Address: Campo dell’Arsenale, Castello, Venice, Italy

- Free


The nerve centre of Venice's historical maritime activities.

Venetians were famous ship-builders as well as mariners. At the height of its activity, tradition says, the city's Arsenale (shipyard) could turn out a galleon from scratch in a single day.

After years of neglect the Arsenale is slowly being restored, though no clear strategy for use has emerged. The imposing walls and entrance gate, flanked by its collection of ancient carved lions, can be viewed from the outside day and night. Getting inside, however, is more difficult.

Grab any opportunity you can to see the occasional exhibitions held inside the main buildings or the extraordinary Corderia where rope was made: art and architecture Biennale ( shows are held in this 315m-long former factory. Access is from Campo della Tana.

The main body of the Arsenale is open for three days a year in May, for the Mare Maggio ( event when historic boats are displayed, reenactments are staged, and all sort of tributes to the sea and mariners are the order of the day.

If you miss this, you can see models of ships built over the centuries in the Arsenale at the nearby Museo Storico Navale (Campo San Biasio, Castello 2148; 041 5200276; closed Sun, €1.55), a lovingly tended collection and one of my favourite quiet corners in which to study the history of this crucial aspect of Venetian history. There are also antique gondolas (including one belonging to Peggy Guggenheim, whose art collection can be seen at the Peggy Guggenheim Foundation), and naval charts and instruments. It’s open in the morning only.

Value for money

Expert tips

The Mare Maggio festival in mid-May allows a rare peak inside this massive structure.

Recommended for

  • Culture vultures
  • Families with teenagers
  • Families with younger children
  • First-time travellers
  • Seasoned travellers
  • Escaping the crowds
  • Art
  • History