Stay in a design hotel
Obviously, a hip weekend must be spent in accommodation that is stylish, smart or out of the ordinary. Most Venice hotels are old-fashioned Venetian in style, with swags, gilding and faded brocade – exactly what you want to avoid. On our ‘design hotels’ page we’ve picked out some recommended places to stay with a contemporary atmosphere and look. Or for something unusual – though not precisely comfortable – you could always try sleeping on a boat B&B.
> Stylish and design hotels
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Admire some modern art
As well as its historic architecture, Venice is proud of its modern art credentials. The town has several modern art galleries, with another being established. In odd-numbered years, Venice hosts the huge and prestigious Art Biennale, where art-lovers can wallow in installations and artistic theorising. As well as the national pavilions in the public gardens (Giardini), exhibitions are housed in the vast Arsenale and in interesting historic buildings all around town.
> Peggy Guggenheim Collection – Dorsoduro 701 (Fondamenta Venier dei Leoni). Created by the colourful Peggy Guggenheim, this is one of Venice’s most visited tourist attractions and is a wide-ranging collection of 20th-century art.
> Palazzo Grassi – San Marco 3231 (San Samuele). A more recent gallery in a large building on the other side of the Grand Canal, recognisable by the large, usually surreal, temporary sculptures which decorate the canalside. Palazzo Grassi was bought by the French billionaire businessman François Pinault, who commissioned Japanese architect Tadao Ando to redesign the interiors to house temporary exhibitions. Pinault also beat the Guggenheim Foundation to win permission to develop Punta della Dogana, the old customs complex at the mouth of the Grand Canal. This now houses further exhibitions displaying work from Pinault’s own art collection.
> Ca’Pesaro – Santa Croce 2070. Venice’s civic museum dedicated to modern art contains works from the 19th century onwards, including paintings and sculptures exhibited at the Biennale, and works by important local artists.
Contemplate modern architecture
In even-numbered years, instead of the Art Biennale Venice hosts a large Architecture Biennale, using the Arsenale and Giardini pavilions and exhibition spaces. Away from the exhibitions, you can sample a different Venice by hunting down modern architecture.
Naturally, Venice’s heritage is protected and listed. This means that new architecture in the city is both unusual and prized. A new – and controversial – bridge by Santiago Calatrava, called Ponte della Costituzione, crosses the Grand Canal between transport hubs Piazzale Roma and the railway station and is the first really recent work of architecture that most visitors will see. This place may be taken in the near future by developments at Marco Polo airport, designed by Frank Gehry. Other architectural highlights include various interiors and small projects by Carlo Scarpa, and a couple of works by Giancarlo de Carlo: a modern housing experiment on the island of Mazzorbo and an unfinished-feeling seaside development on the Lido. A modern theatre (the Junghans) and residential developments are hidden away on the Giudecca island, and show some interesting attempts to echo traditional features of Venetian architecture. Visitors interested in architecture shouldn’t forget to visit the Giardini site of the Biennale, dotted with national pavilions from the last hundred years.
A trendy bar
Apart from cheap student dives, Venice doesn’t have a lively bar scene and modern style is definitely hard-to-find. But for a good drink in stylish surroundings, these are our tips for trendy travellers:
> Hilton Skyline Rooftop Bar – Hilton Molino Stucky Hotel, Giudecca. For something really special when the weather is good, head to the Hilton Skyline Bar. Although its marketing lays emphasis on its trendiness, the thing here is really the amazing view from the top floor of this huge converted mill. There’s an extensive cocktail list and although it’s expensive, the bar’s two terraces are a lovely place to linger with a early evening drink (the bar opens 5pm-1am; closed winter Mondays). Take a public boat (nearest stop Palanca) or the hotel’s shuttle service to the Giudecca island.
> Bacaro Lounge – San Marco 1345, Salizzada San Moise. In a smartly modern interior near St. Mark’s Square, the Bacaro Lounge Bar is a good place to take a break for refreshments, with high seats around the oval bar, an expensive restaurant upstairs, and an unusual view out through a glass wall into the adjacent Mondadori bookshop. Not to be confused with Bacaro Jazz, a touristy drinking den.
> Centrale Lounge Restaurant and Bar – San Marco 1659 (Piscina Frezzaria). Inside a picturesque palazzo, this trendy bar/restaurant has bare brick walls, a modern atmosphere, and claims to be ‘the most stylish place in Venice’. Open for meals or drinks until 2am.
Other suggestions: Dogado (Cannaregio 3660, Strada Nova) is a new eatery-nightspot in Cannaregio, above what used to be my local supermarket. Among the crowded bars by the Rialto markets is the Ancora (San Polo 120), a piano-bar which is a trifle more elegant than its popular neighbours. For Biennale visitors, there is a bar in a restored stone pavilion by the Biennale site in Giardini which is a stylish spot for daytime drinks. In St. Mark’s Square, the Caffé Aurora stands out from its historic rivals; run by and for locals, it is slightly cheaper than the other cafes and hosts art and photography events.
If you don’t mind sacrificing a little trendiness, a couple of good central bars are located fairly near the Rialto. One is hidden down a narrow alley, in a tiny square on the Grand Canal. It’s called the Taverna del Campiello Remer (Campiello del Remer, Cannaregio – take one of the alleys opposite the church of San Giovanni Crisostomo -ask a local or explore till you come across it). Here you can eat, drink, and gaze over the Grand Canal – and at aperitivo time you’ll find excellent free pre-dinner snacks. Closed Wednesdays. Another good place to enjoy some wine or food is La Cantina (Campo San Felice), along the Strada Nova in Cannaregio, a small and charming wine bar renowned for its food dishes.
A smart restaurant
For good food and value for money, you won’t find much better than the eating places on our restaurants page. However, if you don’t mind paying more for a trendier vibe, here are some smart restaurants to consider.
> Linea d’Ombra – Dorsoduro 19, on the Zattere waterfront. Another waterside restaurant, with a lovely terrace above the lagoon waters; it’s expensive but the setting is very impressive. Closed Wednesdays.
> Algiubagiò – Cannaregio 5039, on the Fondamente Nove. A third option with waterside tables, Algiubagiò is up on the northern shore and is a smart, modern restarant serving good food at accessible prices, including delicious desserts. Closed Tuesdays.
Sightseeing and something different
> Helicopter tour – For a very lavish and unusual treat, why not book a helicopter tour to see Venice from above? Helicopter rides depart from the the little airport on the Lido island, between Venice and the sea. You can choose from various different tours, which don’t pass right over the heart of Venice, but do give you views from above the eastern end of town. With this bird’s eye view of the lagoon, islands and sea you can really get a good overview of Venice’s geography as well as an exciting excursion. Tours cost from around 60 per person and should be pre-booked with Heliair Venice (see our links panel on the right).
> Lagoon by boat – If a helicopter ride doesn’t seem environmentally-friendly, you could book a tour in a traditional lagoon sailing boat, a bragozzo. There are various organised excursions in the summer months – check with the tourist information office, or try contacting the website ‘Il Bragozzo’ (see our links panel), which offers whole and half-day outings, or romantic evening cruises, in the bragozzo El Sultan.
Our suggestions for other unusual activities include:
> Budget cruise – Buy some expensive chocolates at VizioVirtù (San Polo 2898/A, San Tomà) and enjoy them on a night-boat ride down the Grand Canal.
> A meal on the lagoon – In summer, visit the peacock-inhabited island of Le Vignole for lunch by the lagoon at the Trattoria alle Vignole.
> A scenic jog – Go for an early-morning jog- run along the waterfront of Riva degli Schiavoni, past the Giardini public park and as far as the green spaces of Sant’Elena.
Finally, you probably should fit in a spot of good old-fashioned sightseeing. If you’ve already seen the big sights, it’s worth visiting an out-of-the-ordinary destination like the cemetery island of San Michele or the fishermen-and-farmers’ bar on Sant’Erasmo (about as far from hip and modern as you can get, and thus cool in a very postmodern way).
One of my favourite places is the Giudecca island, just a ferry-hop over the water from the heart of Venice. Here you’ll find modern architecture (see above), wonderfully-positioned benches with views over to St. Mark’s, boatyards, a residential vaporetto, real local atmosphere and also the new Hilton hotel with its panoramic rooftop bar (recommended above).
Other slightly off-beat destinations in Venice include the eccentric Acqua Alta bookshop, (Castello 5176, Calle Longa Santa Maria Formosa), haphazard home to cats, a gondola and stacks of second-hand books (including local interest and an English-language section) balanced on crates to escape high water.
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