Wondering what the best things to do in Venice are? Check out this little guide in preparation for your next trip to Italy’s floating city.
As I showed you in my Instagram stories, I recently returned from Venice, where I averaged 20 km a day walking and sightseeing – and it wasn’t even my first time in the city. But let’s face it, despite being relatively compact, Venice has just so much to see and do.
Now, I know far too well how difficult it can be to narrow down your choices and come up with a good travel plan, so I’ve created this list of things to do in Venice to help you make the most of your trip. Basically, it’s what I like doing every time I’m in town, and I’ve also included some useful tips and addresses.
Explore the jewels of St. Mark’s Square
Let’s start with the obvious. St. Mark’s Square might be the most crowded place in all of Venice, but there’s a reason why it pulls in massive crowds – actually, a lot of reasons. From the shimmering mosaics of St. Mark’s Basilica and the rich collection of Correr Museum to the spectacular interiors of the Doge’s Palace (including the famous Bridge of Sighs), the city’s only piazza is the perfect starting point for a crash course in the fascinating history of Venice. In other words, be ready to spend pretty much an entire day here.
Here’s a tip: set your alarm early one morning and try to be in St Mark’s Square around 6:30 am for a totally different experience and lots of crowd-free photo backdrops!
Cruise the Grand Canal and admire the palaces
Hop on Vaporetto no. 1 at St Mark’s and enjoy the magical views of the Grand Canal as it snakes its way to Piazzale Roma. The most beautiful street in the world, as it was defined back in the 15th century, runs for almost four kilometres, with only four bridges crossing its path and countless beautiful palaces of all shapes and architectural styles lining its banks.
Every one of the impressive buildings you’ll see has a story to tell. There’s Ca’ Dario, the cursed palace whose owners have met with a terrible fate, or Palazzo Grassi, which is said to be inhabited by the ghost of a young girl who died under mysterious circumstances in the early 1900s. Also, did you know that during his stays at Palazzo Mocenigo, Lord Byron liked to swim naked in the Grand Canal?
Here’s a tip: schedule the cruise at sunset when the light is at its most beautiful and adds a little magic to the experience.
Enjoy the best views of Venice
Venice is full of impressive viewpoints, each offering its own particular angle on the city’s unique scenery. You’ll find excellent vantage spots in iconic landmarks (like St. Mark’s Campanile), inside museums (like the Correr Museum), on hotel rooftops (like the panoramic terrace of Hilton Molino Stucky), or in hidden spots around the city.
Keep an eye on the blog, as I’ll go into more detail about the top places for the best views of Venice with a specific post in the upcoming weeks.
Take a gondola ferry
I know the gondola ride tops your Venice bucket lists, but I personally wouldn’t recommend it unless you plan the experience carefully (route, time of the day, etc.). The 30-minute ride is not cheap (€80 during the day and €100 in the evening), and honestly, I’ve seen too many travellers stuck in a slow procession of gondolas along small canals – surely not the picture-perfect experience you see on Instagram.
For a truly local experience, try the gondola ferry (“traghetto”) instead. It’s a regular gondola that transports passengers from one side of the Grand Canal to the other where there are no bridges. It’s a much shorter ride, true, but you still get to experience a gondola ride for as little as €2.
Visit at least a museum
Venice museums and art galleries alone would deserve an entire week. The choice of collections to browse is varied, thus ensuring days of happy wandering to any art enthusiast. Not to mention that they are located inside splendid palaces that are works of art themselves.
One of my favorite is Galleria dell’Accademia, with its impressive collection of artworks by the likes of Tintoretto, Canaletto, Tiziano, Giorgione; it also hosts Leonardo’s famous Vitruvian Man (sadly, it’s rarely put on display to avoid deterioration). The Scuola Grande di San Rocco is a must for fans of Tintoretto, while modern art can be found at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection and the Ca’ Pesaro International Gallery of Modern Art. Other great options include the Museum of Ca’ Rezzonico, a must for a deep dive into 18th-century Venice, and the Museum of the History of Textiles, Costumes, and Perfumes at Palazzo Mocenigo.
Shop local at the workshops of Venetian artisans
If you’re planning to do some shopping, skip the big brands in St Mark’s and the souvenir stalls around major landmarks and shop local instead. Venice is home to many interesting artisanal workshops with a story to tell and fabulous products to purchase.
For example, visit the workshop of Alessandra Gardin for Murano glass jewellery (I love her rings!) or go to Paperowl creates amazing paper bijoux. La Pietra Filosofale in the San Marco district is the secret address for authentic Venetian masks. If you want to add a unique piece to your wardrobe, check out Banco Lotto in the Castello district, which sells original handmade clothes created by female inmates of the Giudecca prison.
Discover the hidden gardens of Venice
In a city built on the water, it can be easy to forget about gardens and parks. Still, Venice has plenty of beautiful green spaces for peaceful breaks in between sights. Over 500, to be precise. These are often a legacy of monastic structures, such as the Redentore Convent Gardens and Orchard on the Giudecca island, or noble palaces, like the 17th-century garden of Palazzo Soranzo Cappello.
The Greenhouse in the Castello Gardens is a magical space with a flower store and a small cafeteria. When you need a break from the crowds of St. Mark’s Square, go to the Royal Gardens, a lovely little park complete with a cafè inside a greenhouse.
Join locals at the market
Visiting markets is a great way to immerse yourself in the daily life of the city. If this isn’t a good enough reason, think of all the fabulous products you can find there, from the fresh fish supplied by the Adriatic to the delicious fruit and vegetables grown on the islands of the lagoon.
The most famous market in Venice is in Rialto, which is often listed among the best things to do in Venice. However, as usual, I suggest you take the road less travelled and visit such places as farmer’s market taking place in Santa Marta on Monday morning and the weekly organic market held at the entrance to the Giudecca Women’s Prison on Thursday morning.
Visit enchanting churches
The streets of Venice always lead to something fascinating, and very often, this involves a church. Now, the special thing about religious sites in Venice is that most of the time they are as filled with artistic treasures as museums, so don’t hesitate to pop in when you encounter one, because you’ll be in for a treat.
Besides icons like the Church of the Santissimo Redentore designed by Andrea Palladio or the, you can walk through a flooded crypt in the Church of San Zaccaria or admire the world’s largest oil painting in the Church of San Pantalon (it measures some 443 square feet!). I also recommend visiting the Church of Santo Stefano to admire Tintoretto’s Last Supper and the Frari Church in San Polo, home to Titian’s Assumption and the tomb of Canova.
Here’s a tip: some 15 churches are part of the Banco Lotto and you can buy a pass to visit all of them for just €12 (individual entry is €3).
Meet Venice’s squeraroli
One of the top things to do in Venice is visiting a squero, the traditional boatyard where gondolas and other typical Venetian boats are built and repaired (entirely by hand). It’s a fascinating place to see a gondola being made and learn everything about it directly from the squeraroli, as the boat builders are called.
Here’s a tip: for a Spritz with a special view, go to Osteria al Squero located right in front of Squero San Trovaso. Get your drink, go outside and enjoy the show.
Step inside an authentic Venetian casino
Literally translated as “small houses”, casinos were private clubs for Venetian aristocrats who split their time there between concerts, discussions, gambling, and romantic rendezvous (Giacomo Casanova was a regular). Some casinos are still visible and provide an excellent opportunity to learn more about life in 18th-century Venice.
There’s Casino Zane, where Mozart is said to have played when he visited the city for the Carnival in 1771; Casino Sagredo, which is now part of the luxury Ca’ Sagredo Hotel; and the one I visited, Casino Venier, a magical little place hidden at the foot of the Baretteri bridge.
Here’s a tip: if you are a group, call in advance to make sure you can visit the place and once there, ask the super kind lady to tell you the story of the Casino and show you the little peephole on the floor.
Join a tour of Venice’s Jewish Quarter
You just can’t get the complete picture of Venice’s history and culture if you don’t visit the city’s old Jewish quarter. Some 500 years ago, the Venetian Republic forced its Jewish community to live in a gated area of the Cannaregio district, thus establishing one of the first Jewish ghettos in the world. The ghetto survived until 1797, when Napoleon put an end to the discrimination against the Jews.
Today the area remains the centre of the local Jewish community. You’ll find a lovely neighbourhood of tall, colourful buildings hiding beautiful synagogues. The tiny Jewish Museum is the best place to learn about Jewish life in Venice. You can purchase a €10 ticket which includes a guided tour of a synagogue. You can also request private guided tours. Whatever you choose, it’ll be totally worth it.
Here’s a tip: while visiting the Jewish ghetto, try the Kosher cuisine at Gam Gam restaurant and grab some biscuits from Giovanni Volpe bakery (my favourite are the azzime).
Enjoy a Venetian aperitivo in a traditional bacaro
Ah, Spritz and cicchetti, what a fabulous Venetian ritual! There’s no better place to enjoy it than a bacaro, the traditional Venetian tavern with rustic décor and a cosy, informal environment. The typical Venetian aperitif consists of a Spritz or a “ombra” (glass of wine) accompanied by cicchetti. These are small snacks ranging from slices of bread with various toppings to things like fried sardines, grilled polenta with stockfish, little sandwiches, meatballs, etc. All to be consumed either seated at a table, standing at the counter, or outside along a canal.
Cantina Do Mori is the oldest bacaro in Venice (it opened in 1462) and it’s said that Casanova was a regular. Bacaro Risorto in Castello, Vecia Carbonera in Cannaregio, Bacareto Da Lele close to the station, and All’Arco near the Rialto market are among the top bacari on my list.
Here’s a tip: if you want to try something a bit unusual, order a Spritz with Cynar, the famous artichoke-based liquor.
Try all the traditional Venice food
This one is valid all over Italy, so make sure to try all the delicious food Venice is famous for. This includes sarde in saor (sweet-and-sour marinated sardines), bigoli in salsa(long pasta shape served with squid ink or other sauces), polenta (it usually accompanies some mains), baccalà mantecato (creamed cod), and my favorite – fegato alla veneziana (Venetian style liver).
Here’s a tip: I’m sure you’ve heard this already, but please, stay away from restaurants where menus have multiple flags and photos of dishes, as these are generally signs of a tourist trap.
Go island hopping in the Venetian lagoon
I highly recommend setting aside one day to explore some of the beautiful islands of the Venice lagoon, each with its own unique traits. Murano is the most famous and Burano is simply adorable, but try to squeeze in also some lesser-known gems like San Francesco del Deserto (a peaceful islet inhabited by a bunch of monks), Sant’Erasmo (famous for its purple artichokes), and Pellestrina (one of the best places to watch sunsets).
Personally, I really liked rural Torcello (great for mosaics and seafood risotto) and Giudecca (a truly privileged viewpoint on Venice). Oh, and if you’re visiting Venice in summer and dying for a swim, go to the beach at Lido.
Here’s a tip: skip organised tours; you can easily visit the islands independently with a one-day Vaporetto card (€20).
I’ve saved the best for the last: put away maps and just wander aimlessly around the city. Again, this is true everywhere, but particularly in Venice, where you often get inundated with tips and recommendations, but at the end of the day, the city reveals its best secrets only to curious travellers.
Some examples? When exploring the residential area of Dorsoduro, I ended up in the most peaceful campo (San Nicolò dei Mendicoli), where I could hear the sound of TVs and clinking cutlery from the windows. And I’ll always remember that time when I took a side calle in the Castello district and ended up chatting with a local named Luigino who showed me some beautiful details (and the stories behind them) I would have probably missed otherwise.
I hope you found this list of things to do in Venice useful! For more tips for traveling to Venice, check out these 11-tips for your trip to Venice.
Pssst…. Pin this article for future reference and get in touch if you have any questions in preparation for your next trip to Venice!
Ciao for now,