Looking for things to do in Venice? As Valentine’s Day draws near, we highlight some of the most famous Venice attractions connected with Casanova.
Image by Pedro Szekely
From gliding down the Grand Canal in a gondola to sipping an espresso in Piazza San Marco, you’ll never find yourself short of things to do in Venice. Often referred to as ‘the Queen of the Adriatic’, this floating city (actually a collection of 118 tiny islands) has long attracted travellers from across the globe with its unique architecture, rich cultural history and world-renowned beauty.
However, while modern visitors to Venice tend to appreciate the city’s spirit of elegant decay – Venice is, after all, sinking at a rate of 2mm per year – its appeal was of a different nature in the 18th century. Back then, the rich and powerful flocked to Venice, attracted by its reputation as Europe’s pleasure capital. It was into this Venice – an extravagant city of gambling, courtesans and luxury – that Casanova, one of the world’s most famous Lotharios, was born.
If you want to get a taste of what Venetian life was like in this exciting time, a good place to start is by following in the footsteps of Casanova. Through his social climbing, amorous affairs and scrapes with the law, Casanova experienced all strata of 18th century Venice. So, as Valentine’s Day draws near, we highlight some of the most famous Venetian attractions connected with Casanova, and explain how a modern-day visitor can experience Venice as seen through the eyes of history’s most legendary lover.
Caption: It’s easy to get lost in Venice’s narrow, labyrinthine streets. Image from Unsplash
To follow in Casanova’s footsteps, it makes sense to start where it all began: San Samuele, the Venetian neighbourhood where Casanova spent the first nine years of his life, before being sent away to be educated at Padua. Wandering through this small, traditional neighbourhood is a great way for a modern visitor to get a feel for the narrow streets, crumbling grandeur and endless waterways that characterise Venice. Keep an eye out for the plaque marking Casanova’s birthplace on Calle Malipiero.
Make your way towards the Grand Canal and you’ll find San Samuele Church – although now closed to the public, it still presents an impressive façade. This was the spot where Casanova’s parents married and had their young son baptised. Later, when Casanova returned to Venice from Padua as an apprentice priest, this was the site of his first one and a half sermons (the second sermon was brought to an abrupt end when Casanova, realising he was rambling drunkenly after a particularly boozy lunch, faked a fainting fit to escape the awkward situation).
Piazza San Marco
Caption: Piazza San Marco sits at the heart of the city, and is close to many of the most popular things to do in Venice. Image from Pixabay.
It’s hard for a visitor to avoid Piazza San Marco, crammed as it is with many of Venice’s best-known attractions. As the city’s main gathering place since its construction in the 9th century, this wide open space is surrounded by white marble columns, cafés served by attentive white-suited waiters, and historic sites such as the majestic St Mark’s Basilica and imposing red-brick campanile.
Today, you’re likely to find Piazza San Marco filled with tourists and pigeons. But in Casanova’s Venice, San Marco held an entirely different meaning: it was a gateway to gambling. Just a few streets away, you’ll come face to face with San Moses Church, a beautiful Baroque building that used to sit at the heart of the city’s gambling den district.
Casanova’s casino of choice was Il Ridotto, which was Europe’s first public casino. Nowadays, Il Ridotto is no longer a den of vice, but rather a part of the sumptuous Hotel Monaco and Grand Canal. However, if you want to experience Venetian gambling as Casanova once did, you can always pay a visit to the palatial Venice Casino, which has been running in various states of legality since 1638, making it one of the oldest casinos in the world.
Caption: In the heyday of the Republic, the Doge’s Palace made an imposing sight for travellers arriving in Venice by boat. Image from Pixabay.
Next to Piazza San Marco you’ll find the Doge’s Palace, built in the Venetian Gothic style. Nowadays it’s a museum and visitors are free to explore the building’s lavish interior. When Casanova was in Venice, however, the Doge’s Palace wasn’t a tourist attraction, but the seat of government – something that, for a cad like him, made it far more ominous.
It was here that Casanova was sentenced to five years of imprisonment for ’public outrages’. He was housed in ‘the Leads’, a set of prison cells at the very top of the palace, named for the lead tiles that covered the roof. Fortunately, Casanova succeeded in escaping after 16 months; if we are to believe his account, detailed 30 years later in Story of My Flight, it took him two attempts and a whole lot of daring.
Caffè Florian Venice
Caption: Caffè Florian Venice has attracted artists and Lotharios alike since the 18th century. Image by Awiso.
This sumptuously decorated café first opened its doors in 1720 and – due in large part to it being the only café in the city that would serve women at the time – soon became one of Casanova’s favourite hunting grounds. Since then it has been a popular hangout for everyone from Byron to Stravinsky.
With a terrace that spills out onto Piazza San Marco and an interior that’s lavishly decorated with hand-painted mirrors and frescoes, Caffè Florian Venice is ideal for travellers looking to rest their weary feet and soak up some Venetian luxury. While you’re sipping on your Casanova Hot Chocolate, glance across the piazza and you’ll see Caffè Quadri, where Casanova enjoyed a brief stint as a violinist
Cantina Do Spade Venice
Caption: Cantina Do Spade Venice is next to the Rialto Market, making it a great choice for travellers looking to sample fresh, traditional Venetian food. Image by Nekotank.
Cantina Do Spade is a fantastic destination for travellers in its own right thanks to its divine menu of traditional Venetian cuisine. Its fried seafood, or ‘fritture’, is particularly worth trying – get there early to enjoy fish bought fresh from the nearby Rialto Market.
However, there’s more to this cosy tavern than meets the eye – not only is one of the oldest osteries in Venice, but it was also one of Casanova’s favourite stomping grounds. Indeed, according to one colourful account in Casanova’s memoirs, this was the place where he wined and dined a married conquest during the Carnival of 1745, having first disguised himself as an official in order to lure away her pesky husband. Even today, it’s easy to see why he found Do Spade’s cosy interior so well suited to seduction.
Of course, these are not the only things to do in Venice. From admiring the grand masters in the Gallerie dell’Accademia to browsing shops filled with ornate carnival masks, Venice makes an ideal romantic destination – not just for Valentine’s Day, but all year round.
Here at Imagine Cruising, we’re experts in luxury and tailor-made cruising. Interested in visiting Venice as part of a cruise? Browse our collection of Mediterranean cruises to learn more, or contact us on 0800 840 5800 for expert advice.