The Italian city of Venice, perhaps best known for its picturesque canals, gondolas and magnificent architecture, is considered as one of the most romantic cities in the world. Rising from the waters of Venetian lagoon, Venice is a place like no other.
Founded as a safe haven for the refuges during the turbulent times after the decline of the Roman Empire, “La Serenissima” (Most Serene Republic of Venice) became one of the greatest capitals in the medieval world.
“The City of Canals”, built upon wooden piles driven deep into to the muddy grounds, is an extraordinary architectural masterpiece. Built at the heart of the lagoon in the Adriatic Sea, a magical city is made up of 118 islands which can be crossed by one of 400 bridges.
Here are things you shouldn`t miss out when visiting this impressive city!
Unmissable Things To Do In Venice
PIAZZA SAN MARCO
The best place to start is probably at the most famous and largest piazza in Venice – Piazza San Marco. The square that witnessed countless Carnival festivals is a popular meeting spot for Venetians and tourists alike. With some of Venice`s most recognizable landmarks, elegant historic buildings, stylish shops and pricey cafes dotted around the edge it is a place where everybody gathers. It is easy to see why St Mark`s Square draws the largest crowds.
FUN FACT: St Mark`s square is the only piazza in the city, all other squares are called “campo”.
Three sides of Piazza San Marco framed in arcades are home to the museums and attractive restaurants that line the only piazza in Venice. However, eating a tasty ravioli or drinking the Aperol Spritz with a once in a lifetime view of St. Mark`s square will cost you a fortune (unless you were born with a sliver spoon in your mouth).
TIP: If high-priced restaurants and expensive souvenirs aren`t really for you, take a relaxing stroll and find some good-value eating places just a few streets away from the iconic piazza.
To truly absorb the beauty of St Mark`s square, approached the piazza from the Piazzetta.
BASILICA DI SAN MARCO (ST. MARK`S BASILICA)
Gazing across St. Mark`s Square is the iconic Basilica di San Marco, the best known church in Venice. Blending the decorative styles of East and West, this sumptuous basilica has to be on anyone’s itinerary. Step inside the Basilica and marvel the ornate details of this grandiose church. A gorgeous example of Italo-Byzantine architecture housing the remnants of St Mark the Evangelist is one of the most easily recognized landmarks in the world.
Basilica di San Marco, one of the most important religious buildings in Northern Italy
Founded in the 9th century and decorated over the centuries, St. Mark`s Basilica with is over 8,000 square metres (86,000 square feet) of mosaics was once the doge`s private chapel. From the four bronze horses that guard the entrance to the beautifully painted frescoes and the gold-backed shimmering mosaics decorating every square metre of the walls and vaults, the Basilica di San Marco will leave you speechless.
GOOD TO KNOW:
- the sacred Basilica di San Marco is free to enter, however dress code applies (knees and shoulders need to be covered).
- the luggage and backpacks need to be stored at the Ateneo San Basso Left Luggage office, located at Piazzetta dei Leoncini – in front of the Gate of Flowers
- to visit the museum within the basilica you will have to pay an entry fee
- photography is not allowed inside the Basilica
TIPS WHAT NOT TO MISS:
- The Cupola of the Prophets houses the sarcophagus with the corpse of St Mark
- Pala d`Oro, the most valuable treasure of San Marco made of 250 panels: the jewel-spangled gold altarpiece made with thousands of emeralds, amethysts, pearls and other gemstones
- Ascension Dome: a mosaic of Chris in Glory decorating the central dome, created in the 13th century
TIP: There are countless places for epic views in Venice, but arguably some of the best vistas without crowds can be seen from the roof of the St. Mark`s Basilica. However, the views from the roof are not for free. The entry fee to the museum is definitely worth as it offers a splendid view into the Basilica. The original bronze horses brought from Constantinople are housed here, and you can overlook the square from the roof as well.
PIAZZETTA SAN MARCO
Located between the Palazzo Ducale (Doge`s Palace) and the Biblioteca Marciana, the Piazzetta San Marco runs vertically between the Piazza San Marco and the waterfront of St Mark`s Basin. An extension to the St Mark`s square with a two granite columns in front of the lagoon offers magnificent views of the lagoon and the nearby Isola di San Giorgio Maggiore.
PALAZZO DUCALE (DOGE`S PALACE)
To experience how the ruler of Venetian Republic lived, make your way to Doge`s Palace, one of the top Venice attractions. An extraordinary palace built with pale pink Veronese marble and white Istrian stone (arcades) is a Gothic masterpiece. Once a home to the Venetian Parliament, a prison and the city`s court has become one of the top things to see in Venice.
FUN FACT: Casanova was once imprisoned here and managed to escape from the palazzo through a hole in the roof.
An opulent apartments, richly decorated chambers and halls with an excessive collection of masterpieces turned in to a fascinating museum that is worth a visit.
Palazzo Ducale (Doge`s palace) with its geometrically patterned façade changes colour throughout the day depending on the sunlight
GOOD TO KNOW:
Make the most of your visit to one of the most renowned buildings in Venice and arrive right when the palace opens or book your ticket in advance. The Standard ticket allows you to access the central courtyard, Museo dell`Opera on the ground floor and the main part of the palace (the state rooms, prisons, armoury and institutional rooms). Further rooms (e.g. apartments and smaller rooms) are ticketed separately.
CAMPANILE DI SAN MARCO
For a bird`s eye view of Venice, climb the Campanile San Marco. Situated on the St Mark`s square just a few metres from the Basilica di San Marco, the iconic Bell Tower suffered from many damages during the centuries. Damaged by fire, earthquakes and lightening, the 16th century brick tower was rebuilt just 10 years after it collapsed in the early 20th century. Now it is one of the most popular Venice attractions.
FUN FACT: The replica of the original Campanile from the 16th century was built exactly a millennium after the foundations of the original tower were laid.
Those wanting to see a 360-degree panoramic view of Venice need take an elevator to the top of the Campanile. The cost for touring the campanile where Galileo demonstrated his telescope to the Doge is € 8 for adults and is definitely worth it.
The breath-taking views from the top of the Campanile
GOOD TO KNOW:
Due to the limited capacity of the lift the Bell Tower attracts long queues in the high season. To avoid the crowds, visit early in the morning of late in the evening. Alternatively book the skip-the-line tickets online and visit the tower in certain time (available only during the peak season).
PONTE DEI SOSPIRI (BRIDGE OF SIGHS)
Also to be discovered in close proximity is The Bridge of Sighs. One of the most important historic landmarks of Venice, located only a few minutes from Piazza San Marco, is one of the city`s most photographed sights. Walk past the façade of the Palazzo Ducale (facing the Venetian Lagoon) and get onto the first bridge on the left hand side.
“Legend has it that if two lovers kiss on a gondola under the bridge, they will be granted eternal bliss.”
Throughout its long history, the iconic bridge lined with sculptures of happy and sad faces has been associated with romance, although that was mistaken belief. Arching high above the Rio del Palazzo Canal, the small covered bridge built of white limestone, took its name from the sighs of prisoners being taken to their cells. The wonderfully decorative Ponte dei Sospiri connecting the magnificent Doge`s Palace (once home of the court of justice and the prison complex) with damp prison across the canal is an iconic location which cannot be missed while in Venice.
Ponte Des Sospiri, used for centuries to transport prisoners from the courtroom to the prison, was the last view of Venice through the window that convicts saw before their imprisonment.
GOOD TO KNOW:
The Bridge of Sights, the only enclosed bridge in Venice, can be walk over only from the Doge`s Palace (as a part of the “Secret Itineraries” tour where walking the Bridge and visiting the prison is included)
TIP: If you are planning to see the Bridge of Sighs, try to visit the famous bridge early in the morning when you can experience this architectural marvel without hordes of tourists.
There is one thing you can`t miss when visiting Venice. The Grand Canal, a giant “S” curves through the centre of Venice, connecting Piazza San Marco and the rail station on the mainland. The main canal sweeping through the heart of Venice, dotted with elegant Venetian palaces facing the water, is an important waterway for hundreds of years.
Facades of palazzi may have faded and foundations battered with the tides, but a trip to Venice would not be complete without a visit to the Grand Canal.
The busy water traffic of The Grand Canal
Whether you want to take the typical Venetian gondola, water taxi or the least expensive vaporetto (water bus), the choice is yours. Exploring hundreds of the canals is the perfect way to experience this famous city of the Canals.
PONTE DI RIALTO (RIALTO BRIDGE)
Built entirely of the stone, the 16th century Ponte di Rialto is one of the top tourist attractions in Venice. An elegant bridge connecting the San Marco and San Polo districts of Venice stretching across the narrowest point of the Grand Canal is a Renaissance architectural and engineering marvel.
The only mean of crossing the Grand Canal until the 19th century has become symbol of Venice and is perhaps the best spot to watch the gondolas and vaporettos. The oldest of the four bridges across the Grand Canal has pricey boutiques and souvenir shops lining its grand staircase.
GOOD TO KNOW:
When visiting the Rialto Bridge, bear in mind that tourists flock to take pictures towards midday and for famously spectacular sunset. Instead, enjoy the views from the bridge either early in the day or late in the evening.
If you are after an authentic Venetian atmosphere, head to a traditional Rialto market, where Venetians and chefs go to for their food shopping. Walk around the lively colourful stalls selling the best fresh fruits, vegetables and fish of the Venice Lagoon and the Adriatic Sea and soak up the atmosphere without breaking the bank.
TIP: Located near Rialto bridge, Venice`s main market and the Rialto Bridge make this area a magnet for visitors. Visit the traditional daily market full of smells and grab a snack early in the morning (until noon) to experience this lively place with the ancient tradition.
BASILICA DI SANTA MARIA DELLA SALUTE
Another iconic Venetian landmark that cannot be missed is Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute. Built on hundreds of thousands of wooden piles on a narrow strip of land near the Grand Canal, Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute is one of the best examples of Baroque style.
Constructed in the 17th century to mark the end of Venice`s plague which killed a third of the city`s population, the magnificent basilica is home to a collection of one of the greatest painters of all times – Titian. The elegant octagonal Roman Catholic Church, built from Istrian stone, is without a doubt one of the most photographed symbols of Venice and one of the unmissable things to see in Venice.
Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute dedicated to Virgin Mary was built as thanks for the end of the plague in Venice
GOOD TO KNOW:
Those who are in Venice on the day of “Salute” (each year on the 21st of November) can experience religious “Festa della Salute” – thousands of people give thanks to the Virgin Mary. Every year for this day a temporary bridge across the Grand Canal is built for people making the pilgrimage to the Salute.
GET LOST IN VENICE
Wander around the streets of Venice and get lost in a maze of narrow streets and hidden alleys. With more than 150 canals lined with magnificent architecture it will be easy – but it is a part of the charm of this city.
TIP: Find a bridge on a quiet canal and watch the world go by
Is the trip to the City of Canal complete without a gondola ride? A part of Venice for many centuries, these custom-made long slim boats ideal for shallow canals are the most authentic way to experience the city. However, a 30-minute gondola ride might not be as romantic experience as you think. With 400 licensed gondoliers in Venice, the canals can get very busy during the day.
FUN FACT: According to the law from the 16th century, all gondolas should be black to stop people outdo each other
GOOD TO KNOW:
A gondola ride in Venice is governed by law. The cost is € 80 for 30 minutes in the daytime, and €120 night time rate (after 7pm). The price is for boat, not per person.
TIP: If you would love to experience this unique way to see the city, find a quieter canal. If you don`t mind sharing a gondola with the others, you can save a lot of money (a gondola has space for 6 people).
Less than an hour away from Venice by boat lays an island in the Venetian lagoon. With its colourful building and boat-filled canals, Burano is arguably one of the most beautiful places in the Italy and a popular destination attracting day-trippers from the city of Canals. A visit to the island is a perfect way how to spend day of from busy Venice.
FIND OUT MORE ABOUT BURANO:
Discover Murano, home to Venice’s hand-blown glass. Famous all over the world for Murano glass, the small island in the Venetian Lagoons, located less than 4 kilometres from Venice, is a popular day trip from the city of bridges.
FREEE THINGS TO DO IN VENICE:
- take a look inside Basilica di San Marco and admire St Mark`s magnificent interior (the main floor)
- people watch at Piazza San Marco (St Mark`s Square)
- admire the Bridge of Sighs (Ponte dei Sospiri)
- stroll across the Rialto Bridge, one of Venice`s most famous sights (the bridge offers breath-taking views of the Grand Canal)
- shop at the Rialto Market renowned for their products
- get lost in the tiny canals
- admire the Basilica Santa Maria della Salute, one of the most photographed churches in Venice
- walk around the Jewish Getto
- celebrate Carnival, Italy`s top festival during the mid-winter carnival celebration , and join millions of people in masquerade costumes
TOP 10 THINGS TO DO IN VENICE FOR A WEEEKEND GETAWAY:
- wander around the Piazza San Marco, the largest and most famous square in Venice
- explore St Mark`s Basilica, one of the most valuable treasures of Venice
- enjoy the view of the city from the St Mark`s Campanile (the bell tower)
- visit the Doge`s Palace Palazzo Ducale), a masterpiece of Gothic architecture and the official residence of Venice` s rulers in the past
- visit The Bridge of Sighs (Ponte dei Sospiri)
- view The Grand Canal from the Rialto Bridge
- get lost in the endless canals
- early morning gondola ride
- check out Santa Maria della Salute, one of the most incredible landmarks of Venice
- take ferry to the neighbouring island in the Venetian Lagoon: Murano, Burano and Torcello
We hope that this article has inspired you to visit the City of Canals. If you have any questions about Venice, please leave these in the comment below.
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