Venice's Palazzo Museums

It happens to almost everyone who visits Italy: as you stroll past a stately palazzo facade, your eyes drift upwards and you catch a glimpse of the “piano nobile” with its sweeping halls, frescoed ceilings, sumptuous artwork, and intricate Murano glass chandeliers. You wonder who may have lived there - or perhaps still does, and wistfully daydream about a chance to view the ornate interiors from close up.

Italy's historic cities are crowded with these noble palazzi, built as ostentatious private residences by everyone from popes to wealthy sea merchants, all of whom needed to demonstrate their economic and political power through prestigious real estate. Though some of these aristocratic palaces are still privately owned and inhabited, many have been sold over the centuries and are now home to banks, government ministries, schools, or divided into smaller private apartments.

DSC03268 _Snapseed(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

Luckily for the daydreamers, there are also a number of important palazzi that have been converted into small museums or galleries open to the public, often with the original decor and furnishings partially or fully intact. Rome has a wonderful collection of palazzi museums, as does Venice.

Here are a few of the most interesting museums in Venice housed in La Serenissima's most magnificent historic palazzi:

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Three Perfect Itineraries for a First Trip to Italy

Nothing is as magical, or as memorable, as your first trip to Italy. Though subsequent trips may be those in which you pick up a few sentences of Italian, get off the beaten path a bit, and start to choose your favorite cities and regions, that maiden voyage is one of pure discovery. Your first glimpse of iconic monuments like the Colosseum in Rome or Venice's Grand Canal, your first sips of Brunello or Barolo, your first sunset from the Ponte Vecchio or the Amalfi Coast...these are all an epiphany of the senses, and will color your affection for this stunning country for years to come.

Florence twilight.(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

Though it's a fun challenge to plan unique trips for travelers who have already explored Italy in the past, organizing a client's first trip is always a particular delight. We still remember our first trip years ago, and know how easy it is to get bitten by the “Italy bug” if your first trip dazzles. Here are three of our favorite itineraries for first timers, and some tips to help you plan a trip that will begin a long-lasting love affair with the Bel Paese!

Venezia - canal(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)
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Eating Cicchetti in Venice

Venice has the unfortunate (and undeserved) reputation of being one of the few places in Italy where the restaurants are expensive and not particularly good. Though it’s true that there is a concentration of “tourist-trap” eateries along the main thoroughfares, it’s also true that La Serenissima is a place where it’s easy to distance yourself from the crowds and find small, neighborhood trattorias where the dishes are excellent and prices reasonable.

(Photo by seventyoneplace via Flickr)

To enjoy a truly traditional Venetian eating experience that won’t break the bank, consider making a meal out of cicchetti. Venice’s version of tapas, these bite-sized appetizers can range from marinated olives to small portions of meat or fish, and from late afternoon through the dinner hour (and sometimes midday, as well), the city’s tiny bars—called *bàcari*--have their counters crowded with overflowing platters of a tempting array of cicchetti, to be washed down with a small glass of wine, known locally as an ombra.

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Everything You Need to Know about Venice's Gondolas

It's not often that we recommend indulging in a “touristy” activity; we love the more hidden and authentic side of Italy, and personalized, local experiences that often aren't accessible to mass tourism. There is one important exception to this bias, however: a ride in one of Venice's iconic gondolas.

Gondolas - Venice(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

As we said in our 48 Hours in Venice guide, “You wouldn’t visit Paris and skip the Eiffel Tower. You wouldn’t visit India and neglect the Taj Mahal. So how could you possibly not indulge in the most iconic of activities in Venice?” Part of this recommendation is based on the pure joy of floating down Venice's picturesque canals in your private luxury sedan of the sea, but part of it is also because the gondola may have become primarily a tourist attraction over the past century, but for most of the last millennium, it was a fundamental part of Venice's culture and daily life.
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Italy's Islands: The Venetian Islands

The word “island” tends to conjure up mental images of sugar sand beaches, palm trees, and flower-laden maidens, but Venice’s islands are much less Gauguin and much more de Chirico.

Leaning tower on Burano(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

Gaily painted houses lined up shoulder-to-shoulder in blocks of contrasting color along canals placid enough to reflect their mirror image, perfectly symmetrical miniature footbridges spanning the water, neat artisan workshops turning out the same intricate crafts they have been for centuries—these tiny mini-Venices off the coast of La Serenissima are a microcosm of the same beauty, history, and artistry that has drawn wanderers to this corner of Italy since it was rivaled only by the Ottoman Empire in wealth and power.
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Carnival in Venice

Everything about Venice is sumptuous and extravagant: its history as a wealthy and powerful maritime republic; its architecture, which spans from the Byzantine Saint Mark’s Basilica to the Gothic palazzi lining the Grand Canal; its art, dominated by the eye-popping colors of Renaissance masters Giorgione and Titian.

Is it so surprising, then, that even Venice’s Carnival celebrations are the most elaborate in all of Italy? Read More...

So...You Want to Ski in Italy

When thinking of Italy, certain images always spring to mind. The iconic monuments (Rome’s Colosseum, Florence’s Duomo, and Venice’s Grand Canal), the countryside’s rolling vineyards and hilltowns, the rugged coast with its sheer cliffs and tiny, colorful fishing villages. What many tend to forget is that the entire northern border of Italy runs through the Alps and Dolomites, skirting some of the highest and most dramatic mountain peaks in Europe.

Which means, of course, that if you want to ski, Italy is the perfect destination. Read More...

48 Hours: Venezia (Venice)

There is good news and bad news about visiting Venice.

The good news is that the breathtaking historic center—more an open air museum than a city—is quite compact and so easily navigable by foot (or boat) that two days of exploring are enough to sample much of La Serenissima’s elegance and romance. The bad news is that this same compact center means that the crowds of visitors drawn to this unique city are concentrated in a relatively small area and hard to avoid. Follow Maria’s advice and “just put blinders on and enjoy the sights”; you will soon be so absorbed in the stunning architecture, iconic gondolas, and fascinating everyday logistics of life in a city of canals that the tourists will fade into the background. Read More...

Top 10 Italian Holiday Experiences: Brian and Maria Gabriella's Picks

Trying to plan a trip to Italy and just don’t know where to start? Everyone has their favorite cities, restaurants, hotels and sights to recommend (contact us and we'll tell you ours), but here are 10 Italian holiday experiences around the country that you just can’t miss. In a country full of perfect 10s, the following are in no particular order.

#1 Italian Holiday Experience: Roma! Roma! Roma! - Ancient Rome


Image: © Concierge in Umbria

At the heart of modern-day Rome, the ruins of the ancient Roman capital are remarkably preserved despite the 4 million visitors who walk the 2600-year-old paths each year. But Rome is not the only place to find traces of the ancient civilization (Pompeii is a perfect day trip!), and Rome today is far more than a city built on ancient relics. Walking the streets, you’re greeted with the most majestic architecture and art from every period of Italian history and the vibrancy of a modern capital.

#2 Italian Holiday Experience: Rinascimento - Renaissance Florence


Image: © Concierge in Umbria

Florence may be small compared to bustling Rome, but the capital of Renaissance culture packs in so many sights that you can spend eight hours wandering four blocks and still not see everything. Though Florence is home to the grand art collections of the Uffizi and the Accademia (home to Michelangelo's David), other cities in Tuscany and further afield in Umbria (Perugia) and Le Marche (Urbino) hold equally lauded but less visited collections.

#3 Italian Holiday Experience: Venezia - A One of a Kind City


Image: © Concierge in Umbria

Often imitated but never copied, Venice remains - despite the hype, the masses of tourists, and the commercialization - a magically unique place. Where else in the world . . . is a major modern city completely devoid of motorized vehicles? . . . are "roads" sometimes only wide enough for one person? . . . was home to Casanova? Like few other cities in Italy, walking through Venice transports you to another time.

#4 Italian Holiday Experience: Sicilia - Crossroads of Cultures


Image: © Concierge in Umbria

While we often say that Italy has it all, the Mediterranean's largest island has it all in one place. Ancient ruins, Byzantine cathedrals, and Islamic architecture dot the landscape, while the flavors of all of Sicily's past rulers mix with the island's rich agricultural produce to create a singular cuisine. Throw in a volcano, hundreds of miles of coastline with beaches and diving, and verdant hiking trails, and you've got Sicily.

#5 Italian Holiday Experience: Mangiare e bere! The Food


Image: © Concierge in Umbria

There is something about Italian food that you can never replicate at home - the incredibly fresh, picked-at-the-peak-of-ripeness, seasonal vegetables. In Italy, the phenomenon called "farm to table" is not a fad, but a basic way of life. And don't forget the wine! (Not that the Italians would let you.) Even low-priced table wines and house wines are high-quality and often organic.

#6 Italian Holiday Experience: Italiani! - The Italians



Image: © Concierge in Umbria


All of the things that we love about Italy are made possible by the Italians themselves. Their passion. Their conviction. Their love of beauty for beauty’s sake. And their fervent desire to point you to the absolute best gelato, pasta, or whatever you are looking for. The Italians are great hosts and are one of the warmest and funniest peoples of the world. Recommendations by and conversations with Italians will take your trip to the next level.

#7 Italian Holiday Experience: I Panorama - The Views!


Image: © Concierge in Umbria

Italy’s peninsula (justly often called “the boot”) stretches from the Alps down to the volcanic peaks of Sicily’s Mt. Etna, benefiting from 4722 miles of coastline along the way. From the ski and hiking resorts of the Dolomites like Cortina d’Ampezzo to the rolling hills of Tuscany to the cities built into sheer cliffs along the Tyrrhenian Sea, like the UNESCO World Heritage Cinque Terre and the star-studded Amalfi coast, Italy has a view to soothe anyone’s soul.

#8 Italian Holiday Experience: Lo Shopping - Art, Clothes, and Ceramics, Oh My!


Image: © Concierge in Umbria

You may come to Italy for the art or the food, but don't forget to leave time to bring your favorite things home with you. For quality, Italy is unparalleled. For clothes, you can score Italy's top fashion brands at deep, deep discounts at outlet malls outside major cities. To decorate your home, pick up reproductions of your favorite museum art pieces and scour ceramics shops for unique regional designs and elegant painted serving dishes.

#9 Italian Holiday Experience: Un Pisolino e Una Passeggiata - Lifestyle


Image: © Concierge in Umbria

The afternoon nap (il pisolino) and the evening stroll (la passeggiata) form an integral part of the rhythm of Italian life. The morning is for chatting at a coffee bar, getting fresh vegetables, cheese, and pasta at the market for the highlight of the day – lunch! After a rest or a nap, the whole city takes to the streets for an evening stroll to catching up on gossip and grab a gelato. Italy is all about the pace of life.

#10 Italian Holiday Experience: Che Spettacolo! Fantastic Live Events


Image: © Concierge in Umbria

There is a reason that opera, philosophical dramas, and improvised comedy all have their roots in Italy – the Italians know how to put on a show. Today, you can still experience opera in ornately decorated opera houses with intermissions long enough for a drink and a chat between every act just as Verdi fans did in the 1800s. In the spring and summer, the country comes alive with world-class concerts and music festivals in every city and usable Roman amphitheater.

Brian Dore and Maria Gabriella Landers | Contact Us
Condé Nast Traveler Top Travel Specialist: Italy