Piazza San Marco
The grandest square of Venice, and the very heart of the city. In high season it can be very crowded, but if you have never been to Venice before you must visit at least once. Don’t miss the Basilica di San Marco, a spectacular Byzantine church glistening with golden mosaics, and the Doge’s Palace (where, among other things, you can walk across the Bridge of Sighs). I always enjoy strolling through the piazza early in the morning and stopping off for a brioche at Florian.
This is the main canal in Venice. It snakes through the city, flanked by all the grandest buildings and palazzi. Take the number 1 vaporetto, starting at either the Station or the Arsenale, then sit and enjoy the view as you slowly motor up the canal. It’s a really nice way to spend a morning and a great way to get a sense of the city.
Chiesa di San Zaccaria
One of my favourite churches in Venice: just a stone’s throw from St Marks, it’s a small and unobtrusive building from the outside set in a quiet campo, with a small water fountain and leafy trees. Inside, however, it is like a jewel box filled with rich Bellinis and one of the most magnificent crypts in Venice.
Basilica Ss. Giovanni e Paolo
A stunning gothic church on a dramatic scale, hidden in one of the quieter parts of the city and at the centre of a very pretty square. Stop off for a cappuccino and a pastry at the old fashioned Rosa Salva café just next to it. When the weather is warm, you can sit out in the square, looking on to the church and one of the finest equestrian statues in Venice.
Santa Maria dei Frari
A monumental church, filled with artworks including an altarpiece by Titian and a wooden statue by Donatello. After visiting, walk through to the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, which is just around the corner.
Scuola di San Rocco
Founded in the sixteenth century as a confraternity – the Scuola di San Rocco still has an active community that play a large part in the life of Venice. The main building is open to the public and is adorned with wonderful extravagant Tintorettos depicting the biblical story from fall to redemption. I find it a very evocative building and most definitely worth a visit. If you have time, pop into the Church of San Rocco as well – it’s just opposite and utterly charming.
Once a private home and now a museum, that has been open to the public since the early thirties. A wonderful collection of sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth century art, including some glass pieces from the masters at Murano. It has one of the prettiest courtyards in Venice.
Peggy Guggenheim’s home in Venice, that after her death was converted into a small museum. A wonderful collection of modern art, including pieces by Picasso, De Chirico, Giacometti and Duchamp. The museum has a uniquely intimate feel about it, as well as lovely views on to the Grand Canal and the Academia Bridge. The gardens are very peaceful and in the summer months, I can think of few things as enjoyable as stopping there, in the little café, for a light lunch.
One of the cornerstones of the Venice art scene. A sensational collection of renaissance masterpieces, including pieces by Tintoretto, Titian, Bellini, Leonardo da Vinci, Canaletto and Carpaccio, just to name a few – all set in a rather charming, crumbling old building. Particularly wonderful is Carpaccio’s depiction of the life of Saint Ursula, a cycle of nine, utterly entrancing paintings.
One of the little islands, a short boat’s drive away from the centre of Venice. Burano is a fishing island with a long tradition of lace-making. You can see ladies hand weaving the lace when you visit, but it is also a charming place to spend a morning, just wandering around and soaking up the atmosphere and the views on to the lagoon. The houses are all small cottages and brightly coloured: legend has it that the fishermen would paint their houses, so that they could see them on foggy mornings when they were out on their boats.
Another island, not far by boat from the centre of Venice. Busier and buzzier than sleepy Burano, Murano is where they blow glass. Many of the glass factories are now open to the public and watching the masters at work is entrancing.
Punta Della Dogana
The old customs house has recently been converted into a contemporary art museum. Redesigned by Tadao Ando, the building itself – with its lofty ceilings, exposed beams and views on to the Giudecca Canal – is worth a visit. The contemporary art collection, part of François Pinault’s private collection, is also sensational. Don’t miss Ronnie Horn’s glass cylinders.
Chiesa di Santa Maria della Salute
Just by the Punta Della Dogana, one of Venice’s more extravagant, rococo churches – a lovely contrast to the sleek lines of the Punta Della Dogana. Built by the city to ward off the plague in the early seventeenth century, the church is very atmospheric.
Mariano Fortuny’s collection of textiles, paintings and photographs on display in the palazzo which he used to use as a studio. An absolute must for anyone with an interest in textiles or stage-design. They also host temporary exhibits there, working with really interesting artists and curators, so always worth checking to see what is on.
San Giorgio Maggiore
The Church of San Giorgio sits on its own little island, a stone’s throw from both St Marks Square and the Giudecca. Designed by Palladio, the church itself is magnificent in its simplicity. Don’t miss Tintoretto’s painting of the ‘Last Supper’ at the back of the church. And make sure to go up the bell tower, as it has magnificent views across the city and the lagoon – a lovely way to get your bearings for the city.
Scuola di San Giorgio Minore
A tiny church hidden away in a quiet corner of Castello, it houses one Carpaccio’s two great Venetain painting cycles. Dark and deeply atmospheric, it is definitely worth paying a visit – though the opening hours are a little erratic. Stop off for a coffee at Bar Alla Bragora afterwards. And then, if you have time, walk through to the Church of San Giovanni in Bragora (just by the café), where Vivaldi was baptised.
Skye McAlpine’s Venice Guide