Venice is an iconic jewel of a city. While Italian, it is so quintessentially unique that it’s possible to think of Venice as a country and a culture by itself. Its infamous style – of canals, gondolas, gelato and architecture – is familiar to us from films. It’s unsurprising that in a place where the streets are waterways and carnival is the way to party, that there are so many incredible things to do in Venice.
Venice is as insanely busy as it is beautiful, and getting to see all the Venice landmarks involves navigating tourist crowds in a way I’ve never quite experienced elsewhere. But I promise you that the Venice attractions and things to do make it 100% worth it.
So, for my guide on the best things to do in Venice, read on.
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1. The Grand Canal
Picture Venice in your mind and you’ll imagine the tiny canals wending their way through the buildings within touching distance of each other. However, you’ll also picture the huge wide open expanse of water that is the Grand Canal. Busy with lumbering water buses and zippy water taxis, the Grand Canal is buzzing with activity.
I recommend hiring your own water taxi and heading out onto the Grand Canal at night. It is the best way to soak up the unbeatable feeling of being in Venice. As you journey along the canal, see the sparkle of the lit up palaces and buildings along the banks.
2. St Mark’s Square
It’s impossible to visit Venice without finding yourself stretching your legs as you walk across St Mark’s Square, dodging the pigeons as much as your fellow tourists. It’s quite a place for atmosphere, and certainly a top photo stop.
Dig deep into your pockets for a once in a lifetime trip to Caffé Florian. It’s one of the top things to do in Venice, so you will be vying with the crowds, but you’ll kick yourself if you don’t do this just once.
Caffé Florian sits confidently in St Mark’s Square and is as one with the square as the Doge’s Palace. Sit out on the patio and know that you’re sharing space with celebrities from over the years. Avoid eating here, as you can get much better bang for your Venetian buck elsewhere. Opt for their hot chocolate in winter (and try to stand up your spoon) or gelato in summer.
For all other café experiences, I recommend you step away from St Mark’s. Amble down quieter streets and avoid the intensity of the crowds. You’ll find some exquisite and unique cafés, with a wonderful Venetian vibe.
3. Ponte di Rialto
It’s a tourist mecca, but it has to be experienced. Venice is awash with bridges (there are over 400 of them!). But the Rialto is of course one of the most renowned Venice landmarks. It tops the list of every guide of what to see in Venice. And it is simply stunning.
Over the bridge are a collection of shops and boutiques. You can of course enjoy these but if you want to, I recommend doing it later in the day when it’s slightly less manic. You’ll also get a sunset photo opportunity too.
Alternatively, see the Ponte di Rialto from a distance – from a gondola is perfect!
If you can, visit Venice during the Carnevale Festival, which happens every year in February. This Carnival is of course like no other, with countless masquerade parties and balls. Dating from the Renaissance times, expect a spectacle that will blow your mind.
Of course, at all times of the year, you can choose a stunning mask from many Venetian boutiques.
5. The Doge’s Palace
Framing St Mark’s Square, the Doge’s Palace is an impressive masterpiece of Gothic architecture. You’ll want to capture perfect Instagrammable shots of yourself under the arches of the façade.
However, do make time to go inside and be mesmerised by the impressive art on display, by icons such as Titian and Veronese. You’ll also marvel at the residential apartments as much as you’ll reflect on the austere prison cells.
6. Basilica di San Marco
While you’re in St Mark’s Square, you should also join the throngs to experience the Basilica di San Marco. Bridging East and West in its grand design, this 832 AD consecrated cathedral is awe-inspiring inside with its gold-coloured dome adorned with thirteenth century mosaics. Again, it is one of the must-do things to do in Venice, and you won’t regret jostling with the crowds here.
Bear in mind that this is a functioning place of worship, so do check times for visiting.
7. San Sebastiano
Another church which is in fact one of Venice’s most important tourist attractions is San Sebastiano. Less busy than San Marco, but impressive in its own way, inside you’ll also find works by Tiepolo. It’s a wonderful place for more quiet and less touristy reflection.
8. Burano and Murano Islands
There are a few places in Venice where the best things to do involve hopping on a vaporetto (or hiring your own water taxi) and going a little further to explore. One such trip that I highly recommend is a trip to the islands of Burano and Murano.
Your main reason for visiting Murano is for the remarkable and world-famous glass. If you’re looking for Venetian souvenirs beyond carnival masks then this is the place to be! Treat yourself to some murine – beautiful glass charms.
At Burano you won’t be able to stop taking photos of the fabulous colourful buildings. Many don’t realise that Burano is also important for its embroidery and lace, so expect more souvenir shopping here too!
9. Stay in a luxury hotel
I often highlight the accommodation as being a central part of your trip, however, in Venice, I urge you to go all out. There are few places where luxury hotels compete so splendidly with each other, and as such, you get to experience truly remarkable accommodation!
From arriving by water taxi directly onto red carpets, to ornate gold and plush fabric beds, Venetian hotel luxury is impressive. I’ve written a complete guide to the best luxury hotels in Venice, so that you can take your pick. One of my absolute favourites is The Gritti Palace.
The hotel stay should itself be one of the best things to do in Venice.
10. Peggy Guggenheim Collection
Head to the Dorsoduro district, step inside a partly finished palace, and enjoy walking the galleries of this private art collection. If you are taken by surrealist and abstract art, and enjoy the works of artists like Pollock, Picasso and Dali, then this museum is worth your attention.
11. Go to the beach
You don’t often associate Venice with a day at the beach, but it’s to be highly recommended! After the pavement pounding as you visit lots of different Venice landmarks and tourist attractions, you’ll be exhausted and need recharging.
There are lots of beaches within one hour travel of Venice. The Venice Lagoon is the opening to the Adriatic Sea and there are golden sand beaches to be found here, many with blue flags. Venice Lido is probably the easiest to reach.
12. Enjoy a Venetian bar
Many of the things to do in Venice involve so much busyness. I can’t express how important it is to take some time to simply enjoy Venice in the moment and soak up the atmosphere.
A perfect way to do this is to visit one of the best bars in Venice. From the luxurious and elegant Bar Longhi in The Gritti Palace hotel to watching the sunset from the Skyline Rooftop Bar, there are so many bars to enjoy. One of the best things to do in Venice is to order a cocktail and a delicious plate of food and just watch the world go by.
13. Teatro La Fenice
The Teatro La Fenice burned to the ground in 1996, but has been rebuilt and is as majestic as ever. Enjoying the opera here is impressive and immersive, and an experience that will leave a mark on your heart. The building is absolutely beautiful; add in a performance and you’ll be amazed.
Wander 15 minutes away from the hustle and bustle of St Mark’s Square to the quieter area of Castello for a wonderfully authentic Venetian feel. This is a fabulous place to enjoy a gelato or hop into a gondola for a magical journey on the canals. There are also some really lovely boutique shops here and tasty market offerings (possibly from a boat!).
You’ll also find Venice’s widest street here which will be a welcome change from the tight knit narrow streets you’ve become used to! You may even find yourself in a totally quiet square.
Castello is the largest of Venice’s sestieri (neighbourhoods). If you want, you can explore the Arsenale and Giardini Gardens or marvel at the Scuola di San Marco, located on Campo di Giovanni e Paolo.
15. Bridge of Sighs
You’re in Venice so you have to see the bridge of Sighs! Amongst the top things to do in Venice, the Bridge of Sighs will always feature highly for its wonderfully romantic character.
A small bridge (in Venetian terms), the Bridge of Sighs was used to transport criminals from the Doge’s Palace over to their impending imprisonment. The legend is that, casting their eye out from the bridge, they got one last look at the beauty of Venice, and would sigh!
Whatever the truth, you’ll want to cast your own eye over the bridge. To enhance your experience, you could take a gondola ride underneath it (be warned that this will cost much more than other gondola rides!).
16. Gallerie dell’Accademia
From the Grand Canal, find the Ponte dell’Accademia, and you’ll find the wonderful museum the Gallerie dell’Accademia. This is a fantastic Venetian museum if you love pre-19th century art. Expect to find works by artists such as Titian, Bellini and Canaletto. The most famous piece is the Vitruvian Man, by Da Vinci – that’s the iconic sketch-like drawing showing the ideal proportions of man!
Another of Venice’s sestieri is Cannaregio, the Jewish District. This former ghetto was established in 1516 and there remains a strong Jewish population here today. Expect to see this reflected in the bakery treats as well as the culture and history that threads through the area.
While in Cannaregio, make sure that you visit the Chiesa di Santa Maria Assunta. The church, also known as I Gesuiti, has an intricately detailed façade with a domineering bronze door hiding a surprisingly interesting interior.
18. Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute
Not quite as famous as St Mark’s, but one of the top Venice landmarks nonetheless, is the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute. It’s on the other side of the Grand Canal to St Mark’s and stands proudly with its Baroque design complete with four statues of the apostles and its classic dome.
19. Torcello Island
If the crowds of Venice have got too much for you then I highly recommend a jaunt to Torcello Island.
Torcello Island offers a peaceful retreat from the centre of Venice. It sits behind Burano, and it’s easy to get to by ferry, taking about 45 minutes.
What you will experience here is a slice of solitude and peace with the iconic Venetian characteristics of canals, lovely architecture, shops and restaurants.
20. T Fondaco Dei Tedeschi
You may not have expected me to recommend visiting a DFS department store when visiting Venice. But this DFS is like no other, and has been described as the Harrods of Venice. Yes, there are luxury shopping opportunities, but the best part is the roof of this department store. Stand in amazement at one of the best views of the city.
There are so many things to do in Venice that it’s difficult to narrow it down to just this list. Make sure you book a long enough trip and always plan to come back again!
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