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World Heritage Site

for World Heritage Travellers

Venice and its Lagoon

Venice and its Lagoon

Venice and its Lagoon is a unique achievement of art, architecture and struggle against the elements.

The old historical centre of the city is situated on 118 islands of the Venetian Lagoon. It is criss-crossed by more than 150 canals and 400 bridges.

Records on Venice date back to the fifth and sixth centuries when refugees from the Venetian countryside took shelter in the Lagoon. The inhabitants transformed it into an important trading centre for shipping in the Mediterranean and towards the Orient.

The importance of Venice increased during the Crusades, when as a maritime power it extended its rule over the Aegean islands, Peleponesia, Crete and part of Constantinople. By the late 13th century, Venice was the most prosperous city in all of Europe.

Map of Venice and its Lagoon


  • Cultural

Visit Summer 1987, February 2016

My first visit to Venice took place in 1987: it was my first holiday abroad without my parents, and I had joined a youth group tour to Slovenia that included a sidetrip to Venice. I remember nothing about what we did that day, and only have a few holiday snaps left of a gondolier in front of some church. So there is reason enough for a return visit to one of the richest cities in Italy in terms of history and art. But again in 2016, I had only one day to spare for Venice. This time I arrived by train from Aquileia via Cervignano.

Summer 1987, February 2016

So how much ground can one actually cover in one day? During the train ride I noted down a mix of sights and activities from the 2005 Michelin Green Guide Italy and some ideas copied down beforehand from the internet. This resulted in an all-day itinerary of eight things-to-do: vaporetto to Canal Grande, St. Mark’s Basilica, Palazzo Ducale, Sta. Maria della Salute church, Ca d’Oro, I Frari church, Rialto bridge and Scuola di San Rocco.

Unmissable from any day in Venice is a ‘cruise’ by vaporetto. Waterbus #1 follows the Grand Canal through the city center, but I (accidentally) started with waterbus #2. It also ends at St. Mark's Square, but arrives there via a different route. It takes the long way round, along the railway station, through the lagoon with its islets and in the company of larger ferries and cruise ships. The advantage of this itinerary is that you approach the city from the sea and slowly the most beautiful buildings will appear on the horizon. Especially the Basilica Santa Maria della Salute is impressive. On my way back at the end of the day I used vaporetto number 1: the trip on the Grand Canal across the town center of Venice is the ideal route to take pictures of its villas and public buildings (they usually face the canal with their beautiful side). I liked both boat trips so much that I would advise to do only this when you’re short on time in Venice.

Summer 1987, February 2016

Like most passengers I disembarked at St. Mark’s Square. I had considered skipping this landmark as it is the busiest place of the city (Venice sees an average of 50,000 visitors a day!). The Cathedral and the Doge's Palace are its two biggest draws. As I didn’t have the time to enter every single building (not to mention that it adds up greatly in entrance fees), I choose the cathedral above the palace. Most of the cathedral’s interior was closed however because of a function that would take til late afternoon. Only the museum and the loggia were open. Climbing the stairs you can still take a peek at the sparkling golden Byzantine wall mosaics in the main church. Taking pictures here is unfortunately banned as in many other Venetian buildings.

From the loggia there’s a beautiful view over the busy square. And you are up and close with the various statues that adorn the façade. Most striking of these are the four bronze horses. The originals (probably from Roman times) are preserved a few meters away inside the museum, apparently they’re too expensive and fragile to expose to outside weather conditions.

One of the best things I had saved for last: the Scuola di San Rocco. A ‘scuola’ in 16th century Venice was a kind of assembly hall of an association of citizens (confraternity). This particular society was certainly able to raise serious money, as all walls within their building are covered with paintings of the Venetian master Tintoretto. There are two floors, each consisting of one large and richly decorated hall. It’s a rather decadent sight. Besides the paintings I also admired the wooden carvings in the Upper Hall. There were very few other tourists visiting: just as in Florence the masses are concentrated around very few places.

Summer 1987, February 2016

After about six hours strolling through the city, I decided to return to the railway station. Venice isn’t very big, but there are no straight walks anywhere so it gets exhausting in a while. There is still much more to see, you definitely need three days for a good visit. A walking tour through the less visited quarters, the art museums and a boat cruise to the outer islands surely would be worthwhile additions. But if you have only one day, it is still worth going. This time around I enjoyed the vaporetto boat rides, the sunny weather and the many beautiful Venetian Gothic façades.

Community Reviews

Jay T USA 11.09.16

Venice and its Lagoon by Jay T

What is there to say about Venice that hasn't already been said? It's not surprising this World Heritage Site is the most reviewed of all the Italian sites; this city on water is captivating. I've visited Venice twice, and both times left me wanting more time to explore. Traveling by boat on the Grand Canal, the Venetian architecture is mesmerizing, while the smaller side canals offer a more intimate view of the city's colorful neighborhoods. Venice's vaporetto system offers a relatively inexpensive way to travel around the islands, and I highly recommend taking Line 1 for an evening circumnavigation of the Grand Canal, when all the churches and palaces are illuminated. On foot, the paths between neighborhoods meander past churches and apartments and plazas, with a variety of bridges crossing the network of canals. It's easy and worthwhile to lose oneself in Venice in this way, but if you need reorientation, the signs on the corners of the building direct back to main parts of the city. Recent press articles have bemoaned the death of Venice by tourism; I agree it should be managed, but I'd have to say I did not feel overwhelmed by crowds on my prior visits in spring and fall. Perhaps those are better times of year to visit.

Logistics: Upon arrival to Venice by train or by automobile, the best way to see the city is either by boat or on foot. Venice's vaporetto network is a great way to travel around the canals and lagoon.

Jeanette Shumaker, US 12.07.15

I agree with the reviews praising vaporetto rides and exploring backstreet Venice on foot. At San Zaccaria Church, I saw a beautiful Bellini altarpiece with a joyous angel playing the cello. I also loved seeing Emma Ciardi's Impressionist paintings of Venice at the Ca' Rezzonico 18C Museum that is in a gorgeous palazzo. The Ca' d' Oro is another lovely palazzo with a fascinating collection of paintings and sculptures. Palladio's San Giorrgio Maggiore made me realize why Palladio is often copied in other nations.

I agree with the review that said Venice is the world's most memorable city.

Clyde Malta 07.09.12

Venice and its Lagoon by Clyde

I visited this WHS various times. Venice is a unique place in the world and it is an enchanting city. In July 2009 I also visited Murano, Burano and Torcello islands in the Venetian Lagoon and the highlight of my trip was definitely Burano, with its colourful buildings and old local lacemakers.

Eric Lurio USA 17.07.12

Among the weirdest cities in the World, Venice, Italy must rank among the top five. I don’t mean this in a BAD way actually, but the place is completely so unlike anyplace else in the world that it cannot be called anything but very strange.

Other cities have canals. You’ve got Amsterdam and Stockholm, both of which are strewn with canals close to the water’s edge, but they have streets, and trams and other forms of mass transportation, which make those towns seem relatively normal. Also, while they have museums, they are not, of themselves museums. Venice, having lost its independence and its livelihood over two centuries ago, is.

The “serene republic” lasted a thousand years and a century before being actually invaded for the first time by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1797. The reason for this was because of its intense weirdness. It’s a bunch of islands in the middle of a lagoon, connected by a series of bridges. Here, it developed a unique culture and set for the to build an empire which ruled over the islands of what are now Croatia and Greece, trading with the Byzantine and later, various Moslem empires in the east to become the cultural portal of the western world during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Even as new trade routes made Venice less lucrative, the serene Republic continued to thrive, attracting artists and architects, poets and visionaries. But that’s all gone now…

When the French finally destroyed the old Republic, they destroyed its reason for being, stole its art, and chiseled out many of its ancient symbols from the walls. When the Napoleonic wars were over in 1815, it was decided to give the city to the Austrians, After a couple of decades of poverty and the revenge of it’s ancient enemies, the Venetians decided to make the place over into a tourist trap.

Which is what it has been ever since.

If you get off in either the Point de Roma, where there’s a bus station and a few cars, or the train station on the next island over, you will notice a change once you get to the Vaperetto, or waterbus, station. With a few exceptions, all the buildings are really old. Not that they actually all are, but law protects the weirdness of the place and it’s very strict. The Medieval and Renaissance architectural designs are faithfully recreated on the facades of many a new Palazzo. Tourism is all that the city has left, and the glory of this ancient Disneyland must be fossilized. When the great bell tower, which is right in the middle of St. Mark’s square mysteriously and suddenly disintegrated 998 years after it was built, it was replaced by an exact replica (well, not exactly exact, there’s an elevator now) and with a few exceptions like the train station, this dictum of architectural ultraconservatism has been scrupulously followed.

Which brings us to the Gardens of the Biennale, where a grand art fair has been taking place every other year since 1895 as a way, naturally, to attract tourists. As a park on the eastern edge of town, the various countries that have participated over the years have been allowed to set up permanent pavilions where hundred of temporary exhibitions take place. This goes for the off years as well, why waste valuable space, right? But the big show is in odd years.

The Gardens aren’t the only place for exhibits, there’s a place called the Arsenal, where they have some too, and finally, on the Lido, which is a large island nearby with some pretty nice beaches, is where the film festival takes place every August and September. More on that later…

The Biennale’s theme the last time I was there was; “Think With Your Senses, Feel with Your Mind.” Which is another way of saying “This is all bullshit! Give us your eight euros and deal with it.” Granted, not all of the works shown this year’s suck. There are some excellent works to seen, particularly Austria’s Herbert Brandl, who’s an abstract expressionist, or Svetlana Ostopovici, who’s more realistic, then there’s lots of other stuff both interesting and “interesting.” Then there’s lots of what I like to call “con art” in which some talent-less jerks with sharp tongues con certain curators into putting the most godawful crap up, from anti-Semitic graffiti to give-away posters by California artist Felix Gonzalez Torrez, one of which symbolizes the end of art by having a black rectangular frame of nothing.

Much of the work shown is heavily influenced by advertising and comics, which is where, after all most of the money for creativity is coming for nowadays, but for the most part, there’s nothing really new here, just inarticulate recycling of concepts that have been floating around for the better part of half a century. Granted, I didn’t have the time to give everything more than a cursory look. The Biennale, like the city that surrounds it, requires far more than the day or two most people give it.

Due to the big show, the Biennale’s film department has been rather tardy with the printing of the posters and programs for their big film festival, which is supposed to start in only two weeks. The oldest of Europe’s many film festivals, Venice’s dates back to 1935, and, with the natural break for World War II, had been giving out it’s prestigious “Golden Lion” awards ever since. Taking place on the Lido, where there are fewer architectural restrictions and an actual beach for beautiful women to parade around in their bikinis. This year, as in most, there’s an eclectic selection of Hollywood, Independent, and European government sponsored films, which are going to start generating buzz for various awards like the Oscars and the Golden Globes.

If you only have a day or two, just go to St. Mark’s square and hang out for a while, and go left towards the Rialto Bridge in the direction of the train station. Then head west along the Grand Canal, stopping at various churches to look at the art, which, as every good agnostic or atheist knows, is the only saving grace the Catholic Church has ever had. You will also notice that there are no streets, just sidewalks and canals, and a very strange and beautiful landscape.

John booth New Zealand 15.09.11

Venice and its Lagoon by john booth

Having seen the streets, piazzas and canals of Venice on previous visits, this time I decided to visit the Lagoon. Armed with a 12 hour ticket I took a Vaporetto LN from Fondamente Nova. This vessel cruised past St Michael's (Cemetery) Island to Murano with its lines of glassworks. We then continued past Mazzorbo and Torcello to Burano. I could see that Torcello's campanile was wrapped in scaffolding so I disembarked in Burano to explore the narrow canals with their colurful houses, and also for an excellent seafood lunch.

Returning to Venice I went to the church of San Giorgio Maggiore and for E5 took the lift up the campanile to get a bird's eye view of Venice.

Ian Cade England 10.03.11

Venice and its Lagoon by Ian Cade

There are reasons why some sites are so famous; Venice is a case in point. This really is a unique and magnificent city, and really justified as being one of the most famous cities in Europe.

My visit was a truly wonderful experience, walking around it was hard to wipe the grins off of our faces. Arriving at the waterfront near St Mark’s square for the first time felt like we had just stepped into a Canaletto painting. Aside from the unique atmosphere of the road free city, the main sights were also very impressive. My first visit to St Mark’s Basilica was incredible, the mid morning sun was streaming in and making the gold mosaics shine, it really was an impressive feeling. Also the Doge’s palace was well worth investigating, the sheer amount of impressive painted interiors really made it worth the entrance fee. Venice can be a pretty expensive city to visit, but I visited out of season and managed to get some cheaper accommodation, and there are plenty of ways to cut down cost. Perhaps the most fun I had saving money was eschewing the costly gondola ride (€120 p/h) in favour of the wobbling across the grand canal on a traghetto (a gondola in which you stand up) all for the princely sum of €0.50, we enjoyed it so much we did it again the next day as well.

One of my favourite parts of my visit was strolling through the vegetable and fish markets on Saturday morning; it helped to get some interaction with some of the locals and also the opportunity to buy some tasty treats.

I really loved Venice and it is certainly a place that will reward a long visit, like many tourist heavy European cities it can be expensive and crowded but with a little bit of savy you will be able to experience one of the highlights of the world heritage list.

[Site 9: Experience 8]

As an additional note I would just like to comment on perhaps the thing I was happiest to see in Venice which was one of its latest developments; Ponte di Calatrava/Constituzione. This new bridge linking the Bus and train station is to my eye exceptionally beautiful. I am a huge fan of the work of Santiago Calatrava and this is one of his finest projects that I have seen. The simple modern curve of the bridge is both extremely modern but also very fitting for its location. There seems to have been a fair bit of criticism of it however in my view it is a great piece of work, and shows that modern architecture can fit in with historic cities (maybe if Dresden had got a better architect it would still be a WHS?).

Carol Thompson, England 29.08.10

I was in Venice earlier this year (May 2010) it was my first time and I have to say I knew hardly anything about it. My friend had been twice and had raved about it, so I went with an open mind. I loved it!

We went for a week, booked an Hotel on the Lido so we had

the best of both, with a beach on one side and Venice on the

other. We did just about everything we wanted to do, including a trip by bus down the Lido and across to Choggia

on the mainland. We also spent a day trip across to Murano,

Burrano and Torchello. We both agreed that Burano was the

best, it was so pretty.

A lot of people only go to Venice for a day, they only see and do just a couple of things and it would probably be packed with people anyway, which can spoil it.

St Marks Square on a warm late evening when all the tourist

have left and you can stop for a coffee in peace or have an

ice cream or a drink is absolute magical.

Stewart ayukawa canada 02.05.09

Visited Venice in 1985 and stayed in the international youth hostel a short canal ride from St. Marks Square. The city was somewhat commercialized, touristy, and expensive. I could only afford spaghetti! Magnificent architecture and a unique system of canals make this city a real gem. St Marks was really impressive. The small Gugenheim art gallery had a precious collection of paintings. The city lacked the local charm of other Italian cities.

Isabel Salvatori, Mexico 30.07.06

One of the most overwhelming scenes that I remember in my life is when you turn around the corner and arrive to St. Mark's Square in Venice. The sight of that amazing church, the thousands of doves, and yes, the bunch of tourists, simply took my breath away. Venice has a lot of other sights worth visiting, and the city itself, just walking around and getting lost in it (don't worry, eventually you get to St. Mark's Square again, even if you don't understand how). If you feel like running away from all the crowds, you can take a boat to the pintoresque island of Burano, where you will find lovely streets with colorful houses and a much more peaceful sorrounding than Venice. Venice is a very romantic city, but even if you go there without a couple, it is still very enjoyable

James Kovacs, USA 05.02.06

Venice is a dream. We spent 2 days and 2 nights here in

May 1997. It was just so charming and captivating.

Venice gets even more romantic as night falls.

The buildings are all lit up with flood lights.

People are strolling about and having dinner.

It is all so magical. I wish I could live here year round.

Ben Pastore USA 07.06.05

My visit to Venice left me wondering if this was a city or movie set. It was all so surreal. The charming narrow pedestrian streets and ornate bridges made it seem more amusement park than metropolis. The gondola ride was expensive and would hardly have been worth it had I not been on my honeymoon (I think you could get arrested if you don't spring for the ride on your honeymoon, let alone the fallout with the wife). Regardless, this is a unique place that more than earns its designation as a heritage site.

Graeme Ramshaw, UK/US

Venice is a city of extremes. One either loves it or hates it. Like Prague, it hosts millions of tourists each year to the extent that one doubts the existence of a true Venetian citizen. Yet, also like Prague, it boasts incredible beauty and extraordinary qualities that make it unique among the cities of the world. It is no surprise that people flock to Venice; there is quite simply no place like it. St. Mark's Square, the Basilica, and the Doge's Palace with its Bridge of Sighs constitute the main tourist sights, along with the Grand Canal and its Rialto Bridge, but for me, the real joy of Venice lies in its labryinth of tightly packed streets, many of which end in the deadend of a canal bank but still others of which lead to remarkable sights far off the tourist radar. The city can be overwhelming with its crowds and its waterways, but if you take the time to lose yourself among the people and campi of Venice, you will find a delightful local culture lurking just below the tourist facade.

Klaus Freisinger Austria

What more can be said about Venice that hasn´t been said before? One of the greatest cities of Europe, if not the world, and a place everybody should have seen. Sure, it´s usually very, very crowded, the streets are a complete maze, and when there´s acqua alta (and that´s frequently), you wouldn´t want to be there without boots. But hey, it´s Venice, and you can accept a few inconveniences to see St.Marks´s Square, the Basilica of St.Mark´s, the Ducal Palace, a score of museums, the Rialto Bridge, the Grand Canal, the gondolas, the Academy,...well, you know what I mean. Just wandering the narrow alleys and not knowing exactly where you are going is half the joy of exploring Venice. And if you are fed up with the crowds, just take a boat to one of the islands in the lagoon that are usually very quiet places.

morgan, england

its da best its like a dream hoilday i could not believe how warm the water was i had the best time of my life

sonia, australia

venice is great! its so peaceful. i have never been in a city like venice before. it is da best.

u should go there. lovely place!!!

Al, Switzerland

I was in venice in april 2004 and I just can say one word "fantastic"! in this city you really feel you walk throgh history. No cars, just boats and very nice old churches. the highlight is for me to enter to St. Marco's square.. cuz first you walk trough soem thight streets and suddenly you get into St. Marco square and the effect of the change from the small tight streets to the giant square is really unbelivable!

also the view from the tower in St. Marco's square is so beautiful, you see the city surrounding by see and you feel like really being in 14th century!!!! great place to visit

Mike Fungone, U.S.

My first and only trip to Venice took place in 2002 with my second cousin from Trieste.It was a remarkable experience. I had not known that one must take a train over a causeway(land bridge)to get inside the city.The only other way is by boat.

Once inside the ancient city, one is greeted and overwhelmed by history, architecture, arts and crafts and a flowing continuity of shopping adventures. We took a gondola ride down the canals on a sleek ebony colored luxurious craft and saw the home of Marco Polo and the original Don Juan who, my guide said, "had a different woman every night."

I was impressed by the enormity of Venice for I had always envisioned a rather small quaint place, but one can not possible walk over 400 bridges in a few minutes!

The expansive piazzas were host to tourists from every place imaginable and I strained my neck to view a gigantic tower whose grand image must surely have inspired the smaller version in Epcot in Disney World.Indeed, Venice itself reminded me of a ancient "DIsney World' for everywhere were the sights and sounds of entertainment. Itinerant musicians, wonderful Italian food, quaint shops with glass wares, porcelin, and unusual gifts which were too tempting to pass by.

The day at Venice went by all too quickly and even though it was raining a little that day, it was one of the highlights of my trip to italy and I have expressed my admiration for that city time and again.

Gatis, Latvia

To me this is the nicest city I have ever seen. First time I visited it on nighttime, during wintertime - I was walking on empty streets under moonlight four weary hours. It was strange to see the incredibly ornate inner rooms in houses, where light was on.

Next time I spent there four days. Managed to visit Burano island - it is something different, picturesque fishery village with leaning belltower and few tourists. Murano - pretty similar to Venice - but far less tourists, here you can spend much time speaking (or trying to communicate) with glassmasters or just look at their work.

I am dreaming about returning there some more times. For others - try to avoid the central streets - they always are crowded, prices are just stupid. Some quarters away - silent and much cheaper.

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Full name: Venice and its Lagoon

Unesco ID: 394

Inscribed: 1987

Type: Cultural

Criteria: 1   2   3   4   5   6  

Link: By Name By ID

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