Venice, Italy is a beautiful city in northern Italy, famous for its canals, gondolas, and festivals. It’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We visited a few years ago, before I was a professional travel writer, and as I was looking back through my travel posts, I realized I hadn’t actually written much about one of my favorite European cities, beyond a bare bones travel guide I plan to bulk up soon. We visited right after Carnival, and the weather was perfect, the city itself wasn’t overly crowded, we never had to wait more than 20 minutes for a table anywhere in the city, and overall it was an incredible trip. Here is a list of the best things to see and do in Venice, Italy, so that you may plan the best trip possible.
Walk Along Canals & Explore Without a Plan
This was the best way to explore Venice, on foot, and without much of a plan. We couldn’t have navigated Venice very easily if we’d tried, which didn’t matter because everything is interconnected anyway, and we seemed to end up where we wanted to go eventually. Some of the most beautiful views in Venice are found in the most unexpected places.
I’m normally a big planner, but Venice just called out to us, and we followed where the winds took us. We hit everything on this list and much more, simply by walking throughout the city, stopping to eat whenever we were hungry. Even if the idea of wandering around without a solid plan makes you anxious, try for a day or even an afternoon and see how fascinating the city is.
By the way, there are no streets or cars in Venice, everything is connected by canals, most of which have sidewalks on either side. If you run into a dead-end, or a water landing where you cannot continue on foot, simply turn around and try another walkway.
Admire the Incredible Variety of Doors, Windows, Window Boxes, and Façades
I’ve never seen such an abundance of flower boxes, shutters, building colors, window shapes and sizes, doors and door frames, and letterboxes as I did when wandering around Venice.
It was an adventure in exterior decor unlike anywhere else in the world, so if you’re looking for inspiration for a home refresh, come to Venice!
Eat Gelato and Other Classic Italian Dishes
I have Italian ancestry, and my mother made lots of delicious Italian meals from scratch growing up, so I was well acquainted with the delicious and intricate flavors of Italy long before we arrived to Venice, our first stop on our Italian tour, by train. If you’ve never had authentic Italian food, and I don’t mean from some cheap imitation like Olive Garden, you’ll be blown away by how delicious everything is in Italy. Pizza, pasta dishes like fettuccini and spaghetti, gelato, cannoli, panini, and so much more are abundant throughout Venice, and most places offer fresh seafood as well. Smoothie places were also very common around the city.
I recommend having lunch near Venice’s Fish Market for fresh-as-can-be seafood, caught only a couple of hours before being served. We ate at a restaurant nearby, and they were out of the fish we had ordered, so they made a call, and a few moments later, a fisherman rode up on a boat and dropped off our fish that was still moving. It doesn’t get any fresher than that. It’s a good thing we did so much walking from before the sun came up until long after it had set, otherwise we wouldn’t have had any room for all of the great food in town.
Ride in a Gondola at Sunset
When most people think of Venice, they most likely imagine romantic rides down the canal at sunset in a colorful gondola, while the gondolier serenades them in Italian. Gondola rides are plentiful and easy to find, no matter where you go in the city.
Pick the gondola you like the best for photos, or get recommendations from friends, and schedule a ride. Some gondolas may allow walk on rides, others require a deposit in advance. Ask which route the gondola takes, and plan according to where you’d like to end up, or let the gondolier decide where to take you and you will be dropped off at the pick-up point.
See the Bridge of Sighs
This beautiful white limestone bridge, which is ornately carved, is one of the most famous bridges in the world. It connects a prison to Dodge’s Palace. It is called the Bridge of Sighs, because it’s believed to have been the last thing most prisoners saw before being imprisoned. They were believed to have often sighed at the beauty of the Bridge, and Venice herself, although this may not actually have been true, as most prisoners would have arrived at a time when being imprisoned wasn’t a death sentence.
See a Performance at Teatro La Fenice
If the mention of Italy brings to mind powerful Opera performances, you’re not alone. This theatre is one of the most famous theaters in the world, and is particular famous amongst fans of Italian opera. “La Fenice” means “The Phoenix” and the theater was given this name as it burned to the ground not once or twice, but on three separate occasions back in 1774, 1792, and 1836, finally being rebuilt and reopened in 2004. The level of detail and intricacy inside of the theatre is worthy of a visit solely based on its artistic and architectural merit.
Take a Day Trip to the Island of Burano
About a 40 minute water taxi ride away from Venice, the island of Burano is most famous for its colorful fishing houses and for its history of ornate lacework creations.
Visit the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute
This beautiful church built in the Baroque style in the 1680s was built as a plague church. The name means “Saint Mary of Health”, and people who had contracted the Black Plague, or more likely their families, would come to pray that the Virgin Mary would heal them or prevent them from contracting the disease that wiped out more than 1/3 of Venetians. Many believed that by building more churches dedicated to the Virgin Mary, the city would be spared from the plague that was wiping out Europe and Eastern Asia.
The interior decor heavily references the Black Death, and nowadays is a church open for services or prayer, and anyone is welcome to pay to enter the church if not worshipping there. Be sure to look up if you stand near the church, the eaves and curves of the church are absolutely breathtaking.
Visit Dodge’s Palace & Museum
Built in 1330 in the Venetian Gothic style, this was where the Dodge, or the highest ranking leader of the Republic of Venice from the 700s to the late 1700s. This residence is one of the grandest in all of Italy.
From Dodge’s Palace, head to the nearby water taxi docks and take a 15 minute water taxi ride to the Island of Murano, famous for its glassblowing and see how glass is made, shop locally made Murano glass objet d’arts, and see another, excellent view of Venice and the Lagoon.
Visit Saint Mark’s Basilica & Saint Mark’s Square
This is a cathedral of the Archdioceses of Venice, and was built in the 1000s. The interior is covered in gold that took centuries to accumulate and complete, as well as ornate works of art. We learned that much of what is housed inside this basilica was stolen, plundered, or traded during wars and crusades. Visitors can walk the square, admire the surrounding buildings, dine in a nearby café, or they can pay to enter the basilica and tour the interior.
Photos are not allowed while inside of this building, but we were told we could take a photo once out on the balcony portions, pointing inward, which shows the incredible gold ceiling, pictured below.
While in the square, look for a massive, astronomical clock that is apparently made of lapis lazuli, and not only tracks time, but also the position of some constellations. This is called Saint Mark’s Clocktower.
Visit the Rialto Bridge and Admire the Gran Canal
Perhaps the most recognizable spot in all of Venice, the Rialto Bridge is the oldest and tallest bridge in Venice. Made of white marble, the top of the bridge offers an incredible view of Venice, the Gran (grand) Canal, and there are vendors located atop the bridge.
Be aware that some seedy merchants, both on this bridge but around the city, will try to shove flowers into your hands or into your bag and then demand money in exchange for them, attempting to negotiate with you. Do not accept anything offered to you, or catch anything tossed your way, as these sellers will not leave you alone and won’t take the flower(s) back unless you set them on the ground and walk away. It’s very annoying, but keep your bags and hands close to yourself and say a quick “non, grazie” and keep walking.
I hope this gives you some great ideas of things to see, eat, and do in the beautiful city of Venice!
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