Venice, Italy: Pittsburgh’s Sister City

Venice, Italy is unlike any other city – built entirely on water by men who defied the strength of the sea to create a Renaissance masterpiece.  To experience the Venetian way of life, you may travel on the vaporetti (water buses) or the traghetti (gondola ferries), through the campi (squares), along the calli (narrow streets) and, inevitably, over one of its more than 400 bridges.  In fact, native Pittsburghers will feel right at home in Venice, since Pittsburgh is second in the total number of bridges it contains. 


Venice (or ‘Venezia’ in Italian) is built on 117 small islands connected by bridges which makes a simple journey on the vaporetto (www.actv.it/en) is a glance back into her grand history.  The vaporetto is the best way to see Venice – Route #1.  On the 45 minute excursion from the Piazzale Roma (near Venice’s main train station, Santa Lucia) to San Marco, you will pass four bridges, six churches, and over fifty palazzi.  Every twist and turn of the Grand Canal presents a fresh view of this city that has for centuries attracted writers and artists. 

Route #1 will allow you disembark at the Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square) which is the very heart of Venice.  Sunlit angels announce your entrance into the square with their stone trumpets, alongside towering twin columns.   One column holds a winged lion (an emblem of St. Mark) and the other St. Theodore (the city’s first patron) and his dragon.  At the end of the piazza, you will find the Basilica di San Marco (St. Mark’s Basilica–basilicasanmarco.it). This magnificent 11th century Byzantine church layered with fairytale cupolas and marble lacework houses the tomb of Saint Mark.  Inside the Basilica, intricate mosaic tiles sparkle and tell the silent stories how of “East meets West.”

Next door to the Basilica, a visit inside the Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace–museiciviciveneziani.it) is a must-see.  During Medieval and Renaissance times Venice was a leading city through European commerce.  The Doge (Duke) of Venice was an extremely powerful figure and was the main leader of the city therefore it is no surprise that such a glorious palace housed the Doge.  The intrigue of the Venetian Republic is captured in the museum and in the numerous rooms of this Palace.  Arching high above the water is an enclosed marble Ponte dei Sospiri (Bridge of Sighs) which was so named from the sighs of those being led from the palace to the dungeons as they beheld their last view of the outside world. 

For the best view of Venice, visit the famous bell tower (Campanile di San Marco).  At over 325 feet high, the view from the top on a clear day includes parts of the mainland as far as the Alps, but oddly enough, none of the canals that wind throughout the city. 

Across the Grand Canal there are two “must-do” museums.  First, The Peggy Guggenheim Collection (guggenheim-venice.it).  After losing her father on the Titanic, Guggenheim amassed works by over 200 modern artists including Picasso, Rothko, and Dali at her home on the Grand Canal.  Down the block is the Galleria Dell’Accademia (gallerieaccademia.org) which was founded by Napoleon, contains the most extraordinary collections of Venetian art and rivals the Uffizi Galleries in Florence with its collections.

Beyond the traditional boundary of Venice are some of her greatest treasures.  The view of the city alone is well worth the transportation fare. Take a morning trip to the sandbar island of Lido, where the rich and famous excuse themselves to private beaches every summer.  Then after sampling a pasta lunch and leisurely stroll, leave Lido on the private Alilaguna Rossa (water bus–alilaguna.com) which stops at Murano.  The Master glass craftsmen of Murano are proud to present some of the world’s most beautiful glass creations.  Tours are available. 


Gay-owned bed and breakfasts are particularly popular in Venice, offering a charming experience along with many first class hotels.

Hilton – Molino Stucky


Guidecca, 819

30133 Venezia, Italy

Situated on the waterfront of Giudecca Island, this imposing building began life as the vision of 19th century merchant Giovanni Stucky. His iconic neo-Gothic flour mill and warehouse has been transformed into a landmark Venetian hotel.

Ruzzini Palace


Castello, 5866

30123 Venezia, Italy

A beautiful restored Venetian residence within walking distance to Palazzo Ducale and the Piazza San Marco.


There was a time when Venice was actually the gayest city on Earth. It was all about indulgence and pleasure, with artists and royals masking themselves during Carnival (carnevale.venezia.it).  Today you’ll hear that there are few or no real gay hangouts on Venice Island, but as one of the world’s most visited destinations, you can be sure to find gay-friendly spots in every corner.  Queer folks tend to leave Venice Island for gay nightlife, making overnights to Mestre, on Venice’s mainland or nearby Padova to party.

I Due Girasoli

Salizada San Stae 1908 (Santa Croce)

Venezia, Italy

A few blocks from the Rialto Bridge (on Venice Island), this cute bar is owned by a lesbian couple. Join a mixed crowd to get your fill of hits from the 70s to the 90s.

Porto de Mar

Via delle Macchine (Marghera)

Mestre, Venezia, Italy


The only truly gay bar in town is found on the mainland in Venice Mestre, where local gay men from Italy and elsewhere cruise around the place, especially during its special party nights.  Entrance requires a membership card (which can be purchased at the club) to ArciGay, Italy’s national LGBT group, but exceptions are often made for foreigners.  Be careful to time your return to Venice Island with the trains, which are just a few blocks from the club, or plan to stay out until 5 AM when they begin their day!

Approximately 30 minutes away in Padova, you can find all the dance-floor thrashing gay nightlife that Venice Island lacks.  Home to the University of Padova (unipd.it/en) and her rather friendly, often queer students, a visit to any of the following three establishments would be a fun night:

La Fiesta Bar

Via Vespucci A. 20
35031 Abano Terme

The Block Disco Club


The Flexo Club



Ai Rusteghi

Corte del Tentor 5513

Venezia, Italy

Tucked away near the Rialto Bridge, you will find an outstanding wine selection and cicheti (Venetian tapas) at this unpretentious osterie.  This place is a very genuine and delicious example the wonderful culture and food native to Venice.

Osteria Antico Giardinetto

Calle dei Morti 2253 (Santa Croce)

30135 Venezia, Italy


A fantastic dining atmosphere that serves typical Venetian cuisine with fresh fish and meat.

No matter how often you see Venice in movies or on TV, the real thing is more majestic and romantic than you could imagine.  Whether it seduces you or overwhelms you, Venice is a sight to behold!

For travel recommendations, please contact me at RSicilio@TRIPSandCRUISES.com
www.TRIPSandCRUISES.com or 800-411-8747.

This article is preserved here as part of the QArchives. Help us preserve Pittsburgh’s LGBTQ history, like this article, by contributing to our GoFundMe.

Rick Sicilio is the owner of Travel and Tours in Pittsburgh. He is an avid, worldwide traveler and has visited 68 countries to date. For over 21 years, Rick and his staff have been assisting clients to embrace their wanderlust and travel the world.