Venice is the capital of the Veneto region in the northeast of the country and one of its most beautiful and visited cities, with 50,000 inhabitants and a whopping 25 million tourists a year. If you want to enjoy the city without falling into the typical tourist traps or getting lost in the crowds, here's a list of must-sees for a unique trip:
1. Visit the majestic Doge's Palace
Located in the great St. Mark's Square, the Doge's Palace is one of the most important buildings in Venice, a symbol of its greatest era of power and splendor and residence of the powerful Doges for almost a century. More than 120 dukes decided the fate of the city inside its majestic halls and chambers decorated with works of art and paintings by Renaissance artists such as Titian, Veronese, and Tintoretto, which you can admire today.
There are many ways to visit the Doge's Palace, but I recommend that you buy your ticket online in advance to avoid the long lines at its entrance, with a guided tour to also learn about its history from a professional guide or even with a convenient tourist pass that also includes access to other of the best museums in Venice.
2. Enter the magnificent St. Mark's Basilica
The impressive St. Mark's Basilica is another must-see in Venice. Also located in St. Mark's Square, this Byzantine temple, the only one of its kind in Italy, was erected in 828 to keep the relics of this saint. If it is impressive on the outside, wait until you see it on the inside, and above all, to see the views of the square from its dome.
I recommend you to take a guided tour of St. Mark's Basilica to admire its greatest jewels: the Byzantine Treasury, the Golden Shovel, a Byzantine altarpiece full of precious stones and gems, and the Museum with the Horses of St. Mark, bronze statues looted from the hippodrome of Constantinople and from which you will access the terrace of the basilica, with magnificent views of St. Mark's Square.
3. Have an authentic Italian coffee in St. Mark's Square
In addition to entering the Doge's Palace and St. Mark's Basilica, the imposing 9th century St. Mark's Square is home to some of the most important museums and buildings to see in Venice, such as the Clock Tower, the Campanile, the Correr Museum or the monumental rooms of the Sansoviniana Bookshop.
Nicknamed 'The Most Beautiful Hall in Europe' by Napoleon himself when he burst into the city and was enraptured by its beauty, St. Mark's Square is a place to stroll around to see its bustling day and nightlife and even enter one of its historic cafes, such as Café Florian or Café Quadri, to taste a cup of its delicious (but expensive) coffee among the most luxurious and typically Venetian décor.
4. Take a gondola ride along the small canals of Venice
Taking a gondola ride through the canals of Venice is a romantic activity for a couple, iconic of Venice. I recommend you not to miss this once in a lifetime experience, but above all, I advise you to book your gondola ride through Venice in advance and online so as not to waste time with the many scammy gondoliers who will hassle you offering their low-quality gondola rides.
Given the demand for this activity, there are different combinations with which you can choose, not only the gondola ride but also a guided tour of the city or its most important buildings, which will mean a good saving on your trip.
5. Go out in search of the most important and ancient bridges of Venice
With more than 400 bridges, it is impossible to walk around Venice without crossing many of them, but there are some must-see bridges whose history you can learn about thanks to some of the guided walking tours of the city.
- The Ponte Rialto is the oldest and most famous of the four bridges that cross the Grand Canal and was built in stone between 1588 and 1591. The best time to go up to this bridge, although also the busiest, is at sunset, as you will enjoy the best sunset in Venice. From one of the streets leading down from the bridge, you can discover the Rialto Market, with dozens of stalls selling everything from food to Venetian masks or Murano glass.
- The Ponte degli Scalzi, also called Station Bridge due to its proximity to the Santa Lucia railway station, was built in 1932 in stone and with a single arch.
- The Accademia Bridge, built in wood, and was erected to replace the previous iron one and inaugurated in 1933.
6. Visit the best viewpoints for unique views of Venice
One of the most rewarding experiences to do in Venice is to ascend to its spectacular viewpoints, located on terraces or ancient towers, to get wonderful photographs of the panoramic view of this beautiful city. I especially recommend:
- Scala Contarini del Bovolo. The famous spiral staircase of this Venetian palace is another of the most beautiful points from which to appreciate Venice, with unique views of the red roofs of the city and the churches of the center.
- Campanile de San Marcos. The tallest bell tower in Venice and located in St. Mark's Square, it will give you the best views of the historic center.
- Campanile de San Giorgio Maggiore. To appreciate the Venetian lagoon, there is nothing better than the viewpoint of this church built on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore, which houses masterpieces by Tinttoreto such as 'The Last Supper', 'The Deposition' and 'The Gathering of the Manna'.
7. Explore other main churches in Venice
In addition to the majestic St. Mark's Basilica, Venice has other relevant temples, which you can visit through some of the tickets that include guided tours of Venice, and that stand out for their architecture and the artistic treasures hidden in their interiors, such as:
- Santi Giovanni e Paolo. This is one of the most beautiful churches in Venice and the largest of all, housing the remains of 27 doges (dukes) and remarkable works of art.
- Santa María della Salute. It houses works by Tintoretto and Titian and stands out for its dome. This church was built after the tragic plague epidemic that struck the city and killed more than 80,000 inhabitants.
- Santa María Gloriosa dei Frari. Its ornate exterior, in contrast to its sober exterior, exhibits great works by Titian, such as 'The Assumption', and houses his mausoleum and that of another genius, Antonio Canova.
- Church of San Barnaba. This church, located in the interesting neighborhood of Dorsoduro, became very famous worldwide for appearing in the movie 'Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade'.
8. Discover the most important islands, Murano and Burano, from Venice
If you spend at least two days in Venice, I recommend you save half a day for an excursion to the islands of Murano, Burano, and Torcello. Visiting one of the many factories of the precious and famous Murano glass and learning how it is worked by a master glassmaker, getting lost in the colorful alleys of fishermen's houses and stalls of exquisite handmade lace in Burano, and discovering the architectural and historical heritage of Torcello, are unforgettable experiences that you should do on your trip to Venice.
9. Use the Vaporetto whenever possible
Strolling around Venice can be exhausting, but fortunately, the Vaporetto is at the service of citizens and tourists to take you from one side of the city to the other in comfort while enjoying the views of the majestic palaces that surround its canals. A tip? Take an entire tour on the Grand Canal. It's definitely the cheapest way to cross it by water and although the experience is not as exclusive as the gondola, the views are the same.
10. Visit the Lido beach in the summertime
The Lido of Venice is an area unknown by tourists and loved by the citizens of Venice, for being the beach where they escape on weekends (especially in good weather) to rest from the hustle and bustle of the city center. If you are in Venice on one of those hot summer days and you feel like getting to know a much more "local" corner, you can reach it by Vaporetto and take a swim like a Venetian. There you will also find a residential area with bars and restaurants where you can spend a relaxing afternoon.
11. Contemplate the Bridge of Sighs
This bridge deserves a special mention, not only for its beauty but also for the history behind it, being the bridge by which to access the dungeons of the prison of the Doge's Palace. You will find it very close to St. Mark's Square and I recommend that you see it both day and night. You will recognize it immediately, as it is the target of the flashes of tourists strolling through the area.
12. Get to know the Jewish quarter of Venice
It often goes unnoticed by visitors to the city, but this Jewish quarter is one of the best-preserved ghettos in Europe today. Its streets are, if possible, more delicate and narrow than those of the rest of the city and the history that is breathed within its walls is worth to be known. For this, I recommend you to join a guided tour of the area, you will not regret it!
13. Aperitif and dinner, better in Canareggio
Canareggio is one of the most authentic areas of Venice: walking through its streets you can see how Venetians really live, what their houses are like, or even the workshops where they repair their boats. At night, its streets always have a festive atmosphere, with lots of terraces on the street and groups of young people having pizza al fresco. Believe me, you don't want to miss this part of the city.
14. A cocktail with a view of Santa Maria della Salute
Here comes the treat of the day: if after hours of intense walking you need to rest but are reluctant to go to the hotel, I recommend you treat yourself to a cocktail (or a coffee) on the terrace of one of the luxurious hotels at the end of the Grand Canal that offer wonderful views of Santa Maria della Salute.
The Palazzo Gritti (which as a building itself, is worth seeing) or the St. Regis are my favorites. If you prefer to have a view from the opposite side, you will love the terrace of the Sina Centurion Palace. The terrace has incredible views and is right on top of the water.