Best Places to Visit in Venice

Offering scenic canals, beautiful buildings and world famous landmarks, Venice is an experience unique in the world of travel. The city seems to exude romance, history, fantastic photo opportunities and good food, almost at every corner. Exploring Venice is an experience that you will never forget.  Whether taking a gondola down a cozy canal or examining this romantic city’s unique setting and architecture while on foot, you will find Venice inviting and magical.

  • Piazza San Marco

    • Most tourists make a beeline for the Piazza San Marco (Saint Mark’s Square, also known as the Piazetta), a large, broad public square.   St. Mark’s is the main meeting place in Venice and host to the most well-known attractions in tourist Venice. As you land at the dock of St, Mark’s, you will see two columns. One is crowned with Saint Theodore, the patron saint of Venice, while the other is topped with the Lion of St. Mark.
    • St. Mark’s is the only area with the name “Square” in Venice, the areas that one might be tempted to call squares are known as “campo”.
    • Piazza San Marco is one of the lowest areas of Venice and may flood during higher tides (this problem is common in the winter and early spring).   Except for unusual circumstance, the change of the tide solves the flooding problem, often in a few hours.
    • Saint Mark’s Square is normally crowded, both with tourists and the ever-present flocks of pigeons and there are few times in summer that it will not appear carnival-like. However, in order to see the treasures that can be found here, you will have to negotiate the crowds, pigeons and vendors.
    • On the Piazza San Marco, you will find St. Mark’s Cathedral, the Doge’s Palace, the Campanile and several museums.  We cover these attractions below.  Most of the attractions found on this large plaza have been memorialized in  travel brochures and visiting will generate a sense of déjà vu in most visitors.
    • The Piazza San Marco is a public square and open year round, although its attractions are open on more restricted schedules.

  • St. Mark’s Basilica

    • St. Mark’s Basilica was built to house the reliquary of St. Mark and the saint’s tomb is the focus of the cathedral.  Venetian merchants in reportedly smuggled St. Mark’s body out of Egypt in the 9th century, packed in pork to avoid searches by the port inspectors who, of course, practiced Islam, a religion that considers pig and its by-products to be “unclean”.
    • A number of churches occupied this site before the present basilica was constructed at the end of the 11th century.  St. Mark’s Basilica has one of the most unique architectures of any church in Italy.  Various of its elements were contributed from Byzantine, Romanesque or Arabesque styles of architecture and combined into an extremely pleasant and harmonious presentation.
    • The cathedral’s arched doorways and replicas of four bronze horses (the originals were captured during the Fourth Crusade and removed from Byzantium) welcome the visitor. Examine the mosaics above the doors and then enter to see the cathedral.
    • Be sure to see the various chapels, the Sanctuary, the Treasury and the Museo (where the original horse statues from Byzantium are on display).
    • St. Marks is open all year – Monday through Saturday and on Sunday afternoons after services.
    • For more information, visit the official website of the Basilica.

 

St. Mark's Basilica
St. Mark’s Basilica
  • Campanile

    • The original Campanile, which was visited by Galileo in the 17th century, collapsed during repair work in 1902 and the present structure was rebuilt in 1912. You can climb to the top for a nice view of the Piazza, St. Mark’s and the Doge’s Palace. The Campanile is the tallest structure in Venice.
    • The Campanile is open year around, but has shorter winter hours and is closed for a brief maintenance every January.
Campanile, Venice
The Campanile, Venice
  • Doge’s Palace also known as Palazzo Ducale (Ducal Palace)

    • The Doges (dukes) ruled Venice and the Palazzo Ducale, serving as both the Doge’s Palace and the seat of government, was Venice’s center of power until the Venetian Republic ended in the 18th century. A tour of the building reveals the historic grandeur that accrued to Venice in its role as a major sea power and the mercantile center of the Mediterranean.
    • The current Palace was started in the 10thcentury, later rebuilt and finalized in the fourteenth century. It was damaged by fire in the 16th century when many historically important items were destroyed. Previous to the 10th century other buildings formed the Palazzo, but little factual information about them is known.
    • The Duke’s Palace (Palazzo Ducale) contains numerous treasures of the art world. The decorations are extraordinary and include works by the master artists of the Venetian Republica. Be sure to examine the works of  Tintoretto and Veronese.
    • The Musello dell’Opera on the ground floor includes the original capitals from the columns of the building, as well as other interesting items, but is not a must-see attraction.
    • The Doge’s Palace is open year round but operates on a shorter schedule in winter.
    • The Bridge of Sighs, best seen from the canal that connects the Doges Palace to its former dungeon.  It is said that the bridge was so named because those floating beneath it could hear the sighs of the criminals crossing the bridge to an unpleasant future.
    • See the Museum’s official website  for more information.
Palazzo Ducale (Ducal Palace)
Palazzo Ducale (Ducal Palace)

 

 

 

  • Museo Correr

    • In the Napoleon wing of the Piazza San Marco, you will find the Museo Correr.  The Museo houses a sizable collection of Venetian art and artifacts from medieval and Renaissance times. You will see a lot of the similar art in the major museum venues of Venice, so be sure you want to see more before entering. (The ticket for this museum includes entrance to the Doge’s Palace).
    • The Museo Correr is open all year, but its schedule features shorter operating hours during the winter.  See the Museum’s official website for more information.
  • Grand Canal /Canalazzo

    The famous waterway is approximately two-miles long and faced with impressive palaces that were owned by the city’s wealthy seafaring merchants. Take the Vaporetto and tour during the day and night to see the real beauty of the Grand Canal.

    The Rialto Bridge provides a good land view of the Grand Canal and is the center of commerce in modern day Venice. Look for the local markets selling vegetables and other foods.

Grand Canal /Canalazzo
Grand Canal /Canalazzo
  • Island Excursions

    • Murano Located just north of Venice, this island is famous for its glass arts and glassblowers. If you are interested in the art of glassmaking, visit the Museo del Vetro (if you have a Venice Museum Pass, you can use it here as well). Most of the glass shops are open daily.  Prices are at a premium, but there are few places you can find a bargain in Venice.
    • Burano Famous for its lace shops, most of which are open daily, some closed on Sunday. Look closely to make sure you are buying Italian lace, as many varieties of lace, including imports from China, are available here. The island houses a lace museum that is open Tuesday through Fridays.
  • Basilica della Salute
    Basilica della Salute

    Other churches to visit

    • Basilica della Salute

      (Open all year, but closed for holy days)

        • This basilica was pledged by the “faithful” as an offering to end a plague that struck Venice in the 17th century. The plague dissipated and the Basilica was dedicated a number of years later. The setting of the church is beautiful and its interior contains some fine art, including that of Tintoretto.
    • Basilica dei Frari

      (Open all year but closed for holy days on the liturgical calendar)

      • This wonderful basilica is graced by several paintings by Titian and others by Donatello and Bellini. Titian is, also, buried here.
      • The neighborhood around the Basilica offers a slice of Venice as it is experienced by its residents, who are abandoning the city at a rapid rate, due to the difficulty and expense of living in Venice.
    • Venice is blessed with a number of elegant churches. Although each offers something unique or special, none stand out as especially important or historical, although all are special to their neighborhoods.
  • Other Interesting Museums

    • Guggenheim Museum

      (Open year around – closed Tuesdays and some holidays).

      • If you looking for a glimpse of how the other half lives, visit the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. It is filled with European and American art from the first half of the 20th century and includes the personal collection of Guggenheim. The museum is housed in Peggy Guggenheim’s former home, Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, on the Grand Canal. For more information, see this site.
    • The Gallerie dell'Accademia
      The Gallerie dell’Accademia- Photo credit: g.sighele

      The Gallerie dell’Accademia

      (Open year round -closed Mondays and some holidays)

      • The Accademia houses an incredible art collection that chronicles the history of Venetian artists, including works by the major Venetian Masters. The Museum is very popular and we recommend that you reserve tickets in advance.
      • The Accademia is located close to the Guggenheim, which is on the Grand Canal opposite Piazza San Marco.  You may want to combine visits to the two museums (but only if you really like art). For details on visiting, see this website  (in Italian, so use Google Translator).
      • While in this area (the Dorsoduro District), you should consider visiting the Campo Santa Margherita, another of Venice’s lovely campos (squares).
        • The Campo Santa Margherita is the social center of the Dorsoduro area of Venice. The square in combination with its surrounding buildings, which are a mix of residences, restaurants, bars and shops, is a nice place to stop and seek respite from the crowds of tourist Venice.
    • The Teatro La Fenice
      • The Fenice Theater is Venice’s famed opera house that has suffered several cataclysms in the past.  More recently it was destroyed by a fire in 2001 and only recently reopened.  It is a gorgeous theater and you can see by taking a tour or arranging to attend a concert.  See the Fenice website for more information about the theater.
        • The Fenice can be reached by taking Waterbus #1 and exiting at the stop for Santa Maria del Giglio.
        • You may have read about the fire and its aftermath in John Berendt’s “City of Fallen Angels”.  It is a book worth reading, especially if you plan to spend a few days in Venice.
Teatro La Fenice
Teatro La Fenice

Additional Resources

The official tourism website for the city of Venice is Turismo Venezia.  The site includes additional information on our recommended best places to visit, as well as details on locations that did not make our list.

If your are looking for country facts or  travel information on Italy  including passports, visas, consideration for driving, personal safety, health issues, etc., see the U.S. State Department Consular Affairs page on traveling in Italy for these details.

The Best Places to Visit in Venice described below include the most popular tourist attractions in Veneto. Although we have focused on monuments, piazzas and historic Venice, take some to walk through this city’s lesser-known neighborhoods to understand the magic of Venice.

If you are interested in a gondola ride, consider taking one outside of the tourist core of Venice.  You can find great views elsewhere in the city and may find that the cost of a gondola ride decrease with increasing distance from  St. Mark’s.

The restaurants in Venice’s neighborhoods often serve meals far superior to those you will find in many of the eateries located in the core tourist areas. We recommend that you wander off the beaten path and think you will be pleased with what you find, not to mention the quality of the food.

Crowds and lines at the city’s most popular attractions can be a time-waster in summer and you might want to consider using Select Italy to purchase a museum pass for all of Venice’s civic museums or other similar services to make your reservations for the Doge’s Palace and museums around Venice. It is easiest to preorder your tickets before leaving on your trip.  Doing so avoids the need for standing in line to purchase tickets and can speed you on your way to see Venice’s most popular attractions.  Most visitors to Venice are day-trippers or on tours, so if you are staying in Venice, head for the attractions early in the morning or later in the day to avoid the crowds.

Walking is the best way to see the city, but, also, impractical due to the long distances between bridges. The vaporetti  (waterbuses)  travel along the Grand Canal and can help to cut distances between the  places you might want to visit.  Pick up a free vaporetti map to scout out where you can pick-up or disembark the waterbuses.

The Grand Canal winds through Venice connecting all major attractions, but there are only three bridges crossing it – at the train station, the Rialto Bridge and the Accademia Bridge.  When you are between bridges and need to get from one side of the Grand Canal to the other, consider hopping a “traghetto”, a low cost gondola that ferries between the banks of the Grand Canal.

Waterbus near Lighthouse
Waterbus near Lighthouse