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 overcrowding, I leave you with this list of must-sees for a unique trip that will serve you whether you visit Venice in one day or spend a week in Venice.
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 monuments of Venice, 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 the Doge's Palace in its majestic rooms 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 you to buy your ticket online in advance to avoid the long queues to access it, with a guided tour to also learn about its history from the hand of a professional guide or even with a convenient tourist pass that also includes access to other of the best museums in Venice. I leave you a post about the prices of the Doge's Palace of Venice that will solve any doubt.
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 belvedere.
I recommend you 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.
And if you are looking for a place to eat after your visit, here are some restaurants near St. Mark's Basilica to enjoy Italian food as it deserves.
3. Have a cup of 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 must be strolled to see its lively day and night life 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 typical Venetian decor.
The Acqua alta in St. Mark's Square
If you travel to Venice in winter, you may be surprised by the rain and with it the rise in the flow of the canals. This phenomenon is known as Acqua alta and lasts only a few hours, but if you witness it, don't hesitate and take out your camera. It is very likely that you will see it if you visit the city in November or December, practically impossible if you do it in August or September and unlikely but not impossible if you travel to Venice in October, January or February.
Personally I think it is quite an experience, but if you want to avoid it I leave you this post about the best time to travel to Venice.
4. Take a gondola ride through the small canals of Venice
Taking a gondola ride through the canals of Venice is a romantic, super nice and already iconic activity 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 in Venice in advance and online to avoid wasting time there given its high demand and the difficulty to distinguish the 'official' gondoliers from the 'pirates', very common in the city.
Given the demand for this activity, there are different combinations with which you can hire, 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 the trip. At special times such as Christmas in Venice, the price of the gondola ride usually goes up.
5. Go out in search of the most important and ancient bridges of Venice
With over 400 bridges, it is impossible to walk around Venice without crossing many of them or even passing under if you book a cruise on the Grand Canal of Venice, but there are some must-see bridges in Venice 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 Barefoot Bridge, also called the Station Bridge because of 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, is 48 meters long 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 spots from which to appreciate Venice, with unique views of the city's red rooftops and downtown churches.
- St. Mark's Campanile. The highest in Venice and located in St. Mark's Square, it will give you the best views of the historic center.
- San Giorgio Maggiore bell tower. To appreciate the Venetian lagoon, nothing better than the viewpoint of this church erected 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 major 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 Maria della Salute. It includes works by Tintoretto and others by the brilliant 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 Maria 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 world famous 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. Visit one of the many factories of the precious and famous Murano glass and learn how it is worked by a master glassmaker (something especially curious for the little ones so take note if you travel with children to Venice), get lost in the colorful fishermen's houses and stalls of exquisite handmade lace in Burano and discover the architectural and historical heritage of Torcello, are unforgettable experiences that you should do on your trip to Venice.
Getting to the islands of Murano and Burano from Venice is easy, although if you want to make the most of your time and see all the tourist attractions of Murano and enjoy everything there is to do in Burano I recommend an organized excursion.
Excursions from Venice
These islands are just two of the must-do getaways from Venice whenever there is an opportunity. In addition, due to its location you will also find excursions to Florence from Venice and excursions to Bologna from Florence.
If you are wondering how many days is recommended to spend in Venice I will tell you that the city can be seen in a couple of days, at most you can travel three days to Venice if you want to see it very thoroughly. From a four-day trip to Venice do not hesitate and book excursions to nearby cities.
9. Use the Vaporetto whenever you can
Walking around Venice can be exhausting, but fortunately, the Venetian 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 when visiting Venice? Take an entire route along the Grand Canal. It is certainly the cheapest way to cross it by water and although the experience is not as exclusive as the gondola, the views are the same and it is one of the main ways to get around Venice.
10. Visit the Lido beach in summertime
The Lido of Venice is an area unknown to tourists and loved by the citizens of Venice, for being the beach where they escape to on weekends (especially in good weather) to disconnect from the bustle of the city center. If you are in Venice on one of those hot summer days in Venice 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. See the Bridge of Sighs
The Bridge of Sighs 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 that you look for a guided tour of the area, you will not regret it!
13. Aperitif and dinner, best 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. In the Venetian night, the streets always have a festive atmosphere, with lots of terraces on the street and groups of young people having an aperitif or a good pizza. Believe me, you don't want to miss this part of the city. Here is a list of cheap restaurants to eat in Venice.
14. A cocktail overlooking 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 in itself, is worth seeing) or the St. Regis are my favorites. If you prefer to have the views 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.
15. Make the most of your time by hiring a transfer from the airport
The city of Venice will probably grab you so much that you will not want to leave it, but as unfortunately all good things come to an end, you have to go to the airport. Transfers from Venice airport to the center and vice versa can be just another formality or can leave you with a bad taste in your mouth. Venice is an expensive and very touristy city so it will not be uncommon for them to try to rip you off to get to and from the airport. To avoid this and, of course, to make the most of your time in the city, my advice is to book your transfer in advance.