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Tips on What To Do in Venice

Given its rich past, Venice is home to plenty of historic sites and museums. What there's a shortage of is quality nightlife. Instead, exert your energy touring the city's churches and riding along the canal because only a few low-key bars offer evening entertainment. But if you're a connoisseur of the Italian opera, you might enjoy a night out at the Teatro La Fenice.

If you can't decide how to start a busy day in Venice, experts and experienced travelers recommend hopping on a vaporetto and sightseeing from the waters of the Grand Canal. Recent visitors also recommend signing up for a tour with Context Travel Venice.

  • Leave your heels and excess luggage at home, and make sure to toss the map and this guide in your daypack for at least an afternoon, turn left when the signs to the sights point right, and get lost in the back calli (streets) and uncrowded campi (squares) where tourists seldom tread and you will encounter the true, living, breathing, gloriously decaying side of this most serene city." -- Frommer's
  • Though quite a few of Venice's bars stay open reasonably late, Venice after dark is pretty tame, and locals tend to head to Mestre and Lido di Jesolo for nightlife." -- Rough Guides

Sightseeing

St. Mark's Basilica is a must-see. Originally built in the first century A.D., the church's entrance is flanked by replicas of bronze horse statues that were originally pillaged from Constantinople. Be sure to dress properly and respectfully to visit, as you won't be allowed to cross the bronze horses with bare shoulders or knees.

Another popular site is the Ca' d' Oro (or Golden House), of the Cannaregio sestiere (neighborhood). The palace's gold-lined interior once served as the residence of the famous ballet dancer Maria Taglioni. And if you're traveling with your significant other, you might want to pause for a kiss (at sunset while in a gondola) underneath the Bridge of Sighs. According to legend, it's supposed to ensure eternal love.

  • The monuments that draw the largest crowds in Venice are the Basilica di San Marco -- the mausoleum of the city's patron saint -- and the Palazzo Ducale -- the home of the doge and all the governing councils. … But every parish rewards exploration." -- Rough Guides
  • Endless walking, cobblestones, boat hopping, and church-tower climbing demand flats. Venice is also very stroller-hostile; pack the Baby Bjorn." -- Concierge.com
  • The 'Secret Itineraries in Doge's Palace' worth a visit, take the visitor into the most secret and fascinating rooms in the Palace. It's better to book in advance." -- Wikitravel

Museums

Venice is filled with museums that brilliantly display the city's rich artistic past. One of the most well-known is the Academy Gallery (Gallerie dell'Accademia) in Dorsoduro. The modern art housed in the nearby Peggy Guggenheim Collection is also quite popular, as is the Palazzo Ducale (Doge's Palace).

  • Spend your first morning at Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari and the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, then wander through the Dorsoduro sestiere, choosing between visits to Ca' Rezzonico, the Gallerie dell'Accademia, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, and Santa Maria della Salute-all A-list attractions. End the afternoon with a gelato-fueled stroll along the Zattere boardwalk." -- Fodor's
  • Although many of the city's treasures remain in the buildings for which they were created, a sizeable number have been removed to one or other of Venice's museums. The one that should not be missed is the Accademia, an assembly of Venetian painting that consists of virtually nothing but masterpieces." -- Rough Guides
  • There is a museum pass available for some of Venice's best known museums. It does not include all of them. It is already worthwhile buying it if you intend to visit the two big museums at Saint Marc Square: The Doge's Palace and Correr Museum. A more expensive pass also including some famous churches and transportation is available at the tourist information." -- Wikitravel

From the Water

Gondolas may provide the most defining picture of Venice. Back in the day, these slender and shallow boats steered by a single, trained and respected gondolier were the main mode of transportation. Today, they are mainly for visitors and are priced that way. Nevertheless, a gondola ride down the Grand Canal is worth the splurge. The best -- but most expensive -- time to ride is dusk; however, it's also the prettiest and most calm time to see the sights. 

Although gondoliers cluster around San Marco, travel writers predict a better bargain if you take a gondola near San Polo or Rialto. Haggling is welcome, but be sure to agree on price and the length of the ride before getting in the boat.

A vaporetto (water bus) ride is a cheaper way to see the city from the water: The No. 1 line -- probably the most scenic and all-encompassing, as it goes from Piazzale Roma near the train station to San Marco and Lido.

  • Make sure you agree to a price before boarding and don't be shy about haggling over the fare: most gondoliers initially ask for twice the going rate. Try to avoid low tide when rancid odors peak and, if possible, ride late afternoon or early evening when the Grand Canal's boat traffic significantly subsides." -- Travel Channel
  • Enjoy the watery weirdness of Venice by buying a 12-hour vaporetto ticket. This allows you to take in the 50 palaces, six churches, four bridges and two open-air markets of the Grand Canal. To max out on romance, do it at night." -- Lonely Planet

Islands

After exploring the main city, you might enjoy a vaporetto ride to some of the surrounding islands. The cemetery island of San Michele is especially not to be missed. In the north, the island of Murano is famed for its glassware, and recent visitors say it's worth the trip to see the glassblowers in action. Nearby Burano is known for its lace-making; visit the Museo del Merletto, or Lace Museum, to see the group of Buranese women sewing traditional lace doilies and table linens.

South of Venice is Lido. Although its resorts are best described as overpriced and its beaches categorized as uninspiring, it's also quite busy in the warm summer months.

  • The islands lying to the north of Venice -- San Michele, Murano, Burano and Torcello -- are the places to visit when the throng of tourists in the main part of the city becomes too oppressive, and are the source of much of the glass and lace work you see in many shops in the city." -- Rough Guides
  • Overrated … The glass ateliers in Murano. While there are still a few real artisans creating one-of-a-kind pieces, too many wannabes have set up commercial factories that turn out ordinary work for hordes of tourists." -- Forbes Traveler

Shopping

The streets of Venice are lined with little stores selling a range of items from high-end designer goods to affordable souvenirs. If you want to get something Venetian to take home, be aware that the city is known for crafting various items such as Carnival masks, glassware and lace. The Venetian islands of Murano and Burano, in particular, are famous for their glassmakers and lace makers, respectively. However, with the rise in the tourism industry, the authenticity and origin of these pieces in stores are sometimes doubtful. Prices for the real stuff can be incredibly steep.

  • If you have the good fortune of continuing on to Florence or Rome, shop for clothing, leather goods, and accessories with prudence in Venice, because most items are more expensive here. If, however, you happen on something that strikes you, consider it twice on the spot (not back at your hotel), and then buy it. In this web of alleys, you may never find that shop again." -- Frommer's
  • If Fendi, Gucci, and Ferragamo are your shops of choice, head for the area immediately northwest of St. Mark's Square: Calle Larga XXII Marzo and the labyrinth of alleyways known collectively as the Mercerie and the Frezzerie." -- Concierge.com
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