Top 10 things to see and do in Venice

Venice is one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations thanks to its splendid architecture and artwork, unique canal system, but above all, thanks to its romantic legends.

Venice docks near St. Mark's square

The entire city, along with its lagoon is listed as World Heritage site.

The city sits on a group of 118 small islands separated by canals and linked by bridges, in a lagoon of the Adriatic sea in the Veneto region in northern Italy. It is connected to mainland Italy by a road and railway bridge.

Since the city is slowly sinking due to climate change and rise of the sea levels, I’d strongly recommend you visit it in the next couple of years.

Have in mind though, that as any other popular place, it can get overcrowded and overpriced.

Venice is divided into neighbourhoods called sestieri: San Marco, San Polo, Castello, Dorsoduro, Santa Croce and Cannaregio. The neighboring island of Giudecca is part of Dorsoduro.

Fun fact: Venice has been known as “La Dominante”, “Serenissima”, “Queen of the Adriatic”, “City of Water”, “City of Masks”, “City of Bridges”, “The Floating City”, and “City of Canals”.

Here’s our list of things you should see and do in Venice.

1. Explore St Mark’s square

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St Mark’s square is the first stop for travellers that come by cruisers or ferries from neighbouring resorts. The magnificent square is surrounded by monumental structures like St Mark’s cathedral with it’s world famous bell tower, the clock tower or Orologio and Doge’s palace (Palazzo Ducale). It has been the central square of the city for centuries.

If you can, it might be a good idea to find and book an entry to the campanile (bell tower) for breathtaking panoramic views of Venice.

Fun task: try finding the statue of the tetrarchs and learn more about them here.

2. Take a tour of Palazzo Ducale

Doge's palace - Palazzo Ducale in Venice

This masterpiece of Venetian Gothic architecture was built in 1340 as the palace of the doges, the supreme rulers of the Venetian republic, which once controlled most of the Adriatic coast. In 1923, the Doge’s palace was converted to a museum, and is today one of the top attractions in the lagoon city.

Learn more about Doge’s palace on Wikipedia

3. Bridge of sighs

The famous Bridge of sighs (Ponte dei sospiri) connects the Doge’s palace with the new dungeons. As the prisoners, most of them sentenced to death, walked over the bridge, they could see the beautiful city through the tiny windows of the bridge for the last time, and they sighed, and that’s how the bridge got it’s name. The bridge was designed by Antonio Contino, nephew of the architect of the Rialto bridge, and was built in 1600.

4. Grand canal

Grand canal in Venice

The Grand canal meanders through the centre of Venice, splitting the city core into two. Four beautiful bridges adorn the 3.8 km long and 30 to 90 meters wide canal. The oldest and most famous bridge is Ponte di Rialto, described below.

This canal is the main transportation artery of Venice. Public transport is provided by water buses (vaporetti) and private water taxis, and many tourists explore the canal by gondola, as mentioned below.

5. Ponte di Rialto

Ponte di Rialto - Venice's most famous bridge

Ponte di Rialto is the oldest and most beautiful bridge spanning the Grand Canal. This icon of Venice was built in 1591, succeeding a wooden bridge of similar design. It is a covered arch bridge 28 meters long. The bridge is lined with rows of shops spanning on each side of the central portico.

6. Santa Maria della Salute

IMG_5095The magnificent white marble church, sometimes called simply Salute, towers over the city at the end of Grand Canal, near St. Marks Square.

Santa Maria della Salute was buit in 1631. In 1630, Venice experienced an unusually devastating outbreak of the plague. As a votive offering for the city’s deliverance from the pestilence, the Republic of Venice vowed to build and dedicate a church to Our Lady of Health.

Most of the objects of art housed in the church bear references to the Black Death.

It’s baroque splendour has inspired countless artists like Canaletto, J. M. W. Turner, John Singer Sargent, Laza Kostić and Francesco Guardi.

7. Take a gondola tour

Gondolas in Venice canalThe gondolas are one of the most iconic symbols of Venice and a ride can be very romantic. Taking a gondola ride is one of the most recommended experiences in the canal city. However, having in mind the following advice could prevent you from serious disappointment.

  • Since riding a gondola can be very expensive, it might be a good idea to share a ride with a couple more people. It is also worth knowing that some gondoliers are willing to negotiate and lower the price a bit.
  • Also be advised that because of the odours of the canals in summer, the ride can be less romantic than you’d expect.

8. Find the house of Casanova

The world’s most famous lover lived (and loved) in Venice. The house where he allegedly lived is located in the very heart of the city. While enjoying a gondola ride, the gondolieri will try to tell you about the house. Giacomo Casanova was born, in 1725, in a building adjacent to Palazzo Malipiero. From 1740 onwards, he lived in the Palazzo and became a confidant of Senator Alvise II Gasparo Malipiero.

9. Enjoy world-class art in Guggenheim museum and La Fenice opera house

The Peggy Guggenheim Collection is a modern art museum on the Grand Canal in the Dorsoduro district. It is one of the most visited attractions in Venice. The collection is housed in the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, an 18th-century palace, which was the home of the American heiress Peggy Guggenheim for three decades. It includes works of prominent Italian futurists and American modernists working in such genres as Cubism, Surrealism and Abstract expressionism. It also includes sculptural works.

In the 19th century, La Fenice became the site of many famous operatic premieres,among others the work of  some of the biggest names – Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti, and Verdi. Its name reflects its turbulent history and “rising from the ashes” after losing three theatres to fire since the late 18th century.

10. Get a Venetian mask

Venetian masks

Masks have always been an important feature of the worldwide famous Venetian carnival. Maskmakers (mascherari) enjoyed a special position in society, with their own laws and their own guild. Venetian masks can be made of leather, porcelain or using the original glass technique. The original masks were rather simple in design, decoration, and often had a symbolic and practical function. Nowadays, most Italian masks are made with the application of gesso and gold leaf and are hand-painted using natural feathers and gems to decorate.

Bonus: Visit the neighbouring islands Murano and Burano for a less touristy take on Venice. Murano is famous for it’s traditional glass manufacture. Burano, with it’s colourful houses, attracts artists from all around the world.

Tip: Most guides might highly recommend you to try a gelato, but from my experience, it’s just your everyday ice cream with a fancy-sounding name and overpriced.