You can’t visit Venice without trying these unmissable things to do, from sightseeing to shopping to eating and drinking.
La Serenissima, “the most serene,” is an endlessly fascinating place to visit, with beautiful scenery (and sometimes relentless crowds) around every corner. Venice’s mix of Byzantine, Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque styles is unmatched anywhere in the world. The city’s gorgeous palazzi (palaces) and piazzas (squares) are legendary; its charming canals and narrow streets are undeniably romantic; and it’s one of the best art towns in Europe, both for the Old Masters and the newest of the new. These 15 Venice experiences will give you the best taste of the town, and since you’ll probably leave a piece of your heart there, you’ll definitely want to return for more.
Enjoy an Aperitivo in St. Mark’s Square
Piazza San Marco, also known as St. Mark’s Square, is the epicenter of Venice’s hustle and bustle. The perfect time to catch the action is with an aperitivo on the square as the sun is setting, preferably with an Aperol or Campari Spritz in hand. Classic see-and-be-seen spots include Quadri, around since 1775 and recently renovated by Philippe Starck, and Florian, the oldest café in Europe. Your aperitivo will come with a selection of snacks, and usually live music (though note you’ll often need to pay a cover, added onto your bill). Seeing the last rays of sunlight dancing off of Basilica di San Marco as tourists joyfully scamper with the pigeons in the square is worth every Euro.
INSIDER TIPIf you can forgo the aperitivo, visit St. Mark’s in the early-morning hours when the tourists have not yet arrived.
Stroll Across the Rialto Bridge
The oldest bridge crossing the Grand Canal, the arched stone Rialto Bridge (Ponte di Rialto) was completed in 1591. Today, you won’t want to miss climbing the Rialto Bridge using one of its three sets of stairs for a wonderful (though crowded) place to stop for a picture of the Grand Canal. During the day, you can check out the shops built into the Rialto Bridge’s central stair section, though their goods tend to be pricier than other places in the city. In the evening, the bridge makes the perfect spot for a romantic stroll.
INSIDER TIPIf you head to the Rialto Bridge from San Marco, continue across to the Rialto Market, a lively produce and fish market that’s still frequented by locals.
Cruise the Grand Canal by Vaporetto
Since Venice is set completely on the water, cars are obviously not allowed—so the only way to get around, other than hoofing it, is by boat. The bonus is that your commute is oh-so-scenic. Gondolas are cool but pricey, so do as the locals do and take a vaporetto, or water bus. For just €7.50 (the price of a ticket is good for 75 minutes), you can ride the line 1 vaporetto all the way from Piazzale Roma to San Marco. It’s like a sightseeing tour that doubles as a very convenient way to get around town.
INSIDER TIPVaporetti can be crazy-crowded, especially during Venice’s high season, so consider riding early in the morning if you’re able.
Nibble on Cicchetti at a Bacaro
Venice can be a pricey place for a meal, but a great way to save money while sampling food unique to Venice is to do as the locals do and stop at a bacaro, a casual wine bar that serves up small plates—called cicchetti—with their vino. You may sometimes have to stand—not all bacari have seats—but you’ll likely get to try such Venetian delicacies as polpette (fried meatballs), sarde in saór (sweet and sour sardines), and baccalà montecato (whipped salt cod). Three of the best-known bacari are Cantonone già Schiavi in Dorsoduro and Cantina Do Mori and All’Arco in San Polo.
INSIDER TIPAnother Venetian experience is to have a tramezzino, a sandwich with various fillings on white bread, for lunch or a snack. Find some of the best at Tiziano in Cannaregio.
See Amazing Art in the Churches
Venice’s churches contain a treasure trove of artistic masterpieces. Not only are Venice’s historical places of worship beautiful on the outside, but many also contain amazing paintings within from some of Italy’s most renowned artists. To name just a few, 15th-century Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari includes spectacular paintings from Bellini, Titian, and Vivarini; San Sebastiano contains wondrous 16th-century oil paintings and frescoes from Veronese; 17th-century Santa Maria della Salute houses a dozen works by Titian; and the Gothic Madonna dell’Orto is home to some of Tintoretto’s most renowned work.
Tour the Sumptuous Doge’s Palace
The 14th-century Palazzo Ducale, or Doge’s Palace, was once home to the ruler of Venice. Today, it’s a museum where you can tour its courtyard and chambers, which boast walls and ceilings covered with frescoes from some of Venice’s great artists, including Veronese and Tintoretto. If you book a “Secret Itineraries Tour,” you’ll also be able to visit hidden passageways and the Bridge of Sighs.
INSIDER TIPThe Secret Itineraries tour is very popular and must be reserved in advance, so make sure to book it online as soon as you know you’ll be visiting Venice.
Get Lost in Venice’s Narrow Streets
Sure, you have Google maps on your phone, but that doesn’t mean you won’t get hopelessly turned around while you wander across Venice. But don’t worry: Getting lost in Venice is all part of the fun. You’re sure to stumble across hidden squares where you can stop and have a drink; quiet bridges over lovely canals, perfect for snapping a unique picture; and historical Venetian buildings with beautiful facades that you wouldn’t otherwise see. Getting lost just could be the key to finding your own unique Venice experience.
Scout Out Modern Art
Venice is by and large an art town and its museums’ and galleries’ modern art collections are on par with places many times its size. The best places to see contemporary art in Venice are the Peggy Guggenheim Collection; Punta Della Dogana and Palazzo Grassi, which show rotating art exhibitions; and Fondazione Prada. Plus there are galleries scattered throughout town, as well as temporary exhibitions, often held in centuries-old palazzos.
INSIDER TIPMost of the places showcasing modern art close on Tuesdays, so be sure to plan your visit with that in mind.
Discover the Venetian Islands
Venice is but one of the places to visit on the Venetian lagoon; indeed, around Venice itself you’ll find more than 100 islands, each with its own particular flavor. While Murano, home of the famous Murano glass, is the most well-known, other islands worth a stop include Burano, a fishing village filled with colorful houses; Torcello, whose Santa Maria Assunta Cathedral includes 12th-century Byzantine mosaics; Mazzorbo, home to the Venissa Wine Resort; and the Lido, one of the only places in the islands where you can hit the beach. All are accessible by vaporetto (water bus), though distances can be longer than you think, so check the schedules before you sail to any Venetian islands to ensure you don’t get stranded (or have to pay for a pricey private water taxi to take you back).
Sip a Bellini at Harry’s Bar
You probably enjoy a Bellini (peach juice and sparkling wine) for brunch every now and then, but did you know that the Bellini’s birthplace was actually in Venice? Since Harry’s Bar opened on the Grand Canal in 1931, it’s been a favored hangout with celebrities and literati, including Ernest Hemingway. Yes, perhaps it’s a tad overrated and can be overcrowded, but sipping a Bellini at Harry’s Bar still makes for a fabulous Venetian experience, and the restaurant’s also worth a splurge for lunch or dinner; it’s especially known for its carpaccio.
Shop for Murano Glass
Venice is a fun place to shop (or window shop), with a mix of souvenir stores juxtaposed against higher-end Italian designer stores including Gucci and Prada. But one of the best things to buy in Venice is vibrantly colored Venetian glass, hand-blown on the nearby island of Murano. If you do find a Murano glass piece you fall in love with, make sure to ask for a certificate of authenticity, as much of the cheaper glass is actually made in China.
INSIDER TIPTo see some truly fabulous glass creations, stop by the Museo del Vetro (Glass Museum) on the island of Murano.
Explore the Venetian Canals on a Gondola
Sure, it seems touristy and cheesy, but cruising the Venetian canals on a traditional gondola could be the most special part of your visit to Venice. For the best experience, hire a gondolier away from St. Mark’s Square, so you can both avoid the crowds and be able to explore the quieter back canals. Prices are set per ride, costing more after 7 pm, and gondola rides usually last for 40 minutes.
INSIDER TIPGondolas seat up to six people, so if you can find others to share the journey with you, you can save a few Euros (though you’ll sacrifice some of the romance).
See the Greatest Collections of Venetian Paintings in the World
The splendid Galleria dell’Accademia, which dates from 1750, houses paintings from Venetian masters, all created from the 12th to 19th centuries. All the Venetian painting heavy-hitters can be found here: Tintoretto, Veronese, Bellini, Carpaccio, Tiziano, Giambattista, and more. The sheer size of the collection can be overwhelming, so either carefully plan beforehand the art that you want to see or consider opting for a private guided tour.
INSIDER TIPBuy your tickets online ahead of time for a small surcharge. You’ll be able to choose the date and time you’d like and avoid having to stand in line.
Wander the Jewish Ghetto
One of the first ghettos in the world was established in the Cannaregio neighborhood in 1516, when the Venetian Senate confined Jews to this area, locked by a gate at night. Today the former Jewish Ghetto, home to the largest number of Renaissance-era synagogues in Europe, is an atmospheric place to stroll, and there’s a small but interesting Jewish Museum (Museo Ebraico) where you can learn more about Venetian Jewish culture.
INSIDER TIPHourly tours, in English, of the synagogues in the ghetto leave from the Jewish Museum every hour on the half-hour, starting at 10:30 am (except Saturdays).
Check Out the Art at the Venice Biennale
The global art world’s biggest event, the Venice Biennale, comes to town every other year from May to November. You’ll find art exhibitions inside the Arsenale and within the pavilions of the Giardino, which showcases works by artists from nearly 30 countries, as well as scattered in palazzi throughout the city. During even-numbered years, the Biennale focuses on architecture, so there’s always something new and interesting going on no matter when you visit Venice.