Venice was once part of the Byzantine Empire, but when its grip began to loosen, Venetians seceded and elected their own leader, the Doge, whose successors would guide the city for more than a millennium.
Venetians have long been shrewd in business. At the behest of the Franks, they joined the Crusades to the Holy Land. En route, they stopped to trade with the Ottomans, taking over Constantinople in the process. Instead of continuing to the Holy Land, they returned home with the spoils of war.
Tolerance was another hallmark of early Venetians and their openness created a pragmatic and cosmopolitan city. When other parts of the world were closed to outsiders, Venice was a melting pot of different cultures. Greeks, Jews, Germans and Turks were all welcomed here, and each group made important contributions to Venetian culture. From the East came silks, incense, and glassblowing. Greek artisans left their mark via the golden mosaics of St. Mark’s Basilica. Moors contributed the crenellated walls of the Doge’s Palace.
Venice’s prominent position allowed it to control the Adriatic Sea, which made it a hub for importers and exporters throughout the region. When Christopher Columbus and Vasco da Gama introduced new trade routes that bypassed Venice’s stranglehold on shipping, the city redefined itself as a center for leisurely pursuits and a bastion of the arts.
With its mercantile power fading, Venice experienced a reversal of fortune. Later, the city was decimated by plague, conquered by the French under Napoleon, and blockaded by the Austrians when it tried to resist occupation. The cholera outbreak of the 1850s took a toll on the population and it suffered the ravages of World War II. But the Venetian spirit persisted, even amidst the disastrous floods of 1966. Today, Venice stands as a testament to the hardiness, tolerance, and ingenuity of its people.
Venice Lifestyle and Culture
Venice may be one of the most visited cities in the world, but it has retained its charming and unique character. Amidst its authenticity, its historic landmarks are still very much alive and brimming with their original character. Ancient buildings remain occupied by tenants, and the devout still utter hushed prayers in the sanctuaries of its marvelous churches.
You won’t find many cars in Venice. Instead, you’ll get around by public transit boats, traghettos, and the legendary gondolas manned by second and third-generation gondoliers sporting striped shirts. Once you’ve disembarked, the best way to see the city is on foot or by bicycle.
Venice has long been hailed as one of the world’s greatest cities when it comes to the arts. Events such as the Carnival of Venice, an annual festival, are thought to have been held as early as 1162. Though the Carnival endured a period of inactivity under the rule of the King of Austria, the festival known for its elaborate masks returned in 1979.
Other important highlights of the city’s arts include the Venice Biennale, regarded as one of the most important international art exhibitions. Comprised of several distinct events, the Biennale takes place every other calendar year during odd years. And for lovers of cinema, Venice plays host to the famed Venice Film Festival, the oldest international film festival in the world.
Venice Sights and Landmarks
Several Viking Cruises itineraries include overnight stays in Venice, so there’ll be time for you to explore its intimate streets and warrens at a relaxed pace.
There’s a well-established tourist path in Venice, but stepping away from it is easy. As you explore, you’ll experience the true essence of this enchanting city by avoiding the main streets. On the other hand, savvy visitors travel such a well-worn path because they’re sure to see the city’s most magnificent sights by following the crowd.
The Grand Canal is Venice’s watery “Main Street.” Peppered with gondolas and vaporetti, this spectacular waterway is overlooked by picturesque and stately Renaissance palaces. During the evening, the crowds disperse and the sunset casts a magical glow on the water and in the glazed windows of waterside palazzi.
Two spectacular museums showcase the city’s rich art history. The Scuola Grande di San Rocco is an underappreciated treasure. Its collection of paintings is priceless, with many works from the Venetian Republic’s Golden Age. The breathtaking work of Jacopo Tintoretto festoons the ceilings and walls. Palazzo Ducale is a masterpiece of Gothic architecture, both inside and out. On its walls, you’ll see works by the Venetian masters, including Titian, Vittoria, and Tiepolo.
While neither the Scuola Grande di San Rocco nor the Palazzo Ducale is included in the itinerary of our Viking tours, travelers might consider paying a visit to these spectacular destinations during a free day.
Piazza San Marco, or St. Mark’s Square, is the center of Venetian culture and social life. In this magnificent expanse of true Venetian splendor, you might visit the Doge’s Palace, once the seat of government for the Venetian Republic and Courts of Justice. Though the buildings were originally constructed as early as the 9th century, a series of fires required that the palace be rebuilt several times. The present palace was erected in the 14th century, a fine example of the Venetian Gothic style of architecture.
Also within St. Markʹs Square, travelers can admire Saint Markʹs Basilica, a beautiful cathedral built in the shape of a Greek cross. The adjacent campanile, or bell tower collapsed in 1902 and was replaced by an exact replica just a decade later.
Venice Entertainment and Activities
Venice is rich with activities that help you live like a Venetian. At Row Venice, you can learn to row like a real Venetian Gondolier. You can select your own tour route from Venice’s most charming canals.
Afterward, stop in one of Venice’s wine bars. These establishments serve more than 50,000 glasses per day. The Venetian Vine offers the very best of the Venetian wine experience, hand-curating a collection of local vintages favored among locals and visitors alike.
Venice Restaurants and Shopping
After a day of exploring by foot, sample Venice’s delicious cuisine at one of its many restaurants.
Ristorante Alle Corone’s excellent service, ideal location and delectable Italian food combine to create an unforgettable dining experience. At Proscuitto E Parmigiano, you’ll enjoy genuine Italian deli fare. Sample the meats and cheeses and perhaps a shot of limoncello, At Café Filermo you can linger awhile over coffee, or take in its vibrant nightlife, mingling with both locals and travelers.
Venice is also one of Europe’s great shopping cities. Between Piazza San Marco and the Rialto Bridge, you’ll find Mercerie, with its diverse selection of wares that ranges from inexpensive souvenirs to upscale boutique clothing. Venice’s fashionistas congregate at Calle Larga XXII Marzo, where top designers sell their latest. Venice boasts a long history of skilled artisans, too, and you can find high-quality handmade Murano glass and Burano lace in its markets.View Cruises to Venice