Port in Focus: Venice

Irrepressibly romantic and impossibly evocative, Venice stands alone as one of those rare destinations that casts a mesmerising spell over all who visit.

A thin canal between two buildings in Venice

Centuries of history roll down the maze of canals that flow between the stately squares and grand palazzos that bear testament to a colourful and turbulent history, when this city commanded the Adriatic region as the powerful Venetian Republic.

The richness of its Byzantine past (when it was a pivotal trading centre between Asia and Europe) is evident today in the architectural and artistic treasures built on the wealth which flowed into the city during the Middle Ages.

Colourful buildings lining a Venetian canal leading down to the ocean

Arriving by water is the most fitting and memorable way to enter Venice, either on-board the cruise ships which dock here or the sleek water taxis that race across the lagoon from the mainland into a world of Italianite glory.

Step onto the romantic Rialto Bridge and you feel as though you have walked onto the living, breathing stage of a Shakespearean play or witnessed a famous Canaletto masterpiece come to life.

Ahead of you, the Grand Canal bustles in an ever-moving tableau of crowded vaporettos chugging noisily back and forth, interspersed with lines of gently floating gondolas and stylish water taxis.

It is a mesmerising sight, like so many others in this unique city: most notably the grandeur of the famous Piazza San Marco with its distinctive bell tower, and the spectacular facade and extravagant mosaics of St Mark’s Basilica.

Behind it lies the striking Doge’s Palace, a former prison and major city landmark, and the Bridge of Sighs, famous for being the last chance for prisoners to glimpse the outside world before being incarcerated.

A couple in Venice wearing elaborate carnival masks

There is no shortage of fascinating tourist sites in Venice, but one of the biggest joys is wandering at will and getting hopelessly lost in the narrow back streets off the main thoroughfares.

Not only does this escape the crowds, but you can feel a real sense of history made all the more evocative by the mellifluous tones of singing gondoliers echoing through the sleepy backwaters.

Top tip

The best buys are beautiful Murano glass jewellery and distinctive Venetian masks, but beware the high prices around St Mark’s Square; the further you walk from here, the more prices drop.

Sara Macefield
Sara Macefield is an award-winning travel journalist of more than 20 years standing, and has spent the last decade writing about the cruise industry – exploring the world's oceans and rivers on ships of all sizes. Having notched up more than 100 cruises, her most memorable trips have been to Alaska with its superb wildlife, and sailing along Burma’s remote Chindwin River to villages far off the tourist track. She writes regularly for The Times and Daily Telegraph and has written for the Daily Mail, The Guardian, Daily Express and Woman & Home Magazine.

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