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.

Strategies for St. Mark's Square

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Lines can be long at the Basilica di San Marco (average 45 min), but you can avoid waiting by reserving access in advance online (www.venetoinside.com; 3€), up to 10 minutes before your chosen entry time. This service is only available April through October; at other times try to arrive 30 minutes before opening time to avoid the worst of the crush (and skip holidays altogether). You can also use the same website to skip the line at the Campanile di San Marco.

It is possible (and not too exhausting) to see the Basilica di San Marco and the Palazzo Ducale in one day. Start at the church, arriving 30 minutes before opening (ideally get an online reservation in advance). Take a break before heading across to the Doge’s Palace, where you can spend the rest of the day. You can buy palace tickets in advance online (www.vivaticket.it); there’s no express entry option, unless you book a third-party tour, but there’s not usually a wait to get inside here. Your palace ticket also includes entry to the Museo Correr and Museo Archeologico Nazionale, but it’s safe to save these for another day—tickets are valid for up to 3 months.

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Note: The guards at St. Mark’s entrance are serious about forbidding entry to anyone in inappropriate attire—shorts, sleeveless shirts, cropped tops, and skirts above the knee. Note also that you cannot enter the basilica with luggage, and that photos and filming inside are forbidden. Although the basilica is open Sunday morning for anyone wishing to attend Mass, non-worshippers cannot enter merely to tour the site.

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.

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Although some 10,000 of these elegant boats floated on the canals of Venice in the 16th century, today there are only around 425, .almost all catering to the tourist trade. Tthe job of gondoliere remains a coveted profession, passed down from father to son over the centuries, but nowadays it’s open to anyone who can pass 400 hours of rigorous training—Giorgia Boscolo passed the exam in 2010, becoming the first ever gondoliera; her father was also in the profession.

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.