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Venice: the floating city with hidden gems and strong maritime roots

4 May 2024 • Written by Lucy Dunn

The World Superyacht Awards, in association with Acquera Club, is a highlight of the yachting calendar and brings together superyacht owners, builders, designers and other industry experts. Celebrating the most outstanding superyachts from the past year, a number of coveted Neptune trophies will be awarded at this year’s ceremony, taking place in May 2025.

Several cities have played host to the World Superyacht Awards in its impressive history, but this year, the ceremony will return to the iconic city of Venice, Italy, where the inaugural World Superyacht Awards were hosted in 2006.

Known as the ‘City of Canals’, there are many things Venice is famous for, including its rich maritime history, incredible art and architecture and beautiful streets and bridges. Built on 118 islands, Venice and its lagoon is one of the most unique cities in the world and since 1987 has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The island gems

Despite proposals to limit tourist groups to under 25 people to protect its fragile architecture, Venice is notorious for its large crowds, so if things get too much, escape to the quieter islands of Murano and Burano for a day trip. Both islands are accessible via public transport or private water taxi. 

Out of the two, Murano is perhaps the most well-known and is the closest to the mainland, although it is, in fact, not one island but a collection of seven individual islands linked together by bridges. Murano has its own Grand Canal and is famous for its glassmaking industry.

Burano’s colourful architecture is what sets it apart from the other islands; a historic fishing village knitted with narrow canals and flower-filled balconies and often hailed as one of Italy’s prettiest towns. Set aside a few hours for wandering the streets. The island is noted for its lace-making and friendly shopkeepers love to beckon visitors inside their shops to admire their handiwork. Burano’s quirky leaning Bell Tower is also well worth a visit.

Credit: Kenan Kitchen for Unsplash

Ancient canals and Hollywood movie sets

Venice consists of 118 islands separated by canals and linked by over 438 bridges. There are 177 canals in Venice and the largest of these is the Grand Canal – known by locals as the Canalazzo – which divides the city in two.

Canalazzo is two and a half miles long and has over 170 buildings built along its length, many of them grand palazzos. The majority of these were built between the 13th and 18th centuries and most open directly onto the canal, making their fronts accessible only by boat. The Grand Canal has a distinctive S-shape and is thought to be a natural river that once flowed into the Venetian lagoon. It once had a starring role in the James Bond film Casino Royale (2006)– and Mr Bond also found himself chased around the city in From Russia With Love (1963) and Moonraker (1979).

On average, the canals are roughly 1.5 to two metres (4.9 to 6.5 feet) deep, and contrary to tourist folklore, are cleaned regularly. No matter how hot and steamy it gets in Venice, it's still not advisable to swim in the canals though, and you could face a fine if you do. The Grand Canal has an average depth of five metres (16.4 feet).

Iconic bridges  

The oldest and most famous bridge spanning the Grand Canal is the Ponte di Rialto, or Rialto Bridge, which was built to link Venice’s commercial hub – Rialto – to the political district of San Marco. The striking architecture of this covered stone bridge has been admired for centuries and its image captured by artists and writers - it was once even mentioned by Shakespeare in The Merchant of Venice, when Shylock asks: “What news on the Rialto?”

Another iconic landmark is the Ponte dei Sospiri or Bridge of Sighs, a fully-enclosed bridge built in the 17th century that once connected the interrogation rooms in the Doge’s Palace to the adjoining prison cells. When prisoners walked across the bridge, they would take one last look at Venice, at freedom, before heading off to face their fates. The jail is now an exhibition and events space.

Bridge of Sighs
Credit: Victor He for Unsplash

Gondola etiquette

Gondolas have been used to travel Venice’s canals since before the 11th century and the gondoliers, with their straw hats and red and white striped t-shirts, are now an iconic emblem of the city. 

At one time, the city was home to around 10,000 gondolas, but nowadays this number is limited to just 400. Thanks to a 17th-century law to eliminate competition for the fanciest gondola, all boats are painted six coats of black - however, each is allowed to vary the upholstery, trims and details. 

There are dozens of gondola stations along the canals all over town; most rides last about 40 minutes and prices are a set rate throughout the city and listed on the Gondoliers' Association website

Note not all gondoliers like to sing, but if you've hired someone musically inclined and want to hear something authentically Venetian, try requesting ‘Venezia La Luna e Tu.’ Asking to hear ‘O Sole Mio’ will probably get clenched teeth and an eye roll as this song actually comes from Naples!

Gondolas lined up in Venice
Credit: Andy Holmes for Unsplash

Murano or Venetian glass

Since the eighth century, Venice has been a hub for glassmaking. Famous for its bright colours and bold, elaborate designs, Venetian glassmakers have long been considered ‘masters’ of the craft for their ability to blow incredible, delicately shaped forms using only a few tools.

The earliest glassmakers were revered in society and considered ‘royalty’, enjoying privileges such as immunity from prosecution. In 1291, the government banned the furnaces from central Venice and the industry moved to the nearby island of Murano. This was mainly due to the worry that the city’s many wooden buildings might catch fire, but also to isolate the glassblowers and stop them from divulging their techniques and taking prosperity away from the city. Even now secret recipe books are passed down from generation to generation.

The value of Murano glass depends on various factors such as who made it and the techniques used. Pieces created by renowned master glassmakers or those from specific time periods can fetch high prices at auction.

Murano glass
Credit: Adobe Stock

Buzzy squares and ancient eateries

Piazza San Marco or St Mark’s Square is the main public square. The lowest point in Venice, it is frequently flooded in winter and is the only ‘piazza’ in Venice (the rest of the squares are called ‘piazzales’ or ‘campos’.) The eastern end is dominated by St Mark’s Basilica, the most famous of the city’s churches. Built in the 11th century, its glittering, impressive interior is predominantly gold, hence its nickname Chiesa d’Oro, or Golden Church.

Next door is the stately Doge’s Palace, once the seat of the Venetian government. If you’re visiting, make a beeline to the lavishly decorated The Doge’s Apartments lined with works of art by Veronese, Titian and Tintoretto that depict the city’s history. Nearby, Museo Correr, one of the city’s most renowned museums, houses more of the city’s most precious heirlooms - from paintings and sculptures to antiques and ancient maps. On the subject of art, there are regrettably few Canaletto's left in Venice - but you can see a few fine examples of this famous Venetian master's work at the Ca' Rezzonico Museum.

People watching and bar-hopping 

St Mark’s Square is lined with bars and cafes and is a prime people-watching spot. Block out an afternoon, grab a table at the three-hundred-year-old Caffè Florian, one of the oldest bars in Italy if not the world, and order its world-renowned (and extremely moreish) hot chocolate. 

Later, throw away your map, wander off the beaten track into the maze of smaller streets to drink Spritz (a mix of white wine and Aperol) in tiny ramshackle bars and graze on Cicchetti, a type of Venetian antipasti a bit like Spanish tapas. Getting lost in Venice, you'll soon discover, is an absolute pleasure. 

Getting there

Venice’s main international airport is Marco Polo. It is also possible to get to the city from Treviso Airport, which is situated to the north approximately an hour away. For information on the various travel choices from Marco Polo to the city, click here.

Nominations are now open for theWorld Superyacht Awards 2025. For more information, please contact the events team.


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