The Cultivist’s Guide to Venice

The art world’s expert concierge shares its shortlist of what to see and do in the magical city

Venice's historic Punta della Dogana captivates with new works by Damien Hirst.
Photo: © Thomas Mayer

Whether you come to Venice during the Biennale or at another time, this ancient, wondrous city engages all of your senses. From the narrow alleyways and winding canals to the hum of vaporetti crisscrossing the lagoon. From the mishmash of medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque buildings to the atmospheric bàcari, where locals enjoy small plates with glasses of wine poetically known as ombre. And, of course, there’s the seductive Adriatic light shimmering on the water, water everywhere.

Getting lost in Venice is part of the city’s allure. But to make sure you don’t get too far off track, Marlies Verhoeven Reijtenbagh, CEO and cofounder of the Cultivist—a members-only global arts club that provides insider information and special access to museums, fairs, and other art-world events—offers tips on the places to be in Venice now. 

Where to Stay 

An obvious pick for its central location on the Grand Canal, the Hotel Danieli boasts a spectacular lobby that fills with art-world insiders meeting on the fly or resting between shows. Photo: Matthew Shaw
The nearby Bauer Hotel is charming and its bar is the unofficial—maybe at this point, official—late-night drinks spot for the entire art world during the Biennale. Photo: Simon Watson, Courtesy of the Bauer Hotel
Across the canal on Giudecca island, the Belmond Hotel Cipriani is a classic, luxurious, pampering hotel that’s sure to please those seeking peace and quiet. Photo: Genvis Loci, Courtesy of Belmond Hotel Cipriani
Palazzina G, a boutique property stunningly designed by Philippe Starck, cleverly juxtaposes renowned Venetian craft with quirky and innovative elements. Photo: Serena Eller, Courtesy of Palazzina G

Don’t-miss Exhibitions

Damien Hirst takes over both of collector François Pinault’s spaces, the Palazzo Grassi (above) and the Punta della Dogana, with a show that was years in the making. April 9–November. Photo: Matteo De Fina, Courtesy of Palazzo Grassi
Multimedia artist Jan Fabre, who has staged memorable installations around Venice during recent biennales, is back with “Glass and Bones: Sculptures 1978–2017,” at the Abbazia di San Gregorio la Salute. May 13–November 26. Above is Fabre’s 2003 Searching for Utopia. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

 

Ten established artists, including Yinka Shonibare, mentored ten emerging artists from different cultural backgrounds for “Diaspora Platform,” at the Palazzo Pisani a Santa MarinaMay 13–November 26 Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Axel Vervoordt returns to the Palazzo Fortuny with his latest captivating, esoterically themed show, titled “Intuition.” May 9–November. Above is a scene from his previous exhibition in the space. Photo: Flickr/G.sighele

Insider Secret: A Hidden Gem

Housed in the beautiful Renaissance Palazzo Corner Spinelli, the Rubelli Archive is not to be missed. On view are fabrics and documents spanning centuries of the storied textile firm’s production as well as pieces collected from around the world. Photo: Courtesy of Rubelli

Where to Eat

Celebrities and locals alike flock to Cip’s Club at the Belmond Hotel Cipriani, a singular spot for alfresco dining, with views of the Santa Maria della Salute church and San Giorgio Maggiore island. Regulars come for chef Roberto Gatto’s beef carpaccio, thin green tagliolini, and fresh fish. Photo: Courtesy of the Belmond Hotel Cipriani

Located in St. Mark’s Square and infused with old-world Venetian charm, Caffè Florian is perfect for people-watching, while waiters in formal attire carrying silver trays deliver plates of prosciutto and cheese, a variety of sandwiches and pastries, and even “Casanova’s breakfast” with Venetian sausages. Photo: Courtesy of Caffè Florian

A beloved rustic restaurant near the Rialto fish market, Antiche Carampane serves an incredible tagliolini con il ragù di secoe, a classic Venetian meat pasta, as well as an array of fish specialties, both raw and cooked. Photo: Courtesy of Antiche Caramoane

For a very traditional Venetian experience, Bistrot de Venise pulls you back in time with updates of dishes from centuries past. Here you can sample roast eel with bay leaves or duck with peverada sauce and enjoy hard-to-find wines from their impressive list. Photo: Courtesy of Bistrot de Venise