My first encounter with Venice, as a small child, was a whirlwind of candy-colored palazzi, delicate blown glass, and narrow streets where you could get lost for days.
There was also a spectacular procession of black gondolas, each bearing mountains of flowers, floating down a canal—part of the funeral, it turned out, of the great composer Igor Stravinsky. Venice has always known how to honor its past. It’s the present—and future—that has proved more unwieldy to negotiate. Today, the city manages to defy being characterized as a historical amusement park, one that’s sinking—literally and metaphorically—under the weight of its history. Witness the new (albeit controversial) pedestrian bridge by Santiago Calatrava that spans the Grand Canal. Or the opening of François Pinault’s Contemporary Art Center, designed by Tadao Ando, this June. There are even plans for architect David Chipperfield to build a modern expansion for the ancient cemetery on the tiny island of San Michele, where Stravinsky was laid to rest. Yet despite these changes, Venice remains, as always, committed to its past. Organizations such as Venice in Peril, Venetian Heritage, and Save Venice are leading efforts to make sure the city’s treasures are preserved for future generations. Step into even the smallest of printing or woodworking ateliers, and you’ll find craftsmen working just as they would have generations ago. The addresses on the following pages bring you the best of the city’s traditions and innovations. And while the legendary hotels and landmarks continue to impress, this guide focuses on the lesser-known—and in some cases, more affordable—side of the city: the addresses for family-run restaurants, the workshops and stores, the inns, and the historical sites that I’ve been amassing over the past 20 years.