There is no place in the world quite like Venice, Italy. Established in 421 AD upon a swampy lagoon, Venice rose to fame as an important trading port and strong force of political power during the Byzantine era and Middle Ages. Today, voyagers travel far and wide to traverse the endless Venetian bridges, admire the region’s colorful buildings, and sail through the iconic canals. In a city with so much history and fascinating culture, there are an abundance of things to do that will suit the desires of most any traveler. Read on to discover our picks for the top things to do in Venice, Italy!
Ride in a Traditional Venetian Gondola
Taking a gondola ride through the Venetian canals makes for a picture perfect moment- just be prepared to pay a lot of money up front for a short ride!
When you think of Venice, Italy, you probably picture yourself riding in the back of an intricately carved gondola as a young gentleman in striped shirt serenades you with a classic Italian ballad. Let me tell you, this dream of an experience can definitely happen- but it may not be quite as you imagine. The wait times can be long, the canals can be jam-packed with tourists, plus renting a private gondola for your group can be pretty expensive. With that being said however, riding in a gondola surely makes for a romantic and unforgettable experience in the city built on water.
So just how does it work? It is possible to reserve a ride online through various suppliers, but if you choose to wait until you get there in person, you’ll find gondolier stands scattered throughout the city. After you choose where you want your daytime ride to start (we recommend a quieter part of town if you prefer a more intimate experience), wait in line until your boat is ready, and be prepared to pay €80 upfront for a 40 minute ride. To extend your ride by 20 minutes, you’ll have to pay €40 extra. Also note that up to six guests can fit into a gondola at once and are included in the price.
Bask in the Beauty of St. Mark’s Square (Piazza San Marco)
Visiting St. Mark’s Square late at night makes for truly remarkable views without all of the day time crowds!
St. Mark’s Square is undoubtedly a main attraction in Venice that houses some of the city’s most famous monuments. Within this grand public square you’ll find ornate museums, an intricate clock tower, the towering Campanile, Doge’s Palace, and of course, the awe-inspiring St. Mark’s Basilica. While it is well known that Venice is prone to flooding during the rainy season, most people don’t realize that St. Mark’s Square can fill up with water even during the summer as the lagoon water rises!
Admire the Glowing Mosaics in St. Mark’s Basilica
During some times of the day, the golden mosaic ceiling within St. Mark’s Basilica glistens and comes to life in the sunshine!
On your trip to Venice, you have to admire the artistry that decorates the interior and exterior of St. Mark’s Basilica. This stunning example of Italo-Byzantine architecture contains glistening gold mosaics and incredible artworks that date back over a thousand years. Entering the lower section of the basilica is completely free, just be prepared to wait in a long line to enter during the high season. For a more unique and comprehensive experience, we recommend that you visit the museum on the upper level which tells the history of the church’s uses and construction.
Explore the Doge’s Palace (Palazzo Ducale)
The Doge’s Palace is not to be missed on your next trip to Venice as it houses incredible artworks and historical chambers!
Attached to St. Mark’s Basilica is Palazzo Ducale, the former home to the Venetian Doge who also served as the head of the Venetian state. The building itself is made of a mixture of artistic styles ranging from Gothic, to Renaissance, and beyond. Today, you can enter the grand palace which now functions as a museum to see the former apartments of the Doge himself and stand in the ornate rooms where the Venetian government once met to make important decisions. You can even discover the old prison which is attached to the palace by the famous Bridge of Sighs!
Walk Across the Bridge of Sighs
This nonchalant bride tells the unique story of the Venetian prisoners who lived long ago
The small grated windows on the Bridge of Sighs are known for being the last place where many outlaws saw the outside world and their loved ones. After being sentenced in the interrogation rooms of the Doge’s Palace, prisoners would walk across this limestone skybridge and admire the canal view one final time through the stone bars on their way to their new prison cell. Today, you can walk the same route as the inmates once did if you visit the Doge’s Palace, or you can simply view this famous walkway from one of the two bridges located on either side.
Take in Breathtaking Views From the Top of the Campanile
From the top of the Campanile in St. Mark’s Square, you’ll find gorgeous panoramic views of Venice!
The views in Venice can’t get much better than this! This enormous bell tower in St. Mark’s Square, also known as the Campanile, reached its current form in the year 1514 and has made up an important part of the Venetian skyline ever since. In our opinion, paying the 13 Euro fee is so worth it to see unobstructed views of the entire city. Don’t worry if you aren’t one for a steep climb because an elevator will take you right to the top!
Invest in a Museum Pass to See the Highlights of Venice for Less
Discover what royal palaces once looked like in the Correr Museum
Venice is overflowing with museums and important historical sites to visit. Thus, we recommend that you invest in a museum pass to gain access into four St. Mark’s Square museums and eight civic centers including the Murano Glass Museum and the Burano Lace Museum. If you have limited time in Venice but still want to see the highlights, you can purchase a pass for the four St. Mark’s Square Museums which includes the Doge’s Palace, Correr Museum, Archaeological Museum, and the Monumental Rooms of the Marciana Library. Reduced price tickets are available to students, children under 14 years of age, and visitors over the age of 65.
Watch a Glass Blowing Demonstration in Murano
Seeing how glass blowing is done makes you have even more respect for the talented artisans!
If you have more than one day in Venice, we advise you to take a short excursion via boat to the small island of Murano which is known for its incredible blown glass products. While on the island, you can stop in one of the many glass blowing workshops and see how the masters perform their craft first hand. Afterwards, you’ll also have a chance to browse the local shops and pick up hand-blown glass sculptures, jewelry, kitchenware, and more as gifts or souvenirs!
Discover the Colorful Buildings of Burano
Burano is full of Instagram-worthy locations like this!
Another island just off the coast of mainland Venice is Burano. This tiny town is famous for its brightly painted homes and storefronts which happen to be located right next to the glistening canals that run through the land. While you are not stopping to get your perfect photo, you can look into the local shops that sell the traditional Burano lace- a difficult craft that has made the island famous for centuries!
Shop On the Iconic Rialto Bridge
The Rialto Bridge is iconic in Venice due to its unique shape and large size
One of the most well known landmarks in Venice is the Rialto Bridge which connects the districts of San Marco and San Polo across the Grand Canal. A pontoon bridge first stood here during the 12th century, but the Rialto Bridge that we all know today was completed in the year 1591 by the architect Antonia da Ponte. While in Venice, make sure to check this point of interest off of your itinerary. If you have time, you can even take a look into the shops that are built on to the bridge- talk about a prime business location, am I right?!
See Just How ‘Grand’ the Grand Canal Really Is
Seeing the grand canal lit up at night is breathtaking!
The Grand Canal earned its nickname for a reason! This large waterway forms an “S” shape and runs through the island community of Venice starting near the Santa Lucia Train Station and ending near St. Mark’s Basilica. Due to its low depth and wide width, this channel serves as the main hub of transportation for water taxis, private boats, and gondolas that traverse the city. Whether or not you choose to sail through this massive canal yourself, you can surely appreciate its beauty, even from the land.
Observe Fantastic Art at the Venice Biennale
Spark your creativity by checking out the Contemporary art at the Biennale
Art lovers rejoice! Founded in the year 1895, the Venice Biennale is an organization that leads research and promotes trends in the sectors of arts ,architecture, dance, cinema, music, and theatre. The world renowned Venice Art Biennale is held during odd numbered years in the city and features a wide range of Contemporary visual art exhibits made by top artists from around the globe. Visit labiennale.org to learn more about upcoming exhibitions and events.
Enjoy the Region’s Typical Cuisine
Fine dining next to the scenic venice canals? Count me in!
During your trip to Venice, be sure to enjoy the region’s typical cuisine and beverages. To start, try ordering a glass of Bellini. This cocktail was born in Venice and is made with the region’s famous Prosecco and peach purée or nectar. Sounds delicious, doesn’t it? If you prefer something a bit less sweet, opt for a Spritz, a mixture of Prosecco and Aperol or Campari liquor.
For the main course, you can’t go wrong with seafood- I mean, Venice is a city built on water after all! Some of the most typical Venetian dishes include Sarde in Saor (marinated fried sardine fillets), Baccala Mantecato (creamed dried cod), and Risotto al Nero di Seppia (rice with black squid ink.)
Get Lost & Explore
No need to plan too much during your trip, because simply getting lost through the streets is a memorable activity in itself!
After you finish seeing the top items on your Venice itinerary, turn off your directions, and simply get lost in the beauty of this story book city! Off the beaten paths you’ll find incredible sights where you least expect them. Cross new bridges, turn down small alleyways, step into the random churches you come across or even pick up a traditional carnivale mask in an artisan workshop that you find along the way.
Know Before You Go: Travel Tips
Before you depart for your dream vacation in Italy, there are a few things to note. First, remember that the directions on your smartphone may not work in Venice due to the confusingly windy streets, so be prepared to ask a local where to go if you need directions back to your accommodation.
Also keep in mind that traversing across the countless bridges of Venice all day can be exhausting- so pack light. We recommend you bring a backpack over a heavy wheeled suitcase as they can be difficult to carry across the bridges. Lastly, check the weather. Venice is known to flood during the rainy season so plan your visit beforehand to avoid the acqua alta phenomenon. But above all, have fun and enjoy every moment of your once in a lifetime visit to the city of bridges!
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