Venice is an enchanting city with a rich history and an abundance of historical sites. If you’re limited on time while visiting the floating city, it can be difficult to decide what to see and do. That’s why we’ve compiled a list of the 20 best things to do in Venice, Italy, to help you make the most out of your vacation.
When you think of Venice and how you want to spend your time in the floating city best, chances are high that gondola rides come to mind. Whether you’re taking a romantic ride through the city with that special someone or catching a glimpse of the beautiful city from a unique angle — gondola rides are practically synonymous with Venice.
The city of Venice has canals running seemingly everywhere through town. You can take a gondola ride on the Grand Canal (Canale Grande) or one of the many smaller canals and channels through less traveled areas of the city. No matter where you go, be sure you experience an authentic gondola ride while you’re in Venice!
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St. Mark’s Basilica
Situated in the popular St. Mark’s Square, more on that later is St. Mark’s Basilica. St. Mark Evangelist is the patron saint of Venice, and the cathedral bearing his name is the city’s most famous church — if not the most famous landmark in Venice overall — so it’s something that you will definitely want to spend time checking out while you’re in town.
Like the other massive cathedrals in major Italian cities, Venice’s St. Mark’s Basilica features incredible architecture and extravagant decorations to see on a guided tour. While exploring the cathedral, you’ll see thousand-year-old designs and decorations all around, including mosaics made of gold-leaf and beautiful architectural feats. You’ll also get unobstructed views of St. Mark’s Square below, views that you don’t want to miss out on — and it’s free to tour!
Campanile di San Marco
Also known as St. Mark’s Campanile, this is one of Venice’s most famous structures and is also situated in the popular St. Mark’s Square like the aforementioned cathedral. This landmark is a bell tower that reaches over 300-feet up into the Venetian sky, affording visitors brave enough to take the elevator to the top of the tower, some of the most amazing views of the city imaginable.
With its vast height and unobstructed views of the skies around it, one of the most famous scientists of all time used the Campanile di San Marco as an observatory over 400 years ago — Galileo. So not only is visiting this bell tower perfect for those who want unforgettable views of Venice, but it’s also a must-see for anyone fascinated by the history of space and science.
As alluded to earlier, Canale Grande (or the Grand Canal) is one of the many canals that you can take a gondola ride through for a Venetian experience like no other. But the Grand Canal is not just any old canal in Venice, it is the canal in Venice.
Knifing through the most important areas of the city, the Grand Canal was a major hub of activity during Venice’s days as the center of maritime activity. You don’t have to travel by gondola either, with private boats, water taxis, and more also being exciting ways to travel the waterway.
Lining the canal are some of the most beautiful, famous, and historically important buildings in the city, so it’s worth traveling just to check them all out. A number of these buildings are only accessible by water, so you’ll be forced to explore the Grand Canal to be able to access some popular places along the route. And you won’t regret it one bit!
St. Mark’s Square
Also commonly referred to as Piazza San Marco, St. Mark’s Square is an absolute must for anyone who is visiting Venice. It is the most popular public square of Venice and houses a number of other landmarks that you’ll find on this list of must-do’s and must-sees while you’re on your trip. It is a beautiful sight to see on a guided walking tour.
While checking out St. Mark’s Square, you’ll see the aforementioned St. Mark’s Basilica, Doges’ Palace, the Clock Tower, the Bell Tower, and more. St. Mark’s Square is the central hub of the city where Venetian residents and tourists alike choose to spend much of their free time, so it’s something you don’t want to skip out on while you’re in town.
Vaporetto & Water Taxis
Although gondola rides through the city are certainly a must when you’re visiting Venice, they aren’t the only way to explore the floating city and its many waterways. Some other popular forms of transportation that you should check out while you’re in Venice include the famous Vaporetto water bus and the many water taxis available.
The Vaporetto is a form of Venetian public transportation that currently serves 19 different lines that travel to different areas of Venice as well as surrounding islands including Murano and Lido. The water taxis are much smaller vessels but serve largely the same purpose — easily transporting you to Venice’s different regions.
No matter how you choose to travel through the many Venetian canals, it’ll be an unforgettable and unique experience each ride you take!
Teatro La Fenice
For any fans of beautiful architecture, opera, or theater houses, checking out the Teatro La Fenice while you’re in Venice is a must. The incredible opera house has been destroyed on two separate occasions by two different fires and then subsequently rebuilt. Through this destruction in fire and rebuilding, the opera house has gained the nickname “The Phoenix” to many English-speaking visitors.
Like many other buildings in the city, Teatro La Fenice is built with extravagance and lavish decorations in mind. On the inside, you’ll find gold in-laid all over the place, with private seating and large stone architecture throughout. If you’re in town while an opera or a play is going on, be sure to buy a ticket and catch the show! It’s an experience you’ll never forget.
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Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute
During the height of the bubonic plague, commonly known as the Black Plague, Venice was throttled with nearly 100,000 deaths due to the plague. As the surviving residents believed that the Virgin Mary protected the people of Venice from a much worse fate, they built the Basilica si Santa Maria della Salute in her honor.
While not the popular place to visit that St. Mark’s Basilica is, this cathedral is still more than worth a visit while you’re in Venice. Built many centuries later, it is constructed in a completely different style than the older cathedrals in the city and is worth checking out.
It’s also easy to tie into a few of the other activities on this list since it is situated near the entrance to Canale Grande, and there are Vaporetto and water taxi stops close by. So take a break from your canal adventures and spend some time exploring this amazing building!
Crypt of San Zaccaria
The Crypt of San Zaccaria is built underneath one of the major churches in Venice, San Zaccaria. While the church itself is certainly something to look at and might warrant a visit on its own, the crypt below is something to truly marvel at. Whether you’re a fan of amazing architecture and engineering or if you like the somewhat creepy vibe that you’ll inevitably get from being in a tomb, this is a must-do while you’re in town.
The crypt is a massive space underground that is seemingly perpetually flooded with inches of water on the floor at nearly all times surrounding the tombs of early Venetian religious and political figures. The crypt structure includes massive stone columns and ceilings much higher than you would expect to find underground. It’s truly a unique sight to see that you won’t want to miss.
Church of Santa Maria Assunta
As with many of the famous Italian cities, churches and cathedrals are all over the place and feature some of the most incredible design and architecture you will see. So here’s another amazing church to spend some time checking out while you’re in Venice, the Church of Santa Maria Assunta.
Although it is a relatively newer church within Venice (circa 1729) compared to many of the ancient ones, the Church of Santa Maria Assunta still has much of the same elaborate decorations and design that you’ll see in other churches in the city.
Within the building, you’ll find the typical gold decorations all over the place, signaling the lavish design of the city. The front of the church has amazing architecture as expected, including massive stone columns, huge openings, and amazing stone sculptures all over the place.
Situated in Venice’s Cannaregio region on Torcello Island, it’s worth checking out if you’re in the area or if you want to explore the different regions of Venice!
Another one of the incredible structures that sits within St. Mark’s Square along with many of the others you’ve read about is the Doges’ Palace, which is oriented to overlook the Canale Grande. This incredible structure is the palace of the Doges, who are some of the most important religious and political figures of Venetian history.
Like other structures in Venice, and especially in St. Mark’s Square, Doges’ Palace is built with incredible architecture in mind and is also one of the most ornate buildings in the Square.
Both inside and outside the building, you’ll find massive stone structures, diamond patterns, and gold in-lay everywhere you look. Doges’ Palace is worth spending time both inside and out so that you can experience the true beauty of the whole building. You can book a Doges’ Palace tour here.
If you’re interested in venturing outside the typical city limits of Venice, you might want to check out some of the neighboring islands of the Venetian district, including Murano. Murano is sometimes thought of as a smaller version of Venice, as it’s composed of a number of smaller islands that are connected together through canals and bridges.
While visiting Murano, you’ll likely be able to avoid some of the bigger crowds that you’ll see in the popular areas of Venice while you explore the area. On Murano, you’ll want to spend time checking out live glass blowing demonstrations as well as seeing a few of the major landmarks on the island, such as the Basilica dei Santa Maria and the Palazzo Da Mula.
For visitors to Venice who love all things art from the Renaissance period, visiting the Gallerie Dell’Accademia is an absolute must-do. Replacing an old convent in the late 1700s, the museum houses some of the most iconic pieces of art, sculptures, and more from the Renaissance.
In the Gallerie Dell’Accademia, you’ll find work by artists including Titian, Canaletto, Bellini, and even the great Da Vinci. Speaking of Da Vinci’s work, you’ll be able to spend some time checking out his famous work the Vitruvian Man, which is one of his masterpieces that is supposed to show the ideal proportions of a man. There are plenty of other incredible pieces of art in the museum as well, so it’s definitely a place you’ll want to check out.
Scala Cantarini del Bovolo
After you spend some time looking at and crossing the Ponte di Rialto, more on that later, take a few minutes to explore the San Marco district. One of Venice’s best attractions that few tourists really know about is the Scala Cantarini del Bovolo, a spiral staircase getting its namesake from its resemblance to the shell of a snail.
An iconic example of the art that we all know and love from the Renaissance timeframe, the palace was built in the 1400s and is part of the palace once lived in by the Contarini family. Once you ascend the incredible staircase to the top, you’ll be able to go out on the viewing area and get a one of a kind panoramic view of Venice all around you. This is the type of view you won’t get anywhere else and you definitely don’t want to miss.
San Giorgio Maggiore
The name of both an island and the famous church that sits on it, San Giorgio Maggiore is a place you want to add to your Venice itinerary and a place to tour without a doubt. The island is one of the many that surround Venice and affords you the ability to escape the crowds of the city and explore a different area than many tourists will on their trip.
The church of the same name as the island is a Benedictine Church that has much of the same elaborate and lavish design that you will see all over Venice. In addition to the typical Venetian beauty of the church, an amazing white marble bell tower rises above the rest of the church and offers views of the island and Venice in general that you won’t get anywhere else. A simple elevator ride to the top will give you unobstructed views of everything around you and will be an experience you’ll never forget.
Ponte dei Pugni
Translated as the Bridge of Fists or Bridge of Punches and commonly referred to as the Fight Club Bridge, Ponte dei Pugni is a site rich with history that you don’t want to miss. In the history of Venice, fistfights were popular on this bridge between various regions of the city.
Although Venice’s authorities did not exactly support them, they were popular for residents to watch, and they were also a somewhat more humane way to handle disputes than other options of the times.
The Ponte dei Pugni has four white marble footprints within its path, which is said to be the locations that the fighters would stand before the fisticuffs began, something you won’t be able to find anywhere else you travel. Just off the bridge, you’ll also find La Barca, a famous family-owned vegetable market that you must try out when you’re in the area.
One of the best ways to escape the crowded and tourist-packed areas of Venice is to take a ferry to one of the many nearby islands in the Venetian district. One such island is Torcello, sitting towards the eastern end of Venice. The island offers a much quieter and more laid back atmosphere than what you’ll find within the city limits and is worth taking some time out of your Venice trip to see.
Once on the island, you’ll be surrounded by a combination of amazing Italian architecture, the beautiful landscapes of the countryside, and more incredible canals to ride through or stroll along. As you go down the main canal on Torcello, you’ll eventually come upon the aforementioned Church of Santa Maria Assunta mentioned above. So visiting Torcello is a great way to knock out a couple of the must do’s here on this list!
Bridge of Sighs
While you’re spending time at the Doges’ Palace you read about above, add the Bridge of Sighs into your itinerary for the day. This famous bridge connects the Doges’ Palace to the accompanying dungeons, where prisoners were taken to spend the rest of their lives. The noises that prisoners would typically make as they took their last sorrowful look through the bridge’s windows at the outside world is how the bridge eventually got its name.
While the bridge’s namesake isn’t exactly full of joy and bliss, there’s some much happier lore behind it that may attract visitors to the bridge. If two people kiss while on a gondola ride underneath the bridge, it is believed that they will enjoy eternal happiness together. No matter which story interests you more, the deep history and incredible architecture that the Bridge of Sighs has to offer make it one place that you don’t want to miss while in Venice.
While visiting the city of Venice is certainly exciting and there are a plethora of things to do, sometimes you want to escape the hustle and bustle of the city and just relax. If that sounds like you, you might want to visit another one of the islands nearby Venice: Lido. Situated in between Venice and the gorgeous Adriatic Sea, Lido houses one of the best stretches of pristine beach in the area.
While visiting Lido, you’ll have plenty of options all around you when it comes to shops, cafes, restaurants, and lodging. You can reach Lido via the aforementioned Vaporetto, so it’s a great way to combine taking the waterbus through the Grand Canal and also spending a day relaxing on the beautiful beach that Lido has to offer.
Ponte di Rialto
Of all the bridges that span the Grand Canal in Venice, the Ponte di Rialto is the most well-known and by far the most popular one. Its popularity stems from both its usefulness as well as the beauty that tourists just can’t resist. The Ponte di Rialto connects pedestrians from the Sam Marco and San Polo districts, making it a popular walkway without even accounting for all the tourists coming to see the bridge.
The original Ponte di Rialto was actually built of wood and serviced the residents of Venice until the early 1500s, when it failed and collapsed. After this, the great stone bridge that we all know and love was built in its place. The amazing stone details and symmetrical architecture spanning the Grand Canal is one of the most beautiful bridges you’ll ever see where you can enjoy a gondola ride experience, so be sure to check it out!