Perhaps the world’s most beautiful city, Venice has for hundreds of years been a destination for travelers on their “grand tour.” It doesn’t get grander than this city of canals. Gondolas float past palazzos that seem to rise directly out of the water. Landmarks like the Basilica di San Marco and the Palazzo Ducale mix Byzantine, Gothic, and Renaissance architecture in such a way that it seems like something altogether different.
The city extends between the mouths of the Piave and Po Rivers, across 117 small islands in the saltwater marshes of the Venetian Lagoon, on the Adriatic Sea in northeast Italy. A wealthy city throughout much of its history, it began as a refuge for those from Roman cities, fleeing invasions as the empire collapsed. First as a Byzantine territory, then as the Republic of Venice, it became a major maritime power, especially during the Middle Ages and Renaissance eras, trading in salt, silk, grain, spice, and art. Already by the late thirteenth century, it had become the most prosperous city in Europe. At it's peak Venice had 36,000 sailors on 3,300 ships, dominating the commerce of the Mediterranean. By the 15th century it was the printing capital of the world, credited with the innovation of paperback books, (easily carried on a journey). Notable for freedom from religious fanaticism, Venice saw no executions for religious heresy during the Counter-Reformation.
The city was marginalized after the 17th century. Long wars with the new sultan in Constantinople had drained the coffers and lost them territories. The Portuguese discovery of the passage to India, Columbus' voyage to the Americas, and the inability of Venetian ships to compete with those of Iberia and the emerging sea powers of Northwest Europe also took their toll. At the same time a series of plagues killed more than a third of the population. Even so, during the 18th century this was considered the most elegant and refined city in Europe, with great influence in art, architecture and literature.The Republic ended with the conquest by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1797 and the city came under Austrian control, the focus of years of bitter and bloody struggles, until the area became a part of the Kingdom of Italy.
The Carnival of Venice annual festival begins about two weeks before Ash Wednesday, and ends on Fat Tuesday (Martedì Grasso). The famously elaborate masks (Bauta), a central feature of the festival, were adopted to hide identities and permit social mixing between the classes during special occasions. It was also important at times of political decision-making, when all citizens were required to act anonymously during free and secret ballots. Originally, only citizens had the right to use the Bauta and weapons were not permitted to be carried by those wearing the mask.
To taste the real Venice check out a bacaro, one of many small and inexpensive wine bars for crostini ham and cheese toast snacks, or a hearty meal. Traditional local dishes include "fegato alla Veneziana" made with calf's liver, pancetta bacon and onions. For a guide to some of the many restaurant options in town, see Frommer's top 27, the Michelin Guide pick of 20, or GoVenice with 36 more.
The gay scene here is far more subdued than in most Italian cities. There’s just a handful of bars and clubs that are gay or gay-friendly, as well as some B&Bs and other lodgings. PDM Bar/Glitter is the main GLBT club in town on weekends, and Metro Club Sauna is a full-service bathhouse. Both are in Mestre, on the terra firma side of the lagoon. For locations and website links of these and others, see our Venice gay map & listings pages.
Venice's Aeroporto Marco Polo is about 6 miles north of the city on the mainland. It's served by domestic and international flights from all over the world. There are buses to Venice, but the most scenic way to arrive at Plaza San Marco is by ferry.
There are no cars anywhere in Venice, which is part of the reason it is so magical. Gondolas are mostly for tourists, but can be a quick way to get across the Grand Canal. Vaporettos, or water buses, are better for longer distances.
Getting lost in Venice is considered to be part of the experience of the city; the maze-like streets can be very confusing and maps are of little use. An easy way around this is to orient yourself to St Mark's Square, then look for the signs "Per S Marco" on your return. But photogenic canals, hidden restaurants and glass blowing workshops are best stumbled apon, so relax and go missing for awhile. Cell phones are cheap for checking-in with friends, and water taxis can be used to find the way back as one emerges from who-knows-where amidst the web of alleyways.
Currency and Money
Italy is part of the Euro Zone, so the euro is the accepted currency. There are ATMs in the city.
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