Venice is a storied, centuries-old city with a hyper-modern international appeal, so it makes sense that annual visitors number in the multi-millions. Fortunately, the city is full of respites and reasons to make the trek—far beyond Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square) and the Rialto.
Here, DEPARTURES picks six standout classic-but-contemporary things to do and places to see in this vibrant and beautiful city, should you be pondering a trip.
Hotel Belmond Cipriani
Located on the verdant (and quiet) Giudecca Island, the Belmond Hotel Cipriani is celebrating its 60th birthday this year—and it’s as heavenly now as it was in its youth, when it was founded by Giuseppe Cipriani with a co-investment from the Guinness family. Though the property came under the Belmond umbrella just a few years ago, it established an excellent reputation long before that for the exemplary flora on its grounds, as well as for hosting famous guests—who might at any moment be napping in a hammock, perusing the cream-pink roses and the hanging wisteria, or sipping an Aperol Spritz at the nearly Olympic-sized swimming pool. (You probably already know that George and Amal Clooney had their wedding here, but you might not have known Princess Diana was also a guest.)
Our pick as far as rooms go? A junior suite in the 15th century Palazzo Vendramin, an annex building that offers its own private garden, a dark pink marble bathroom, and an extraordinarily comfortable bed. And, to celebrate 60 years, the hotel is offering a slew of activities, including excursions around the lagoon on a 1960’s-era sailboat named the Edipo Re.
Tucked into the luxury shopping alley Calle Vallaresso, Golden Goose—famed for its hand-distressed sneakers and its growing ready-to-wear line for both men and women—opened its local outpost under a year ago. The shop itself has an combination aesthetic of modern slickness (think: neon strip lighting, lots of glass) and traditional Venetian decor treatments, like Carrara marble mosaic-inlaid floors and Rubelli silk-lined walls. And even though Golden Goose is based in Venice, and is a few years old as a brand at this point, the neighborhood store opened only recently because, well, space is tight. A shop attendant noted that because Venice is so full, they had to pass the time, patiently, for the right spot to open up. It was well-worth the wait, and is a great place to pick up an authentically Venetian fashion keepsake, be it scuffed-up, star-patched sneakers or a crisp leather moto jacket.
Scala Contarini del Bovolo
Located a twelve-minute walk from St. Mark’s Square, the tall and quirky Scala Contarini del Bovolo is a spiraling “snail” staircase that extends up the facade of a historic palazzo (which was originally built in 1499 for a prominent Venetian family named Contarini). Visitors can see the majority of Venice from its landing, in 2016, a group called the Fondazione Venezia Servizi restored the staircase itself. Though the site is open to the public, it’s still a relatively little-known nook. It can also be rented for private events, such as a high-altitude ten-person dinner, or romantic cocktails for two (should, perhaps, you want to pop the big question in Venice, this is the spot).
Libreria Acqua Alta
A bookstore made for Instagram, Libreria Acqua Alta is more treasure trove and less Barnes & Noble. “Acqua Alta” means high water—an issue that impacts Venice more and more—so there’s a sense of irony in a gondola filled with paperbacks. Rare art tomes, unique prints, and all kinds of other gems fill this consciously disheveled place. And, again, even if you don’t buy anything, it’s very photogenic. 39-041/296-0841
Palazzo Grassi, located a decent and welcome walk away from the St. Mark’s hive, took 24 years to build, and was completed in 1772. In 2005, the palazzo was given a new life when the art collector and luxury magnate François Pinault bought and renovated it into a museum and gallery space with the Japanese architect Tadao Ando. It is currently hosting a brand new show: a retrospective featuring 85 works from the German artist Albert Oehlen, entitled “Cows By The Water." The painter’s modern, colorful experimentation stands in brilliant juxtaposition with the grandness of the setting. Running through early 2019, the exhibit is a must-see.
Finally, there’s the famous Harry’s Bar (which has the Cipriani restaurant upstairs). Yes, it’s a major tourist attraction, and yes, it might be a bit cliche to “have a Bellini in Venice,” but it’s worth it; the space is undeniably old-school, almost like the cabin of an old sailboat, and it’s deeply charming if you visit at a calm moment. This bar, too, was started by Giuseppe Cipriani, though it does not retain a connection to the aforementioned hotel (though the hotel can certainly help you to get in). Our recommendation? Go at about midday, before the crowds, for a quick Bellini and to tick it off your list. Just one big tip: don’t wear shorts, or you’ll get the boot.