Art lover’s guide to Venice: The best restaurants, exhibits and hotels (photos)

La Serenissima, meaning “the most serene,” might not seem an appropriate name for the most visited tourist destination in Europe. With its ancient cobbled streets packed with tourists at pretty much any time of the year, it might be difficult to imagine Venice as a tranquil or serene place.

You have to visit Venice to understand why the crowds keep coming– there’s simply no other place on earth like this magical city. Everyone should experience the beauty of ancient Venice at least once.

Read on for my top 5 tips for visiting this classic Italian destination.

#1. Culture

Corban Walker Ireland in Venice Biennale

Artist Corban Walker's exhibit at the Venice Biennale (photo: Paul Allen)

If you go this month, you’ll be able to experience La Biennale di Venezia, the prestigious art exhibition that runs until 27 November 2011. La Biennale features hundreds of international artists showing their work in the country pavilions of the Giardini, in a former naval shipyard called the Arsenale and in numerous historic palazzos, churches and museums scattered about the city and on the surrounding islands. A pass to everything the biennale has to offer is 20 Euros while many of the offsite exhibitions are free.

When La Biennale isn’t on, one of the best art galleries to visit is the Peggy Guggenheim gallery near the Academia Bridge. Peggy Guggenheim’s collection includes major works from Picasso, Mondrian, Klee, Dali and others, housed in an 18th-century palace on the Grand Canal.

Art picks:

Venice Biennale
Tickets for both venues (Arsenale & Giardini): 20 Euros/16 Euros (Concs)

Peggy Guggenheim Collection
Tickets: 12 euros/7-10 Euros (Concs)

#2. History

Venice Grand Canal Small

Venice is known for its waterways, like the Grand Canal (photo: Paul Allen)

Just wandering the streets without any clear agenda will prove rewarding and awe-inspiring. This may seem an obvious suggestion, as virtually every cobbled street in Venice has an ancient church, art gallery or museum, but the experience shouldn’t be missed. And of course, the Piazzo San Marco (the massive main square) and St Mark’s Basilica, are unmissable.

#3. Food

The Osteria Oliva Nora is a charming restaurant in Venice

The Osteria Oliva Nera is a charming restaurant in Venice (photo: Paul Allen)

Venice can be a difficult place to find decent food but it’s not impossible and you don’t have to travel too far from the famous Piazza San Marco to do so. There are a number of very good, non-touristy restaurants in the Castello area with great food and atmosphere.

An excellent choice is the Osteria Oliva Nera run by the friendly husband and wife team of Isabella and Dino. The owners go out of their way to make every guest feel welcome and the fine food includes local fish and classic Venetian dishes like delicious stuffed fried zucchini flowers.

Near the biennale is the Via Garibaldi, a wide street filled with reasonably priced restaurants, cafes and bars. Try the Spaghetti vongole at Osteria al Garanghelo or Spaghetti alla busera con scampi at Ristorante Giorgione. Finish or begin your evening at the lively bar El Refolo, which also happens to have an outstanding and reasonably priced wine list.

Restaurant & bar picks:

Osteria Oliva Nera, Castello 3417/18 Venezia

Ristorante Giorgione, Via Garibaldi 1533

Osteria Al Garanghelo, via Garibaldi 1621

El Refolo, Via Garibaldi 1580

#4. Sea & Sand

Venice Lido Beach Small

Lido Beach in Venice (photo: Paul Allen)

If you’re in Venice during the warmer months, take a break from the inevitable crowds and jump on the Number 1 Vaporetto for a short ride to the Lido, an old-fashioned beach resort featuring a wide sandy beach, ice cream parlours and seaside shops. If you feel the urge for a gondola ride but don’t want to pay in the region of 100 Euros, look for the yellow “Traghetto” signs along the Grand Canal. For 50 cents you’ll be taken in a gondola across the canal.

Transportation picks:

Classic gondola ride: About 100 Euros
Traghetto gondola: About 50 cents

#5. Accommodation

Renting an apartment direct from the owner is a great way to keep accommodation costs down. Try Owners Direct for a wide array of apartments throughout Venice. Or, if you prefer to stay in a hotel, the Palazzo Soderini is an ultra-modern, reasonably priced pension, in a 15th-century villa.

Lodging picks:

Palazzo Soderini, Campo Bandiera e Moro, Castello 3611

Owners Direct


About the Writer

 Joanne Shurvell, a former Communications Director at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, is an arts and culture writer based in London.

Joanne is also the co-director of PayneShurvell, a new London art gallery showing contemporary art by emerging and mid-career UK and international artists.

Follow her on Twitter at @jshurvell.

About Joanne Shurvell

An arts & culture writer, Joanne is Downtown Traveler's London correspondent. She is also the co-director of PayneShurvell, a London art gallery showing contemporary art by emerging and mid-career UK and international artists.