The bird life on the vast lagoon surrounding Venice is remarkable - cormorants, egrets, grebes, herons, hawks, falcons, black-legged stilts, ducks, plovers, and even pink flamingos. In town, seagulls are king, and they think nothing of stealing fish from market stalls and even sandwiches from waiters' trays and passers-by.
The Venice Lagoon covers 212 square miles (550 square kilometers) and is dotted with tiny islands. It was formed around 6,000 years ago when sandbanks (now The Lido) consolidated and formed a barrier with the Adriatic Sea, albeit with three connecting passages for tidal flows and shipping. The circular ferry trip via Lido, Punta Sabbioni, Treporti, and Burano gives visitors a good look.
Located in the northern lagoon, the island of Lazzaretto Nuovo was an important quarantine station for the plague in the 16th century. Incoming passengers were accommodated in sheds, and cargo was fumigated with herbs such as rosemary and juniper to ward off possible infection. Visitors can take a guided tour around the island and buildings.
Taking a ride in a sleek black gondola is a must-do. They have been plying Venice's waterways since the 11th century, and every noble family once had its own. A surprising eleven meters long, they are handcrafted with 280 pieces of wood. Gondoliers row skilfully from one side of the boat and steer along narrow winding canals. A nighttime ride is especially romantic.
Best Day Trip
Padua, only half an hour away by train, boasts the exquisite Cappella degli Scrovegni with 14th century frescoes by Giotto, as well as a lively produce market below a landmark medieval hall; the Bo University with Galileo's lecturn and the world's first anatomy theater; and a fascinating, innovative botanical garden.
Most Iconic Place
You can't go to Venice without visiting Piazza San Marco (St Mark's Square). It is generally jam-packed with tourists and guided groups but can be magical in the evening, when music from the café orchestras wafts across the square. The Byzantine-style basilica, with its glittering-gold mosaics of Bible stories and belvedere terrace, is well worth queuing for.
The cavernous Palazzo Ducale (Ducal Palace) in Piazza San Marco is a treasure trove of art work witnessing to the Serenissima Republic's intriguing history. Don't miss the famous Bridge of Sighs leading to the dank prisons where world famous Venetian lover and spy Casanova was held or Tintoretto's gigantic oil painting, "Paradiso," crowded with 800 figures.
The Venetians are very social and often meet friends for a pre-dinner drink—traditionally an ombra, a small glass of wine or a spritz aperitif, often consumed standing up. Snacks like potato crisps or peanuts are usually served so people don't drink on an empty stomach.
Neighborhood to Explore
San Marco is the central district of Venice, but most tourists visit only its main attractions. The best advice is to turn off down any alleyway and see where it goes. At "worst," you'll end up at a dead-end on a canal. Myriad covered passageways, old shrines, craft boutiques, theaters, and neighborhood wine bars await intrepid explorers. Getting lost is the best way to explore.
At the foot of the Rialto bridge on the Santa Croce side, hunt out the relaxing waterfront square known as the Erberia. Once home to the city's vegetable wholesale trade, it has been opened up for cafés and is a lovely spot to watch boats going by on the Grand Canal and shoppers heading for the nearby market.
Go with Nat Geo to Venice.