What is the Venice Biennale?
The Venice Biennale was held for the first time over 120 years ago and is therefore one of the oldest biennales in the world which soon became an international event. Especially in recent years, the Biennale has welcomed more and more artists from the East. The organisation “La Biennale” not only covers art but also topics such as architecture or dance. Every two years, the Biennale Arte exhibits works from over 100 artists from more than 50 countries. It applies a country system hosting each country in a pavilion. The countries themselves then choose their artists. It is regarded as a big honour to be the ambassador of a country.
I always find the brochure provided by the Biennale di Venezia really useful, as it includes maps of all the locations. Alternatively, I have prepared my personal map for you to make your life easier. 🙂 I included not only the main locations of the Biennale but also my recommendations for further activities, dining and shopping. You can find this map at the bottom of this article.
The main areas of the Biennale are the Giardini in the East of the city, where it all started initially, and the Arsenale. The latter is usually closed to the public. When I heard about the national pavilions, I thought these would be temporary buildings. However, these are real buildings hosting the artworks. The countries not represented at either the Giardini or the Arsenale have venues in the city (in Palazzi, galleries or other venues).
How to Get There
If you arrive in Venice by plane, you can buy public transport tickets on the left side after the baggage reclaim area. What are buses in all other cities in the world, are water buses or ‘Vaporetti’ in Venice. If you are staying in the centre, take bus line 5 until Piazzale Roma and then continue by Vaporetto to wherever you are staying in the city. I was there for 3 days and the ticket cost me around EUR 45 (around USD 50). Alternatively, you can also take a water taxi. However, with a price of around EUR 100 (USD 110) for one direction, it is quite a costly means of transport.
You can park your car either on the mainland in cities like Mestre, or, the option I would recommend, at Tronchetto or Piazzale Roma. From there, you are immediately connected to public transport. I would advise booking the garage in advance.
The main railway station also has a Vaporetto stop connecting you to the rest of the city.
Getting Around By Vaporetto (Water Bus)
The most scenic view is with Line 1 – I took it from Piazzale Roma until Salute. This line takes you along the Canale Grande and you will see a lot of Venice’s major sights during your trip. (And you do not need to go back and squeeze yourself onto the Rialto bridge because you will have seen it already 😉 )
Once you have arrived in Venice, you can reach the Giardini at the Vaporetto stops ‘Giardini‘ and ‘Giardini Biennale‘. The Arsenale has its own stop.
Just one general reminder on how to use the water buses in Venice: please always make sure to check not only the line but also the direction of the water bus, because very often both directions use the same stop. Moreover, take some time to ‘learn’ how to read the water bus map. If the water bus stops at your station, the number will be marked on the map, if not, it does not stop there. Last but not least, please always validate your ticket by holding touching the small machine before entering the station.
There is also a night water bus, in case you miss the last regular water bus. However, the intervals are longer and not all stops are included. Before you book a very early flight, make sure that there is a Vaporetto service available. Otherwise, you will need to take a taxi.
Tickets & Opening Times
Already during the preview days, the Biennale was really busy. I would therefore recommend to go to the venues as early as possible to make the most of your experience.
The Biennale is taking place from May 11th until November 24th, 2019.
Opening times: Giardini: 10 am – 6 pm; Arsenale: 10 am – 6 pm (10 am – 8 pm on Fridays and Saturdays until October 5th)
Closed on Mondays (except: May 13th, September 2nd, November 18th)
You can buy tickets upon your arrival or online in advance. A day ticket is EUR 25 (about USD 28). It is valid for one admission per venue. The “Plus Ticket” for EUR 35 (about USD 40) entitle to multiple visits for 3 consecutive days to each exhibition venue (Giardini and Arsenale). There are concession tickets e.g. for students, pensioners or special card holders.
There are so many things to see during the Biennale. I think it is quite challenging to cover everything during one visit. Therefore, I recommend the Plus Ticket. It is EUR 10 more expensive but allows you more flexibility.
There is big range of locations, exhibits and events spread across the period from May to November which is truly amazing, especially for locals. However, it is a shame that, similar to documenta14, it is difficult to grasp the whole experience when you only have time to travel to Venice for a weekend.
Needless to say, a good command of the language of the country you are visiting is always an advantage. I mostly communicate in Italian but English is absolutely no problem.
Similar to other art events, the dresscode is casual and can also be a bit eccentric. 🙂 The most important thing is to wear comfortable shoes, because, especially at the Giardini, the paths are made of gravel. Therefore, leave your Stilettos at home.
More Activities Things to Do
Moreover, there is a countless number of museums, galleries and events you can visit in addition to the official Biennale locations. I sometimes got the feeling that for a lot of visitors, it is more important to attend the parties instead of seeing the art but that is a different story…
If you have time, I would absolutely recommend the following activities:
This museum and its collection of European and American art of the 20th century has become an institution in the international museum landscape.
This is not only a beautiful showroom for Fortuny’s gorgeous fabrics but also a kind of museum about the company’s history with a beautiful garden. Moreover, in its courtyard, you will find a light installation of British artist Shezad Dawood for the Biennale. The waves reference not only Venice as the lagoon but also the pollution of the sea and the dangers refugees put themselves into at sea. Dawood also printed artworks on Fortuny fabrics. Stay tuned for my post about this amazing place!
This gallery on the island of Giudecca near the Fortuny factory is currently hosting an exhibition of artist Virginia von Fürstenberg. It is quite an interesting concept located in a former factory.
Where to Eat & Drink
Nice Coffee Place Outside of the Giardini
Unfortunately, I could not find it online or on Google Maps, but I marked it for you on the map below. It is right outside of the North exit of the Giardini, the first coffee place on the right. It is great for a quick espresso before or after your visit.
One of the best views of Venice is from this hotel’s rooftop bar. There is also a Nutella Terrace at the ground floor! The Fortuny Showroom, which I mention in the museum and shopping section, is right next door.
This time when we had dinner at this osteria, the staff did not have their best day and they were a bit unfriendly in the beginning. However, we have been there before and had a totally different experience. The food was delicious – try the Spaghetti alle Vongole.
Enjoy a coffee break at the ground floor of this beautiful department store.
Even though it looks like a dark English pub from the outside, they serve great foccace, drinks and “cichetti” (Venetian small snacks, similar to the Spanish tapas).
You can get really good coffee at this family-run coffee place and gelateria near Santa Maria della Salute.
Please do not get upset that I am recommending this ‘touristy’ place. But I have to admit, even though it was one of the most expensive gelatos I ever had, it was one of the best and with a great view of San Marco. I guess you also pay for this view (plus, there is a fee of EUR 6 per person (!) included for the band playing at the café).
Popular among tourists and locals alike, this busy and small bar is the place where the Bellini was invented.
Where to Stay
During the Biennale, it is very tricky to find accommodation at acceptable prices. Therefore, please book well in advance. I was lucky to have friends in Venice who helped me find private accommodation. Therefore, I only have some general recommendations for you. When you look for a hotel, make sure it is actually in the city of Venice and not on the mainland, e.g. in Mestre. Some hotels advertise themselves as ‘located in Venice’ and seem like a good deal but then you end up spending a lot of time and money to go into the city. I would look for privately rented places or B&Bs.
Where to Shop
As I do not want to make this article too long, I will only give you a couple of names here (I also marked them on the map). For more details, please see my post about hidden shopping gems in Venice. 🙂
Fortuny Showroom and Factory in Giudecca, Trina Tygrett for handmade fashion jewellery, Fondaco dei Tedeschi (the building itself is an experience), Palwer for fine jewellery and Michel Letizia for cool sneakers.
And if it is Getting too Much for You to Stay in Venice…
… take the boat for an evening trip to Burano. In the evening, most of the day visitors have left and you can enjoy this beautiful colourful town. Read more about my evening trip to Burano here!
All of the tips above are saved here on my map for you:
More about Venice
More about Italy
Where to go next?
Article pubished in 5/2017, updated in 6/2019. All information as of the date of publishing/updating and based on the personal experience of Elisabeth Steiger and the official website of the Biennale di Venezia (information about Biennale Arte 2017 and 2019). We cannot accept responsibility for the correctness or completeness of the data, or for ensuring that it is up to date. All recommendations are based on the personal experience of Elisabeth Steiger, no fees were received by the recommended places above.