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WHY NOT plan a trip to the floating city this autumn? We think that now is the perfect season to see the floating city, where the canals glint in the autumn sunshine, the mists roll in off the lagoon, most of the tourists are elsewhere and hotel prices have started to fall. Here’s a guide to making the most of the beautiful city of Venice.
The simplest and most rewarding way to navigate the city is to explore the six districts, or sestieri, in turn. Each has their own distinctive character and offers a range of different sights for visitors.
San Marco, the district which is home to the most popular sights, is the area around the lower bend of the Grand Canal. This is where most tourists flock to see the most famous sight in Venice, the Piazza San Marco. It may be crowded and full of pigeons, but it’s also lively, charming and surrounded by beautiful architecture and expensive coffee houses.
St Mark’s Basilica is home to the relics of the apostle, which were stolen for the city by enterprising early Venetians. Since then, art and riches brought back from around the world by Venice’s merchants have found their way into the Basilica, which is a riot of coloured marbles and mosaics.
To the east of San Marco is Castello, the sector where most Venetians live, while to the west and the north is Cannaregio, a peaceful sanctuary far from the madding crowds. On the south side of the Grand Canal are San Polo and Santa Croce, where bustling alleyways link quiet churches, spacious squares and the market stalls of the Rialto Bridge.
Further south is Dorsoduro, home to the Peggy Guggenheim art collection and the world famous Accademia, which is the finest of many fine art collections in Venice. The Galleria dell’Accademia contains works by Bellini, Piero della Francesca, Veronese, Tintoretto, Titian and Canaletto. Dorsoduro is also famous for the wide Zattere promenade looking across to the island of Giudecca.
Venice is famous for its canals and if you want a local view of the city and its backwaters, you should hire a boat. You can get taxis — that is, a boat and driver, but for the true experience take out a self-drive boat. No licence is required and the hire company will suggest simple routes – note that strong nerves are a must if you are going to venture out onto the Grand Canal.
Alternatively, take one of the ordinary vaporetti waterbuses, and admire the view from the canals (line number one is good for sightseeing as it travels all the way along the Grand Canal to Venice Lido).
The local tourist board is eager to lure tourists away from the crowded main sights and has produced a leaflet of walks through the least explored parts of the city. Called Venezia Beyond San Marco, it is available from tourist offices.
Some of the alternative sightseeing spots recommended include the Madonna dell’Orto church in Cannaregio, which houses several paintings by Tintoretto, as well as the man himself, and a Titian. Also in the north is the Ghetto — the island enclosure that gave the world the term — a fascinating enclave, with synagogues, museums, bakeries and Venice’s only kosher restaurant.
On the opposite side of the city, in Dorsoduro, is San Nicolo dei Mendicoli, a must for film fans. It houses the frescoes featured in Don’t Look Now and is currently being restored. If you have more time, there’s life outside central Venice, too, on the islands of the lagoon.
Relax on the glamorous beachfronts of Lido, pick up some hand-blown glass on Murano or buy some antique lace on brightly painted Burano before unwinding on the quiet island of Torcello.
If you prefer a guided tour, one of the best ways to explore is on foot. There are several guided walks on offer. A typical itinerary would include a visit to St Mark’s square to learn the history that lies behind the walls of its most famous landmarks, the Basilica with its Byzantine heritage, the Doge’s Palace and its adjoining prisons.
You can also leave the square and crowds behind to discover the real Venice, a labyrinth of narrow passageways and alleys where an enchanting city of meandering canals punctuated by delicate bridges awaits you.