Rising from the waters of Venetian lagoon, Venice is a place like no other. A magical city made up of 118 islands is one of the most romantic cities in the world. “The City of Canals” is also an extraordinary architectural masterpiece. It`s hard to believe, but one of the greatest capitals in the medieval world is standing on wooden piles, which were driven deep into the muddy grounds. The Italian city of Venice is perhaps best-known for its picturesque canals, gondolas and also magnificent architecture. However, there is more to the city than that. Here are the top things you shouldn`t miss out when visiting Venice.
Ultimate Things To Do In Venice
1. PIAZZA SAN MARCO
The best place to start is probably at the most famous square in Venice – Piazza San Marco. The largest piazza in the city witnessed countless Carnival festivals. It`s easy to see why St Marks Square draws the crowds. Along with some of Venice`s most recognizable landmarks, elegant historic buildings, stylish shops and pricey cafes, it is a place where everybody gathers. Therefore, it`s a popular meeting spot for Venetians and tourists alike.
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. Eating a tasty ravioli or drinking the Aperol Spritz with a once in a lifetime view of St. Mark`s square does not come cheap, though. Dining would cost you a fortune unless you were born with a silver spoon in your mouth.
If high-priced restaurants and expensive souvenirs aren`t really for you, you have another option. 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.
2. 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 magnificent basilica has to be on anyone’s itinerary in Venice.
Step inside the basilica and marvel the ornate details of this grandiose church. A gorgeous example of Italo-Byzantine architecture also houses the remnants of St Mark the Evangelist. Besides, it`s one of the most easily recognized landmarks in the world.
Founded in the 9th century and decorated over the centuries, St. Mark`s Basilica has over 8,000 square metres (86,000 square feet) of mosaics. This spectacular basilica was once the Doge`s private chapel.
Even though the Basilica di San Marco is not the largest church in the world, it will leave you speechless. The four bronze horses that guard the entrance, the beautifully painted frescoes and the gold-backed shimmering mosaics decorating every square of the walls and vault are some of the basilica`s highlights. Basilica di San Marco, one of the most important religious buildings in Northern Italy, is undoubtedly is a must-see attraction in Venice.
GOOD TO KNOW:
- The sacred Basilica di San Marco is free to enter. However, dress code applies (knees and shoulders need to be covered).
- You can store your luggage and also backpacks at the Ateneo San Basso Left Luggage office. It`s at Piazzetta dei Leoncini – in front of the Gate of Flowers.
- If you would like to visit the museum which is inside the basilica, you need to pay an entry fee.
- Photography is not allowed inside the basilica.
TIPS WHAT NOT TO MISS IN BASILICA SAN MARCO:
- The Cupola of the Prophets houses the sarcophagus with the corpse of St Mark
- Pala d`Oro is undoubtedly the most valuable treasure of San Marco, made of 250 panels. The jewel-spangled gold altarpiece has 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.
There are countless places for epic views in Venice. However, the roof terrace of St. Mark`s Basilica offers some of the best vistas without crowds. The views from the roof terrace don`t come for free, though.
The entry ticket to the museum with the original bronze horses from Constantinopole includes a visit to the terrace. St. Mark`s Basilica offers magnificent views of some of the top attractions in Venice, and therefore, it`s one of the best things to do in Venice.
3. PIAZZETTA SAN MARCO
The Piazzetta San Marco is another beautiful place that is well worth taking a stroll around in Venice. It`s between the Palazzo Ducale (Doge`s Palace) and the Biblioteca Marciana. The small Piazzetta is an extension to the St Mark`s square. The central meeting place for both locals and tourists runs vertically between the Piazza San Marco and the waterfront of St Mark`s Basin. Besides, the piazza, with two granite columns in front of the lagoon, offers magnificent views of the nearby Isola di San Giorgio Maggiore.
4. PALAZZO DUCALE (DOGE`S PALACE)
To experience how the ruler of the Venetian Republic lived, make your way to Doge’s Palace. An extraordinary palace built with pale pink Veronese marble and white Istrian stone (arcades) is a Gothic masterpiece. Once home to the Venetian Parliament, a prison, and the city’s court, has become one of the top things to see in Venice.
Casanova was once imprisoned here. He managed to escape from the palazzo through a hole in the roof.
Opulent apartments, richly decorated chambers and halls with an excessive collection of masterpieces turned in to a fascinating museum that is worth a visit. You can also join a tour to learn more about the fascinating history of this site.
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 famous buildings in Venice and arrive right when the palace opens. Alternatively, book your ticket in advance.
The Standard ticket allows you to access the central courtyard, Museo dell` Opera on the ground floor, and the central part of the palace (the staterooms, prisons, armoury and institutional rooms). For further rooms (e.g. apartments and smaller rooms) you will need a different ticket.
5. CAMPANILE DI SAN MARCO
For a bird’s eye view of Venice, climb the nearby Campanile San Marco. The impressive Bell Tower is on St Mark’s square, just a few metres from the Basilica di San Marco. This iconic bell tower suffered from numerous damages during the centuries. Damaged by fire, earthquakes and also lightening, the 16th-century brick tower was built again just ten years after it collapsed in the early 20th century. Nowadays, it is one of the most famous Venice attractions.
The replica of the original Campanile from the 16th century was built exactly a millennium after the foundations of the original tower were laid.
The 98-metres tall Campanile with a golden statue of the Angel Gabriel was built as a lighthouse in Venice.
Those who would like 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 also Galileo demonstrated his telescope to the Doge, is € 8 for adults. It`s well worth a visit.
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 a specific time (available only during the peak season).
6. PONTE DEI SOSPIRI (BRIDGE OF SIGHS)
Also to be discovered nearby is The Bridge of Sighs. One of the most important historical landmarks of Venice is only a few minutes from Piazza San Marco. 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 the home of the court of justice and the prison complex), with damp prison across the canal, is an iconic location. One of the city`s most photographed sights is, at the same time, one of the best things to see 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 is the only enclosed bridge in Venice. You can walk over it only from the Doge’s Palace (as a part of the “Secret Itineraries” tour where walking the bridge and visiting the prison is included).
Visit the famous Bridge of Sighs early in the morning. It`s the only time when you can experience this architectural marvel without hordes of tourists. Hence, wake up very early.
7. GRAND CANAL IN VENICE
There is one thing you can’t miss when visiting Venice. The Grand Canal, a giant “S”, curves through the centre of Venice. The main canal sweeping through the heart of Venice is connecting Piazza San Marco and the rail station on the mainland. The channel dotted with elegant Venetian palaces facing the water is a vital 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 Grand Canal at night.
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 canals is the perfect way to experience Venice – a famous city of the Canals.
8. PONTE DI RIALTO (RIALTO BRIDGE) IN VENICE
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, is stretching across the narrowest point of the Grand Canal. It`s a Renaissance architectural and engineering marvel.
The Rialto Bridge, the only mean of Grand Canal crossing until the 19th century, has become a symbol of Venice. The famous bridge is, perhaps, the best spot to watch the gondolas and vaporettos. Moreover, 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 the famously spectacular sunset. Instead, enjoy the views from the bridge either early in the morning or late in the evening.
9. RIALTO MARKET IN VENICE
If you are after an authentic Venetian atmosphere, head to a traditional Rialto market. It`s where Venetians and chefs go to for their food shopping in the morning. Walk around the lively colourful stalls, which are selling the best fresh fruits, vegetables and also fish of the Venice Lagoon and the Adriatic Sea. Soak up the atmosphere without breaking the bank.
Due to it`s proximity to Rialto bridge, Venice’s primary market is a magnet for visitors. For the best experience, visit the daily market early in the morning. Grab a snack and experience this lively place with the ancient tradition without the crowds.
10. BASILICA DI SANTA MARIA DELLA SALUTE
Another iconic Venetian landmark you can`t miss in Venice is Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute. The basilica built on hundreds of thousands of wooden piles on a narrow strip of land near the Grand Canal is one of the best examples of Baroque style.
The basilica was constructed in the 17th century to mark the end of Venice’s plague which killed a third of the city’s population. The elegant octagonal Roman Catholic Church built from Istrian stone is, without a doubt, one of the most photographed symbols of Venice. Besides, the magnificent basilica is home to a collection of one of the greatest painters of all times – Titian. A basilica is an excellent place for candid photography and, without doubt, one of the unmissable things to see in Venice.
Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute is dedicated to the Virgin Mary. It 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”. It`s a celebration where 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.
11. GET LOST IN VENICE
Next, 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.
12. GONDOLA RIDE IN VENICE
Is the trip to the City of Canal complete without a gondola ride? Well, probably not. These custom-made long slim boats are a part of Venice for many centuries. Besides, the most authentic way to experience the city is ideal for shallow canals. However, a 30-minute gondola ride might not be as romantic experience as you think. With 400 licensed gondoliers in Venice, the channels can get very busy during the day, though. As a result, sometimes they are a let-down for visitors.
According to the law from the 16th century, all gondolas should be black to stop people outdo each other.
GOOD TO KNOW:
The city of Venice sets the official rates for a gondola ride, and for that reason, they are not negotiable with a gondolier. With this in mind, the cost is € 80 for 30 minutes in the daytime, and €120 night time rate (after 7 pm). The price is for a boat, not per person.
However, 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 six people).
Burano, the most colourful Italian island
After long days exploring Venice, visit Burano island in the Venetian lagoon. The picturesque island is less than an hour away by boat from Venice. With its colourful buildings and boat-filled canals, Burano is arguably one of the most beautiful places in Italy. Furthermore, it`s a popular destination attracting day-trippers from the city of Canals. A visit to the island is an excellent way to spend the day from busy Venice, indeed.
FIND OUT MORE ABOUT BURANO:
Last but not least, discover Murano, home to Venice’s hand-blown glass. Just a cheap ferry ride will bring you to the small island in the Venetian Lagoon. Murano is less than 4 kilometres away from Venice. The island is famous all over the world for Murano glass. Hence, it`s a popular day trip from Venice.
FREE 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
- also, 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 WEEKEND GETAWAY:
- wander around the Piazza San Marco, the largest and also 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
- also, 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 a ferry to the neighbouring island in the Venetian Lagoon: Murano, Burano and also Torcello
THINGS TO SEE IN VENICE IF YOU ONLY HAVE A DAY:
- St. Mark`s Basilica
- St. Mark`s Square
- Piazzetta San Marco
- Doges Palace
- Bridge of Sighs
- Ponte Rialto
- Canal Grande
- Gondola Ride
- get lost in Venice
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. Don`t forget to save the post to Pinterest.
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