Top 10 Things to Do in Venice
Venice is an amazing city and one that's unlike anywhere else in the world. With upwards of 20 million visitors each year, it's one of the world's best-loved tourist destinations.
There's plenty to do and see in Venice, so if you're planning a trip to La Serenissima, here are ten must-see sights and activities that you really can't afford to miss.
1. Visit Piazza San Marco
Start your trip to Venice with a stop at one of Italy's most famous spots, Piazza San Marco (Saint Mark's Square). This large square is home to some of Venice's top sights – the Basilica San Marco and the Doge's Palace, for example – as well as some fantastic (if eye-wateringly expensive) bars.
Arrive at the square and take a walk around to get a feel for it. It's a big open space, but it's usually packed with tourists. To get a good view and a great photo of the basilica, arrive early enough to watch the sun come up.
Once you've taken it all in, join the queue to get inside the basilica. As you're herded through the crowd, you'll be able to see incredible gold leaf mosaics adorning every inch of the church. It's always very busy, but it's definitely worth joining the crowds; few churches in the world have quite this level of wow factor.
The Palazzo Ducale (Doge's Palace) is also worth a visit, especially if you're interested in the rich history of Venice and its former rulers. It's worth booking ahead of time to skip the queue here, so get organised before you go.
2. Snap a Photo of the Bridge of Sighs
Just around the corner from Saint Mark's Square, you'll be able to see the famous Ponte dei Sospiri, the Bridge of Sighs. This is the bridge that connects the Doge's Palace to the former prison (once home to the famous lothario Casanova). It's one of the most photographed spots in Venice.
Legend has it that the bridge gets its name from the sound made by the prisoners as they were taken to their cells. The bridge features tiny window holes through which prisoners would see a gorgeous view over the lagoon – their last view of thisincredible city before their incarceration. Prisoners would sigh at the beauty before being locked away for life.
Be warned: you'll have to work your way through quite a crowd if you want a good photo of the bridge, so again, it's worth getting here early.
3. Take a Gondola Ride
A trip to Venice would be incomplete without a gondola ride. There are multiple boarding points throughout the city, and you can ask a gondolier for more information before you get on.
There are set prices for set timeframes, and you're unlikely to be able to haggle on the price. A ride will set you back €80 for 25 to 30 minutes, and this price increases to €120 if you want to go at night (peak romance hours!). There are also extra costs involved if you want singing and music, so negotiate before you board.
4. See Some Art
Venice is a great city for art lovers. There are famous art galleries dotted around the city, and many of the city's famous churches also contain incredible paintings by Renaissance masters like Titian, Tintoretto and Veronese.
If you're interested in pre-19th-century art, the Galleria dell'Accademia is an essential visit. Home to world-famous works like Giorgione's Tempest, Titian's Piety and Veronese's Feast in the House of Levi, it's a great spot to quench your cultural thirst.
If modern art is more your thing, head to the Peggy Guggenheim Museum and feast your eyes on genre-defining works. The building alone is worth a visit; don't forget to head out into the sculpture garden for gorgeous views over the Grand Canal.
Venice is also home to an internationally renowned art and architecture festival, the Venice Biennale. The festival runs yearly, alternating between a focus on art and a focus on architecture. It runs for a few months, May to November, and houses huge installations to wander around and immerse yourself in.
5. Spend a Night at the Opera
If you're looking for a night of high culture, dress to the nines and pay a visit to Venice's beautiful Teatro Fenice (Phoenix Theatre), home to the city's best opera and classical music concerts. The building has an exquisite interior and is worth visiting even if classical music isn't your thing.
Alternatively, head to the San Vidal church, just across the bridge from the Accademia gallery, for a night of Vivaldi played on strings.
6. Get Lost
Venice is a beautiful city to explore on foot, but its labyrinthine nature means you can, and probably will, get lost a few times.
Embrace the confusing layout of the city and wander the calli (paths) and rami (literally 'branches' – a smaller subdivision of a calle) to see what beautiful sights you'll encounter.
Must-see spots in Venice include the Accademia bridge and the Rialto bridge, so make sure you head in these directions on your travels. Other beautiful piazzas and squares to see include Campo Santa Margherita (a great student hub), Campo Santi Giovanni e Paolo (home to Venice's main hospital, which is housed in a beautiful old church building) and Campo San Polo (Venice's second-largest square and a perfect spot for a drink).
Wherever you find yourself in Venice, you'll find beautiful spots and incredible photo opportunities, so make sure your phone or camera is fully charged and hit the streets.
7. Take a Day Trip to Burano…
You've almost certainly seen photos of Burano. About 45 minutes by boat from the main city of Venice, Burano is also filled with canals and bridges, but its main attraction is the multicoloured houses that line the streets.
The island has become famous for its brightly coloured homes and shop fronts, but it's traditionally better known for its production of delicate lace. You'll probably see older women sitting outside their shops and handcrafting this intricate fabric. If you're interested, there's a lace museum on the island, where you can learn more about the fabric's history.
While you're here, find somewhere good to eat. Many visitors to Burano want to snag a much-coveted spot at the Trattoria al Gatto Nero, one of the best restaurants in Venice for beautiful seafood. Alternatively, try the Michelin-starred Venissa. You'll need to book ahead for both.
8. …Or Head to Murano
While you're out of the city centre, why not visit Murano too? Murano is like a mini version of Venice itself, if a little more run down (though this just adds to its charm). It's famous around the world for its production of glass and glass products, so once you've had your fill of walking around, head to the Venice Glass Museum to see some incredible examples of ornate hand-blown glass.
You can even visit a glass-maker's workshop to see a master at work. Many of these workshops are free to enter, but you will be expected to buy something from the gift shop. There are products available to suit most budgets, as you can buy a small pair of earrings or a trinket for just a few euros.
9. Climb a Tower
Heading back into the city itself, another great thing to do in Venice is to climb a bell tower to get a beautiful view of the city. The most popular choice is the Campanile in Saint Mark's square. It's 99 metres tall and can be seen from places all around the city. Luckily, there's a lift to take you up.
For the cost of a ticket (€8 at the time of writing), you'll be able to see far and wide over the rooftops of the city and the lagoon itself. On a clear day, you can sometimes even see over to Murano.
I personally prefer the bell tower across the lagoon from Piazza San Marco, on the small island of San Giorgio Maggiore. Take the vaporetto (water bus) across the water to the island, look around the church (it houses some beautiful artworks) and take the lift up the bell tower for views of the Palazzo Ducale.
10. Eat, Drink and Relax
Once you've had your fill of sightseeing, it's time to hit the bars. Venice is full of incredible places to grab a glass of wine and a bite to eat. Make sure you try cicchetti (pronounced 'chick-ett-ee'), often called the Venetian version of tapas. Cicchetterie around the city serve light bites, often on crusty bread, with a small glass of wine, usually for no more than a few euros.
Find a good place to sit down for a six o'clock Aperol spritz, then bar hop and snack on cicchetti until you're ready for dinner. Seafood is best in Venice, but seasonal radicchio is delicious and an ideal option for veggies.
Venice is full of life and amazing places to see. It's busy all year round, especially at weekends, so plan ahead and get up early if you want to avoid the crowds. Whether you're going for a few days or a longer stint, there's plenty to keep you entertained.