The best things to do and see in Venice, Italy

Venice, the city of bridges, gondolas and canals, is bursting with art, museums, squares and along the Grand Canal one basilica after another. There alone should be about 200 palazzi. One searches in vain for hidden places in Venice, as somehow everybody knows everything. In any case, it is certain that the lagoon city in northern Italy is nevertheless worth a trip – by the way, also for families.

In this article we introduce you to the most beautiful sights in Venice with travel tips and our very personal recommendations and favourite places here.

A few general facts about Venice

Venice is worth a visit in spite of the great rush and has an infinite number of prominent and lesser known jewels to offer. Our highlights will be revealed in this article. By the way, three days on site is ideal, which can be combined perfectly with the vaporetto ticket. Vaporettos are water buses that are used as public transport in Venice and the Venice lagoon. We always stay a little longer on city trips, plan time for the surroundings and the arrival and departure.

The water bus, known as the vaporetto (steamship), is the typical means of transport in Venice, allowing you to get from one place to another within the city and to the islands in the lagoon
The water bus, known as the vaporetto (steamship), is the typical means of transport in Venice, allowing you to get from one place to another within the city and to the islands in the lagoon

By the way, many sights of Venice are located along the almost four kilometres long Canal Grande that meanders through Venice in an S-shaped way and can be seen, for example, with the vaporetto line 1 from the water. Over four bridges, you can also cross the canal on foot and have a look at the turbulent water traffic. An alternative to the vaporetto, public transport, is the expensive ride in a gondola for which Venice is famous for.

Fortunately, we cannot confirm the rumor that it stinks in Venice. One thing is clear: When the water level is low, algae come to the surface, which is not necessarily different at low tide on the beach. The sea and its organisms have their own smell, but that is probably what a lagoon city brings with it. However, we never found it unpleasant for a second.

Some sightseeings in Venice should be visited very early in the morning if one wants to look around undisturbed and take pictures
Some sights in Venice should be visited very early in the morning if one wants to look around undisturbed and take pictures

For sightseeing in Venice, it is recommended to visit some places before breakfast or at least immediately afterwards. In case you happen to be in Venice for the weekend and then on the first Sunday of the month, you’ll be lucky. As part of the ‚Domenica al Museo‘, admission to some state museums and sites is free.

Our Highlights in Venice

Doge’s Palace or Palazzo Ducale

The Doge's Palace in San Marco, one of the most beautiful sights of Venice
The Doge’s Palace in San Marco, one of the most beautiful sights of Venice

The over 1000 years old Doge’s Palace in its full width is best seen from the Canal Grande. It is one of the most important gothic buildings and today a museum as well as one of the most famous sightseeings in Venice.

There is always a long line of people in front of the entrance, so it can be quite challenging to photograph from the outside. But inside and in the courtyard are plenty of possibilities to take some nice snapshots.

To avoid waiting on site, you can buy your ticket in advance. In the palace, an audio guide will show you the way or you can book a personal guided tour.

St. Mark’s Square or Piazza Di San Marco in Venice

Venice sightseeing - St. Mark's Square is regularly totally overcrowded
Venice sightseeing – St. Mark’s Square is regularly totally overcrowded

Stroll over Venice’s largest square with its winged St. Mark’s lion and let the surrounding buildings of the Procuratie, which enclose the square together with St. Mark’s Cathedral, have an effect on you. In any case, this is part of a visit to the gondola city.

The square is probably the most visited photo spot in Venice. However, it’s still possible to have the piazza almost entirely to yourself if you head there for 7am. The best way to visit St. Mark’s Square is to visit it together with Palazzo Ducale and in any case plan a visit to the Doge’s Palace.

Are you in Venice in bad weather? No problem. The then flooded Piazza San Marco can still be entered via footbridges. Among many other tourists you will probably meet many pigeons here, but feeding is strictly forbidden.

St. Mark’s Basilica or Basilica di San Marco

St. Mark's Basilica in Venice - queue up for the most famous sight
St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice – queue up for the most famous sight

The world-famous Basilica of San Marco with its five domes is probably the most famous landmark and the most important church in the lagoon city of Venice. The present church was built at the end of the 11th century. Before that, another church stood on this spot, which was destroyed by a great fire in 976 AD. During the great fire the Doge’s Palace and 200 other buildings in the centre of the city were largely destroyed. Here comes the hint again to be there very early.

Bridge of Sighs or Ponte dei Suspiri

The Bridge of Sighs at the Doge's Palace - the most beautiful sights of Venice
The Bridge of Sighs at the Doge’s Palace – the most beautiful sights of Venice

The Bridge of Sighs connects Palazzo Ducale with Prigioni Nuove, the new prison. For us it is one of the most beautiful bridges in Venice.

The convicts were led from the Doge’s Palace over this bridge to the prison. So that the prisoners could not flee or jump off the bridge, the side parapets were bricked up to the ceiling. The bridge got its name after the legend, because the prisoners sighed after the light when entering the bridge, which they will not see again for a long time.

The bridge ist also best photographed in the early morning. You should head there from the Piazza Di San Marco, they are pretty much the same location.

St. Mark’s Waterfront or Riva degli Schiavoni

Venice’s most famous waterfront, located right behind St. Mark’s Suqare. It stretches from Piazza San Marco eastwards to the Giardini pubblici. Five canals break through the Riva from the north. They are spanned by as many bridges. Even by Venetian standards, these bridges are quite high (up to 40 steps), so that the boats can cross under the bridges at any time, even when the water level is high.

Even though the Riva can get very hot in summer, in winter it offers a place always warmed by the sun, which is considerably warmer than the adjacent alleys. This is one of the reasons why it has long been the most important promenade in the city. Come early in the morning for a peaceful scene or when it’s dark for a romantic moonlight walk.

Rialto Bridge or Ponte di Rialto

Once with the gondola over the Canal Grande: Many tourists are taken in a gondola through the Rialto bridge
Once with the gondola over the Canal Grande: Many tourists are taken in a gondola through the Rialto bridge

The steps run over the Rialto bridge and in the middle enjoy the view to the Canal Grande, early in the morning almost alone and later in the day in good company of like-minded tourists. Just wow. The world-famous bridge connects the two Sistieri San Marco and San Polo and is without a doubt one of the most famous sightseeings in Venice.

One of the busiest spots in Venice, so if you’re hoping for a photo in front of an empty bridge… I hope you don’t need much sleep. Or you get creative and get a shot from a gondola nearby.

Cannaregio and the Jewish Ghetto

A walk through Cannaregio and the Jewish Ghetto will give you the feeling of local life.
A walk through Cannaregio and the Jewish Ghetto will give you the feeling of local life, Image source: flickr

A walk through Cannaregio and the Jewish Ghetto is also one of the sights of Venice that we recommend when visiting the city. The district is the most densely populated in the lagoon city, where today many Venetians live.

Cannaregio offers a wonderful contrast to Venice, which is otherwise dominated by tourism. When shopping, you don’t get the feeling of being crushed by penetrating souvenir shops and with a coffee or snack in one of the many cafés and restaurants, you usually have Italians sitting next to you and get a little bit of the feeling of ‚local life‘.

Grand Canal or Canal Grande

The Canal Grande separates the citra (on this side) districts of Venice "San Marco", "Cannaregio" and "Castello" from the ultra (on the other side) districts "Dorsoduro", "San Polo" and "Santa Croce" on the right side of the Canal.
The Canal Grande separates the citra (on this side) districts of Venice „San Marco“, „Cannaregio“ and „Castello“ from the ultra (on the other side) districts „Dorsoduro“, „San Polo“ and „Santa Croce“ on the right side of the Canal.

The Canal Grande is an almost four kilometre long, between 30 and 70 metres wide and up to five metres deep main waterway in the lagoon city of Venice.

No one should leave Venice without a photo from the Canale Grande. For this one you don’t have to get up early. The more gondolas the better.

Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute in Venice

The Santa Maria della Salute - Venice
The Santa Maria della Salute – Venice

This pretty church stands on the Bacino di San Marco opposite the Doge’s Palace on the other side of the Grand Canal and in 1921 received the honorary title of a papal basilica minor. You can walk there along the Fondamente della Zattere to Punta della Dogana.

From here, you once again have an ingenious view to one of the most famous sights of Venice: the Doge’s Palace. In Dorsoduro, with the gallery dell’Accademia, there is also Venice’s biggest art collection. The Peggy Guggenheim collection is also worth a visit. And on the Campo Santa Margherita you can find one or another good restaurant.

It is quite hard to find a great photo spot to take a good picture in front of the Basilica because the Canal Grande is lined with hotels and restaurants. So try it from one of the ferry terminals instead!

Scala Contarini del Bovolo

If there are still insider tips in Venice, then it is the Contarini Scala del Bovolo
If there are still insider tips in Venice, then it is the Contarini Scala del Bovolo, Image source: flickr

Going down this beautiful spiral staircase is a bit expensive with a price of seven euros. But from the very top you have a nice view over the surrounding roofs. The Scala Contarini del Bovolo, that is somewhat hidden in the street labyrinth of Venice and that is not quite easy to find, is the only little place that we can almost call an insider tip of the sightseeings in Venice.

Burano

Always worth an excursion: Burano with its colorful houses in the lagoon of Venice
Always worth an excursion: Burano with its colorful houses in the lagoon of Venice

The colourful buildings in Venice’s lagoon are one of the most beautiful places for us. Legend has it that the colourful houses owe their colour to the disoriented fishermen who, on their return in the fog, often did not find their own domicile.

But it is quite painful to get to Burano because it is only accessible by ferry with a stop in Murano, or private boat tour.

Murano

The world famous Murano glass comes from Venice and with a little luck you can watch the glassmakers at work.
The world famous Murano glass comes from Venice and with a little luck you can watch the glassmakers at work

If you make a stop here on your way to Burano anyway, why not take a look at Murano? The island is originally known for glass blowing and it is full of quaint art galleries. Walking along the canals of Murano you should look out for a traditional glassblowing workshop. Make sure you leave Venice early to spend some time here.

Now it’s your turn: What are your favourite restaurants, sights or activities in and around Venice? Leave them in the comments!


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