Venice is notorious for changing and extending the opening hours of its museums and, to a lesser degree, its churches. Before you begin your exploration of Venice's sights, ask at the tourist office for the season's list of museum and church hours. During the peak months, you can enjoy extended museum hours -- some places stay open until 7 or even 10pm. Unfortunately, these hours are not released until approximately Easter of every year. Even then, little is done to publicize the information, so you'll have to do your own research.
Venice's Newest Bridge
After years of disputes about its utility and design, the Ponte della Costituzione, the fourth bridge spanning the Grand Canal, opened for business in 2008. Venice's newest bridge is an impressive sight. To visit it, come out of the Santa Lucia train station and turn right at the Grand Canal, where you'll encounter this futuristic creation of famed Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. The bridge connects the train station with the Piazzale Roma parking lot, so it's probably not of much use to you if you have arrived by train, but that doesn't mean you can't cross it in awe anyway.
For Church Fans
The Associazione Chiese di Venezia (tel. 041-275-0462; www.chorusvenezia.org) now curates most of Venice's top churches. A visit to one of the association's churches costs 3€; most are open Monday to Saturday 10am to 5pm and Sunday 1 to 5pm. The churches are closed Sundays in July and August. If you plan to visit more than three churches, buy the 9€ ticket (valid for 1 year), which allows you to visit all of the following churches: Santa Maria del Giglio, Santo Stefano, Santa Maria Formosa, Santa Maria dei Miracoli, Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari (reviewed here), San Polo, San Giacomo dell'Orio, San Stae, Sant'Alvise, Madonna dell'Orto, San Pietro di Castello, Il Redentore (reviewed here), San Sebastiano (reviewed here), Santa Maria del Rosario (Gesuati; reviewed here) and San Giobbe. The association also has audio guides available at some of the churches for 1€.
Church Tours: Check with a tourist office for free tours being offered (erratically and usually during high season) in some of the churches, particularly the Basilica di San Marco and occasionally the Frari.
The Art of the Gondola
Putting together one of the sleek black boats is a fascinatingly exact science that is still done in the revered traditional manner at boatyards such as the Squero di San Trovaso . The boats have been painted black since a 16th-century sumptuary law -- one of many passed by the local legislators as excess and extravagance spiraled out of control. Whether regarding boats or baubles, laws were passed to restrict the gaudy outlandishness that, at the time, was commonly used to "outdo the Joneses."
Propelled by the strength of a single gondoliere, these boats, unique to Venice, have no modern equipment. They move with no great speed but with unrivaled grace. The right side of the gondola is lower because the gondoliere always stands in the back of the boat on the left. Although the San Trovaso squero, or boatyard, is the city's oldest and one of only three remaining (the other two are immeasurably more difficult to find), its predominant focus is on maintenance and repair. They will occasionally build a new gondola (which takes some 40-45 working days), carefully crafting it from the seven types of wood -- mahogany, cherry, fir, walnut, oak, elm, and lime -- necessary to give the shallow and asymmetrical boat its various characteristics. After all the pieces are put together, the painting, the ferro (the iron symbol of the city affixed to the bow), and the wood-carving that secures the oar are commissioned out to various local artisans.
Although some 10,000 of these elegant boats floated on the canals of Venice in the 16th century, today there are only 350. But the job of gondoliere remains a coveted profession, passed down from father to son over the centuries.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.