Buongiorno – it’s Clair!
Venice is my favorite city in Italy. I’ve been traveling to Venice for years, both on my own and accompanying visitors from other countries. It always amazes me that there’s something new to see and some new corner to discover each time I visit.
Last year, I was lucky enough – just after lockdown when Italy finally opened up – to stand alone in a completely empty St. Mark’s Square.
Venice is a wonder, conjured from an impossible dream and, in the words of Marcel Proust, “When I went to Venice, I discovered that my dream had become – incredibly, but quite simply – my address.”
Read on for my list of the best things to do in Venice!
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Visit St. Mark’s Square (Piazza San Marco)
There’s no other square like it in the world! Napoleon called it “the world’s most beautiful drawing room”. Three sides are surrounded by the amazing architecture of public buildings, museums, and cafés, while the fourth is, of course, home to St. Mark’s Basilica.
Everyone heads to St. Mark’s, but in terms of views there’s nothing like it, and all this beauty is completely free.
Good To Know: If you’re an early riser you’ll catch it in a fantastic moment! Try to go first thing in the morning or later in the evening.
Good To Know: There’s no more ‘feeding the pigeons’. They’re pests and they’ve been banned. In fact, it’s a constant battle to keep them away.
Visit St. Mark’s Basilica (Basilica di San Marco)
This incredible Byzantine wonder from 1063 dominates St. Mark’s Square. Its façade and golden mosaics are spectacular.
The Basilica is free but you may find yourself waiting in long lines under the hot sun to enter, so it can be worth paying a little extra for a ‘skip the line ticket.’ The four horses (quadriga) on the façade are only copies – if you want to see the real bronze horses placed on the top of the Basilica after the sack of Constantinople, you can pay a few euros extra to see them in the museum upstairs.
If you do visit the museum in the upper part of the Basilica, the views from the terrace over St. Mark’s Square are great.
Good to Know: You’ll need to dress respectfully – no spaghetti string straps or short shorts! You can’t come in with bulky bags or luggage but there is bag storage just a few meters away in Piazetta Leoncini.
Take a Gondola Ride
It’s one of those iconic tourist experiences that might look cheesy, but it’s one hundred percent worth it. It might be a little costly if there are only two of you but gondolas can take up to 6 people so it actually works out pretty reasonable if you’re a larger group (or you can find some people who want to share with you!)
You’ll head away from the crowds and see Venice as it’s meant to be seen, from the water and in complete tranquility and peace. There’s nothing like it!
Good To Know: Gondola rides cost €80 per half hour. If the gondoliere is in the mood, he might give you some tourist info. He probably won’t, however, break into “O Sole Mio.”
Good To Know: You can contact gondola companies to organize special services like musicians or a glass of champagne for a wedding proposal. The last time I was in Venice I saw just that (the proposal and even the engagement ring!) from a neighboring gondola, which was a pretty special moment.
Take a ‘Local’ Gondola Ride
Did you know there’s a way to cross the Grand Canal by gondola for only €2? If you are short on time or finding it hard to walk around Venice, there are six gondola ferry points that cross the Grand Canal in a couple of minutes.
Good to Know: Locals often stand up, but gondolieri usually make non-locals sit for safety. These trips really are handy for locals, so try to only use them when you’re in need, rushing for the train, or at quiet times.
Ride the Vaporetto Down the Grand Canal
Another way to be on the water and get some incredible views cheaply is to ride the public boat line no. 1 all the way from the Venice train station to down the Grand Canal. You’ll see gorgeous Venetian palaces on both sides and pass under the Rialto bridge. It stops near St. Mark’s (San Zaccaria stop) and goes all the way to the Venice Lido.
Good to Know: The public boat can get extremely busy during peak times. If you’re going to be taking boats a lot or are staying in Venice over several days, it might be worth purchasing combined tickets to save money on transport.
Visit the Doge’s Palace (Palazzo Ducale)
The Doge was Venice’s ruler and his Palace was the seat of civic power for La Serenissima (the Serene Venetian Maritime Republic). This Gothic masterpiece contains enormous staterooms, paintings by Venetian masters like Tintoretto and Titian, and the famous ‘Bridge of Sighs.’
The limestone ‘Bridge of Sighs,’ with windows and stone bars, passes over the Rio di Palazzo canal and connects the prison to the interrogation room in the Doge’s palace. It is supposedly named because prisoners would sigh as they caught their last glimpse of beautiful Venice before being taken to their cells.
Good to Know: The museum offers guided tours to discover secret itineraries and the Doge’s hidden treasures.
Visit the Rialto Market
The fishy treasures of the Venice Lagoon are on display here five days a week. The fish market, which has been held since Medieval times, still takes place in an open, neo-Gothic arched pavilion beside the Grand Canal.
The Venetian Republic was particularly strict with those who sold undersized fish and you can still see a white marble table in the Rialto fish market showing the minimum lengths allowed for the sale of fish.
Next to the covered fish market is a bustling open-air fruit and vegetable market much loved by locals.
Good to Know: This is a morning only affair and the earlier you come the more atmospheric it is. It is open Tuesday to Saturday. Its ferry/water bus stop is Rialto Mercato.
Shop for the Perfect Venetian Mask
Masks are inextricably linked with Venice’s history. Today you’ll see stores filled with all kinds of wonderful masks but the traditional Venetian face covering was a much simpler affair: the slightly eerie plain white Bauta worn by both men and women. There are of course the famous plague doctors and various characters from the Commedia Dell’Arte, as well as a variety of fantastic creations (both animal and human).
Good to Know: While there are lots of cheap imitations, Venetian masks are still made in the traditional way (using papier-mache) by a few stores in town. You’ll find my favorites at La Bauta and Ca’Macana.
Visit Murano Island and See a Glass Blowing Demo
This little island, just a half-hour boat ride from Venice, has been the heart of artistic glass production for centuries. The Venetian Republic guarded the secrets of Murano glass so jealously that glass masters were forbidden to leave the city without express permission and exporting the secrets of Murano glassmaking abroad was punishable by death!
Artisan workshops still produce incredible items in highly contemporary or traditional 17th-century style.
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Photograph Colorful Burano Island
There is nothing more instagrammable or more likely to gladden the heart than the colorful homes of Burano.
This little island, also famous for the tradition of lacemaking, was the home of fishermen who painted their houses in bright colors – so that they could find their way back home more easily across a foggy Venetian lagoon and to distinguish them from those of their neighbors.
Good to Know: Although it is also a tourist draw, Burano still has the feeling of an authentic community. Wander the brightly-colored streets, smell the fresh laundry drying in the breeze, visit the lace-making museum or enjoy a traditional Burano-style risotto at Trattoria Al Gatto Nero.
Get an Amazing View of Venice’s Rooftops
A great view in a very unlikely place – the top floor of a department store. The Rem Koolhaas-designed T Fondaco dei Tedeschi is a super cool luxury mall housed in a historic building. It was once a commercial trading center and later a Napoleonic customs house. It’s just a one-minute walk from the Rialto Bridge.
Good to Know: Visits to the terrace are completely free, but you’ll need to book.
Walk Along the Riva degli Schiavoni
This waterfront close to St. Mark’s Square takes its name from the merchants from Dalmatia (which at the time of the Venetian Republic was also called “Slavonia” or “Schiavonia”) who used to land here with their merchant ships to display their wares.
This is where you can get the most iconic shot of Venetian gondolas and a view across the Giudecca Canal to the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore. The one that’s on all the postcards!
Good to Know: It’s especially gorgeous early in the morning when most are still sleeping and day-trippers haven’t yet arrived or at sunset.
Go on a Bàcari Crawl
The Venetian version of a pub crawl – check out as many bàcari (traditional bars) as you can, enjoying a spritz or un’ombra (a glass of red wine) in each one.
There are bàcari all over the city, but the Rialto market area is the perfect place for an aperitivo. Campo San Giacometo (one of the oldest squares in Venice) is full of young people with spritzes in hand. Cin cin!
Wander the Streets at Night
Don’t be afraid of walking around at night – or of getting lost for that matter. It’s part of the fun of Venice! Yes, Google Maps does work (kind of) but it’s in getting lost that you’ll see the most interesting things.
Venice is a very safe city so there’s little to worry about (despite all the dark alleys and murky canals). Maybe just don’t watch the film “Don’t Look Now” first!
Visit for Carnevale
Carnival is one of the most important events of the year in Venice. Historically it was a time for people to let their hair down and the anonymity of masks and cloaks eliminated all barriers of wealth and social standing – at least for a brief, bacchanalian period.
Venice still experiences a party atmosphere at Carnival time and the squares are filled with masked and costumed figures.
The most important days are Giovedì Grasso (literally Fat Thursday) and Martedì Grasso (Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday).
Good to Know: Venice Carnival is generally in February. It usually lasts a couple of weeks and weekends are, of course, the busiest. If you’re thinking of coming to Venice for Carnival, book flights and hotels well in advance.
Visit for the Biennale
The Biennale runs – you guessed it – every two years, on even years. It’s an amazing event in Venice offering everything from dance performances to global art and architecture to the Venice film festival. If you get the chance, it’s well worth it. Installations are often gigantic, dynamic, and fascinating, especially the public art installations around the city.
More Wonderful Things to See and Do in Venice
- Lido di Venezia – The Venice Lido is an 11-km long barrier island in the Lagoon and home to the Venice Film Festival. Great beaches and views of Venice.
- Jewish Museum – Venice has a rich Jewish heritage and the Ghetto area (Venice was where the word originated) is home to the little Jewish museum, which is packed with culture.
- Scuola Grande – One of Venice’s most stunningly decorated buildings with over 60 paintings by Tintoretto.
- Peggy Guggenheim Collection – The spectacular Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, Peggy Guggenheim’s Venetian home, now houses an incredible collection of contemporary art. One of Venice’s most popular attractions. Peggy and her 14 dogs are buried in the garden.
- Ca’ Rezzonico – despite Venice’s decline as a world power by that time, the 18th century was considered Venice’s ‘golden age’ in terms of art and culture. Ca’ Rezzonico houses furniture, sculpture and paintings from that gilded era.
- Museo Correr -The Correr Museum tells the story of Venice from its foundation to its union with Italy in the 19th century through paintings, sculptures and other treasures.
- Palazzo Grassi – One of Venice’s most famous buildings, it also hosts fascinating contemporary arts exhibitions and cultural events.
- Ca’ Pesaro – important 19th and 20th century paintings and sculptures, including works by Klimt, Chagall and Kandinsky.
- Acqua Alta Bookshop (Libreria Acqua Alta) – It calls itself “the most beautiful bookshop in the world” and this little gem of a store is stuffed floor to ceiling with books (as well as resident cats!)
- Rialto Bridge – This picturesque bridge is the oldest of the four bridges across the Grand Canal. It is a feat of Renaissance engineering and architecture.
- Accademia Gallery – One of Italy’s most famous museums. It’s an incredible art collection from Byzantine to Gothic to Renaissance. See the Venice of the past through the eyes of artists like Titian, Tintoretto and Tiepolo.
- Teatro La Fenice – La Fenice is Venice’s renowned opera house. Info on performances here.
- St. Mark’s Bell Tower – Venice’s tallest structure, the Campanile was originally a watchtower and landmark to guide ships safely to harbour. Legend has it that it’s even why Venetians call a glass of red wine ‘un’ombra’, because you’d drink it in the shadow of the huge bell tower.
- Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari – the name of this church is a bit of a mouthful, so locals usually just call it ‘Frari’ for short. It’s the largest church in Venice and filled with beautiful artworks.
- Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute – This wonderful church was consecrated in 1681. It was named ‘Our Lady of Health’ as Venice had recovered from a particularly devastating outbreak of plague. The interior is remarkable and it’s the iconic church you see in so many paintings of Venice, for example by Turner and Canaletto.
- Scala Contarini del Bovolo – this little palazzo is famous for its gorgeous multi-arched external spiral staircase. It’s a little hard to find and it’s a gem that tourists often overlook.
Four Things You Shouldn’t Do in Venice
Feel obliged to have an expensive restaurant meal
Do your homework carefully when it comes to restaurants. Some are incredible and worth the splurge – others are just incredibly expensive tourist traps serving, at best, mediocre food.
Head out to less expensive areas of the city, away from St. Mark’s Square. Seek out the osterie and bàcari (Venice’s bars) where you can enjoy delicious little cicchetti (tartines) and tramezzini (sandwiches) for lunch. And, unless you have little ones with you, forget pizza – save it for the south of Italy.
Stay on the main drag
On leaving the Santa Lucia train station 99% of people will turn left and head down the main drag – Rio Terà Lista di Spagna. Try crossing the stone bridge (Ponte degli Scalzi) that’s almost directly in front of the station and meander your way through the tiny alleyways of a quieter Venice.
You’ll join the tourists eventually as you cross the Rialto Bridge or the Accademia Bridge on your way to St. Mark’s, but you’ll get a much-needed break from the crowds.
Visit only for a day
Venice is not a place for ‘hit and run’ tourism. If you can, make your visit more sustainable by staying longer. There is so much to see, including the islands and the surrounding lagoon. If you are sleeping in Venice, you’ll have the place (almost) to yourself if you can get up very early or stay up late!
See Museums You Aren’t Interested In
This applies to all of Italy (or anywhere), but don’t feel like you need to visit Venice’s museums if they don’t interest you. The whole city is a living, breathing museum and much of its beauty is to be found outside.
Best Time To Visit Venice
Weather in Venice
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Venice is at its finest in the spring and autumn months. It even has its own magic in the foggy winter months.
If you can, stay away from Venice in July and August when the summer heat and crowds of tourists can make it unbearable.
Good To Know: Acqua alta or high water still happens, despite the best efforts of the Mose barrier project. It’s most prevalent in November and December, but it’s a natural phenomenon and doesn’t last long.
Do what Venetians do and shrug it off. You’ll be able to use the raised walkways or, if the worst comes to the worst, just buy a pair of rainboots and enjoy the unique experience.
The municipality of Venice has produced a handy guide about dealing with Acqua Alta.
Where to Stay in Venice
Luxury Accommodation in Venice
The Gritti Palace – One of the most beautiful hotels in one of the most spectacular cities in the world. The Gritti is legendary. Exquisite interiors in an enchanting 15th century palazzo.
Hotel Danieli – Another ancient palazzo (14th century this time) with all modern luxury comforts. An iconic hotel that’s a stone’s throw from St. Mark’s Basilica.
Palazzo Venart Luxury Hotel – Accessible by water from a private pier, it has a sumptuous garden and a 2-Michelin starred restaurant on site. This stunning hotel would not look out of place as a Bond film set.
Mid-Range Accommodation in Venice
Hotel al Ponte Antico – A teeny-tiny 4-star hotel facing the Rialto Bridge. Lovely interiors, a superb location and uber-friendly staff
Novecento Boutique Hotel – A tasteful and peaceful little boutique hotel with a splendid courtyard far from the crowds.
Casa Burano – For something a little different, and for even more peace and quiet, try the unique atmosphere of Casa Burano on the colorful Burano Island. Stylish and contemporary, it’s owned by a famous Italian family of winemakers, so you can enjoy some wonderful wine tastings while you’re there.
Budget Accommodation in Venice
Generator – A backpackers’ hostel on Guidecca Island. This super-popular budget option has a real party vibe.
Where to Eat in Venice
Osteria alla Frasca – Fresh, simple traditional Venetian cuisine.
Timon all’Antica Mola – Buzzy and fun. Great seafood.
Rioba – Located in a quieter area of Canareggio. The food is elegantly presented and lovingly prepared.
Antiche Camparane – A traditional family-run restaurant near the Rialto. It’s been serving up Venetian specialties for almost 40 years.
Ristorante Al Covo – Family owned and run since 1987. Creative cuisine with a focus on local produce.
Locanda Cipriani – An uber-famous and truly special location on the island of Torcello. A gorgeous atmosphere, classic Venetian dishes in exquisite 1930s surroundings, and some seriously famous clientele.
The Best of the Bacari
You may want to check out our Guide to Tipping in Italy!
Best Things to Do in Venice FAQ
Yes. 3 days is a reasonable amount of time. You definitely won’t see everything Venice has to offer in terms of art and architecture but Venice is pretty compact and even factoring in trips to the islands you’ll see a lot.
DO check out this guide, prepared by the City of Venice, before you visit on how to enjoy and respect the city and practice sustainable tourism #EnjoyRepectVenezia
DO wear comfortable shoes. You will be walking a LOT in Venice as there are no cars or drivable roads and lots of small streets and bridges. Water taxis (not gondolas) are extremely expensive. Save your heels for another city!
DO take your litter away with you. You’ll notice that there are very few garbage cans. Venice can only handle its residents’ waste. Everything is taken to the mainland by boat.
DON’T eat take away. It sounds strange but don’t think you can get a takeaway pizza and sit outside to eat it easily. There are virtually no benches and or places to sit in central Venice. And definitely no sitting on the ground or on the steps around the cafés in St. Mark’s Square.
DO get lost! Everyone gets lost in Venice and it’s part of the fun. You’ll discover something amazing at every turn, anyway.
Venice is definitely worth visiting. There is no other city in the world like it. It’ll take your breath away!
You can fly to Venice Marco Polo (VCE) airport or Venice Treviso (TSF) airport.
Marco Polo airport is closer – 6 km away by water bus and 13 km by car. It serves many international routes.
If you’re flying from another part of Italy or from Europe, you may arrive at Venice Treviso. It’s further away but you can take a direct shuttle bus and arrive in about 45 minutes.
It’s always a good idea to spend the night in Venice if you can. The city is at its best in the early morning and in the evening – when the day-trippers have gone. However, you can have a pleasant day trip to Venice if you have realistic expectations of what you’ll be able to see.
Venice is on the fast train (alta velocità) lines so you can visit from as far as Florence and Milan for the day. Read about How to Take a Day Trip from Florence to Venice.