Venice is one of the most beautiful cities in the world and no trip to Italy would be complete without visiting the city of love. It is unspoiled by modern life and has been a hub for artists, sculptors, musicians, and poets for centuries. Stomping grounds of writer and lover Casanova, Venice delights all lovers of beauty filled with art museums, beautiful architecture, and picturesque squares.
We’ve put together a comprehensive guide to the best things to do in Venice with the help of frequent Venice visitor Karen Worral plus our own experiences in the “City of Water.” We have fallen in love with this city and Karen shares the very best things to do in Venice with her first-hand knowledge from many visits and our own travels to Venice. So get ready because this extensive Venice guide will give you molto informazione. (a lot of information).
Top Things to do in Venice, Italy
Famous for its intricate and extensive canal system, Venice itself is was built over 2000 years ago at the edge of the Adriatic Sea. What we love about the city is that is compact enough that you can see a lot in a few days. Whether you want to fulfill your dream of admiring the city by Gondola or you prefer to stroll the pedestrian-only streets, Venice, Italy is a place that will make your dreams come alive. Most people spend about 3 Days in Venice and these are all the best things to do in this magical city.
1. St. Mark’s Square
To feel the essence of Venice, St. Mark’s Square is the place to visit first. While the beating heart of Rome may be the sand of the Colosseum, the beating heart of Venice is its most illustrious piazza, St. Mark’s Square (which is called Piazza San Marco). The large impressive square is flanked on all four sides by ornate buildings, archways, and porticos that host cafes and high-end shops. With the Campanile (clock tower) on one side and the Torre dell Orologio (tower of the clock) on the other and other famous Venetian landmarks such as St. Mark’s Basilica, Doge’s Palace and Torre dell’Orologio, it is one of the most iconic squares in Europe.
Dive into Venice’s history with this 2-hour guided walking tour of Saint Mark’s Square. Including skip-the-line tickets to Doge’s Palace. Find out more and book your ticket here – Free cancellation with refund up to 24 hours before the tour starts. Some of Venice’s most important buildings are located in or around the Piazza San Marco so you will be spending a lot of time here.
- Address: P.za San Marco, 30124 Venice, Italy
- Hot Tip: get up for sunrise to have the square all to yourself before tour buses and boats come in.
2. Doge’s Palace
Located on the Grand Canal, Doges Palace is one of the best places to visit in Venice. The Palazzo Ducale or the Doge’s Palace is the most important building in Venetian history. The Doge was the head of state and religion in Venice for centuries. He was like Venice’s Pope, Regent, President or Prime Minister all at the same time.
The Doge’s Palace is tucked in the corner with the statues of Saint Marco himself and the winged lion of Venice towards the water. The architecture inside and out of Doge’s palace is impressive and I’d recommend at least 90 minutes to see it all properly.
This Doge’s Palace and St. Marks’ Square Tour offers skip the line tickets to Doge’s Palace and a locally-led guided tour. They have various special exhibits throughout the year that are included with your ticket. The ticket also allows you entry to Museo Correr, Museo Archeologico Nazionale, and Biblioteca Nazionale.
- Address: P.za San Marco, 1, 30124 Venice, Italy
- Hours: Doges Palace Summer (April 1-October 31) Sun-Thur 8.30am-9pm, Fri-Sat 8.30am-11pm. Winter (November 1st-March 31st) 8.30am-7pm. Last entry always 30 minutes before closing.
- Cost of Doges Palace: €25. €13 for children 6-14, students 15-25 and people over 65.
3. St Mark’s Basilica
St Mark’s Basilica (Basilica di San Marco) holds the prime spot over one whole side of the square. The stunning façade is covered in gold leaf mosaics, grand domes, and elegant equestrian statues. Going inside the Basilica San Marco to see the beautiful multitude of recently renovated mosaics is a Venice must-do. Inside the church, you can also see the Treasury that holds the church’s relics and the Pala D’oro – Byzantine golden cloth.
Take the steps up to St Mark’s Museum, a small museum about the basilica and Venice history, and for an unrivaled view of St Mark’s Square from the terrace by the horse statues.
Tips for visiting St Mark’s Basilica
- A visit inside lasts about ten minutes.
- Lines can be long to go into the church, especially in summer, but it is worth the wait.
- Go early or late in the day, it is usually much quieter.
- Backpacks are not allowed inside, but there is a locker area where you can store them for free just around the corner
- If you have a group, take it in turns going in and watching the bags outside.
- Also, remember that as in all churches in Italy, modest clothing should be worn with shoulders and knees covered.
- Get your skip the line ticket and take a tour with a local guide of St Mark’s Basilica.
- Address: P.za San Marco, 328, 30124 Venice Italy
- Hours: Church Mon-Sat 9.30am-5pm (last entry 4.45pm), Sun 2-5pm (after services). Museum, Treasury and Pala D’oro 9.35am-5pm summer (April 16-October 28), 9.45am-5pm winter (October 28-April 15).
- Cost: Free for the main church, and €5 for the museum, €2.50 children 6-18 years, free under 6. Treasury €3, €1.50 for children, Pala D’oro €2, €1 for children.
4. Campanile di San Marco
The 12th-century tower of St Mark’s Campanile (rebuilt in the 16th century) stands at 323ft tall and gives a commanding view of the famous square from the loggia belfry. Its spire used to be a lighthouse for shipping and it was the prototype for the lagoon area Campaniles.
It still has one of its five original bells as the others were destroyed when the tower collapsed in 1902. The other bells have been replaced, and are still rung. A golden statue of the archangel Gabriel holds court on top of the tower. Go up to the top for a great view of Venice.
- Hours: March, April, October 9am-7pm, November-February 9.30am-3.45pm, 13 June-12 September 8.30am-9.30pm.
- Cost: €8, €4 for students.
- Tour Saint Mark’s with your skip the line tickets.
5. The Rialto Bridge (Ponte di Rialto)
The Rialto Bridge (also known as Ponte di Rialto) is the oldest bridge in Venice, dating back to the sixteenth century. It is the most famous bridge in the city and one of the most famous landmarks in the world. It is the first of only four bridges that span the Grand Canal today connecting the districts of San Marco and San Polo. The other bridges that span the Grand Canal are Ponte di Calatrava a Venezia, Ponte dell’Accademia and Ponte degli Scalzi
Today the Rialto Bridge is full of shops making it one of the most unique bridges in the world. If you are doing a gondola ride you will definitely be starting, ending, or passing by the Rialto Bridge. This Gondola Tour comes complete with a serenade through the canals of Venice and some of its most secluded waterways.
- Address: Sestiere San Polo, 30125 Venice VE, Italy
6. Mercato di Rialto (Rialto Market)
The Rialto Market or Mercato di Rialto is located close to the Rialto Bridge and on the other side of Piazza San Marco is a great place for shopping. It started in the eleventh century as the principal food market of Venice.
Rialto Market has two parts. The principal outdoor food market is where fruit, vegetables, fresh fish, and produce are sold. And the souvenir market. It is also a good spot for street food. My favorite thing to do here is to buy a mini bottle of Bellini and sit by the bridge on the San Polo side sipping it while doing some people watching.
- Address: Calle Prima de la Donzella, 306, 30125 Venice, Italy
- Hours: Usually 9am until about 9pm in summer, until dark in winter.
7. Take a Gondola Ride
When you think of Venice, it is difficult to think about the city and not picture the waterways and gondolas that traverse them. Gondolas are the small boats that are paddled by a trained gondolier who knows the waterways like the back of their hand. Gondola rides can be very romantic and is a great way to snuggle up to your loved one, especially at sunset. They can also be very expensive. Expect to pay upwards of €100 off-season for a trip.
If you’d like to have the experience but aren’t too bothered about it being private, then you can go on group trips with other tourists and lower the cost. Not all gondoliers are the same, and some have fancier boats and clothes, and some sing and some don’t. So check what is included before hopping on, but remember the price will reflect what is included too.
- If you are looking to book romantic things to do in Venice, book a Gondola Ride and Serenade on the Grand Canal. It is one of the best known experiences in Venice for a reason! Read more and book your refundable ticket here.
8. Tour the Grand Canal by Vaporetto
No visit to Venice would be complete without a ride on the Grand Canal. While taking a gondola ride is a quintessential Venetian tourist thing to do, but if you would rather spend your euros elsewhere, you can tour the Grand Canal for much cheaper by simply taking a water taxi – or Vaporetto ride.
Vaporettos like a sort of water bus, or water taxi and are the most common way to travel around Venice if you’re not walking. Hop on the Vaporetto at St Mark’s Square at the San Marco Gardinetti stop taking it all the way to Piazzale Roma. Et voila! Perfect Grand Canal tour for only €7.50!
Private Vaporetto tour
We loved taking a private Vaporetto tour with our own private guide and boat. It is a splurge, but we visited all of the top attractions in Venice in luxury and comfort. This private Waporetto tour taxi water taxi tour takes you around not only around the Grand Canal, but also, Murano, Burano and quieter waterways.
- Hours: Public Vaporetto times, usually around 6am-10pm, but check website or timetables at Vaporetto stops to be sure.
- Cost: €7.50 one trip in one direction, or if you’re going elsewhere buy a 24-hour ticket for €20 which will take you out to the other islands too.
9. The Bridge of Sighs
The Bridge of Sighs is located between the Doge’s Palace, the Palazzo Ducale, and Venice’s jail. It is a small bridge that can be seen from the waterside by St Mark’s Square, very near the San Zaccaria Vaporetto stop. Many gondolas paddle underneath the bridge of Sighs making it a great vantage point to capture that iconic Venice scene.
Legend has it that the Bridge of Sighs got its name because on one side of the bridge is the courtroom of the Palazzo Ducale where people accused of crimes were tried. If convicted, the soon-to-be prisoner would then be walked across the bridge to jail. The last view they would have would be looking out of the small intricate windows of the bridge. And here they would “sigh” at their last glimpse of freedom. (Hence the name Bridge of Sighs)
10. basilica di santa maria
Standing proud on the Grand Canal is one of the most renowned churches in Venice, the Basilica di Santa Maria. If you take a Grand Canal tour you can’t miss it. The Basilica di Santa Maria was built to stop the plague that was ripping through the city in the 1600s. The officials promised a church built to honor the Madonna in exchange for her help in stopping the plague. Visiting The Basiclica di Santa Maria is one of the best free things to do in Venice with art and frescoes on display.
11. Galleria L’Accademia
The largest collection of Venetian art is housed at the Galleria L’Accademia and no art lover’s trip to Venice would be complete without a visit to one of the most famous art museums in Venice. There is a multitude of permanent exhibitions with art by artists including Bellini, Tiziano, Canaletto, Carpaccio, and Veronese. The main theme is traditional Venetian art with subjects mainly including religion, Venetian life, and portraits of important residents.
- Hours: Tues-Sun 8.15am-7.15pm, Mondays 8.15am-2pm.
- Cost: €15 (€1.50 booking fee online), €2 plus €1.50 exhibition fee for 18-25 year olds, free plus €1.50 booking fee for under 18s, people with a disability, students and academics.
Murano is one of the beautiful islands in Venice full of colorful houses and small restaurants lining the waterfront. Although tiny, Murano has gained worldwide fame, as this is the authentic home where Murano glass is made. Murano Glass is one of Venice’s most popular souvenirs, and to be sure you’re buying the real deal, you can get at The Museo del Vetro – Museum of Glass. The museum shows tourists how the process is done and afterward, you can purchase some of the goods if you like. There are even glass blowing classes available if you’d like to learn a bit of the art yourself.
- Hours: Murano island: Check vaporetto times for first and last landings as this changes frequently. Glass Museum: Summer April 1-October 31 10.30am-4.30pm, winter 10.30am-4pm.
- Cost: Vaporetto to island: €7.50 each way, or included in €20 24-hour ticket. Museum: €14, €11.50 children 6-14, students 15-25 and people over 65, under 6 years is free.
- It is easy to get there by vaporetto. Just hop on at San Zaccaria if you’re near St Mark’s Square, and also many other stops connect here.
- Tickets are €7.50 each way, or €20 for a 24-hour pass, which you can use to any other stop you like too.
- If you’re staying on the main island be sure to double check the times of the last vaporetto going back in the evening as they don’t run late, and stop earlier on Sundays and holidays.
The art of glass blowing is one of Venice’s signature crafts. It has been practiced in Venice since the thirteenth century, and in Murano in particular.
Like champagne in France, Murano glass should technically only be sold if it was created in a factory in Murano. There are many, many “fake” Murano pieces available around the world, and even in Venice itself to buy. Shops selling certified Murano glass will have certifications to proudly show you this.
- Hours: Original Glass factory 9.30am-4pm. multiple private tours available too at set times between 9am-5pm.
- Cost: €5, free for under 14s. Private tours prices vary.
A great day trip in Venice is to visit Burano and Murano together. Burano is known for its brightly colored houses belonging to local fishermen. Make sure to visit the Church of Saint Martin – Chiesa de San Martino – Beautiful churches to visit and there’s a leaning bell tower from the 1600s.
For something different on your visit to Venice, a trip to Burano is the lesser-known sister island to Murano. It is a stunning island to stroll around, admiring the facades of the building in one of the top ten most colorful towns in the world. The Burano specialty of Burano is lace making and no visit to Burano would be complete without visiting the Museo del Merletto which showcases lace-making in the area with exhibitions on how it has been made there for centuries.
- Hours: Burano island: Check vaporetto times for first and last landings as this changes frequently. Museum: Nov 1-Mar 31: 10.30am-4.30pm, April 1-Oct 31: 10.30am-5pm.
- Cost: Vaporetto to island: €7.50 each way, or included in €20 24-hour ticket. Museo del Merletto: €5, €3.50 for children 6-14, students 15-25, over 65s.
14. Isola di San Michele – The Cemetery Island
If you’ve been to Venice before and want to visit somewhere a little different than the usual tourist haunts, you can check out the Isola di San Michele – the cemetery island of Venice. This is located in the lagoon and has served as the cemetery since the early 1800s. It used to be two islands, which are now joined together. The island is occupied entirely by churches.
Isola di San Michele is dedicated to the dead with their remains interred in high tombs above ground. There are many famous people buried in San Michele such as Russian composer Igor Stravinsky, American Poet Ezra Pound and Austrian physicist Christian Doppler who invented his principle the Doppler effect. Please remember this is a cemetery that is used frequently by locals. Be quiet and respectful as there could be families there grieving and visiting their recently departed loved ones.
- Hours: Summer (April-September) 7.30am-6pm, winter (October-March) 7.30am-4.30pm. Chiesa di San Michele is open on weekday mornings.
- Cost: Free for the cemetery in general, €1 for the San Michele church. Vaporetto over to the island costs €7.50 each way or included in a 24-hour pass.
15. San Giorgio Maggiore
On our most recent trip to Italy, we took a private taxi water tour of Venice with Walks of Itay and it was an amazing way to see Venice. After leaving the Grand Canal, our tour ended with a stop at the island of San Giorgio Maggiore where we took an elevator to the top of the bell tower of the church of San Giorgio Maggiore.
Make sure to go here for the most jaw-dropping view of Venice. It’s the spot where postcards are made and as the bells rang, we looked out and admired our 360-degree view of all the islands surrounding the city.
16. Classical Concerts
Venice has always been a hub for the arts and still is wonderful place to experience live classical music concerts. The settings for the concerts can often be almost as impressive as the performance as concerts are held in some of Venice’s stunning theatres, old grand palazzos, music school halls, and churches.
Booking online before you go for the Palazzo and Scuola venues is wise as concerts often sell out, especially in summer. However, quite a few of the smaller churches around Venice that don’t have websites do have performances on regularly, so it’s worth keeping an eye out for these as you walk around. You can often find some gems of small authentic performances, which are usually also much lower prices. Or better yet, wander the streets of Venice and get lost while following the sound of music.
Teatro La Fenice
La Fenice Opera House is a grand opera house where you can catch a performance but even if you don’t have the time to watch a performance you should make sure to add Teator La Fenice to your Venice Itinerary. The famous Venice opera house has been rebuilt after burning to the ground in 1996.
This skip-the-line ticket lets you admire its sensational avant-garde design while avoiding the crowds. Choose an audio guide in 7 different languages, and explore the secrets of the memorable Teatro La Fenice theatre. Discover the history of the building from its origins to the present day. The most important premiers of international opera take place at the La Fenice, staging more than one hundred opera performances per year.
17. Wine or dine along Grand Canal
The Grand Canal is the largest canal that weaves through the main island of Venice. Many of Venice’s most prestigious hotels are located along its banks. There is a glut of restaurants all along the canal, many with price tags higher than the quality of food should allow.
However, right by the Rialto Bridge on the St Mark’s Square side, there are a handful of restaurants with very nice seafood, and reasonably price fixed price “tourist” menus, that actually have good food.
Another way to enjoy the Grand Canal is to simply sit with a coffee by day, or my favorite is to have an Aperol Spritz at the golden hour. This is a great place to watch the sunset as Venice changes from day to night.
18. Venetian Carnivale
The Venice Carnevale has been held for centuries, with it being the most popular carnival in the world in the eighteenth century. The Carnevale takes place in February every year for almost three weeks.
Throughout the festival, there are many grand balls, parties, and gatherings. Many locals spend all year preparing their costumes for it, carefully tending to centuries-old costumes passed down the generations.
Visitors can join in the revelry and can rent or wear locally bought outfits. Beware! jeans will be snorted at! If you’re in Venice while it is on, look up events, dress up and join in! You’ll feel like you’re back in the days of Casanova and the great Palazzos.
19. Venetian Masks
Venetian masks were invented in the city and have been used for centuries. Their principal purpose was to protect the wearer’s identity during promiscuous or decadent activities. They re-emerged as the emblem of the Venetian Carnevale. At a masked ball, servants could be mistaken for lords and vice versa, and people could say their opinions on any topic without fear of retribution.
Commedia dell Arte, and Carnivale masks are the Art of Comedy masks that represent trades, characters and ethnic traditions from around Italy dating back to the sixteenth century. Prices vary dramatically depending on quality with plastic factory-made ones starting at about €6, going up to hundreds of Euros for fancier pieces with more ornate designs and decoration. This would be my top pick of a Venetian souvenir to get.
- Hours: Stores and stalls selling masks generally 9am-9pm.
- Cost: From €6 up to hundreds depending on quality.
20. Venice Churches
Venice, like all cities in Italy, is full of beautiful churches. As you stroll around the city, you’ll come across many of them. My advice is to go into any you see that are open and explore. The strong influence of Roman Catholicism in Italy is prevalent within their walls seeing the sumptuous décor, windows, domes, and art around them. Even the smallest, most modest-looking church is intricate and enchanting.
Churches usually open from about 10am-sunset. Closed to visitors during services. I have listed some of the prettiest lesser-known churches in Venice to look out for below.
- Chiesa di San Zaccaria with its glowing altarpiece by Bellini
- Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni with its Carpaccio paintings
- Chiesa della Madonna dell’Orto with its Renaissance art and statue of the Madonna and Child
- Chiesa San Michele di Isola from 1469. It is the largest church and takes time to see.
- The adjoining Capella Emiliani
- The smaller church San Cristoforo is also charming.
21. Venice Italy Art Museums
If you have several days in Venice and are looking for other things to do in Venice, browsing the art museums is a wonderful way to pass some time or avoid crowds when the cruise ships are in. One of the most to-miss art museums in Venice is The Peggy Guggenheim Collection. It showcases European and American artists of the 20th century are the main show here, and The Peggy Guggenheim Collection is Venice’s most important modern art gallery. Opening hours: 10am-6pm daily except closed on Tuesdays.
22. Get Lost in the Streets
Venice if famous for the Grand Canal and smaller back canals, but the streets are just as impressive. The entire city is a walking city as no cars are allowed. Get lost in the streets while searching for shops and cathedrals. Search for street performers and Venetian Masks. Part of the fun of a visit to Venice is going off the beaten path.
While cruise ships and day tourists will stick near the Grand Canal, you can stay away from the crowds as you walk through the cobblestone streets.
So there are my top things to do in Venice! I hope you enjoyed them and that this helps you find a few more places and experiences to enjoy in the stunning city.
Venice is beguiling and beautiful. It’s light has charmed artists for centuries and I’m sure it will charm you too. To me, this quote about Venice by British poet and critic Arthur Symons sums it up perfectly:
“A realist, in Venice, would become a romantic by mere faithfulness to what he saw before him.”
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