Our series of city guides for travelers continues with the beautiful, romantic and iconic City of Canals, Venice, introduced by Alexandra Jourdren. Alexandra gives travelers a comprehensive and vividly poetic journey through the streets, canals and palazzos of Venice.
By: Alexandra Jourdren
Alexandra Jourdren is a food and travel blogger, and a passionate gastro-geek with predisposition to wanderlust. Kiwi by birth, quasi-French by marriage, Londoner by residence and Venetian at heart. Born with the travel gene, raised on 747s, some might say she's obsessed with food. Her favourite city is of course, Venice!
(photo by Alexandra Jourdren)
3 Travel Must Do's in Venice
Peggy Guggenheim Collection:
When all the Venetian gilt and baroque finery starts to overwhelm, which it will, given long
enough exposure, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Dorsoduro is a wonderful place
to reconnect with artworks of more recent times. Peggy Guggenheim was a New York
Guggenheim heiress with a penchant for modern art (20th Century) and an infamous lust
for modern artists. She financially supported a great many famous talents, such as Jackson
Pollock and Alexander Calder, whose works hang in this museum, which has its home in the
Grand Canal palazzo where Peggy lived for many years. Not only is the Collection interesting,
it’s also unpretentious and, for respite from the tourist hordes, offers a lovely, walled
sculpture garden in which to relax. Snacks, drinks and the eponymous Venetian Spritz are
served at the bar in the rear building, on the terrace just next to the museum shop, where
reproductions of Peggy’s outrageous sunglasses may be purchased, alongside the usual
memorabilia and quirky artistic objets.
Views from the Campanile on San Giorgio Maggiore:
For views across Venice’s snaking terracotta rooftops, many folk head for the bell tower
in St Mark’s Square. In my opinion, the Campanile on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore,
a short vaporetto ride across the water, rates higher in the best view stakes. Being a little
further away from St Mark’s, the island monastery’s bell tower offers superior views of the
Piazzetta and all in it: St Mark’s Basilica, the candyfloss pink and white of the Doge’s Palace,
the terrace cafes, the cloud of omnipresent pigeons. You will also be able to see all the way
along to the Riva degli Schiavoni and Venice’s park: the Giardini, where the Biennale is held
every other year. Look up the Grand Canal and the Canale della Giudecca or turn the other
way and gaze out past the cruise ships to the Lido, just across the lagoon. A good time to
go is late afternoon for the magical light and a touch of romance, but don’t miss last entry
(currently closing is at 4.30pm Oct – April and 6.30pm May to September)! If Venice’s alleys
confound your internal GPS, this is the ideal place to get your bearings, whilst taking some
When you’ve filled up your memory card and are ready to return to sea-level, head for the
island’s bar, just around to the right when you exit the church. Take a seat on the terrace
and sip on a sun-downer Spritz as the mini- marina’s immaculate white boats bob against a
very Venetian vista.
Campo di Santa Margherita
This is a lively square at the heart of Dorsoduro – well-situated for a break between cultural
visits to the likes of the Basilica at Frari or the Scuola di San Rocco. If you’re hungry, thirsty
or craving a scoop or two of bona fide Italian gelato, you’ll find refreshment here. Some of
the Campo’s bars serve Venice’s version of tapas: cicchetti – an inexpensive way to try local
snacks without breaking the bank. It’s also a great place to just sit and people-watch.
For nearby culture, visit the Carmini Church at one end of the square, with its altarpiece by
Tintoretto, and don’t skip the Basilica of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari (about 10 minutes
walk away), with its unforgettable painting of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary by Titian.
For the best pizza I’ve ever had the pleasure to eat in Venice, walk out of the Campo towards
San Barnaba, in the direction of the Accademia Bridge and just before you exit San Barnaba’s
square through its covered portico, turn down the narrow calle on the right. Al Profeta is
a short way down on the left hand side and serves excellent pizza at reasonable prices.
You won’t find too many reviews of this place, but it really deserves a mention for its food,
friendliness and flexibility: if you don’t see your favourite pizza combo on their extensive
menu, just ask politely and they’ll make it for you.
(photo courtesy of slowtrav.com)
Venice's Hidden Gem
Visit Harry’s Bar, by all means, but don’t expect their Bellini to rock your world. Harry’s Bar is marked
loudly on the tourist map, so that as you sit there, surrounded by gawping visitors clasping their
precious Bellinis, it’s possible to feel a right fool for joining the masses and hoping to spot the ghost
of Hemingway at Harry’s, swaying ever-after on his barstool.
For a superior Bellini experience, visit the Centurion Palace Hotel. Its location between the Salute
vaporetto stop and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection makes it a practical place to pause after a visit
to Santa Maria della Salute or the Collection. Go there for a pre-prandial Bellini and ask for a table on the hotel’s terrace, providing front row seats for the theatre that is the traffic of the Grand Canal. The Centurion’s
Bellinis are nectar in a glass – made with the puree of fresh white peaches, fizzing with delicate
streams of prosecco bubbles. The accompanying snacks are original, the view exceptional, and
there’s only a handful of tables here so the atmosphere lends itself to exclusivity. Even so, the staff
are attentive without smothering, courteous and efficient. Note: if you happen to find the terrace
tables taken, the courtyard has more seating and you can always ask the waiters to move you as
soon as a terrace table becomes available. Some hotel staff might find this too much trouble, but not
at the Centurion Palace, where they’re well-practised in how to make any patron feel like a doge.
(photo courtesy of citalia.com)
Where to Eat
If you feel like raiding the holiday kitty for an elegant Venetian dining experience, book a table at
Algiubagio on the Fondamenta Nuove, the long embankment running across the uppermost part
of central Venice. The location is an old barchessa, or boat house, which has been decorated in a
modern, yet warm fashion. The staff are welcoming and multi-lingual, the wine list offers options
from Venice’s own lagoon (but I’d recommend the Planeta whites from Sicily), not to mention
that the food is seasonal, fresh and a showcase for the kitchen’s collective imagination. There’s
Argentinian beef with an incongruous yet delicious chocolate sauce, fresh burrata and lagoon grapes
drizzled with peppery olive oil, and homemade pasta twists tossed with cherry tomatoes, fresh
basil and baby mozzarella. Antipasto platters arrive bearing assortments of fresh fish concoctions,
everything from the day’s catch. I can highly recommend Algiubagio’s beef carpaccio as one of the
best you’ll be lucky to find.
(photo courtesy of alguibagio.net)
Algiubagio sits just across from the pretty cemetery island of San Michele, so if you can sweet-talk
your way into a table at the front of the restaurant or on its terrace, you’re guaranteed lovely views
of the lagoon and boat life, perhaps even a sunset on a fine evening. The dining room at the rear
may not have the view of the lagoon, but from here you can admire the chefs at work as they chop
and toss and sauté and boil and sear top Venetian ingredients with which to woo you. Definitely
make a reservation and don’t forget to check which days the restaurant is closed so as not to miss
out on a feast worth forking out for. If your timetable doesn’t permit a visit to Algiubagio at lunch or
dinner time, pop along for a fuss-free breakfast at the front bar, where locals stand and gossip over
their first espresso of the day, warm pastries in hand.
More recommendations for travelers
There’s a certain magic to Venice, something intangible that seeps into your soul if you give it time
and patience. I’d like to say that this is the reason why so many tourists travel there each year but,
in reality, most of them simply whizz in and out, an embarrassment of people who think Venice can
be understood in a day. These are the folk crowding the top ten tourist haunts and falling prey to
expensive dining options at mediocre eateries around the major sights. Don’t be one of them. Of
course you should see the most famous places Venice has to offer, but be wise and go early or late –
that way you’ll avoid the worst of the queues. Alternatively, consider visiting Venice off season – no
queues and the wintry fog wafting in off the lagoon carries with it an air of mystery.
Don’t expect the best value for your Euro at the restaurants next to St Mark’s Square – try those
between the key destinations instead of directly next to them; that’s where you’ll dine happily.
Allow time to travel into the lagoon, visit the islands of Murano, Burano, and further-flung Torcello.
Jump on a boat to the Lido, the only Venetian island where transport has wheels, and see the beach
and former Hotel des Bains, as immortalised by Thomas Mann’s novella, Death in Venice.
(photo courtesy of christi-angeli.blogspot.com)
Accustom yourself to travel by foot or water. The emergency services, courier companies, funeral directors and refuse collectors-all have their own boats in which to navigate Venice's maze of canals-the veins of life threading through the hundreds of islands constituting this watery city. Don't think it necessary to mortgage yourself for a forty minute gondola ride-just find a traghetto stop, hand over a couple of coins and let the gondolier punt you across the canal in his authentic gondola, standing in the local fashion.
For the above reasons and more, Venice is one of the most beguiling cities in the world.
Thank you Alexandra for the wonderful guide to Venezia! Have something you love about The City of Canals, a suggestion, a comment or a question? Explore more at our Venice pages, filled with great travel links for news, weather, hotels, restaurants, events and even social media links! Join our discussion below. MetroMarks is all about urban exploring!
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Centurion Palace Hotel, hidden gems, attractions, restaurants, Harry's Bar, Al Profeta, canals, gondoliers, gondola, Carmini Church, Campo di Santa Margherita, San Giorgio Maggiore, Campanile, Peggy Guggenheim, Venezia, Epicurienne, Venice, Italy, travel, tourism, vacation, Alexandra Jourdren, Hotel des Bains, Algiubagio, St. Mark's Square