Venice is undoubtedly one of my favorite places to visit. Why? Simple, there’s really no other place on earth quite like Venice. Built on the waters of the Adriatic Sea, La Serenissima enchants with its grand architecture, art-filled palaces, marvelous churches, rich history, and, of course, its network of picturesque canals. A visit here remains heart-stopping, whether you’re doing it for the first time or the 100th. Here’s our lowdown on the best things to do in Venice.
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Getting To Venice
If traveling to Venice by air, the nearest airport is Venice’s Marco Polo airport, located 10 km (6.5 miles) north of the city. Venice is supplemented by the smaller Antonio Canova airport at Treviso, 40 km (29 miles) northwest of Venice.
The most atmospheric and traditional way to Venice from Marco Polo airport is by sea. Alilaguna operates several routes to Venice. The journey to Venice takes about an hour and will get you closer to your accommodation.
If your budget allows it, private water taxis operating from Marco Polo airport to Venice take about half the time and will take you directly to your hotel.
This is handy if you have more luggage but will cost well over 100 EUR. A cheaper yet convenient alternative is to take a shared water taxi that will also drop you off directly at your hotel.
Marco Polo airport also has a direct bus service to Venice’s Piazzale Roma (the closest point to Venice’s attractions accessible by car or bus) that takes about twenty minutes. This is a quicker and cheaper alternative to the lagoon crossing.
Treviso airport also has a direct bus to Piazzale Roma which takes approximately one hour. In order to avoid queuing at the airports, I strongly suggest booking a ticket in advance.
It is also possible to reach Venice by train from a nearby city such as Bologna, Milan, Verona, or Florence. Check Trenitalia to book tickets in advance to get the best fares.
If you’re coming to Venice by car, you should know that parking in the city is prohibitively expensive. The closest car parks to the city center are at Piazzale Roma or on the Tronchetto, linked to Venice by boat and bus. Garage San Marco or the public ASM Garage at Piazzale Roma are probably your best bets.
How To Get Around Venice
Despite its watery character, Venice is made for walking. It is a rather small city, and most of the main sights can be covered easily on foot.
Nearly all the attractions we’ve included in our list of best places to see in Venice are within comfortable walking distance of each other. The inhabited islands of the Venetian lagoon are easily accessible by boat.
When sightseeing in Venice, the most cost-effective way to get around is by using the vaporetti, the city’s public waterbuses. Besides providing some relief for your feet, the waterbuses provide a scenic way to get from one side of the city to another.
A single Vaporetto ticket costs 7.50 EUR and is valid for 75 minutes from the time of validation. If you intend to use the vaporetto and public transport more, it’s worth investing in a 1-day (20 EUR), 2-day (30 EUR), 3-day (40 EUR), or one-week pass (60 EUR). The day tickets are also valid on the buses in Marghera and Mestre on the mainland.
Tickets for the vaporetti are available at most boarding points, Hellovenezia/ACTV offices, newsstands, and some bars, shops, and tobacconists displaying the ACTV sign. You can also pre-book your ticket online, which I found to be most convenient.
To find out more about how to get around Venice, check out our ultimate guide to public transport in Venice.
Things To Do In Venice
While there is a substantial amount of great things to do in Venice the major attraction here is the city itself. At every corner, you’ll stumble upon something worth remembering with a snapshot.
The city offers a complete sensory experience that is immediately spellbinding and riveting. Whether your interests lie in architecture, museum hopping, eating, shopping, or taking photographs, there’s something to pique everyone’s interest in Venice.
Below we have compiled a list of the must-visit attractions (in no particular order) in Venice. What follows is a selective taste of the city’s highlights so that you can browse through to find the very best things to see, do, and experience.
1. Take a boat trip along the Grand Canal
Meandering its way through the core of Venice in a reverse S-shape for 3.8 km (2.36 miles), the fabulous Grand Canal is rightfully considered the city’s principal highway. Its banks are lined with majestic palaces encompassing different eras, while on its waters colorful flotillas of gondolas, taxi launches, ferries, motorboats, and barges are a source of endless fascination.
The seemingly unending parade of palaces bordering the Grand Canal represents some of the finest architecture of the Venetian Republic as it was the address of choice for anyone who asserted any influence in Venice. Many of these palaces are now home to international banks, government or university buildings, art galleries, and consulates.
Being a huge architecture buff, cruising the Grand Canal and admiring all the amazing palaces surrounding it was undoubtedly one of my favorite things to do in Venice. Once you take a boat trip along the Grand Canal, it’ll be clear to you why it has featured in countless paintings and posters.
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There are several options for taking a boat trip along the Grand Canal. The best value-for-money experience of cruising along the Grand Canal by taking the water bus (Vaporetto), part of Venice’s public transport system. For the ride of a lifetime, hop aboard the Vaporetto #1 for a 40-minute ride.
To beat the crowds, start from Piazzale Roma heading towards San Marco Ferry Terminal late afternoon or evening. For the trip of a lifetime, try and grab the front-row seats on Vaporetto #1. To ensure that you don’t miss out on the best sights and views, ride in both directions and see one side at a time.
You can also ride the entire length of the Grand Canal on a guided motorboat tour with historical commentary provided by an expert. This way, you’ll pass slower and pull closer for better views of the fantastic palaces.
2. Wander around St. Mark’s Square
Once hailed by Napoleon as “the most elegant drawing room in Europe”, St. Mark’s Square (Piazza San Marco) has been the spiritual and artistic heart of Venetian life for over a millennium. Surrounded by elegant colonnades on three sides and fringed with exquisite monuments, this ever-bustling square is always packed with food-seeking pigeons, sightseers, and cafe-goers alike.
Facing St. Mark’s Basilica, on your left is the long, arcaded building known as the Procuratie Vecchie, renovated to its present form in 1514, and on your right is the Procuratie Nuove, built half a century later in a more classical style. Both these buildings housed offices and residences of the powerful procurators (magistrates).
Don’t miss to admire the gorgeous St. Mark’s Clocktower (Torre dell’Orologio), located on the north side of the square. Renowned for its highly ornamented facade, the gold-leafed and blue enamel timepiece tracks the phases of the moon and the Zodiac. Every hour, a pair of bronze Moors swing their huge clappers to ring the bell on the tower’s roof terrace.
The iconic square is optimal for kicking back with a cafè and admiring the way locals and starry-eyed tourists go about their days. Keep in mind that if you do decide to take a seat in one of the surrounding cafès, you’ll pay through the roof.
Free to access 24/7, the best time to appreciate the beauty of St. Mark’s Square is early morning, when only the city sweepers are here.
3. Be awed by St. Mark’s Basilica
St. Mark’s Basilica (Basilica di San Marco) was the thing I was anticipating seeing the most before visiting Venice and it didn’t disappoint. Exotic and arcane, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that this mosaic-encrusted cathedral is the most opulent of Europe’s cathedrals.
The sumptuous basilica was constructed on a Greek cross plan with five cupolas and is an impressive example of Byzantine architecture. Over the course of many centuries, alterations were made to the original church, with columns, statues, and mosaics added to amplify its grandeur.
Before going inside, take a moment to admire the basilica’s succession of domes, double rows of arches, intricate doorway carvings, spires, and shimmering mosaics. One of the mosaics shows St. Mark’s body arriving at the basilica after it was smuggled by crafty Venetian merchants from Alexandria in 828.
Even the most jaded traveler gasps in awe at the basilica’s cavernous interior and lavish decoration. Virtually every bit of the floor, domes, arches, and walls is draped in colored marbles and gold leaf mosaics.
Whether you look up or down, some decorative detail will catch your eye, drawing you into the narratives of its mosaics, or the geometric complexities of its pavements. Watch out for the stunning Ascension and Pentecost domes.
Bring a pair of binoculars if you want to properly view the most remarkable ceiling mosaics in the apse and the dome.
St. Mark’s Basilica’s greatest treasure is the magnificent medieval screen known as the Pala d’Oro (Golden Altarpiece), a Gothic masterpiece created in the 10th century by medieval goldsmiths. Found behind the main altar, it is made up of 250 panels with religious scenes, each set in a gold frame and studded with around 2,000 assorted pearls, rubies, sapphires, emeralds, amethysts, and enamels.
Dress modestly because the guards at St. Mark’s Basilica’s entrance prohibit entry to anyone in scantily-clad attire—shorts, sleeveless shirts (and shirts too short to hide your belly button), and skirts above the knee.
St. Mark’s Basilica is open from 09:45-17:00 (Monday-Saturday) and 14:00-17:00 (Sunday, until 16:00 November-Easter). Admission to the basilica is free, but to enjoy the St. Mark’s Museum (La Galleria), you’ll pay 7 EUR; entrance to the Pala d’Oro costs 5 EUR; admittance to the Treasury costs 3 EUR.
St. Mark’s Basilica is definitely worth the hype. To avoid the crowds, go early in the morning. I would also recommend signing up for a guided tour that offers skip-the-line access to the church (especially if you’re visiting the next attraction on our list).
4. See the Doge’s Palace and the Bridge of Sighs
Built between the 14th and 16th centuries on the foundations of a 9th-century fortress, the Doge’s Palace (Palazzo Ducale) is one of Venice’s most iconic landmarks. It served as the doge’s residence, the seat of political power, and the venue of the law courts and prisons until the fall of the Venetian Republic in the late 18th century.
It boasts a magnificent combination of Byzantine, Moorish, Gothic, and Renaissance architecture. Contradicting all laws of balance, the palace appears to be built upside down with a massive full wall at the top and the airy loggias at the bottom. I was totally enamored with its alluring façade, which is a patchwork of chalky Istrian stone and pink Veronese marble.
As there are way too many rooms, chambers, and paintings of note to mention in this post, I want to draw your attention to several of my personal favorites which shouldn’t be missed.
As you walk into the palace, take a moment to marvel at the immersive beauty of the Golden Staircase (Scala d’Oro), so-called for its classical stucco decorations in 24-carat gold-leaf-framing frescoes. Designed by celebrated Italian sculptor Jacopo Sansovino, the staircase’s motifs signify the power of Venice over the seas and its defense of Crete and Cyprus.
The state rooms on the second floor are richly decorated with gilded stuccowork, sculptures, and frescoes by many of Venice’s masters including Tintoretto, Veronese, Titian, and Bellini.
Two of the finest interior rooms in the Doge’s Palace on the second floor are the Senate Chamber (Sala del Senato) and the Council Antechamber (Sala dell’Anticollegio). I really loved the rather small antechamber, which has a more intimate feel than the huge institutional rooms.
The grandest room of all in Doge’s Palace is the Great Council Hall (Sala del Maggior Consiglio). A chamber of monumental proportions (large enough to hold 2,500 people) is where Venetian citizens assembled to elect doges and debate state policies in the early days of the Republic.
Covering the whole of one end wall is Tintoretto’s Paradiso. Measuring 7×22 m (23×72 ft), it is said to be one of the world’s largest oil paintings, containing some 350 human figures.
The legendary Bridge of Sighs leads visitors down to the dank prison cells. Legend has it that the bridge takes its name after the sighs of prisoners as they took a last look at freedom before torture or execution.
For the best and postcard-perfect view of the Bridge of Sighs, head to the Ponte della Paglia bridge, on the Riva degli Schiavoni behind the Doge’s Palace.
Giacomo Casanova, the notorious Italian libertine, was one of the most illustrious ‘guests’ of the prisons of the Doge’s Palace. He was imprisoned in the Doge’s Palace in 1755 on charges of being a Freemason and spreading antireligious propaganda. Even more famous than his conviction is his escape as he was one of the rare few to escape the Doge’s Palace maximum-security jail. On the night of October 31, 1756, Casanova and another prisoner executed an ingenious escape through the roof.
The Doge’s Palace is open daily from 08:30-19:00 (April-October), and 08:30-17:30 (November-March). I highly recommend purchasing a ticket for the Skip-the-Line Tour to avoid losing valuable time queueing in long lines at the palace.
5. Soak up the atmosphere at the lively Rialto Market
Considered one of the best food markets in Europe, the Rialto Market has for centuries been a buzzing hub of city life. A visit to the Rialto Market is a “must-do” when sightseeing in Venice as it is one of the few places where you get an intimate experience of everyday life in the city.
The market is divided into the Pescheria (fresh fish and seafood), and the Erberia (fresh fruit and vegetables). Tantalize your taste buds on eels, soft-shelled crabs, octopuses, sardines, peaches, cherries, artichokes, red chicory, radicchio trevisano, asparagus, and much more.
Immerse yourself in the local hubbub as boisterous vendors present the freshest catch of the day, the city’s townsfolk seek out the freshest seafood, and nearby fruit and vegetable stalls showcase the very best locally-sourced produce of every shape and color.
The Erberia (vegetable market) is open from 07:30-13:00 (Monday-Saturday) and the Pescheria (fish market) is open from 07:30-13:00 (Tuesday-Saturday). To experience the Rialto Market at its liveliest you should arrive early in the morning.
6. Cross the Rialto Bridge
Of all the myriad bridges in Venice, the Rialto Bridge (Ponte di Rialto) is irrefutably the most famous one. Dating back to the end of the 16th century, it is the oldest of the four bridges that arch over Venice’s Grand Canal, and for eons, it was the only way to cross the canal on foot.
Hailed as an architectural triumph of the Renaissance era, the Rialto Bridge is easily recognizable for its graceful, single-span marble arch. It features two outer walkways along its balustrades as well as a central thoroughfare lined with two rows of small shops that sell jewelry and souvenirs.
Being one of the most popular Venice attractions, the Rialto Bridge is always busy. To avoid the masses, it’s best to go early in the morning or late at night when the markets are shut. Sunset is a beautiful time to visit, with the southern side of the bridge offering a glorious view of the gondolas pulling up to the splendid palaces lining the canal.
7. Be enchanted by Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo
Despite lying in the heart of the highly-trafficked San Marco district, the Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo is one of the most-overlooked sights in Venice. It was built in the early 15th century by the Contarini family, who were eager to flaunt their affluence, and is known for its Renaissance spiral staircase set into a circular Byzantine-style tower.
In the Venetian dialect, bovolo means “snail shell”, corresponding to the spiral shape of the stairway. With its ascending rows of round-headed arches, the palace is the only one of its ilk to be found in Venice today.
Given its elegance and romantic vibes, it comes as no surprise that Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo has frequently been featured in the media. Having recently been restored, you can now ascend the 112 winding steps via five floors of loggias to the top for scenic views over Venice.
The Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo is open daily from 10:00-18:00. The entrance costs 7 EUR. It’s a photographer’s treat so don’t miss out on seeing it!
Venice has several names but none as intriguing as “City of Masks.” The name originates from the distinctive masks worn during the annual carnival. There is a large variety of Venetian masks to choose from depending on individual tastes and budget. The uniqueness of each mask is put to the test during the carnival each year.
8. Head to the Acqua Alta Bookstore
Made wildly popular courtesy of social media, the lovely Acqua Alta Bookstore (Libreria Acqua Alta) is one place in Venice you shouldn’t skip. This unique bookstore is famous for its funky decor and for the unconventional methods of storing its books.
Having opened in 2004, the bookstore was initially periodically flooded by Venice’s rising waters each winter. To overcome this burden, the owner got creative and started piling some of the books into waterproof bins, bathtubs, canoes, and most notably, a full-size gondola.
The result is a quirky, almost comical sight. Packed floor-to-ceiling with books (old/new and in various languages), magazines, prints, comics, maps, postcards, and other paraphernalia, it is reminiscent of some musty basement.
If you’re a feline lover like us, you’ll be delighted to know that there are plenty of adorable little kitties roaming around the store, usually having a lazy afternoon siesta on top of a pile of books.
Don’t forget to make your way to the rear where you can climb the staircase made from outdated/unused tomes and snag a great view over one of Venice’s canals.
The Acqua Alta Bookstore is open daily from 09:00-19:45. To avoid the crowds, go very early or late in the day.
N.B. Despite the massive amount of visitors, the Acqua Alta bookstore is struggling to keep open. When there, do your part and buy something (even a small souvenir) to help keep this magical cultural institution in Venice afloat.
9. Make a beeline for the Frari Church
Known among locals as “I Frari”, the 14th-century Gothic Frari Church (Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari) is one of the most recognizable landmarks in Venice. Built by the Franciscans (who famously emphasized prayer and poverty), it’s not surprising that the church is spartan both inside and out.
However, the church’s deceptively dreary interior is striking for its sheer size and for the quality of its art treasures, from priceless canvases by Titian and Bellini to imposing monuments and tombs of famous Venetians.
One of the highlights of the church is the Monk’s Choir, which consists of 124 three-tiered stalls that are superbly carved with bas-reliefs of saints and Venetian city scenes.
Some other worthy things to see in the church are the remarkably lifelike wooden statue of St. John the Baptist and the pyramidal Canova’s Mausoleum. I greatly enjoyed the rather ostentatious Mausoleum of Doge Giovanni Pesaro, which is hoisted by four brawny black marble figures.
Top billing, however, goes to Titian’s intensely spiritual Assumption of the Virgin. The petite altarpiece that effuses an almost ethereal glow from within depicts the triumphant ascent of Mary while the 12 Apostles are left gesticulating in wonder amid a swirl of cherubs.
The Frari Church is open from 09:00-18:00 (Monday-Saturday) and 13:00-18:00 (Sunday), last admission at 17:30. The entrance to the church costs 3 EUR (free for children up to 11 years of age) meaning it’s well worth the price of admission.
10. Go to the top of St. Mark’s Bell Tower
Perched majestically beside St. Mark’s Basilica, the St. Mark’s Bell Tower soars above all else in Venice, and at 98.6 m (323 ft) is arguably the city’s most recognizable landmark.
Originally built in the 10th century, the bell tower has served as a lighthouse, gun turret, and belfry and has been rebuilt on several occasions. The present incarnation dates back to 1912 and is relatively unadorned save for its loggetta which features classical sculptures and allegorical reliefs.
Take the elevator to the top to access one of the most spectacular viewpoints in Venice. On clear days, you can see as far as the distant snow-capped Dolomite Mountains.
The famous Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei used the Campanile as an observatory to study the skies and it was here in 1609 that he demonstrated his telescope to the Lords.
St. Mark’s Campanile is open daily from 09:45-21:15 (last admission: 20:45). Tickets cost 10 EUR (free for children up to 6 years of age). Going to the top of the Campanile is totally worth the price of admission as you won’t get a better aerial view of Venice.
11. Take a gondola ride
Of course, you can’t visit Venice and not go on a gondola tour! Yes, it may seem touristy and is pricey, but honestly, you gotta ask yourself where else are you going to take a gondola ride? (a “gondola ride” at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas doesn’t count)
It goes without saying that a gondola ride will be the thrill of a lifetime for any adult or child. Plus, a gondola ride lends an entirely different perspective on Venice.
Gondolas and gondoliers are an intricate part of the symbolism of Venice. The gondola, with its slim hull and flat underside, is perfectly adapted to negotiating the city’s narrow, shallow canals. Hand-crafted from an assortment of woods, the place where passengers sit is well upholstered with soft cushions ensuring a comfortable ride.
I would advise you to take a gondola ride on one of the quieter canals in Cannaregio or the Campo San Barnaba area in Dorsoduro rather than the frenetic Grand Canal. This way, you’ll get more bang for your buck and the gondola ride will be blissful and romantic.
A gondola ride will set you back around 80-120 EUR for the ride. If you are traveling with family or friends, the cost per person will be cheaper – five is the maximum number of passengers. Keep in mind that if you want the gondolier to sing or to play an instrument during the ride, you will be charged extra.
There are a number of gondola ranks throughout the city and plenty of gondoliers in striped vests and beribboned straw hats waiting for business on bridges and squares. However, to avoid wasting precious time looking for a gondola, book a gondola ride in advance.
12. Check out modern art at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection
Visiting the Peggy Guggenheim Collection (Collezione Peggy Guggenheim) is one of the best things to do in Venice. This is especially the case if the Tintorettos and Bellinis aren’t to your taste, and you’re looking for a welcome break from the slew of Renaissance art that permeates Venice’s churches and other museums.
Housed in the unfinished 18th-century Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, the museum’s rich collection reflects the eclectic tastes of the American heiress. Almost every modern art movement is represented with particular strengths in Abstract Expressionism, Cubism, Futurism, and Surrealism.
Heralded 20th-century artists such as Braque, Miró, Picasso, Magritte, Kandinsky, de Chirico, Severini, Pollock, Duchamp, and Klee are on display. Some of the standout works of art in the museum are Salvador Dalí’s eerily spellbinding Birth of Liquid Desires and Max Ernst’s evocative Attirement of the Bride (Guggenheim was married to Ernst in the 1940s).
Of course, the most memorable work of art is Marino Marini’s Angel of the Citadel. No one who visits the Guggenheim Collection leaves without a transient chuckle at the bronze horseman, thrusting his manhood towards the Grand Canal from the waterside patio.
The Peggy Guggenheim Collection is open from 10:00-18:00 (Wednesday-Monday). The entrance to the museum costs 15 EUR (free for children up to 10 years of age). To avoid queueing, book a skip-the-line ticket in advance.
13. Marvel at the Teatro La Fenice
Along with Naples’s Teatro di San Carlo and Milan’s La Scala, Venice’s grand Teatro La Fenice is one of Italy’s most renowned opera houses. Many acclaimed operatic premières have taken place in La Fenice including Verdi’s Rigoletto (1851) and La Traviata (1853), Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress (1951), and Britten’s The Turn of the Screw (1954).
Since opening in 1792, the opera house has almost faced its demise from not one, but three big fires most recently in 1996. It’s funny how the theater’s name (which translates to “Theater of the Phoenix”) coincides with its unfortunate history. However, like a Phoenix rising from the ashes, La Fenice has lived on.
La Fenice’s Neoclassical exterior masks a remarkably rich interior. It boasts a classic five-tiered horseshoe auditorium with 174 boxes, whose intricately designed gold interiors are outfitted with plush, red velvet upholstery.
The Royal Box (which is accessible to the public) is a sight to behold as is the trompe l’oeil ceiling mural. In addition, the foyers, anterooms, bars, and attached salons have a classic Old World look.
Teatro La Fenice is open daily from 09:30-18:00. However, opening hours can differ when there are performances, so check before you visit.
To admire the stunning interior of Teatro La Fenice, you can either see a performance here or go for the self-guided tour (13 EUR, includes an audio guide) as we did. I strongly recommend purchasing a ticket for the Skip-the-Line Tour to avoid losing valuable time.
If you prefer participating in a guided tour (one hour) of Teatro La Fenice in English or Italian, you can purchase your tickets here.
14. Seek out other bridges
Yes, the Rialto Bridge and the Bridge of Sighs are veritable must-see sights in Venice. But there are a plethora of other lesser-known bridges in the city that are definitely worth seeking out.
A lot of them have fascinating backstories. Some of my favorite bridges in Venice to seek out are:
Ponte dei Tre Archi: Immensely popular with artists, this unusual three-arched high bridge dating from the end of the 17th century crosses the Cannaregio Canal
Ponte dei Pugni (Bridge of Fists): This small bridge, which spans the idyllic San Barnaba Canal in Dorsoduro, is named for a dispute between two Venetian families who fought on this bridge. Brutal fistfights (pugni) between the rival factions took place here until the practice was outlawed in 1705. You can still see the footprints set in white stone which marked the starting positions of the combat
Ponte delle Tette: If you’re wondering about the name of the delle Tette bridge and canalside, it means exactly what you suspect it means. To combat an increase in the practice of homosexuality and sodomy in the 1400s, the city’s prostitutes were encouraged to display their breasts from the windows of the surrounding houses over the “Bridge of Tits.” The bridge is rather unspectacular, but its story is intriguing.
Ponte Chiodo: One of my favorite bridges in Venice, this diminutive bridge at the edge of Cannaregio is one of the city’s two remaining bridges with no parapets (the other is the Ponte del Diavolo on Torcello).
15. Take a refreshing waterfront stroll
If you’re looking for vast, unbroken stretches of pavement that are well suited for a casual amble, fast walk, or even a jog, do as the Venetians do. Head to the Zattere, Giudecca, or Riva degli Schiavoni quays that line the city’s major waterways.
Studded with landmarks and brimming with activity, the aforementioned locales offer much more than a chance simply to stretch your legs. Your entertainment will be the spectacle of traffic in the canals, the magnificent architecture, and gorgeous views across the lagoon.
The best time to go is in the evening when the tangy sea breeze stirs the air and you can witness a breathtaking sunset in Venice.
16. Eat Cicchetti
One of the “must-do’s” in Venice is to experience some authentic and delicious Venetian cuisine. Eating cicchetti is a wonderful way to get to know the city and sample the local cuisine in an informal and fun manner.
In order to do so, head to one of the city’s bacari (traditional bars) in search of snacks known as cicchetti (pronounced “chi-KET-tee”). Similar in concept to Spanish tapas, cicchetti are small morsels of bread covered in everything from cured meats and cheeses to seafood and vegetables. However, they can also come in the form of meatballs.
If you’re traveling on a budget and are looking for cheap eats in Venice, cicchetti are a good way to save money on food without going hungry. We gorged on several cicchetti a day ourselves during our time in Venice.
The price for an individual cicchetto ranges from 1 to 3 EUR, give or take, depending on the type and size. But there are some wine bars and places serving up gourmet cicchetti versions for 3-6 EUR per piece.
Cicchetti are traditionally washed down with an ombra (local vernacular for a small glass of red or white wine). Just don’t expect to enjoy them sitting down as many of the best bacari in Venice have limited seating.
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If you prefer not to eat and drink alone, you should go on a Venice Street Food Tour. Led by knowledgeable, enthusiastic local foodies, the tour introduces you to Venice’s vast cicchetti repertoire and takes you along the city’s confusing backstreets.
17. Visit the Scuola Grande di San Rocco
Venice’s ancient scuole were confraternities that had religious and charitable affiliations. Of all the various scuole in the city, the Scuola Grande di San Rocco has no rivals in terms of grandeur and beauty.
Housed in a remarkable Renaissance building that is a work of art in itself, it functions as a shrine to the Venetian artist Tintoretto, who spent 23 years working on the Scuola on and off. His much-celebrated cycle of more than fifty major paintings secured the Scuola enduring fame and represents for Venice what the Sistine Chapel is for Rome.
Tintoretto’s artworks are famous for their striking employment of color, bold foreshortening, and ability to convey theatrical effect through contrasts of light and shade. His greatest painting – the moving and dramatic Crucifixion, can be found in the sumptuous Sala dell’Albergo on the topmost floor.
Even the most bleary-eyed traveler will get a kick out of the dimly lit Sala Capitolare, whose gilded ceiling features elaborate carvings of allegorical figures. Simply breathtaking, there aren’t enough superlatives to do this room justice.
The sublime ceiling and wall paintings depict various scenes from the Old and New Testaments. Some of the most striking artworks are The Miracle of the Bronze Serpent, Elijah Fed by the Angel, and The Temptation of Christ.
Use the mirrors provided to view the ceiling without getting a crick in your neck.
The Scuola Grande di San Rocco is a greatly underrated treasure that justifiably deserves to be on any list of must-see sights in Venice.
It is open daily from 09:30-17:30 (last admission at 17:00). At 10 EUR the entry price represents great value for money. Although you get a leaflet containing some information about the Scuola, it’s better to get the audio guide for more detailed descriptions.
18. Tour the Jewish Ghetto
One of the more obscure Venice facts is that the city was home to one of the world’s oldest ghettos. Created in 1516, Jews in Venice were forced to move to this tiny section of Cannaregio, which is surrounded on all sides by canals.
The word “ghetto” actually originated in Venice and derived from the Venetian verb gettare, meaning “to pour” or “to cast”, and probably can be traced to the earlier presence of a copper foundry in what was to become the all-Jewish district.
The area was so small that when the community started growing, the only space was upward. Thus, the ‘skyscrapers’ of the ghetto, tenement blocks of five or six storeys were once the highest in Europe.
The Jews were heavily taxed, barred from many professions, and forced to observe a strict curfew. The gates were unlocked at dawn and locked by sunset and all residents were mandated to wear a yellow patch or scarf identifying them as Jewish.
It was only in 1797, with the arrival of Napoleon, that the ghetto as an institution was disbanded and Jews were free to move elsewhere. Today, only a handful of Jewish families reside here, but it still retains its ethnic character.
You will come across Jewish bakeries, two synagogues, a Jewish library, a Jewish Museum, and even a kosher restaurant (Gam-Gam). The small Jewish Museum houses a collection of artifacts from the 17th–19th centuries and offers guided tours of synagogues normally not open to the public.
19. Get off the beaten track
If you’re visiting Venice during peak vacation periods, the crowds can be overwhelming and distracting. However, with the masses generally sticking to a small radius of St. Mark’s Square and the larger streets that lead to the main train station, there are still some neighborhoods in Venice that retain a down-to-earth village feeling.
These are the places in Venice where still there are butchers, bakers, and florists rather than chain stores, and mask and glass shops. Here, you can still get a taste of everyday, middle-class Venetian life, which is largely undisturbed by tourism.
Music drifts from open windows, elderly Venetians pass the time of day mingling with their neighbors, and laundry is hung out to dry across the narrow alleyways.
Significant chunks of the districts of Cannaregio, Castello, Dorsoduro remain off the beaten path in Venice (by Venetian standards of course). In a city that has gradually been losing its social fabric, a visit to these areas is a welcome sight.
Venice also has many other beautiful and less busy squares that are sprinkled around these districts. One of my favorites is Campo della Maddalena, located just off the main thoroughfare Strada Nova in Cannaregio. This lovely square remains all but unchanged since medieval times and its colorful little houses are topped with a fascinating assortment of chimneys.
If you venture across the lagoon to the island of Giudecca, which is technically part of Dorsoduro, consider going to the Skyline Rooftop Bar of the Hilton. You’ll pay dearly for a finely crafted cocktail, but nowhere else will you be accorded such magical views of central Venice.
20. See the Arsenale
Though it doesn’t seem like much today, Venice’s formidable Arsenale dockyards and factories have played a vital role in shaping the city’s history. Founded in the early-12th century, the Arsenale was the very heart of Venice’s mercantile and military power.
During its heyday in the 16th and 17th centuries, it once employed a workforce of 16,000 to produce the fleets that sailed the Mediterranean. In fact, the Arsenale shipyard was the largest industrial complex in Europe built prior to the Industrial Revolution.
Today, the area is under military administration and is largely off-limits to the public. Some sections of its ancient docks and workshops are also adapted as art exhibition spaces and performance venues during the Venice Biennale festival.
The Arsenale is still an interesting place to visit as gazing at its crenelated walls gives you a chance to ponder about the area where the world’s greatest navy was once built.
You can, however, still admire the Arsenale’s impressive arched 15th-century Renaissance gateway (Porta Magna), which is a real eye-catcher. It is guarded by four white stone lions, which were brought back as booty from various sites in Greece.
21. Sample Venetian Gelato
No visit to Venice would be complete without sampling some of the city’s delicious gelato, which is as much a culinary staple here as pizza, pasta, or wine.
The Venetian merchant and explorer Marco Polo is said to have introduced Venice to ice cream after his adventures in Asia, so it comes as no surprise that locals here take gelato very seriously.
Steering clear of additives, emulsifiers, and thickeners, Venetian gelato is made from seasonal, fresh, and locally-produced ingredients giving it a dense, yet somehow fluffy texture. You can find gelato in a wide array of Instagramable flavors like ricotta with Bronte pistachios, salted pistachio with gianduja, and mascarpone with fig and walnuts.
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22. Make a Traghetto Crossing
Although a gondola ride in Venice comes highly recommended, we understand that it may not fit into everyone’s budget. For those who crave a gondola experience in Venice but don’t want to pay through the roof for it, there is a much cheaper alternative.
All hail the traghetto! Traghetti (plural for traghetto) are large, unadorned gondola ferries (which fit 12 passengers), which shuttle people from one side of the Grand Canal to the other in less than a minute.
A traghetto ride costs 2 EUR and is a cheap way of getting a ride on a gondola. Of course, the ride is brief and you won’t get the gondolier in the classic beribboned straw hat, padded seats, and tourist services.
It is customary (but not obligatory) to do as the Venetians do, and travel the short distance standing up.
There are traghetto stations at eight different points along the Grand Canal where it isn’t easy to cross by bridge. Yellow street signs lead the way to the traghetti, illustrated with a little black gondola symbol.
In recent times, the population of Venice (historical center) has fallen below the 55,000 mark, having shrunk by over two-thirds since the 1950s. Venice’s permanent population is experiencing a slow but inexorable decline as many young Venetians prefer to move to the mainland with the convenience of a car, not to mention lower house prices, cheaper shopping, and fewer tourists.
23. People watch in Santa Margherita Square
Located in the lively hub of western Dorsoduro, the sprawling Santa Margherita Square (Campo Santa Margherita) is an attraction you shouldn’t skip. Unlike St. Mark’s Square which is overrun by tourists, Santa Margherita Square is a place for locals and is all the better for it.
Ringed by plenty of bars, cafés, and houses dating back to the 14th and 15th centuries, Santa Margherita is an atmospheric square. During the day, it is home to many flowers and produce stalls while at night it transforms into the trendiest party area in the city.
In the evening, waste no time in occupying a table for savoring a Spritz apéritif, the city’s favorite tipple. Otherwise, prosecco, beer, or coffee will also do. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more engaging spot for watching the world go by in Venice.
24. Admire the beauty of Punta Della Dogana and Santa Maria della Salute
Located on the eastern tip (punta) of the promontory on Dorsoduro where the Grand Canal and the Giudecca Canal come together stands the triangular 17th-century building of Punta della Dogana. Designed like a ship’s prow, this former customs warehouse was responsible for all boats entering the Grand Canal.
Punta della Dogana is one of the most popular landmarks in Venice. Its corner tower is famously topped by two bronze Atlases supporting a glistening golden globe with a weathervane figure of Fortune on the top.
Having been completely restored, the warehouse is now home to an avant-garde contemporary art collection from some of the looming titans of this field.
Punta Della Dogana’s vast space, lighting concept, and automated roller blinds give the exhibitions a more intimate character. For more information about prices and opening hours, check here.
Be sure to walk down to the punta to admire the striking contemporary sculptures adorning the quayside and for spectacular views.
Adjacent to the Punta della Dogana lies the Santa Maria della Salute, one of the most imposing architectural landmarks of Venice. This Baroque church was erected in honor of the Virgin Mary of Good Health as thanksgiving for the deliverance of Venice from the plague of 1630.
Though the church is nothing special from the inside, it sports a sumptuous white Istrian stone exterior. With its playful scrolls supporting a hulking dome, the church has an ineffable grace.
25. Visit the crypt of San Zaccaria Church
Located in a quiet square in Castello, the beautiful 15th century San Zaccaria Church (Chiesa di San Zaccaria) boasts a distinctively Venetian blend of Gothic and Renaissance styles.
Although the church interior is famous for its notable architectural features and contains Giovanni Bellini’s majestic Madonna and Four Saints, it is San Zaccaria’s crypt that distinguishes it from the other churches in Venice.
Lovers of the morbid will get their money’s worth inside the spooky and oft waterlogged 9th-century crypt, the burial place of eight early doges. The colonnaded Romanesque crypt has a certain funereal beauty to it and the water certainly enhances its appeal.
The San Zaccaria Church is open from 10:00-12:00 & 16:00-18:00 (Monday-Saturday) and 16:00-18:00 (Sunday). The entrance costs 3 EUR.
26. Pick up some Venetian Souvenirs
Why not pick up some classic Venetian souvenirs to remember your Venice visit? Venice’s narrow streets are lined with beautifully arranged windows that never fail to tempt shoppers.
Along with elaborate carnival masks, glass, paper, textiles, lace, you can find premium antiques and jewelry, high-quality fashion goods, and woodwork.
27. Escape the crowds on San Giorgio Maggiore
For those seeking to get off the beaten trail and escape the tourist hordes, San Giorgio Maggiore is the perfect getaway. Located almost within swimming distance of the Doge’s Palace, it looks like some stage set across the water from San Marco and has featured in countless paintings.
San Giorgio Maggiore is the closest of the lagoon islands to Venice, and the only major island that seems untouched by commerce. As you walk around the island, you’ll notice how it still retains a tranquil, almost meditative air.
Benedictine monks have inhabited San Giorgio Maggiore for more than a millennium and it is home to a magnificent Palladian monastic complex. The church and monastery were built in the late-16th century and are among the masterpieces of architect Andrea Palladio, the great Renaissance architect.
The harmoniously proportioned white Istrian stone church boasts a beautiful façade and its bright, cavernous interior is reminiscent of an ancient Roman theater. It is home to some major works of art such as Tintoretto’s The Fall of Manna and Last Supper. Visiting the church is free and it is open daily from 07:00-18:00.
More impressive, however, are the superb panoramas of Venice and the lagoon from its 200-year-old 63-meter high bell tower. The Campanile di San Giorgio is open daily from 10:00-18:00. The entrance costs 6 EUR.
28. See glass making on Murano
Venice is far from the only shining light of the lagoon. Long synonymous with glassmaking, Murano is a world-famous destination for colorful, hand-blown glass, from simple trinkets to exquisite jewelry and chandeliers.
A highlight of a trip to Murano is a unique opportunity to watch the glassblowers. It’s exhilarating to watch a glass artisan take a blob of molten paste on the end of an iron rod and, with incredible skill, transform it into a vase, bird, animal, or similar work of art.
Many of the glassworks and showrooms offering the best of Murano glass can be found along the Fondamenta dei Vetrai and Fondamenta Manin. You can book tickets to the glass factory here.
Glassmaking aside, Murano is a lovely place to wander around, with canals, and alleyways lined with patrician mansions. Two of the worthwhile things to do in Murano are to visit the island’s Glass Museum (Museo del Vetro) and the Basilica dei Santi Maria e Donato.
29. Make the journey to pastel-hued Burano and serene Mazzorbo
The most colorful of the lagoon islands, Burano, is the stuff of Instagram dreams. The sheer prettiness of Burano’s brightly-colored fishermen’s cottages makes the trip here one of the most pleasurable things to do in Venice.
Seeming to have occurred as a result of a bunch of children let loose with huge paint cans, the houses are painted in a riot of colors such as azure, yellow, lilac, tangerine, and crimson. Don’t miss the arresting multicolored, and geometrical facade of Casa Bepi.
Along with multicolored homes (painted thusly so sailors could find their house from sea in the thick mist of the lagoon), Burano is known for its highly skilled lace workers. If you’re interested in seeing authentic Burano lace and the women who make it, go to the (Museo del Merletto) Museum of Lace Making.
When visiting Burano, don’t forget to sample scrumptious bussolai (essi) – traditional Burano butter cookies that are baked in the shapes of a backward ‘S’ or a ring. Buy them at Panificio Pasticceria Costantini or Panificio Pasticceria Garbo.
Although Burano is gorgeous and well-worth visiting, one does get the impression that similar to Venice, it has slightly become a victim of its own charm. For a real bucolic experience, cross over the footbridge from Burano to Mazzorbo.
Densely populated a couple of centuries ago, nowadays Mazzorbo doesn’t amount to much more than a handful of scattered villas, artichoke fields, verdant space, and the simple but elegant 14th-century Church of Santa Caterina.
Despite being constantly threatened by salt and high waters, Mazzorbo is rather astonishingly, home to a vineyard. Belonging to the Venissa wine estate, the Dorona di Venezia white wine is famous for its red wine-like characteristics.
30. Spend some time on ancient Torcello
Although it is now largely abandoned, the island of Torcello once rivaled Venice in terms of population and importance. After all, it was the site of the first settlement in the Venetian lagoon.
In the 5th and 6th centuries, mainlanders fleeing invading Lombards and Huns ventured across tidal flats to found a settlement that grew to 20,000 and lasted 1,000 years. Today, less than 50 people call Torcello home.
The chief reason to visit Torcello is to see Venice’s first cathedral – the Torcello Basilica (Basilica di Santa Maria Assunta). Founded in 639 and rebuilt between the 9th and 11th centuries, its restrained brick interior is famous for its polychrome marble floor and stupendous Byzantine mosaics—rivaling those of St. Mark’s Basilica.
The two most striking mosaics are Madonna and Child, set against a glowing gold background in the dome of the central apse, and the highly decorative Last Judgment on the west wall, which depicts scenes of devils, angels, wild beasts, and fires.
The Torcello Basilica is open daily from 10:30-17:30. The entrance costs 6 EUR. Aside from the basilica, other points of interest in Torcello are the 11th-century church dedicated to St. Fosca and the so-called Throne of Attila. According to local folklore, if singles sit on the Throne of Attila they will be married within the year.
What To Eat In Venice
Though Cicchetti are a good alternative to fast food, you’ll also want to treat yourself to a leisurely sit-down meal while you’re in Venice.
Venetian cuisine is heavily influenced by the bounty of the lagoon with fish and seafood featuring heavily. Don’t forget to check out the 22 best traditional foods to eat in Venice.
Vegetarians and vegans need not despair in Venice as you can find several dishes of polenta, pasta, and risotto incorporating local specialties as asparagus, artichokes, radicchio, and bruscandoli (wild hops).
Be sure to save room for dessert because Venetian biscuits, cakes, and pastries can be excellent.
Where To Eat In Venice
It takes a little planning to eat well in Venice otherwise you’re bound to be disappointed. Dining in the areas around St. Mark’s Square, the main train station, and along principal thoroughfares should be avoided as overpriced tourist traps, grand cafés, and expensive established restaurants predominate.
But moving away from the San Marco area, dining experiences tend to be more authentic and you will generally see both the crowds (and the prices) trickle down. Try the districts of Cannaregio, San Polo & Santa Croce, or even Dorsoduro for decent, well-priced meals.
As a rule of thumb, avoid places where lasagne, spaghetti Bolognese and pizza are all present on the menu as these aren’t Venetian specialties and the place is essentially a tourist trap.
Look for places where there’s no menu at all or one which has hastily been scribbled on a chalkboard in Italian only. Finally, avoid places with cajoling waiters standing outside, and beware of restaurants that don’t display their prices.
Whatever the price range, Venice’s best restaurants are always busy, so it is advisable to reserve a table. If restaurants don’t accept bookings, try to arrive early to avoid waiting in line.
Where to Stay In Venice
Venice is an expensive place to stay and can hardly be said to have a “low season.” You can’t go terribly amiss in terms of “good” areas in which to stay in Venice.
The area in and around the district of San Marco is the most touristy and almost always more expensive. If you want to stay in less-trafficked surroundings, check out convenient but more tranquil locations in the districts of Dorsoduro, Santa Croce, and Cannaregio.
Once you get your bearings, you’ll find you’re never far from anything. You may, however, want to consider how close your hotel is to a Vaporetto stop.
For those on a budget in Venice, substantial savings can be had by staying in a hotel in Mestre or Marghera, or near the main airport, but you must count on at least 45-60 minutes each way until you get into the city center.
Hostel: Anda Venice Hostel, a hugely popular hostel in Mestre, located just two minutes on foot from the train station and within walking distance from the city center
Budget: San Lio Tourist House, unpretentious choice within 5 minutes of St. Mark’ Square and the Rialto Bridge
Mid-range: Four Points by Sheraton Venice Mestre, a reasonably-priced 4-star hotel in Mestre. A great option if you’re visiting Venice by car as the hotel offers free parking
Splurge: Palazzo Venart Luxury Hotel, sumptuous top-choice pick in the district of Santa Croce overlooking the Grand Canal
Venice Travel Tips
Here are some essential things to know before you visit Venice.
1. Try to visit during the shoulder season: Visit Venice in April-May or October-November if you can as these months are generally a little less busy, but still have relatively decent weather. Prices are also cheaper, and everything is a little less overwhelming.
If possible, avoid visiting Venice in the summer from late June to early September when the crowds are at their fullest, hotel rooms are virtually at peak season, and the climate can be oppressively hot and clammy.
2. Visit Venice with the right mindset: Travel with an open mind and be prepared for what to expect when visiting Venice otherwise it may lead to disenchantment.
First of all, Venice suffers from massive overcrowding and these crowds could make murderers out of monks. I defy anyone to make their way around the city without thinking less-than-loving thoughts about their fellow man.
There’s practically no off-season in Venice and no matter when you visit, there’s always going to be a lot of people. Yes, some months are better than others but I think it’s important to be aware of this before you visit, or you could be chagrined with the sheer volume of tourists.
Just ambling around the city can be painful, as you often find yourself queuing simply to walk over a bridge. This is exacerbated by the hordes of tourists trying to snap the perfect Instagram picture.
3. Visiting Venice isn’t cheap: Venice is also not a particularly cheap destination to visit, especially when compared to other European cities. Because of the cash the tourists bring to the city, and because of how heavily Venice depends on tourism, prices in Venice are exorbitantly high.
The city can be extremely expensive if you do everything, and will still run your wallet dry even if you don’t do everything. So, don’t be too surprised at the high costs.
4. Travel light: One of the biggest errors travelers make when they come to Venice is bringing along an excess amount of luggage that they then have to drag (rather inconveniently) around town.
Even if you’re planning to take a water taxi instead of walking around town with your luggage, you may be charged outrageous fees for each additional piece you have.
5. Stick to tap water: Ask for tap water (“acqua semplice” or “acqua da rubinetto”) or you will automatically get expensive bottled water included on your bill. Moreover, carry a water bottle so you can refill at any of the free drinking fountains throughout Venice.
6. Make use of the skip-the-line tickets: Given that Venice is almost on everyone’s bucket list, the city is perennially crowded. During the high tourist season, visitors have been known to wait hours for entrance tickets, with queues stretching several hundred meters long.
To avoid wasting potentially hours of sightseeing, purchasing tickets in advance is highly recommended. Although you will pay extra for a skip-the-line ticket, it will save you precious time and help make the most of your visit.
7. Expect to encounter scaffolding: Restoration work is always taking place somewhere in Venice, and there is rarely any indication before you go in as to how much of the building is under wraps. It’s impossible to predict which buildings will be undergoing restoration in the near future so prepare to be disappointed – you are almost certain to come across scaffolding and barriers at some point.
8. Public toilets and accessibility: Venice is rather limited in terms of the number of public toilets (toilette, gabinetti), and they come with a charge of 1.50 EUR. You can find them at the airport, train station, in car parks and some main squares.
Although of a reasonable standard, public toilets may sometimes be short of paper, so it is a good idea to carry tissues with you. It’s cheaper to have a stand-up espresso (the cheapest option) at a bar or café and use their facilities. In addition, toilets are free in some museums and galleries.
9. Keep a close eye on your belongings: Be aware of petty crime like pickpocketing, especially at railway stations, markets, and crowded sites. On public transport, particularly the tourist routes, hold your handbag or rucksack in front of you and be extra vigilant over your belongings when people are jostling to get on board.
10. Venice & Flooding: Called the “acqua alta” (high water), the winter flooding of Venice is caused by the coincidence of low atmospheric pressure, south-easterly Sirocco winds, and natural high tides.
It has always been a feature of Venetian life and in autumn and winter, duckboards are a familiar sight in St. Mark’s Square and other low-lying areas of central Venice. Although acqua alta can occur anytime between late September and April, the typical high water season lasts from November-January.
If you’re planning on visiting Venice during acqua alta, remember to bring waterproof boots and suitable items of clothing. Also, keep in mind that some popular attractions may not always be accessible.
11. Pack a pair of comfortable shoes: As you will primarily be getting around Venice on foot, it pays to have appropriate footwear. Stick with a comfortable pair of flat shoes rather than heels to avoid unnecessary purple toes and white blisters.
12. Lay off counterfeit goods: It’s illegal for street vendors in Venice to sell knockoff handbags, and it’s also illegal for you to buy them; both you and the vendor can get big fines.
13. Do not swim in the canals: As tempting as it may seem during the warmer months, absolutely don’t swim in the canals. If caught, you risk getting thrown out of the city and you may need to pay a potentially hefty fine of 350 EUR.
Further Reading For Your Venice Visit
That summarizes our comprehensive list of the best things to do in Venice. However, we reckon you’ll find the following resources useful for planning your trip to Venice!
Further Reading For Your Venice Visit
→ Check Out the 30+ Must-See Sights Along the Grand Canal in Venice
→ Find Out How to Spend One Perfect Day in Venice!
→ Discover How to Spend a Blissful Weekend in Venice!
→ Read Our Comprehensive Guide to Public Transport in Venice
→ Check Out the 22 Essential Foods and Drinks to Try in Venice!
→ Learn About the Best 12 Best Cicchetti Bars in Venice!
→ Uncover the 19 Best Photo Spots in Venice!
→ Check Out the 14 Best Traditional Souvernirs to Buy in Venice!
→ Find Out About the 11 Best Gelato Shops in Venice!
Do you agree with our list? What are some of the best things to do in Venice? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!