How to do the Venice Biennale

21 November 2013 § Leave a comment

Arriving in Venice for the biennale as a newcomer you will no doubt immediately pick up a copy the official biennale ‘map’. You will open it up. And open it again. And again. Flapping in the Mediterranean breeze you will now have the equivalent of about 8 sides of A4 covered with maps and lists of venues and events.

All very intimidating. How, what, where? There will be a temptation to try and rush around, seeing as much as possible. It all looks too much – and then there is Venice to be enjoyed along the way as well. The good news is that its not nearly as complex as it looks and a few simple rules will help you make the most of even a short stay.

1. Avoid the Peak Season. Unless you want to attend opening events try to travel away from peak summer season. Venice is always busy but the biennale will be much quieter September to November and flights and hotels may be cheaper. Don’t forget when you are planning that the biennale closes Mondays.

2. Fly to Venice. Obvious no? Well not really, the likes of Easyjet and Ryanair actually fly to Treviso an hour or so up the road. Instead fly direct to Venice airport. I go BA from Gatwick.

3. Take the Ferry. Also seems obvious, but from Venice airport you could save some money and go by bus to the edge of town, then take a Vaporetto to your hotel. Dont bother. Spend a small amount more and take the Alilaguna ferry from the airport direct to San Marco or Rialto (amongst other destinations). Its quicker and you get a wonderful cruise across the lagoon for free. For convenience buy a return trip and an unlimited pass on the Vaporetti (for the duration of your stay) in the airport terminal.


4. Book a convenient hotel. Check out the stops for the various airport ferries and book a hotel within a short stroll. All bags need to be carried down the passageways so, unless you get a private boat to your hotel with its own landing stage, travel light! Between the Rialto and San Marco they tend to be pokey and expensive so avoid this area but there is plenty more in districts like San Polo or Castello which are still very convenient. Avoid the Lido unless you have more time and want a beach.

Hotel IQs

Hotel IQs

5. Do the official biennale first. It comprises two main areas. The Giardini (gardens) has the major national pavilions in wooded gardens plus the main curated pavilion and is probably the best for the first day. You will need at least a half day for a good look plus a tea/lunch break. Arsenale, the second main area, is best left for the next day unless you want to go cross-eyed looking at art.

6. Satellite National Pavilions. Dont even think of doing them all! Ask for recommendations, read reviews and search the internet and cut down the list to the best half dozen. The alternative is walking up six flights of stairs in annoyingly remote locations just to find some dismal government sponsored propaganda.

Gavin Turk

Gavin Turk

7. Plan your visits. Although Venice is small it can take longer than you think to get around, especially when Vaporetti (ferries) are involved. It is also very easy to get lost and a 5 minute detour can quickly become half an hour. Map your stops and try and fit in the satellite pavilions en route to the larger attractions.

Marc Quinn Alison Lapper Pregnant

Marc Quinn Alison Lapper Pregnant

8. Its not just the biennale! Major (and minor) galleries take advantage of the biennale to have their own shows, not on the official guide. Again be very careful which ones you put on your schedule and check how long they run. Many only ‘pop up’ for a few weeks.

9. And More. The Venice institutions also put on extra shows. Amongst many don’t miss: Punta della Dogana & Palazzo Grassi (both owned by Christies’ Francois Pinault) with their contemporary exhibitions; The Guggenheim – Peggy’s extraordinary Modernist collection; The Fortuny Palace – a wonderfully diverse collection with a curated show blended in amongst it, all in an extraordinary dream-like location; Gallerie dell’Accademia – pre 19th century masterworks; Ca Rezzonico – museum of 18th century Venice that usually hosts a top contemporary exhibition.

Rudolf Stingel

Rudolf Stingel

10. Add a touch of luxury. Time visits to avoid meals at the Giardini and Arsenale – try local spots nearby. Later escape the crowds and drop in to the smart hotels for some luxurious relaxation time. The Hotel Gritti Palace has a perfect canal-side terrace whilst the roof terrace of the Danieli has breathtaking views. Of course they’re expensive, but you don’t have go wild.

Danieli roof terrace

Danieli roof terrace

There’s lots more of course – but I’ll let you have fun finding out the rest yourselves!


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