Cheap flights to Venice

Elegant Venetian buildings and palaces peer over the ancient maze of narrow streets and labyrinth of canals that make up this unique city. Tourists naturally flock to Venice to experience its inimitable charm. The downside of this can be felt in the narrow streets and cramped piazzas of its sought-after areas. A good way to get to know a more personal side of Venice is to saunter through its romantic back streets and residential quarters.

Venice rests on one of a series of 117 islands distributed throughout the Venetian lagoon, at the northern end of the Adriatic Sea. This strategic position conferred on Venice economic and defensive advantages over its trading rivals. As the wealth of the city increased and its population grew, the composition of the city grew ever more dense and today only a handful of the islets that constitute the historic centre are not entirely developed.

The historic centre is divided into six quarters ( sestieri). These are: San Marco, Dorsoduro, San Polo, Santa Croce, Cannaregio and Castello. The city's main thoroughfare is the Grand Canal that intersects each district as it meanders through the length of Venice, from the railway station to San Marco. An alternative to walking the bewildering streets of Venice is to cruise the waterways onboard the motorboat buses known as vaporetti. These are the less romantic but also less expensive substitutes for the famous gondolas.

Venice extends beyond its six sestierito the islands of Murano, Burano and Torcello. These are known for glass and lace-making respectively, and Torcello is noted for the magnificent Byzantine Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta that rests on its soil. Trips by boat to the islands provide a pleasant diversion from the busier historic quarters.

Getting around

As you might expect from a city famous for its canals, water is the main medium of transport in Venice. Water buses, known as Vaporetti, ply the Grand Canal and make scheduled stops. The Vaporetti are a far cheaper way to get around Venice than the famous gondolas, if less glamorous. Instead of taxi cabs, visitors can hire a water taxi or a gondola, piloted by a stripe-shirted gondolier, who for an extra fee will serenade his passengers as he poles them through the waterways.

Once ashore the only way to explore is on foot, through the narrow alleys and lively squares; there are no cars at all in Venice. Walking is the best way to explore the city and most of the attractions are close together and easily reached on foot. Make sure you have a good map as the city can be confusingly labyrinthine.

Nightlife

Venice is not famed for a hectic nightlife but the persistent will persevere... Piazza San Marco has the most popular social venues, and the tourist information centres have current English-language schedules of special events which are very useful to travellers in search of a good time.

Cafés abound in Venice, one of the most popular being Taverna del Campiello Remer, near the Grand Canal's Rialto bridge, which often has live music. Near San Marco, Caffè Lavena and Caffè Quadri (the first to serve coffee in Venice) are also worth visiting. In Campo Santo Stefano, the Paolin Bar and Gelateria serves the best ice-cream. The Devil's Forest Pub sees patrons enjoying backgammon, chess and Trivial Pursuit, while Bacaro Jazz cocktail bar has great Bellinis. El Moro Pub boasts numerous beers on tap and a TV (smokers welcome!), and Torino@Notte offers live jazz performances and beer from Lapland.

Nightclubs are more limited: Piccolo Mondo, on Dorsoduro, has disco nights during summer; and Casanova on Lista di Spoagna is also quite popular. Visitors are better off trying their luck at one of the city's casinos, the most acclaimed being Casino Municipale di Venezia (note: a passport and jacket are required for entry). Otherwise, there are regular classical-music concerts, with the Vivaldi Church, San Stefano, Chiesa di Vivaldi and the Scuola di San Giovanni Evangelista being popular venues.

Shopping

Venice still has a few residents who work in the non-tourism industries, but these are comparatively rare today. Although shopping in Venice is fun, it can also be a challenge due to the crowds and the fact that the city's waterways can be difficult to navigate. You should buy items you want immediately, rather than risk not being able to find the store later on. The Rialto is the commercial core of Venice, famous for being the site where the first bridge over the Grand Canal was built, and this is the best place to start your shopping adventures in the city.

Visit Venetia Studium on San Marco for fine velvets and silks, of every imaginable colour, woven into subtle scarves, delicate evening bags and luxurious pillows. You can buy unique costumes and masks at Atelier Marega, where you can often see the preparation and painting of the masks. Francis Model sells locally-crafted leather goods, and for gloves and accessories go to Fanny, on Calle dei Saoneri and Campo San Polo. Handmade paper and beautiful miniature buildings, made by Moro, can also be found in Venice. Look out for handmade examples of Venetian glass (Murano glass) and fine lace sold throughout the city.

Sightseeing

Mention Venice and the image of beautifully-lit canals and graceful gondoliers comes to mind. This romantic city does, however, boast many more excellent tourist attractions...

The Grand Canal (Canalazzo), Venice's main waterway, divides the city with sestieri to the west and east of it. It is the core around which much of the activity in Venice is conducted, surrounded by the elegant facades of the palazzi. A 'must-see' is St Mark's Square ( Piazza San Marco), in the heart of Venice. Basilica dei Frari, a Gothic Franciscan church, was constructed in the 14th century and is mostly known for being the gravesite of Titian and the Venetian sculptor, Antonio Canova.

Explore the School of St Roch or the Gallerie dell'Academia, which houses one of Europe's finest art collections from the 14th to 18th centuries. Visit the historic La Fenice Theater or the Jewish Ghetto of Venice, where the word 'ghetto' derives from. Life is still very active in the ghetto, home to five synagogues, as well as various shops and restaurants.

The traditional mode of transport in Venice is by foot or boat, so enjoy the strolls and relaxed boat trips.

Kids attractions

With such a rich and diverse cultural history, many would think that Venice would be a dull holiday destination for kids. But on the contrary, this beautiful canal-lined city offers its younger visitors plenty to see and do.

Obviously a ride on one of the famed gondolas will be a memorable experience for children of all ages, and highlights are guaranteed to include spotting the fire fighters' boat, the ambulance boat and many more. While parents are admiring the architecture in St Mark's Square, be sure the kids have enough breadcrumbs to feed the hundreds of pigeons this square is known for. Kids will also enjoy the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, as there is lots of space to run around outside, and Parco delle Rimembranze is probably the best-suited park for children in Venice and a great place to head for a picnic or a stroll. For outdoorsy families, a hike or walk in the Po Delta Natural Park is a must.

On rainy days, visit some of the museums this historic city has to offer, such as the Naval Museum or the Museum of Natural History. Kids will love the Museum of Natural History, which is home to the skeleton of an Ouranosaurus found in the Sahara Desert by a Venetian palaeontologist in 1973. The museum also features an aquarium where children will be able to view and learn about the marine life living off the Venetian cost. Venice's Naval Museum is also a great place for kids to explore, displaying intricate models and, in many cases, the real-life thing. A trip to the nearby island of Murano is also a must, where children will be mesmerised by the glass-blowers and their incredible creations.

Dining

While Venice's cuisine can't compare with many other Italian destinations, it does have some wonderful restaurants featuring the cuisine of the Veneto. Near the Rialto Bridge there is a string of restaurants with tables along the canal, where you can enjoy the quintessential Venetian practice of dining by the canal lights. The Dorsoduro area has the highest concentration of places where locals, especially students, go to eat.

One of Venetian cuisine's most celebrated ingredients is cuttlefish, and its ink. This powerful black ink serves as an ingredient and a sauce in polenta (corn meal), risotto (rice), and pasta dishes. Despite the intensity in colour, the ink has an unexpectedly mild taste. Also popular in Venetian restaurants and bars is cicchetti (Italian tapas), which is usually made up of small servings of fish, little sandwiches, plates of olives, or even very small servings of regular full-course meals.

For fresh fruit, including chilled coconut, visit the street market stalls. If self-catering, the Rialto food markets are the best place to find fruit, vegetables and cheese; and a huge range of seafood, most of it fresh out of the lagoon.

Travellers looking for authentic Venetian cuisine and prices should avoid establishments with menus in six different languages displayed in the windows, and rather head away from the tourist centre to look for quaint and welcoming eateries tucked away in the city's nooks and crannies.

Climate

Venice has a humid, subtropical climate, with cool winters and hot summers. Venice experiences very high humidity, with hot weather in July and August, the height of summer. Temperatures in summer (June to August) usually range between 86°F to 91°F (30°C to 33°C), dropping in winter (December to February) to between 32°F and 37°F (0°C to 3°C). Due to its location on the Adriatic coast, Venice often experiences thunderstorms and rain showers which, particularly in spring and autumn, tend to cause flooding. Known as the 'acqua alta,' it is best to pack waterproof shoes or boots to avoid a soaking, no matter what time of year you are visiting. Spring, summer and autumn are all considered peak tourist season in Venice, with April to October being the busiest time in the city. However, it is a popular destination all year round and can get uncomfortably crowded. Christmas, Easter, Carnival (in February) and the Venice International Film Festival (in August) are also busy periods, and winter is perhaps the best time to travel to Venice to avoid crowds and find better rates on accommodation. A winter vacation in Venice may be chilly but the charms of the city are untouched by the weather.