Start Your Visit on the Right Foot: A Venice Walking Tour

Venice Tours with Artviva

Begin a perfect holiday Venice with our popular tour of St. Mark’s Square. From fun facts to dazzling sights, our guides are sure to teach you something new.

From stunning architecture to glistening canals, Venice is bursting at the seams with must-see attractions. Naturally, then, tourists – and even locals – are often overwhelmed by the wealth of sights and sounds that The Floating City has in store for curious explorers. Where do you start? And what places of interest should be at the top of your list?

When I moved to Italy many years ago and visited Venice for the first time, I decided to begin my adventure by exploring St. Mark’s Square. This gave me the perfect preliminary glimpse into this marvellous metropolis, introducing me to many of its biggest and best attractions.

To assist you with getting your bearings when you first arrive, I’ve put together a 45-minute Venice walking tour that will introduce you to the cultural gems of St. Mark’s Square.

Engaging History Lessons

On our stroll, we won’t just show you some of the city’s hotspots. Rather, our guides will also give you a highly engaging and informative history lesson, talking you though the ins and outs of the city’s landmarks. So, instead of burdening yourself with an indigestible guidebook, why not let our friendly and experienced guides help you set the context for your sightseeing trip in a far more accessible and fun way?

Our educational and entertaining Venice walking tour will introduce you to several of the city’s most beloved attractions in and around St. Mark’s Square. As you marvel at the breathtaking exterior of St. Mark’s world-famous basilica and its accompanying bell and clock towers, we’ll tell you all about the piazza, which once served as the city’s – and even Europe’s – epicentre.

My favourite part is when we show guests the Portrait of the Four Tetrarchs, a history lesson sculpted in stone, that is featured in the basilica’s opulent façade. We make sure that you get to skip the queue to enter the church by pre-booking tickets for our guests to ensure that they can take in the jaw-dropping splendour of the basilica when it is bound to be least crowded.

Of course, we’ll also show you the renowned Bridge of Sighs, from where you’ll get a gorgeous view of the city’s sparkling waterways. What’s more, our guides love telling guests about the bridge’s gruelling history: for example, did you know that its name derives from prisoners who – before being executed – sighed as they crossed the bridge and saw Venice for the last time? And that’s only one of our many stories that we’ll share with you.

Fantastic Fun Facts

One of the biggest perks of our tours is our sociable guides, who love sharing their extensive knowledge of Venice with guests. For instance, do you know why Italians often call Venice La Serenissima? For one thing, the word ‘serenissimo,’ meaning ‘most serene,’ was once used as an honorary title for the Doge and Signoria of Venice, highlighting their power.

But this is only one of several reasons. If you’re itching to hear the full – and very tantalising – story of Venice’s enduring nickname, our guides are more than happy to give you the inside scoop on our Venice walking tour.

Other Tours

You may be wondering how to venture beyond St. Mark’s Square and uncover the city’s other treasure troves after completing our short Venice walking tour. Whether you’re interested in discovering the gastronomy, gondolas or even the spooky side of the metropolis, there’s no need to look high and low: we offer a variety of guided tours that are sure to intrigue you.

If you’re like me, the art of Venice’s gondoliers never ceases to amaze you. In fact, there’s plenty that you probably didn’t know about them: not only do they have a secret greeting and a guild, but there’s also only one female gondolier in history. Did that catch your attention? *You’ll learn all about the history of gondolas – and more – through our guides’ enthralling stories on our Original Gondola Tour.

Would you rather sample the local fare? No problem. Our Venetian Wine Tour is perfect for food enthusiasts, who will savour the city’s best wines with the help of a professional sommelier. All wines are paired with a wealth of local dishes, including cicchetti, the Venetian take on tapas. To top it all off, the sommelier will make this gastronomic experience come alive by sharing his far-reaching knowledge of the city’s finest recipes with you. Perhaps, you’ll even feel inspired to take them home with you!

Lastly, one of our most popular tours – and my personal favourite – revolves around Venice’s spine-chilling ghost stories. On this exciting excursion, you’ll explore the metropolis at night, walking along the infamous Assassin’s Alleyway and discovering the darkest nooks and crannies that the city has to offer. To make An Evening with the Ghosts of Venice as thrilling as possible, you’ll listen to a series of gruesome stories about the city’s most horrific events, convincing you that La Serenissima may not be as serene as it appears. If you’re a bit of a dare-devil, this haunting tour is the perfect addition to your holiday.

Are you ready to fully immerse yourself in Venice’s history and culture? We’re here to help you experience the very best of this miraculous metropolis. To hear more about our introductory Venice walking tour or our other excursions, don’t hesitate to contact us today.

You can see more information about our wonderful small group shared Venice tours here and some more information about our unique private on request custom Venice tours here. 

  • Update:Venice’s first female gondolier announces he is transgender, ten years after winning legal battle to let a woman do the jobRead more:
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The Best of Tuscany Tour: What to Expect

The Best of Tuscany Tour

Looking for the finest Tuscany tours? On our one-day excursion, you’ll experience the region’s best historical, cultural, natural and gastronomic wonders.

Tuscany has so much to offer: art, history, local culture, food, wine, countryside and sunshine. It can be really tough to know where to start to get the best from the region. Personally I’m still discovering new delights, even after spending years here and after countless Tuscany tours.

So if you’re only visiting the region for a holiday period, then we’ve put together a one-day tour that will make sure you get a concentrated dose of its finest attractions.

The Best of Local Culture: 3 Hilltop Towns

In the morning, we’ll all meet at the designated point in Florence, where you’ll board your private vehicle with your guide to start your day of exploration. We’ll be taking the group to 3 iconic medieval hilltop towns: Siena, San Gimignano and Monteriggioni.

These towns have preserved the essence of local Tuscan culture and we make sure that you will have a chance to wander the charming cobbled streets, soak up the atmosphere over an espresso and even pick up a few traditional mementoes of the area.

The Best of Tuscan Art & History

The first stop on our tour is Siena, a Tuscan treasure that boasts impressive architecture, sculptures, artwork and more. This metropolis is particularly renowned for its twelfth-century cathedral (Duomo). In addition to admiring its intricate mosaic floor, you’ll have a chance to discover the cathedral’s precious paintings and sculptures, including celebrated pieces by Bernini, Michelangelo and Donatello.

After exploring the historic sights and sounds of Siena, we’ll take you to San Gimignano, a medieval settlement that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s commonly known as ‘The Town of Fine Towers,’ a name that derives from the municipality’s iconic towers. In the Middle Ages, these stone structures were commissioned as status symbols by local, affluent families. We’ll be taking you to see the 15 surviving towers for yourself as well as the town’s impressive array of architectural wonders, featuring Romanesque and Gothic styles.

In addition to the historic gems of Siena and San Gimignano, you’ll get to discover the cultural attractions of Monteriggioni with us. This township is world-famous for its walled castle, which dates back to the eleventh century and is a former military stronghold. The surprisingly well-preserved structure features 14 spectacular towers, which were even mentioned by Dante in The Divine Comedy.

The Best Local Food

One of the best – and certainly the most delicious – parts of our Tuscany tours is the food and drink, which are included in the price. For lunch, we’ll take you to a fantastic local estate, where you’ll savour seasonal and authentically Tuscan produce. The scrumptious and freshly prepared meal includes specialties that you’ll struggle to find elsewhere, such as Prosciutto di Cinta Senese, a very rare kind of ham that is made from the meat of an ancient breed of pigs.

Guests on past tours with us have particularly loved the olive oil and wine tastings. You’ll get a glimpse of the area’s finest olive groves and vineyards during these sessions. Buon appetito and cin cin!

The Best Tuscan Views

Of course, Tuscany tours wouldn’t be complete without taking in the area’s picture-perfect vistas. During our excursion, we’ll stop on route, from where you’ll have a breathtaking – and arguably the best – view of the Tuscan countryside.

In San Gimignano, I always encourage our more intrepid guests to climb up the town’s bell tower. Although the climb is steep, you’ll be rewarded with a panoramic outlook that you’ll definitely want to immortalise in photos.

The Best Tuscan Stories

Not only do we give you access to the best of Tuscany on our guided tours; we also bring the region alive with stories and tips along the way. Our guides are a bottomless source of fascinating facts and eccentric tales, which will introduce you to a Tuscany that you won’t find in a guide book.

One of my favourite anecdotes is about Assassin’s Creed, a video game that has become a global sensation. If you’re wondering how this relates to our tour, then make sure you join our friendly and knowledgeable guides who are ready to surprise you with intimate details of Monteriggioni’s role in the game!

Not only will you get the full scoop on the video game’s historical edge, but you’ll leave your tour brimming with other fun facts and stories that you can’t get from traditional guide books.

Tuscany contains a wealth of cultural, historical and gastronomic miracles, which is why we are committed to helping you experience the very best of the region.

The Practical Stuff

Tour Duration: 9 hours

Dates & Times: Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday at 8:15 am between March and November

Suitable For: Art History Lovers, Nature Lovers, Food & Wine Enthusiasts, All Ages

To participate in one of the most unforgettable Tuscany tours on offer, book your place on our website today.

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The Lemons of Cinque Terre

lemons on display in Corniglia, one of the ‘Five Lands’

Lemons are an ancient fruit, cultivated for millennia throughout the world. Having originated in the Far East, where they were likely used more for ornamental purposes than culinary, lemons made their way to Sicily in about the 10th century. Some centuries later they appeared on the Ligurian coast near Genoa. Today lemon cultivation has spread to several Italian coastal regions, given the ideal climate found here that allows lemons to thrive.

For centuries, lemons have formed part of local agricultural production in the coastal village of Monterosso, one of the quaint and colorful spots adorning the stretch of Ligurian coast known as the Cinque Terre (the ‘Five Lands’). Set within the Cinque Terre National Park, the area around Monterosso is home to numerous acres of lemon groves. Yet even beyond Monterosso, lemons are fundamental to this territory, its history and identity. While enjoying a Cinque Terre hike, visitors will be dazzled by the glorious patches of yellow covering the stunning panorama, the fragrant blossoms and leaves, and the occasional local vendor set up alongside the trails to offer fresh lemon juice mixed with cold water.

From this long-standing tradition, Cinque Terre has given an extraordinary product to the world, limoncello. Made by infusing the zest of highest quality organic lemons in pure alcohol (pesticides will significantly degrade the flavor) then mixing with water and sugar, limoncello is a popular after dinner liqueur. It is traditionally served ice cold in small glasses at the end of a meal, but can also be used in making refreshing cocktails or desserts such as sorbets. Another area specialty is a caked called ‘crostata di marmellata di limone’, made with local lemon marmalade.

Interested in witnessing this wonderful tradition? Join ArtViva’s guided excursion, The Best of Cinque Terre, and experience the flavors and beauty of the Five Lands up close. And don’t forget your camera, good walking shoes, and of course – your appetite!

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Tuscan Truffles: Two New ArtViva Experiences!

black truffles, shaved

Elusive, astonishingly expensive, and beloved by top chefs and foodies, the truffle remains one of the world’s most sought after and intriguing ingredients. To get an idea of just how in-demand this tiny tuber is, consider some recent sales at auction: in 2014 a Sabatino truffle sold at Sotheby’s for $50,000, while a pair of white truffles went for over $300,00 in 2010. They are truly the ‘diamonds’ of the kitchen, as dubbed by French epicure Brillat-Savarin.

The traditional methods relied on for finding truffles are still practiced in parts of France and Italy. Truffle hunters head out into the woods with their hunting dog in search of this precious item. And here in Tuscany, we at ArtViva have arranged some truffle experiences sure to capture and convey what all the fuss is about!  Led by an expert, fully licensed hunter – who also speaks English – discover this fascinating world with ArtViva’s Tuscan Truffle Hunt with Private Transportation, or our Truffle Walk in Tuscany (for those with their own car while visiting or who wish to arrange a taxi from nearby).

Both experiences conclude with a rustic, truffle-themed light lunch at the hunter’s home or in the garden. Before saying your goodbyes, you could have the chance to purchase some of the truffles unearthed on the hunt, at the current market value.

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Invisible Women Artists: A Special Event at ArtViva

We are pleased to share a selection of lovely images from last week’s talk, Invisible Women Artists: Restoration & Rediscovery, with Linda Falcone of the Advancing Women Artists Foundation.

ArtViva Director Rose Magers (left) converses with guest speaker Linda Falcone

some of our event guests conversing

guests enjoying the talk

Linda Falcone, Director of AWA

Follow ArtViva on Facebook to not miss out on future events like this one!

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The Florence Duomo’s Gnomon, An Ancient Astronomical Tool

the solar disc moving across the floor of the Duomo of Florence

A very special way of marking the summer solstice takes place in Florence every year. For one hour at midday, on specific dates on and near the solstice, sunlight streams through the cupola of Santa Maria del Fiore, the Duomo of Florence, casting a disc shape in sunlight on the cathedral floor.  The mechanism by which this fascinating phenomenon works is known as the gnomon, specifically a pinhole gnomon, an ancient astronomical device that calculates the position of the sun in the sky.

As sunlight streams in through the hole in Brunelleschi’s dome, the solar disc moves across the church floor until it aligns exactly above a bronze inlaid disc. The highly accurate device, positioned at 90 meters above the church floor, is one of the oldest of its kind, having been created in 1475 by Florentine astronomer Paolo dal Pozzo Toscanelli.

For 2017, the phenomenon can be witnessed on June 21, 27, and 28, from 12:30 to 1:30. The event is free and open to the public, but reservations are recommended. Contact the Opera del Duomo at +39 055 230 2885.

And why not join our Original Florence Walk to learn more about the Florence Duomo, its fascinating history, art and architecture!

(Photos courtesy of Sestini and Duomo Opera)

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Farmers Markets in Florence

green garlic, asparagus, strawberries, and more!

Florence is blessed with a selection of wonderful farmers markets where seasonal fruits and vegetables abound as well as quality traditional products, from meats, fish, and cheese counters to wines, coffee and liquors.

agretti, a local springtime speciality item, similar to spinach in taste

The most notable Florentine markets are the Mercato Centrale di Firenze in the San Lorenzo neighborhood and the Sant’Ambrogio Market near the piazza of the same name. Each has indoor eateries, too. You’ll also find gourmet products that make for nice souvenirs. Another market to know is the Fierucola, a once-monthly organic market in Piazza Santo Spirito run by producers who adhere to eco-sustainable values.

A great way to get to know the local market scene and discover how Italians like to shop for their farm fresh food items is by joining ArtViva’s Italian Passions – Food & Wine tour. Or check out any of our other wonderful Italian cooking experiences!

wild strawberries on sale at Florence’s Central Market

  • Florence Central Market: Everyday, 8am to 12 midnight
  • Sant’Ambrogio Market: Monday to Saturday, 7am to 2pm
  • La Fierucolo Market: Every third Sunday of the month, 7am to 7pm
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Italian Coffee FAQs

cappuccino, an Italian classic

Confused about all the different coffee types here in Italy? Read on to learn about the many delicious options, plus practice your Italian with some examples of how to order coffee! If you’re interested in joining a fabulous Italian food & drink experience, have a look at our food tours in Florence and Rome, and our range of cooking classes.


Espresso. Also known simply as caffè, this is a single shot of espresso. Italians sometimes drink their espresso in a single gulp to fully enjoy the flavor. Example: Un caffè, per favore. – I’ll have a coffee, please.

Doppio. A double shot of espresso. Example: Mi fa un caffè doppio per cortesia? – Will you make me a double espresso, please?

Espresso macchiato. An espresso topped with a small amount of frothy warm milk. You can also ask for an espresso with cold milk. Example: Prendiamo due espressi macchiati con latte freddo, grazie. – We’ll have two espressos with a splash of cold milk, thanks.

Cappuccino. The world famous Italian classic consists of a third espresso, a third steamed milk, and a third schiuma (creamy foam). Powdered cocoa may be sprinkled on top as a garnish. Italians tend to drink cappuccino only for breakfast. Example: Mi porta un cappuccino, per favore?  – Will you please bring me a cappuccino?

Caffè latte.  One third espresso and about two-thirds steamed milk with no foam. Note that if you order this by saying only ‘latte’ you will be served a glass of milk. Example: Un caffè latte per me e un latte caldo per mio figlio. – A caffè latte for me and a warm milk for my son.

Caffè alto. This is an espresso that has been allowed to brew longer, with more water pressing through the machine, and thus resulting in a less intense coffee. Also called caffè lungo (“long”). Example: Vorrei un caffè leggermente meno intenso. Mi può farne uno alto? – I’d like a slightly less intense coffee. Could you make me a “tall” one please?

Caffè americano. A cup of coffee that is like an American cup, served as an espresso in a larger cup together with a small pot of hot water. Add the water to the espresso. Example: Preferisco un caffè americano, grazie. – I prefer an American style coffee, thanks.

Caffè shakerato. ‘Shaken’, this is the Italian version of iced coffee, made by mixing ice, espresso, and some simple sugar syrup in a cocktail mixer and served in a tall martini style glass. Example – Che caldo! Due caffè shakerati, per cortesia. – It’s so hot! Two iced coffees, please.

Granita. A frozen espresso drink much like a ‘slushy’ and served in a cup with a spoon. Highly addicting! Example: Che buono! Vorrei ancora una granita al caffè, per favore. – That is so good! I’d like another coffee granita, please.

Affogato. This is a dessert of gelato (usually vanilla or cream flavor) ‘drowned’ in espresso and served with a spoon. Example – Quest’affogato è squisito! This (espresso-‘drowned’) gelato is exquisite!

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May Day in Italy: An Ancient Festival of Flowers & Song

Pieter Brueghel the Younger, Dance Around the Maypole, ca. 1625-1630.

The ancient springtime festivity known as May Day marks a period traditionally associated with flowers, abundance, and rebirth. Its observance includes colorful and merry singing rites, in particular troupes of flower-adorned musicians who frolic about country villages and sing auspicious, entertaining songs in exchange for offerings of eggs, wine, cakes and other sweets.

Similar to caroling, soul-caking, some forms of mumming, and trick-or-treating, these May Day folk performances have ancient pagan roots. In pre-Christian Europe, the night of April 30 initiated a crucial moment in the natural cycle of the year, one that marked the transition from spring to summer. (For the ancient Romans, February 1 was the first day of spring and May 1 the start of summer, which is why we still use the term Midsummer to refer to the summer solstice festivities starting around June 21 and culminating with the Feast of St John the Baptist on June 24.)

John Collier, Queen Guinevre’s Maying, 1900.

European cultures have observed May Day for millennia, from the Celtic Beltane to the Germanic Walpurgis night. In Italy, Calendimaggio (from the Latin calenda maia, meaning calends of May), goes by other popular names that reflect this day’s strong association with song: cantamaggio and cantarmaggio, both related to the Italian word cantare, to singWander about the country villages of Tuscany and other Italian regions on this day and you might catch sight of festive rural picnics, maidens adorned with flowers, and troupes of maggerini, the May Day singers who delight crowds with lively and symbolic maggi lirici (here the word for May, maggio, is the name of a type of rhymed couplet). The maggerini sing songs of rebirth, renewal, plants, flowers, and young love, always with a good dose of lyrical flair and wit.

Notable May Day events in Italy include the Calendimaggio Festival in Assisi and the Florentine Maggio Musicale Fiorentino. Interestingly, the Florentine festival formerly called la maggiolata was rooted in medieval folk traditions with pagan roots practiced throughout the rural mountain areas surrounding Florence. In the 1930s, the folk practice was transformed into a modern, organized annual festival, the prestigious Maggio Musicale Fiorentino season.

Thinking about visiting Florence or Tuscany? Have a look at ArtViva’s unique, top quality tours and events.


A 2015 poster for ‘Cantar Maggio’ organized by the Pistoia Mountains cultural association

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The Rediscovery of a Masterpiece: ArtViva Hosts Special Event on ‘The Adoration of the Magi’ by Leonardo da Vinci

ArtViva recently hosted a very special guest speaker, Dr. Maurizio Seracini, art diagnostician and founder of Editech, Diagnostic Center for Cultural Heritage in Florence. Mr. Seracini, whose work applies techniques and processes adapted from science and technology to the analysis of precious art works, is well known for his ongoing research on Leonardo da Vinci’s The Battle of Anghiari, a lost masterpiece believed by Seracini and others to lie hidden underneath another painting in the Hall of the Five Hundred in Florence’s Palazzo Vecchio.  On Thursday, April 6, he spoke at length about his involvement in the study of The Adoration of the Magi, a da Vinci work that just last month was returned to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence after a significant restoration.

During his talk, Seracini outlined the problematic state the painting was in when he first started working on its analysis 15 years ago. With great detail and intriguing visual aids, he explained the various types of organic decay that played a part in the painting’s deterioration, and the tools and methods used to remedy them. Beyond the scientific aspects of his work, however, Seracini’s analysis revealed some amazing discoveries regarding Leonardo’s original cartoon, a preparatory sketch (sometimes called the underdrawing) used by artists of the time to outline the composition of an artwork before applying paint.

Gasps of wonder and admiration filled the room when Seracini presented images of the original cartoons drawn by Leonardo, which according to Seracini’s extensive study—using diagnostic techniques such as infrared, thermographic, and ultrasound—were subsequently painted over by another hand when the work was left unfinished by da Vinci in 1481. The drawings, in true Leonardo style, contain detailed, extraordinarily expressive images of human activity, including a group of faces considered by many the most beautiful portraits ever done by the master.

Interested in seeing this mysterious artwork by Leonardo da Vinci? Join ArtViva’s Masterpieces of the Uffizi Gallery tour led by one of our expert guides, to admire and appreciate this and many other timeless works of Italian art. Or for a truly unforgettable experience, join our Private Tour with the da Vinci Art Sleuth himself, or an evening with Artists, Authors and Aristocrats, for a chance to hear Mr. Seracini speak about his study of Leonardo.

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