Insider Tips for Visiting the Venice Biennale

The Venice Biennale is, arguably, the world’s most important international art fair. As if the great city of canals weren’t exciting enough on its own, every other year the world comes together at the Giardini and Arsenale main sites, as well as many satellite locations, to celebrate an eclectic survey of what’s going on in the current art world. We have been to two Biennales, and are greatly looking forward to our third in June of this year. Here are a few practical tips that you may find helpful.

First off, let me say – JUST GO!! Many people don’t think they’re fans of contemporary art, but you don’t have to be in  order to have a rip-roaring good time at the Biennale. It’s a spectacle of people watching – tourists and art world types of every sort, and the venues themselves make for an incredibly pleasant diversion from the Venice most visitors experience. Both of the main sites are adjacent to the vaporetto stops of the same name, so getting there is quite easy.

The Arsenale is only open to the public during the Biennale. The little man-made bay that opens to the Venetian lagoon is now home to several Italian coast guard vessels, but the enormous complex of buildings had its origins in the early 13th Century. In its heyday the Arsenale built and outfitted ships and was possibly the largest industrial complex in Europe.

The entrance to the Arsenale is located very close to the vaporetto stop of the same name.

This amazing sculpture/model, “The Encyclopedic Palace,” greeted visitors at the entrance to the 2013 Arsenale site.

The Arsenale is a rambling series of industrial buildings from various times in Venetian history.


The Giardini is situated in a quiet section of the Castello District. The main exposition hall is surrounded by a tranquil park with plenty of shade and places to sit. Individual pavilions  of every architectural description ring the grounds, housing exhibits by a multitude of participating nations.

The entrance to the main pavilion in the Giardini in 2015.

Many nations sponsor their own pavilions in freestanding structures situated throughout the Giardini grounds.

One of our favorites of 2015 was the Canadian national pavilion. It was set up like a typical Canadian roadside truck stop. At first we were hesitant to enter, thinking it to be some sort of snack bar.

The entry room of the Canadian pavilion looked pretty mundane, but as visitors moved deeper inside the items “for sale” turned progressively strange.

Some of the “chaos” further inside.

There are many different types of tickets available for the Biennale, and like so many things in Venice, the options can be confusing. I would recommend buying the standard ticket (25 euro – full price this year) unless you plan on making multiple visits. The standard ticket allows entrance into both main sites and you do not need to visit each on the same, or even consecutive days; however once you leave a site you may not re-enter. If you want one of the more comprehensive tickets you’ll need to bring your passport with you for ID.

There is no reason or advantage to purchasing in advance. We have never had to wait for any substantial length of time and we discovered our hotel had substantially discounted tickets for their guests that saved members of our group quite a bit.

Both the Giardini and Arsenale sites have very pleasant indoor and outdoor cafes and there’s even a more upscale table service restaurant in the Giardini. The food is good and reasonably priced, so there’s really no need to leave a site once you’ve entered.

The amount of time you need to budget for each site will largely depend on your stamina and level of interest. Barbara and I plan on an entire day at each site, but I take lots of notes and photos to prepare lectures for my university students back in the US.

Much more information can be found at the official Art Biennale site:

Matthew Daub is a professional artist and university professor with works in major public and private collections throughout the United States and Europe. He has been leading plein air painting workshops in Italy since 1994. In 1999, Matthew and his wife Barbara formed Arts Sojourn as “a vacation for artists and their friends.” The program is designed to appeal to artists of all levels as well as non-artists who enjoy the company of creative people in a slow travel format.

Slow Travel Tours is an affiliation of small-group tour operators who offer personalized trips in Italy, France and other European countries.


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