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Pink sky at night, the Lido, Venice
Ausonia Palace, the Lido, Venice
Ausonia Palace, detail.

Venice Lido


About the Lido

Beach huts, the Lido, Venice

Venice Lido (Lido di Venezia) is an island, usually just referred to as 'the Lido'. It is the narrow strip of land which separates the central part of the Venetian lagoon from the Adriatic Sea. Once just a natural barrier, the Lido is now Venice's seaside. It's also the origin of the word 'lido' as used in the English-speaking world to describe bathing establishments. It was developed as a seaside resort at the beginning of the twentieth century, and has been popular for beach holidays ever since.

The Lido is Venice, yet not Venice. For residents, it's a compromise between the practical mainland and the historic city. The atmosphere on the Lido is very different from Venice: there are leafy residential avenues, roads, cars, cyclists and pavements. Out of season it feels 'normal', with reasonably-priced shops and restaurants, and locals taking their children for walks. There are lovely views over the lagoon to Venice, and in winter and spring you may be lucky enough, on a clear day, to see the snow-capped summits of the Dolomites behind the city's towers and rooftops. As summer approaches the big hotels open for the season, streams of beach-goers cross from the lagoon, and there are ice-cream shops on every corner.

History and tourist sights

Church of San Nicolo, Lido, Venice

Although there is a church with ancient origins on the island, the Lido doesn't appear much in the history of Venice. Geographically it was a crucial part of the lagoon system which protected Venice, but the Venetians left the island as a long sandy bar, useful for anchoring ships and quartering armies. It is possible that the Lido once had greater significance: traditionally the original chief settlement of the lagoon was Malamocco. A modern settlement of that name sits on the southern part of the Lido, but hazy historical traditions suggest that the original Malamocco was lost to the sea, perhaps even being an Adriatic island.

The most important historical monument that is actually visible is in the north of the island, facing over the lagoon. This is the Chiesa di San Nicoḷ di Lido. Historically this was an important church. It dates to the eleventh century, and for some time the Venetians claimed it housed the body of St. Nicholas, attempting to ignore the much stronger claims of the people of Bari. It's rather disappointing nowadays, although it comes alive once a year for the annual Festa della Sensa, a symbolic marriage ceremony between Venice and the waters.

Venice's historic Jewish and Protestant graveyards were on the Lido; the Jewish one can still be visited on tours organised through the Jewish Museum. The gated entrance is on the main road along the lagoon shore between the vaporetto stop and the church of San Nicoḷ. The Protestant Cemetery was dismantled when a small airfield was built; some of the gravestones are stacked in the Jewish Cemetery; that of Canaletto's patron, British Consul Joseph Smith, is now in Venice's Anglican church. Later Protestant burials are on Venice's cemetery island, San Michele.

Byron and Shelley used to go horse-riding on the Lido's dunes; a few decades later it would have been unrecognisable to the poets. The advent of seaside holidays turned the Lido into an elegant playground for hotel developers and well-off holidaymakers. Grand hotels were erected along the shores; extravagant examples of what Italians call 'Liberty' style, after the store. The Lido became a popular place to live, built over with individualistic villas and apartment blocks which offered a more comfortable modern way of life than the crumbling buildings of Venice. Nowadays the hotels have lost some of their sheen and prestige, with some big closures of properties belonging to the Starwood chain, but several of the old majestic establishments are still surviving. The Venice Film Festival brings a bit of glamour and vigour to the Lido every year, although the Casino which stood alongside has now closed down.

Architecture

Palazzo del Casiṇ

Some of the island's early twentieth-century architecture is worth a trip to admire. It's a world away from Venice; although some of the free-standing Gothic-style villas take their cues from Venetian traditions, they do so in their own distinctive style. The most imposing buildings are the three grandest hotels. Between the vaporetto stop and the Adriatic shore, on Gran Viale Santa Maria Elisabetta, is the former Ausonia Palace, recently restored and renamed the Grande Albergo Ausonia & Hungaria. This is a giddy Art Nouveau treat, with curves, gilded tiles and an elaborate decorated facade. The Hotel des Bains overlooking the sea is a more restrained and majestic building in a neo-classical style. In its public rooms and on its beach guests could try until recently to re-live that Death in Venice seaside languor (see below for more about the film). Now the building is due to be turned into an apartment block. Further south along the seashore is the rather entertaining Excelsior, a riot of Moorish and Venetian influences.

In stark contrast to the extravagant Excelsior are the modernist 1930s Fascist-era buildings alongside. The Palazzo del Cinema (with a fussier 1950s extension) sits shabbily among parked cars until the late summer, when it livens up with flags and film-stars for the Venice Film Festival. Next door is the former Casiṇ, which recently transferred its operations to the Grand Canal.

Beaches

Free beach, the Lido, Venice

Most visitors to the Lido are here for its beaches. The long expanses of gritty sand facing the Mediterranean are not the nicest in the world, but they satisfy thousands of sun-worshippers every summer. The Lido's beaches are mostly clogged-up with endless beach huts and sunbeds belonging to hotels or private beach concessions where you can pay for sunbeds. If you don't want to spend money, there is also some free beach - spiaggia libera - where you can turn up with your towel and lie on the ground. The most convenient stretch, although it gets crowded, is at the end of Gran Viale Santa Maria Elisabetta, the street that crosses the island from the vaporetto stop. The confusing 'Blue Moon' complex designed by architect Giancarlo De Carlo sits by the sand, with a bar and a shop. From the roof an elevated walkway extends towards the sea, offering views along the flat shoreline.

The beach surface is gravelly sand and crushed seashells. Although the private areas are raked, the tide isn't adequate for scouring the surface, so the beach isn't terribly clean. This isn't the picturesque playing-in-the-sand experience of a UK beach holiday, this is very much a Mediterranean set-up of sunbathers in rows, and young adults larking about in the water. There are no pretty views, although you'll see large ships out in the Adriatic and maybe a cruiseliner passing through the lagoon entrance.

Shops and food

The Lido's main thoroughfare for shops and restaurants is the Gran Viale Santa Maria Elisabetta. There's a small supermarket, a beauty store, shoe shops, beach and souvenir stands and many other businesses.

You can generally eat more cheaply on the Lido than in central Venice, although the standard reflects the fact that restaurants here are aimed at holidaying families. Our favourite place to eat is La Pizzeria, near the vaporetto stop. This reliable restaurant serves excellent pizza and risotto at good prices with no hidden extras to inflate the bill.

Lido transport

The Lido is about ten minutes by vaporetto (waterbus) from the nearest stops in Venice. The 1 is a slow, stopping service which starts at Piazzale Roma, runs the whole length of the Grand Canal, then crosses the lagoon to the Lido. The 51 and 52 are circular services (the same route in opposite directions) which stop at the Lido and go around the outside of Venice. There are other less frequent seasonal services too, such as the 18 which connects the Lido with the islands of Sant'Erasmo and Murano. Larger ferries head along the outer edge of the lagoon to Burano. There is an Alilaguna boat service from Marco Polo Airport.

The area around the vaporetto stop and the Gran Viale is bustling, with shops, restaurants, hotels and beach all close together. The area around the Hotel Excelsior and the Palazzo del Cinema is within walking distance, but one of the Lido's bus services will save your legs (bus stops are by the vaporetto quays). During the Film Festival there are extra boat services. To explore the southern rim of the lagoon, bus number 11 will take you right along the length of the Lido, and over by car-ferry to Pellestrina, the next long thin island. From here the service continues via passenger ferry to the fishing town of Chioggia. Read more about the unusual journey on the number 11. Cycling is a popular way to get around on the Lido, and there are a couple of shops where you can hire bicycles on the Gran Viale.

Staying on the Lido

Blue Moon beach, Lido, with the Hotel des Bains behind

On the Lido you'll find large hotels used to tour groups and families, rather than romantic hideaways. The decadent elegance of the Edwardian era has pretty much vanished, although nostalgic visitors could try one of the old grand hotels. Apart from these smart hotels, the Lido is generally cheaper than Venice, with especially good deals if you avoid the summer months.
> Find a hotel on the Lido.

Death in Venice

In Luchino Visconti's 1971 film Death in Venice, Dirk Bogarde plays ailing composer Gustav von Aschenbach, who visits the Lido during its turn-of-the-century heyday. The film is based on a novella by Thomas Mann, and is set to music by Mahler. Staying in the Hotel des Bains, von Aschenbach muses on mortality and becomes obsessed with a beautiful young boy staying with his family. Meanwhile, over the water, Venice is as unhealthy as the hero. The film has some famous scenes set on the beach of the Lido and in a decaying Venice. You may not wish to emulate von Aschenbach, but if you're a fan of the film, stick some Mahler on your personal stereo/MP3 player as you explore.


On this site

Italian beaches

Districts of Venice

Where to stay

Travel to Chioggia

Venice Film Festival


Useful external links

Venice Lido hotels, B&Bs & apartments

Jewish cemetery

Lido gravestones

About Death in Venice (BBC)



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