narrow, pedestrian-only back alleys. Just when you think you’re lost forever in the 17th century, a lovely square appears to save you with a cafe.
8 La Fenice
Reopened in 2003 after a fire – its name appropriately means ‘phoenix’ – and fully restored to its 19th-century splendour. Not just opera, but also orchestral and chamber concerts; or simply take a tour.
9 Gondola ride
Expensive (80 euros is the going rate per boatload) but one of the world’s great experiences, especially at dusk when the buildings are floodlit and Venice has a luminous magic of its own.
10 Ice-cream and liqueur
Finish your day the Venetian way, in one of its countless cafe-ringed squares. Paolin, in Campo Santo Stefano, is a good (and affordable) bet.