Canals, gondolas, and the Rialto Bridge You think you know what to anticipate from Venice, but no photograph, no matter how digitally altered, can compete with the actual thing. It takes more than an afternoon to get to know it, though. While the day-trippers are stampeding from the Rialto to St Mark's Square, you should be a block or two away, watching craftsmen make Renaissance-style goods, seeing dazzling reflections dance on bridge arches, and gawking at marble-clad structures, each more fanciful than the last. The fun of Venice, they say, is getting lost – yet no matter how far you go, you're never more than a handful of churches away from a Titian or Tintoretto.

If you want to avoid crowds, there is no better season than winter, when tourist numbers are at their lowest. While there is romanticism to it, Venice in winter, with its bitter cold, swirling fog, and frequent wind and rain, is hardly the Venice of people's fantasies. The city is busy and hot in the summer, but it's also the best time to visit the beach on the Lido or the lagoon. Spring and fall tend to have the best of all worlds - go late March to mid April, Easter aside, and you should have good weather but not too many crowds. Christmas is usually calm, but New Year's is lively, and Carnival (approximately mid-January to mid-February) is crowded.

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