Best Things To Do in Venice
Losing yourself in Venezia's charm is the main reason to visit. But you should also tour landmarks like St. Mark's Basilica and the Doge's Palace. On a different day, you could take a ferry (vaporetto) to the smaller islands of Lido, Murano or Burano. You should also make time for art: Don’t miss the Peggy Guggenheim Collection or the Gallerie dell’Accademia. And if you long to hear an Italian opera, book tickets to a show at the Teatro La Fenice.
Updated August 21, 2019
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This elaborate church sits on the popular piazza by the same name. The church was built in honor of St. Mark the evangelist, whose remains were stolen from their home in Alexandria, Egypt, and hidden in barrels of pork and cabbage leaves by a couple crafty Venetians, intent on bringing him to rest in Venice.
Crafted from many different styles of architecture, today its opulence shines from nearly every corner – from the four bronze horses that guard the entrance to thousands of square feet of mosaics to the Pala d'Oro. If you look closely at the church's center gable, you can see a statue of St. Mark along with Venice's emblem: a lion with wings.
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Considered to be the main street of Venice, the 2-mile-long Grand Canal is one of the city's most popular and highly photographed attractions. Recent travelers recommend hiring a gondolier for a romantic (but expensive) row along the canal. If you're hoping to do this option, plan to fork over between 80 and 100 euros (about $95 to $120) for the ride. Many others suggested hopping aboard the vaporetto, or the public waterbus, for a much cheaper experience. Vaporetto line No. 1 travels down the Grand Canal, stopping in the six sestieri, or neighborhoods, along the way. Travel experts strongly recommend purchasing a Venezia Unica City Pass if you don't plan on walking the entirety of your trip due to the high cost of one-way fare (7.50 euros, or about $9). Perpetual crowds have the potential to put a damper on the experience, so consider taking a ride during the evening for a quieter, more atmospheric ride.
Whichever mode of transportation you chose, travelers agree that the Grand Canal is a magnificent attraction and must be experienced during your trip.
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Several centuries ago, if you wanted to cross the Grand Canal, the Rialto Bridge was the only way. There are now four major bridges that cross the canal, but Rialto is by far the most famous. The bridge's current incarnation is the handiwork of Antonio da Ponte, who beat out Michelangelo and Palladio for the job. Antonio da Ponte's name translates to "Anthony of the Bridge," and he built the Rialto Bridge entirely of Istrian stone after it collapsed multiple times from previous designs. Predicted to fail by critics, the bridge still stands and is considered an engineering marvel.
Recent visitors recommended enjoying the bridge either early in the day or after sunset, as they said it becomes quite crowded toward midday. Still, most say the lovely views from the top are worth any crowd maneuvering you have to do. Others recommend skipping the crowds altogether and enjoying the view of the Rialto Bridge from the water in a waterbus. Access to the bridge, which connects the neighborhoods of San Marco and San Polo, is free 24/7.
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The Teatro La Feniceis one of Italy's most popular opera houses, and one that has almost faced its demise from not one, but three big fires since opening in 1792. Locals and visitors alike joke at the name (which translates to Theater of the Phoenix), and how it has coincides with the theater's unfortunate history: like a Phoenix rising from the ashes, La Fenice has lived on.
Although recently renovated, it still has an Old World feel with decadent, intricately designed gold interiors outfitted with plush, red velvet chairs, making it the perfect setting to take in the auditory/visual pleasure of classic Italian opera. There are also a variety of dance – particularly ballet – and music performances scheduled throughout the year. For those with a tight itinerary, the theater offers day tours.
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This particular bell tower was constructed in the early 20th century, as a replica of the 16th-century original. The original structure provided the optimal setting for Galileo Galilei's presentation of the telescope; it also served as a stage for tight rope walkers who would humor the doge with their feats during the Flight of the Angel celebration. Today's campanile is used for sightseers desiring a Venetian panorama – though one with few canal views; oddly, since most of the canals are obscured from its 325-foot height.
Most visitors say the attraction is well worth your time and makes for a great photo. To avoid crowds, travelers say it's best to go early in the morning or later in the evening.
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St. Mark's Square, or Piazza San Marco, is considered by many to be the heart of Venice. As the largest square in Venice, St. Mark's Square is the only "piazza" in the city. All other squares are campo. Lining the square are multiple historical sites including St. Mark's Basilica, St. Mark's Campanile and Doge's Palace, as well as a number of restaurants, making it the perfect spot for leisurely people-watching and wine sipping. Along with intricate architecture and hearty plates of spaghetti carbonara, visitors will also be met with throngs of tourists, pigeons and vendors selling souvenirs. If you hoped to pick up a gondola hat or a carnival mask during your trip, this is the place you will find them.
Recent visitors stress to visit St. Mark's Square either early in the morning or late in the evening simply because of the crowds. With many tours of the city starting at the piazza, it is always busy during the day. Being a constant hub of activity, the restaurants and shops in the square are very expensive. Visitors suggest walking a few streets away from the square to find more reasonably priced meals and souvenirs. Despite the prices, some visitors said grabbing a coffee was worth being able to sit comfortably in the action and take in the surrounding architecture. You'll find St. Mark's Square in San Marco; it free to access 24/7.
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Centuries ago, the Bridge of Sighs, which connects the Doge's Palace to dungeons, was used to transport prisoners from the courtroom to the prisons. Legend has it that the Bridge of Sighs, or Ponte dei Sospiriin Italian, was named for the sighs prisoners like Giacomo Casanova would utter as they took one last look at the outside world through the bridge's windows as they made their way to prison for good. On a much lighter note, Venetian lore says if two lovers kiss on a gondola under the bridge, they'll be granted eternal bliss.
Recent travelers offer mixed reviews on the Bridge of Sighs. Those who enjoyed it appreciated the details of the architecture and unique placement of the bridge, saying it was a nice photo op, especially while the gondolas passed underneath it. Those who weren't as smitten noted its lack of accessibility as the main drawback, saying that merely looking at the bridge was underwhelming. Other disgruntled visitors pointed out that amount of tourists, combined with the small amount of viewing space, made the bridge barely visible.
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Views from the Venetian Lagoon give the Doge's Palace an ethereal look – almost like it's floating on top of water. But it's fitting, as the Doge's Palace (or Palazzo Ducale) has witnessed an intriguing history in its role as the residence of the doge (leader), the seat of government and the palace of justice. Everything from execution orders to the affairs of Venetian leaders was carried out here; and a web of secret passageways and hidden doors reveals a decidedly mysterious past.
Along with the attraction's historical significance, Doge's Palace is located in the busy St. Mark's Square, which means it sees a lot of foot traffic. It isn't uncommon to see a line wrapping around the building, so book your tickets in advance, and if you can't do that, arrive right when it opens to avoid crowds. Recent visitors who reported not doing either said they waited in line upward of an hour, and subsequently didn't enjoy the attraction as much. Despite this, many commented on the beauty of the building's architecture and the artwork featured. A number of travelers also highly recommended taking a guided tour, specifically the Secret Itineraries Tour, saying the history of the building alone easily trumped the beautiful surroundings. Tours last an hour and 15 minutes and are offered in English three times a day. With the tour ticket, you'll also have unguided access to the palace. Tickets cost 20 euros (about $23.50) for adults.
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Originally an academy, this attraction was later turned into the Galleria dell'Accademia museum by none other than Napoléon. Today, it's filled with an expansive collection of Venetian art from the 14th to the 18th century by artists such as Bellini, Tintoretto and Veronese.
If you enjoy art – especially Renaissance art – then you'll probably enjoy this museum. If not, you might be disappointed. Travelers who enjoyed this museum were primarily self-proclaimed art enthusiasts, while those who didn't identify as such reported being a bit bored with the subject matter depicted.
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The Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, sometimes referred to simply as Frari,is a gothic-style church that was finished in the 14th century. The exterior is minimal in comparison to Saint Mark's Basilica because the Franciscans who built it wanted the building to emulate their beliefs on living a life of poverty. The interior, however, is a different story. Inside, you'll see works by Titian, Bellini and Vivarini, among other famous artists, and all for a cheaper price than the city's Venetian art museums.
Recent visitors appreciated the minimal entrance fee, as well as the fact that it sits away from the frenzy of the Piazza San Marco. Others admired its intricate interiors, as well as its bevy of artworks, calling it a "must-see."
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In 1516, Jews in Venice were forced to move to a small northwestern section of the island. Considered to be the world's first ghetto, residents were only allowed to leave the neighborhood during the day and were then locked up at night and guarded. Today, this area is a part of the Cannaregio sestiere (district) and is filled with restaurants and shops (some offering kosher products), a Jewish museum as well as several synagogues, which are open for touring. Although it's free to wander around the neighborhood – and you might want to do just that – the synagogue tours do cost.
For a deeper understanding of the ghetto's history, recent travelers recommend booking a walking tour through an outfitter like Viator. Several water bus lines stop near the neighborhood, but you can also reach it on foot – it's about a 10-minute walk from the Lista di Spagna. For more information, visit the neighborhood's website.
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Expat American art collector Peggy Guggenheim dedicated her life to gathering this impressive body of 20th-century contemporary art. The collection, which is housed in the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni on the Grand Canal (also Peggy's former home), contains works by artists such as Magritte, Picasso, Pollock, Chagall and Dalí. In the sculpture garden, you can pay your respects to the late Peggy herself, as well as her beloved dogs, who are buried beside her.
Many travelers agree the Peggy Guggenheim Collection is well worth the visit. Some visitors were keen to point out that getting to know Peggy's life, on top of seeing the exceptional art, made the experience more unique than merely visiting a museum. Others who also enjoyed the museum said it's a nice break from the traditional Renaissance paintings often seen in other top European museums.
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The Correr Civic Museum, also known as the Museo Correr, is a large museum that displays art and artifacts from Venice's history as well as the former royals quarters. If you're also planning to visit Doge's Palace (the former government seat and leader's residence), the standard ticket includes entry to this attraction. Many recent travelers said that's how they ended up at the Correr Museum. Those who visited the museum said they were pleasantly surprised at how much they enjoyed the museum considering it wasn't on their must-see list (though they recommend you add it to yours). Others enjoyed the museum's peace and quiet and said it's a great escape from the crowds in Piazza San Marco. Reviewers were also pleased with the on-site cafe.
St. Mark's Square Museums tickets, which include combined entry to Doge's Palace, Museo Correr, Museo Archeologico Nazionale and Monumental Rooms of the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana, cost 20 euros (about $23.40) for adults and 13 euros (about $15.20) for kids 6 to 14. From November to March, Museo Correr is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; from April to October it's open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. For more information, visit the museum's website.
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