La Serenissima (“the most cheerful”), a nickname of the Republic of Venice, was once one of the gayest places in the world. As the city consists of several interconnected islands off the coast it was ideal for different rules and a freer attitude to develop, which is expressed not least in the world-famous carnival. Venice has always been a magnet for artists, including gay and bisexual big names such as Henry James, Lord Byron, Thomas Mann and Gore Vidal.
The idea is nothing new that the beauty and melancholy of this slowly decaying city – which started to sink even before its completion – can be regarded as “queer” in an artistic context. The enormous crucifixion fresco by the Venetian painter Tintoretto from late Renaissance (on exhibition in the magnificent Scuola di San Rocco) clearly has homoerotic elements – but in view of the fact that Tintoretto had ten children, he was probably not reluctant to the ladies. Is this maybe due to all the water here? Because of high rents and the problems in everyday life caused by the rising water level (the streets are flooded several times per year; this is called “acqua alta”), many locals have rented out or sold their real estate to foreigners. They only come to the city once or twice a year, which sometimes gives the Serenissima the atmosphere of a ghost town.
The city has 60,000 inhabitants, but more than three million tourists per year – a ratio of 50:1. Most gay and gay-friendly establishments are therefore aimed at tourists. There are more gay BnBs than bars or discos, because the latter would need considerably more local guests to survive outside tourist season. The city is a paradise for couples who are interested in art and for whom an exciting evening consists of a good meal with a few drinks, followed by a nocturnal walk through narrow alleys and over romantic bridges. Since there are no cars and most bars close at 11 pm, the city is very quiet at night. The riches of the Republic of Venice, which flowed into the city thanks to trade and war, were mainly used for the construction of impressive and richly decorated palazzi, which line the Canale Grande and the many other canals that branch off into the different districts or “sestiere”.
St. Mark’s Square with the Cathedral and the Gothic Doge’s Palace is located in the San Marco district and is considered the centre of the city. This is the best starting point for exploring Venice, not least because the museum in the Doge’s Palace and the Museo Correr on the opposite side of St. Mark’s Square provide a good overview of Venetian history. The city was an autonomous republic and ruled by Doges (you can recognise then on paintings as they wear unique hats that look like those of the Smurfs). The Festa della Sensa takes place every year on Ascension and symbolically recreates the Doge’s marriage to the sea – one of several ancient festivities that still attract onlookers these days and transform Venice into a veritable anthill.
Other festivities that you should not miss are the Carnival (which always comprises a few small but wild gay parties) and the Regata storica, the historic boat races where you can admire the muscles of the gondolieri. Less famous is the Festa del Redentore in July. It is a celebration of thanksgiving at the end of the plague epidemic that claimed 50,000 victims in Venice in the 16th century. The painter Titian also died in the epidemic and he was the only one to receive a church burial (in the Basilica of Gloriosa dei Frari, also worth a visit).
On the day of this Festa, a temporary boat bridge connects the main island of Venice with the island of Giudecca. The bridge leads to the front of the church Il Redentore, a building by Andrea Palladio, the most famous of all Renaissance architects. After a fireworks display by the church the party really starts; young people drive to Lido to watch the sunrise on the beach. The Grand Hotel des Bains, where Thomas Mann’s famous novel is set, still stands to this day. But it has been transformed into an apartment complex by now. You really have to do some research for specifically gay events, as in most places in Italy. There are very few designated gay clubs and discos in this countries, so that relevant parties take place in different places.
The notorious party series Trash & Chic takes place in the industrial ports of Marghera and Noale on the mainland, opposite Venice, while there is an irregular event called Over Oltre la Notte in San Donà di Piave (both events have Facebook pages). The only dance club directly in Venice is the heterosexual but decadent Piccolo Mondo, a former favourite of Peggy Guggenheim. Her palazzo on the Grand Canal now houses the museum named after her. If you stay in a gay or gay-friendly accommodation, the staff will certainly be able to give you further useful information.
But much more fun and a good excuse to talk to someone is to ask students from the university for the latest insider information. You can do this whilst sipping an aperitif at Ai do Draghi near Campo Santa Margharita, just opposite the university. This is a typical bàcaro, a small Venetian bar where you can enjoy cicchetti, the local variety of tapas, prosecco or wines from the region. You can also go for ‘spritz’, a popular cocktail, red (with Campari) or orange (with Aperol). The culture queen finds amusement at a multitude of museums and churches during the day, while the famous opera La Fenice and concert halls provide entertainment at night. Couples will find plenty of restaurants and small bars in Venice where they can spend very pleasant evenings. Tourist traps should be avoided.
As a general rule, you should stay away from tourist tracks in Venice. It can be fun to get lost just once. As Venice is an island, you can hardly get far off, even if it is recommendable to have a city map or online map on your mobile phone with you. Water taxis are expensive and not easy to find at night. When strolling around you might come across a Vivaldi concert in a small church or eto a dead end street, where scenes from the life of the famous Venetian heartbreaker Casanova are being re-enacted. Moments like these are perfect for a marriage proposal.
Official hompage of Venice tourism.
HOW TO GET THERE
Lufthansa offers daily or several times daily flights to Venice, Marco Polo airport from Dusseldorf, Hamburg, Munich and Frankfurt. Return tickets are available from 99 Euro.
If you have managed to get a window seat on the right hand side in the direction of travel, you can enjoy a beautiful view on Venice during appproach on a clear day. www.lufthansa.com
Hotel Excelsior Venice (Lungomare Marconi 41) 5-star luxury hotel on Lido in Moorish style including a private beach where guests can rent old-fashioned beach huts.
The hotel offers a magnificent view on the Adriatic and Venice lagoon, www.hotelexcelsiorvenezia.com
Casa de Uscoli (San Marco 2818) Luxury, gay-friendly BnB on Canale Grande near Accademia bridge and Guggenheim museum, www.casauscoli.com
BARS AND CLUBS
Caffè Florian (Castello 5453) This famous café on Piazza San Marco was founded by Floriano Francesconi in 1720. Casanova invited his prey to this place (the first one that served women at all). Famous guests were i.a. Goethe, Dickens and Lord Byron. The Venetian dramatist Goldoni spent a lot of time here as a child, what was due to the excellent ice cream served here, no doubt, www.caffeflorian.com
Harry’s Bar (Calle Vallaresso 1323) As famous as Caffè Florian is Harry’s Bar, the favourite bar of Hemingway and Woody Allen (who shot ‘Everyone Says I Love You’ in Venice). The speciality here is a cocktail called ‘Bellini’ (a blend of white peach puree and prosecco) that has taken on the whole city. The cocktails are quite expensive and the bar closes at 23.00h like most others, www.harrysbarvenezia.com
Piccolo Mondo (Accademia Dorsoduro 1056/a) The only realy club, disco and bar in town used to be the favourite place of Peggy Guggenheim. Drinks cost a fortune, but the atmosphere of the club is deliciously decadent. Unsual for Venice: the party really gets started past midnight, www.piccolomondo.biz
Trash & Chic The makers of Trash & Chic organise gay parties on the mainland opposite Venice all year round in places like Marghera and Noale. You can find all relevant information on their Facebook page in ‘events’, www.facebook.com/trashechic
A ridiculous amount of coffee was consumed in the process of building this project. Add some fuel if you'd like to keep us going!