Wondering what the best things to do in Venice are? Here’s a little guide to help you plan 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, Venice has a ton 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. I’ve included what I like to do whenever I’m in town, plus some helpful tips and addresses.
Explore the jewels of St. Mark’s Square
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. It’ll be a whole different experience and you’ll get some awesome, 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.
There are four bridges crossing the street, and countless beautiful palaces of all shapes and styles line its banks, making it the most beautiful street in the world, as it was defined back in the 15th century.
Each of the impressive buildings 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. And did you know Lord Byron loved swimming naked in the Grand Canal during his stays at Palazzo Mocenigo?
Here’s a tip: plan 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
There are a lot of stunning viewpoints in Venice, each with a different angle on the city’s beauty. You’ll find great vantage spots at iconic landmarks (like St. Mark’s Campanile), inside museums (like the Correr Museum), on hotel rooftops (like the Hilton Molino Stucky‘s panoramic terrace), or in hidden spots around the city.
Keep an eye on the blog, as I’ll go into more detail about the top places to get the best views of Venice soon.
Take a gondola ferry
I’m sure Venice gondola rides top your lists, but I wouldn’t recommend them unless you plan them carefully (route, time of day, etc.).
The 30-minute ride is not cheap (€80 during the day and €100 at night), and I’ve seen too many travellers stuck in a slow procession of gondolas along small canals – not exactly the picture-perfect experience you see on Instagram.
If you want a truly local experience, take the gondola ferry (“traghetto”). It’s a regular gondola that transports passengers from one side of the Grand Canal to the other where there are no bridges. Sure, it’s a much shorter ride, but you still get to experience a gondola ride for as little as €2.
Visit at least one Venetian museum
Just the museums and galleries in Venice would fill a week. The choice of collections to browse is varied, thus ensuring days of happy wandering to any art enthusiast. Plus, they’re located in stunning palaces that are works of art themselves.
I love Galleria dell’Accademia, showcasing an impressive collection of paintings by the likes of Tintoretto, Canaletto, Tiziano, Giorgione. It also has Leonardo’s famous Vitruvian Man (sadly, it’s rarely on display to prevent deterioration).
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 has a lot of artisanal workshops filled with stories and great products to buy.
La Pietra Filosofale in the San Marco district is the secret address for authentic Venetian masks. And if you want to add a unique piece to your wardrobe, go to 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 gardens are often part of monastic structures, like the Redentore Convent Gardens 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 soak up 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.
Venice’s most famous market is in Rialto, which is often ranked as one of the best things to do in Venice. However, I suggest you take the road less traveled and visit such places as the Santa Marta farmer’s market on Monday and the weekly organic market at the Giudecca Women’s Prison on Thursday.
Visit enchanting churches
The streets of Venice always lead to something fascinating, and often, that 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.
Along with icons like the Church of the Santissimo Redentore designed by Andrea Palladio, 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 (443 square feet!).
I also recommend visiting the Church of Santo Stefano to see Tintoretto’s Last Supper, and the Frari Church in San Polo for Titian’s Assumption and the tomb of Canova.
Here’s a tip: you can buy a Chorus pass for just €12 and visit 15 beautiful churches (individual entry is normally €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. Grab a 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 spent time there between concerts, discussions, gambling, and romantic rendezvous (Giacomo Casanova was a regular).
Some of the casinos are still in existence and provide a great way 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 Casino Venier. When you are there, ask the 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
A visit to the old Jewish quarter is essential to fully understand Venice’s history and culture.
Some 500 years ago, the Venetian Republic forced its Jewish community to live in a gated area of the Cannaregio district, creating 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.
The area is still home to the local Jewish community. It’s a lovely neighbourhood full 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.
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
Spritz and cicchetti, what a fabulous Venetian ritual! They are best enjoyed at a bacaro, a traditional Venetian tavern with rustic décor and a cozy, informal atmosphere.
An aperitif in Venice typically consists of a Spritz or an Ombra (glass of wine) with 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. You can enjoy them 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
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 organized 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. And if you have some extra days on hand, plan some more sightseeing adventures with these 9 EASY DAY TRIPS FROM VENICE BY TRAIN.
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,