Venice hotspots & highlights: best for history, culture & more
Truman Capote described Venice like "eating an entire box of chocolate liqueurs in one go.". Utterly addictive, Venice is an indulgent feast of visual splendour home to a dizzying array of architectural masterpieces. While it would be impossible to list all of Venice's top sights in this brief guide, here we highlight the unmissable attractions including where to go, what to see and where to sleep, such as the Hilton*, for the very best of Venetian breaks.
Piazza San Marco
Napoleon is said to have called it "the drawing room of Europe": grand, refined and elegant, Piazza San Marco is the only square in Venice (the others are called "campi" or "campielli"). It is dominated by the Campanile of St Mark's, which stands 98.6m tall and provides gorgeous views of the city and its lagoons. The square is the focal point for celebrations during Carnevale, when masked participants congregate at the renowned Caffè Florian, the oldest café in the world in continuous operation.
St Mark's Basilica
Modelled on the Church of the Twelve Apostles in Constantinople, St Mark's Basilica is a unique example of Italo-Byzantine architecture. The present basilica was completed in 1094, and was enriched over the centuries with mosaics, altars, columns and capitals. Over 8,000 square metres of mosaics cover the cupolas, walls and vaults, and there are over 500 columns, largely Byzantine, many spoils of war from Constantinople. Don't miss the Treasure of St Mark's, which houses the Pala d'Oro, the high altar retable, one of the world's finest works of Byzantine enamel.
The city's impressive Palazzo Ducale, or Doge's Palace, is an architectural melange of styles. The exterior is a masterpiece of Gothic architecture, while the rest of the structure incorporates Renaissance and Mannerist elements. It was the residence of the Doge, the immensely powerful chief magistrate of Venice who held the highest and oldest political position in the city.
The building lay at the heart of political life - it was also the seat of the governing councils and the courtrooms, as well as being a prison. Among the many highlights are the Museo dell'Opera, which displays the finest carved capitals of the ground-floor arcade and upper loggia, the Anticollegio, housing four works of art by Tintoretto, and the Sala del Maggior Consiglio, with a ceiling panel by Veronese.
Peggy Guggenheim Collection
One of Italy's most important museums for European and American 20th-century art, Venice's Guggenheim is located in the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, an unfinished 18th-century Grand Canal palace that was the former home of Peggy Guggenheim. One of the 20th century's greatest art collectors, Peggy lived in the city for thirty years until her death in 1979. Her collection includes major works by Rothko, Kandinsky, Dalí, Klee and Braque, along with pieces by lesser-known artists.
Scuola Grande di San Rocco
A lay confraternity dating back to 1478, the Scuola Grande di San Rocco is embellished with masterpieces by Tintoretto that illustrate episodes from the New and Old Testaments. The Sala dell'Albergo and the Sala Superiore house some of his most notable works, wonderfully preserved in their original setting that has virtually gone unaltered since its construction.
Located in the Scuola della Carità building on the south bank of the Grand Canal, the Gallerie dell'Accademia houses a rich collection of Venetian paintings from the 14th to 18th centuries, with works by Veronese, Tintoretto, Titian and Canaletto - to name a few. Among the highlights are Titian's Pietà, Veronese's Battle of Lepanto and Bellini's Sacred Conversation.
A short ferry ride from the main island of Venice lies Giudecca, a collection of eight islets that were historically home to large palaces and gardens. In the 19th and 20th centuries it became an industrial district, housing artisans' workshops, shipyards and some of northeastern Italy's largest factories. Its days as an industrial estate are now long gone - workrooms have been converted into art studios, while industrial plants house chic accommodation.
The most notable example of the area's transformation is the vast Molino Stucky flour mill. Built in 1898 by Swiss industrialist Giovanni Stucky, it is home to the luxurious Hilton Molino Stucky*, worth a visit for its trendy Skyline Rooftop Bar* that offers unparalleled views of the city. La Giudecca has a handful of impressive sights including Andrea Palladio's beautiful 16th-century Il Redentore church that dominates the view.
In 1516, under the Venetian Republic, the city's jews were made to live in the Ghetto Nuovo. The area's previous inhabitants were sent away and within a week the city's jewish community had moved in, forced to live in cramped and insanitary conditions in over an acre of land. Over time confinement fostered cultural exchange - the Ghetto became a place for scholarly learning, where Jews from France, Spain, Germany, Italy and the Ottoman Empire enriched one another's knowledge. The Ghetto's Jewish Museum provides an insight into the history of Venetian jews through a series of images and objects.
Venice's location on the Adriatic Sea means fish features heavily - eels, seafood and sardines are particularly popular. Spices are used abundantly, a legacy of Venetian merchants' trade with Asia during the Middle Ages. Polenta, rice, beans and baccalà (dried codfish) are often combined with meat or fish. Unique to the bars of Venice are cicchetti, small snacks that are often nibbled over glasses of prosecco enjoyed in bacari, atmospheric little bars typically tucked away down back streets.
Located in a former flour mill, the Hilton Molino Stucky* on the island of La Giudecca offers tastefully furnished rooms with modern amenities including Dolby surround systems and docking stations. Facilities include the city's second largest spa, a handful of bars and restaurants, and a modish rooftop pool offering panoramic city views. A shuttle boat service connects the hotel to the city centre.
Are you planning a trip to this enchanting city? Whether you're cruising churches or ticking off art galleries, don't miss the latest deals on Hilton stays, with three hotels located in and around Venice. Keep an eye on the weather in Venice plus see when we think is the best time to go for an enjoyable city break with warming sunshine.
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