Europe: Italy - Venice | Magical Streets & Moonlit Canals

Visiting Venice is like unwrapping a present for the senses: the toll of church bells; beribboned gondoliers churning their oars; the sight of women hanging ornate rugs out windows to dry; the sharp scent of coffee; glass chandeliers twinkling; and slender, twisting streets suddenly turning onto sun-filled market squares. The elegant piazzas and glistening waterways of this northern Italian city breathe ancient urban grandeur and romance.

In A Word: Canals

Venice is synonymous with canals -- the city consists of 100 islands linked by bridges. The best part? No honking cars to contend with -- just you in your miniature dollhouse movie-set city.

Why We'd Go: Six Features You'll Never Forget

  • Piazza San Marco: Pigeons, tourists, and street entertainers flock to this lively plaza, home to the glittering gold and mosaic-embellished Basilica di San Marco and the fresco-filled Palazzo Ducale. Tour the palace and cross the Bridge of Sighs, so named because it was the last view Venetian prisoners had before facing their fate.
  • Getting lost: You're likely to get turned around in Venice, but getting lost was never so much fun. Labyrinthine streets will reveal new discoveries at every turn. Don't pass up that off-the-beaten-path shop selling candy, Carnevale masks, or marbled paper.
  • Vaporettos: These boats, which carry Venetians just as city buses carry passengers in less liquid locales, are the best way to see the Grand Canal.
  • Italian eats: Water, water everywhere provides some of the best seafood in Europe, and the Italian touch creates risotto beyond compare. Best bets include Trattoria Madonna, canal-side Ristorante da Raffaele, and Harry's Bar, where the Bellini was invented and still reigns supreme.
  • Ponte di Rialto: This bridge over the Grand Canal also serves as a marketplace, the perfect spot to buy a gondolier's hat or assorted souvenirs.
  • Day trips: Just a short vaporetto ride away are: Murano, the birthplace of Venetian glass; Burano, known for its candy-colored houses and fine lace; and Torcello, site of two lovely 11th-century churches and plenty of prime picnic spots. In fact, Katherine Hepburn and Rossano Brazzi fell in love during a picnic there in the film Summertime.

Pucker Up: Best Place To Smooch

Curled up in a gondola under a starry sky, of course!

When To Go: Venice At Its Best

  • Best weather: April to June, September, and October. July and August are hottest and most humid; canals may also smell. Tourism swells May through September.
  • Best prices: Winter (excluding the Christmas holidays and Carnevale week), early spring, and late autumn.
  • Festival highlights: Costumes, music, dance, and revelry fill the streets for Carnevale in February. If you're artsy and it's an odd-numbered year, check out the Venice Biennale, an international art exhibition held in the summer.
    (Il Palazzo review by Alisa Jenkins) Photo: ENIT / Italian Tourism