Are you planning a trip to Venice, Italy, and wondering what the absolute best places to see and things to do in Venice are?
In this guide, I cover all the must-see sights, landmarks, and top tourist attractions in Venice that are well worth your time.
Venice is considered one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It’s also known as “La Serenissima” by many, and was declared a Unesco World Heritage Site, along with its lagoon.
The city’s symbol is the winged lion, also known as the Lion of St. Mark.
It may be a touristy place, but it has a special allure that draws visitors from all over the world. It’s worth visiting!
It’s a city of contradictions:
- both ancient and contemporary;
- frantic yet serene;
- charming but at times just plain old worn out;
- romantic in spots but often overcrowded with tourists;
- beautiful but decaying.
It’s the city of masks, glass, lace, paper, and carnival.
It’s the capital of northern Italy’s Veneto region and is built on more than 100 small islets in a lagoon in the Adriatic Sea that are connected by over 400 bridges.
It has no roads, just canals lined with Renaissance and Gothic palaces.
The historic centre is divided into six sestieri (districts) that are linked by a vast network of bridges that span the canals.
Each “sestiere” is distinct:
Cannaregio is an authentic Venetian district filled with local people. It’s just a short walk from Venice’s Santa Lucia train station.
It’s also home to many Venetian Jews who have lived there for centuries.
Visit the “Ghetto”—the first Jewish ghetto in Europe (established in 1516).
Castello sits on the largest island on the eastern side of the city and has several areas of interest for visitors to Venice.
It’s home to the Venice Biennale headquarters, with its exhibition halls and gardens, and the Riva degli Schiavoni, Venice’s magnificent shoreline that extends over St. Mark’s basin and overlooks the Grand Canal.
Dorsoduro is the most cultural and artistic district of the city. It houses the Accademia Gallery and is home to one of the four bridges that span the Grand Canal, the Ponte dell’Accademia.
Here you will also find Peggy Guggenheim’s modern art collection, housed in her former Palazzo Venier.
San Marco attracts all types of tourists with its famous Basilica di San Marco.
It’s also the city’s lowest point, so it’s frequently subject to the city’s notorious tides.
San Polo is the city’s smallest district.
Santa Croce is Venice’s only district where you can see cars and buses.
Furthermore, the lagoon of Venice is made up of 62 islands, the most well-known and visited of which are Torcello, Murano, and Burano.
However, there are numerous other islands to the north and south of the lagoon, including Sant’Erasmo, Chioggia, and even La Certosa, as well as numerous smaller islands.
And taking a vaporetto between islands while surrounded by the scent of the sea is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
But let’s get straight to the point and find out what the best things to do in Venice are!
Best places to see and things to do in Venice Italy
Venice is a city that is best seen by foot.
You’ll want to take your time and enjoy the sights, sounds, and smells of this beautiful city.
If you only have one day and want to make the most of your visit, a private tour of the city’s main highlights is the best option.
Here’s my list of must-sees in Venice, organised by sestieri:
The Sestiere San Marco
If you only have a day or so in Venice, it’s very likely that your visit will begin in the Sestiere San Marco. This is where the must-see attractions in Venice can be found:
Explore Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square)
Piazza San Marco is Venice’s largest and most renowned square, which is located right next to the lagoon.
It’s also the only plaza in Venice with that name; all other squares are named “Campi.”
There is a huge white building covering three of the four sides of St. Mark’s Square. It’s called the Procuratie. It was once the building where the procurators, the people in charge of administering the entire Republic, were located.
Nowadays, it houses the centre of sustainability for the city, the Archeological Museum of Venice, and the Correr Museum.
There are various old cafés on the square, under the characteristic Procuratie’s colonnades, where you can get a coffee; the most famous is the classic Caffè Florian.
It’s not only the oldest café in Venice, it’s also the oldest in the world. It was first opened in 1720.
However, be warned that costs in this area are quite expensive.
St. Mark’s Square, which is always crowded and bustling with traders and tourists, is home to several of the city’s most famous monuments.
Many of the attractions that I’ll shortly describe are located right here or nearby.
Take the elevator up the Campanile di San Marco (St. Mark’s Bell Tower)
Along with the basilica and the square, St. Mark’s Bell Tower is one of Venice’s most recognisable landmarks.
Venetians affectionately refer to it as “El parón de casa” (The Master of the House), because it’s the tallest bell tower in the city. Actually, it’s also one of Italy’s tallest bell towers.
The bell tower you see today is not the original one, as it collapsed at the beginning of 1900 because of structural problems.
The new tower, the one you see today, was rebuilt in the same location and in the same design as the old one, and the beautiful entrance, which is located right in front of the Doge’s Palace, was designed by the famous Italian architect Jacopo Sansovino.
The view of Venice from St. Mark’s Bell Tower is spectacular, and from there you can see Venice, the lagoon, St. Mark’s Basilica, and various islands.
It was once used to check if someone was illegally entering the city.
Even if you’re in Venice for just one day, I highly recommend climbing to the top of St. Mark’s Bell Tower. It’s easily accessible, there is also an elevator, and the ticket price is well worth the view.
Visit St. Mark’s Basilica (Basilica di San Marco)
St. Mark’s Basilica is a great symbol of Venice and shouldn’t be missed.
It was built in 829 and houses the relics of Saint Mark, the city’s patron saint.
Its façade is a work of art. It includes five arched doors and a large terrace with the famed four horses from Constantinople.
The interior is just as magnificent as the exterior. The ceiling is totally covered in stunning gold mosaics, and the marble floor features an eye-catching geometric pattern.
If you visit the Basilica between 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., the golden mosaics in the church are illuminated.
To get the perfect combination, go to the magnificent St. Mark’s Museum, which also allows you to climb up to the terrace of the Basilica.
A stunning panorama of St. Mark’s Square can be seen from there.
However, plan your time carefully, as a visit to the museum will take at least an hour.
The church doors open at 9.30 a.m., but most visitors arrive much earlier.
That’s because the lines to enter St. Mark’s Basilica can be somewhat long.
I recommend coming before 9 a.m. If you arrive early, you will have more time to tour the rest of the city.
If you don’t want to queue, you can book your ticket online. It costs €3.
Alternatively, you might take a guided tour to avoid the queue.
See the inner workings of The Clock Tower (Torre Dell’Orologio)
The clock tower (Torre Dell’Orologio), also known as the Moors’ Tower (Torre dei Mori), is another historical monument to the left of St. Mark’s Basilica, which has been working for over 500 years.
This tall, slender building is one of the most important Renaissance palaces in Venice, among others.
On the façade of the tower, in the lowest box, is the marble astronomical clock. The dial of the clock displays the time, day, moon phases, and zodiac signs. This structure is truly a masterpiece of technology and engineering.
If you look above the traditional dial, you’ll see the first digital clock in the world.
The Winged Lion, which is the city’s symbol, is depicted in the highest panel against a blue background with golden stars.
On top of the tower is the Moors’ bell from 1497 and two bronze statues of Moors striking the hours. They’re not doing it at the exact hour, though.
They are twin statues, but one lacks a beard. The one with the beard is known as the “old” and represents the past, so he’s striking the hours a few minutes before the actual time.
The other is known as the “young,” representing the future, so he’s striking the hours a few minutes later than the actual time. This is a reflection of both the past and the future!
Many tourists are unaware that they may book a special guided tour to see the inner workings of this fantastic time machine.
You’ll also have exclusive access to the terrace and rooftop, where you may meet the two Moors up close. From here, you’ll have a totally unique view of Venice.
The Venice Museum pass includes admission to the Clock Tower for an additional fee. You must book your visit in advance, either online for a fee or in person at the Correr Museum, which is located at the opposite end of St. Mark’s Square.
Tour the Doge’s Palace (or Palazzo Ducale)
The Doge’s Palace is another symbol of Venice. This Gothic palace was once home to Venice’s rulers and was historically known as the “Palazzo Dogale” since it was the seat of the doge.
The palace was a fortified castle in the ninth century.
It was, however, repeatedly destroyed by fire, rebuilt multiple times, and ultimately used as a prison.
Today, it contains the Doge’s Palace Civic Museum, which contains an amazing artistic beauty comprised of Byzantine, Gothic, and Renaissance architectural elements.
The inside is both magnificent and interesting, with several works of art by Titian, Tintoretto, and Bellini.
There is no better way to see the Doge’s Palace than through the eyes of a local who can describe the building’s rich history.
The tour also includes access to the well-known Bridge of Sighs.
You can also skip the line with this reserved entry admission ticket!
If you’re interested in Venice’s history, this is a fantastic option!
The Bridge of Sighs (Ponte dei Sospiri)
The Bridge of Sighs is one of Venice’s most iconic symbols and is just a few steps from St. Mark’s Square.
It was built in 1600 to connect the New Prison (Italian: Prigioni Nuove) to the interrogation rooms in the Doge’s Palace. It crosses the Rio di Palazzo.
The most prominent viewing point is from the Ponte della Paglia, which connects St. Mark’s Square to Riva degli Schiavoni.
Thousands of people take pictures here every day with the Bridge of Sighs in the background since it’s regarded as one of the most romantic sites in Venice.
As a result, it’s also known as the Bridge of Love or the Bridge of Lovers; many gondolas pass this bridge, providing a spectacular perspective of the lagoon.
Many tourists don’t know, however, that it’s actually called the Bridge of Sighs because it was built to connect the prisons with the Doge’s Palace.
All prisoners had to pass through this narrow tunnel in order to receive their final sentence, which may have condemned them to a harsh fate.
They could gaze out the grates, sighing because it was possibly the last time they would see the sea and the magnificent vista of the lagoon.
The old jails were known as “piombi” because they were in direct contact with the lead-roofed ceiling. This made the prisons extremely hot in the summer and extremely cold in the winter.
If you’re wondering if you can go inside the bridge, the answer is yes, if you’ve booked a Doge’s Palace Tour. You may get the same amazing view from the grate that prisoners awaiting sentencing used to have.
Enjoy the view from Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo staircase
The Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo is another must-see attraction in Venice’s San Marco district and a cool hidden gem in Venice.
If you’ve climbed St. Mark’s bell tower, you’ve probably seen it from every angle. In fact, the building is clearly visible from the top of St. Mark’s bell tower.
What makes this palace so interesting is the same-named spiral staircase, Scala Contarini del Bovolo. This late Gothic structure was built for the Contarini family between the 14th and 15th centuries and is close to Campo Manin and the Rio di San Luca.
The renowned spiral staircase, which earned the family the nickname “del Bovolo,” was first added to the palace at the end of the 15th century. This is characterised by a series of loggias and arches in the Renaissance style.
The staircase was carved inside a tower structure and provides entrance to a loggia that mimics its architecture on each of its five storeys. It’s known as the “Bovolo,” which is a Venetian term for snails, as it resembles a snail shell.
Finally, on the top floor is a domed belvedere with a stunning view of the city.
Book your visit here!
Visit Teatro La Fenice
The largest and most famous opera house in Venice is La Fenice, which is also located in the sestiere San Marco.
It was opened in 1792 and is considered one of the most famous opera houses in the world, hosting the most important and popular opera and theatre seasons.
The premieres of the most famous Italian composers, such as Verdi, Bellini, and Rossini, took place here.
It’s always enchanting, whether you go only to see it or to attend a live performance.
Despite the fact that it has been restored multiple times after the fires, the outcome is genuinely extraordinary: the stage space and ceiling are stunning.
The facade is especially remarkable, with white marble and columns reminiscent of typical Italian villa architecture.
If you visit the theatre, you’ll get a useful audio guide at the entrance that describes the history of the theatre and the artists who made it famous, with Maria Callas in the lead.
The best time to visit would be during orchestra practise.
Daily tours of La Fenice Theater are available between 9:30 a.m. and 6 p.m., though schedules may be changed for artistic or technical reasons.
If you decide to attend a performance, make sure you are dressed appropriately; more information may be found here!
Walk through The Royal Gardens
The Royal Gardens were commissioned by Napoleon, who had the old granary of Venice demolished to build them; they were then renovated by the Austrians who arrived following Napoleon’s defeat.
They built a greenhouse beside the Zecca bridge and a neoclassical-style Kaffeehaus on the opposite side.
The royal gardens were recently restored and were reopened to inhabitants and tourists in 2019.
They aren’t particularly large or spectacular, and there aren’t many exotic species to admire, but they are located on the Grand Canal, close to St. Mark’s Square.
There is also a lovely café near the royal gardens where you may stop for a snack.
These gardens are also a great spot to rest for a few minutes in the shade, especially if you’re visiting Venice on a hot day.
Go to Isola di San Giorgio Maggiore
When you arrive in San Marco, don’t miss the magical atmosphere of the only Venetian square; then, after walking between the Caffè Florian and the wonderful golden mosaics of the Basilica, go to the island of San Giorgio.
The island has a small dock for small motor and sailing boats, many exhibition spaces for temporary exhibitions, a wonderful Basilica built by architects Palladio and Longhena and with frescoes by Tintoretto, a monastery, and the Giorgio Cini Foundation’s beautiful Borges maze.
However, the island of San Giorgio is also an excellent location for viewing the labyrinth and the fish-shaped city from above. Venice has the silhouette of a fish, and like a fish without water, it cannot live; it is a subtle detail, but one that is easy to imagine from a panoramic perspective.
“Venice is a fish” is also the title of a beautiful book dedicated to this fantastic city on the water by Tiziano Scarpa.
San Giorgio is easily accessible by vaporetto number 2, which departs from the San Zaccaria landing stage (terminal), directly in front of the “Hotel Danieli.”
You can purchase the card to travel by vaporetto to all of the islands in the Venice lagoon here.
The Sestiere Castello
The sestiere Castello is located in the easternmost area of Venice, near the sestiere San Marco.
It’s one of the city’s largest sestieri, and there are fewer tourists here.
It’s one of those Venice districts that can be explored simply by getting lost in its “calli,” which are actually enormous in size when compared to those in the nearby San Marco district.
If you are in town for the Venice Biennale, you will undoubtedly visit this sestiere because the majority of the events are held here, in the Arsenale and the surrounding gardens.
If the Biennale is not taking place, some areas will be closed to visitors, but it’s still worth spending a few hours exploring its sights.
Here’s what to see in the Castello district:
Stroll at Riva degli Schiavoni
Riva degli Schiavoni is the name of the long pedestrian road that runs along the lagoon from San Marco to the Giardini della Biennale in the sestiere Castello, which houses the city’s most luxurious hotels.
The term has historical origins, dating back to the time when merchants from Dalmatia, which was known as Schiavonia during the Venetian Republic, landed with their ships and set up shop on this stretch of the Lagoon.
The Venice shoreline was an essential part of the city’s commercial port because of its proximity to the city’s political and economic power centres.
Today, it’s a bustling transit point due to the presence of several historical and artistically significant buildings, beginning with the Palazzo delle Prigioni, which was erected as an extension of the Doge’s jails. Casanova was imprisoned here, and his escape from this structure is described in the book “My Escape from Venice Prison.”
Continuing along Riva degli Schiavoni, you’ll then come across Palazzo Dandolo, now Hotel Danieli, a stunning 15th-century structure; Chiesa della Pietà, also known as Vivaldi’s church, since he taught singing in the adjoining convent and conservatory; as well as various bars and kiosks.
The view of San Giorgio Maggiore and the lagoon is also spectacular from here.
Visit the Arsenale di Venezia
The Venetian Arsenale, which covers a large area in the lagoon city’s north-eastern outskirts, is an old complex of shipyards and workshops that produced enough ships for the “Serenissima” to meet the demands of a naval power that was, for a long time, one of the most powerful in the world.
The word “Arsenale” comes from the Arabic word “darsina’a,” which means “house of industry, dockyard.” It was the largest in the world for centuries, with over 16,000 employees at its peak.
It’s reachable via a pleasant walk through the Castello district’s alleyways, where the calli are broader and it’s common to come across a field with laundry hanging out to dry in the sun.
This is mainly a residential area, and there are fewer tourists.
Venice Arsenal is currently owned by the Italian Navy and, for the most part, the municipality of Venice, which uses it to host the world-famous Venice Biennale, the renowned contemporary art exhibition.
Unfortunately, much of the Arsenale is not open to the public outside of these or other occasions, but it’s still worth a stroll to this point to explore the Castello sestiere.
Explore Campo Santi Giovanni e Paolo
Campo Santi Giovanni e Paolo is one of Venice’s largest campo (square), located in the sestiere of Castello, near to San Marco and Cannaregio districts.
The campo is well-known for Verrocchio’s monument to Bartolomeo Colleoni and the church of Santi Giovanni e Paolo, as well as the Scuola Grande di San Marco, a stunning Renaissance palace that serves as the entrance to the Ospedale Civile SS. John and Paul of Venice.
Check out the Libreria Acqua Alta (bookstore)
Every reader’s dream is to get immersed in books, in a world of words and vivid fantasies. The Libreria Acqua Alta is the ideal place to let your mind wander and seek out the city of Venice’s most hidden and ancient stories.
It’s located on Calle Lunga Santa Maria Formosa and is one of the world’s most unique bookshops.
A massive collection of new and secondhand books is housed inside boats, gondolas, canoes, and tubs. Books are also used as real furniture in this place. Old encyclopaedias have been transformed into beautiful stairways, or they have been used to cover the walls of the outdoor courtyards, transforming them into colourful surfaces. The decor is completed with balls, oars, and dummies.
It’s truly a special site and a must-see, but I recommend visiting during off-peak hours because, thanks to Instagram, it has become a hotspot, and it’s frequently so crowded that you can’t even get inside.
Find the most intriguing house in Venice
Near the Libreria there’s a very unusual house, Palazzo as it’s the only house in Venice to be surrounded on three sides by water from as many as three canals.
At the location where this odd house is located, the Rio Santa Marina splits into two canals: the Rio di S. Giovanni Laterano and the Rio Tetta. This feature makes this house one of the most intriguing and photographed in Venice, despite the fact that it’s not a well-known palace.
This house is one of the most famous in the city, but it’s well hidden from tourists and off the beaten path.
Sestiere Dorsoduro (District)
Dorsoduro is the city’s southernmost district, linked to the San Marco district by the famous Accademia bridge. It’s bounded by the Grand Canal and the Giudecca Canal.
Here you’ll find the majority of the city’s universities, as well as several of the most well-known Venetian museums.
It’s full of gorgeous calli and campi that are well worth a stroll through, and there are also far fewer tourists than in the neighbouring sestiere of San Marco, allowing you to wander around more freely.
And these are the things not to be missed in the Dorsoduro sestiere:
Walk through Ponte Dell’Accademia (Accademia bridge)
The Accademia Bridge is a lovely wooden bridge and is one of the four that span the Gran Canal.
The first version was built in 1854, and the one we see today dates from 1933, when it was replaced because the old version had become old and not as solid.
The beautiful church of Santa Maria della Salute can be seen from Ponte dell’Accademia, and it’s not far from St. Mark’s Square.
Visit the Gallerie dell’Accademia (Accademia Galleries)
The Accademia Galleries are a must-see for anyone interested in the works of important artists from the 14th to the Renaissance periods, such as Tintoretto, Titian, Tiepolo, and Longhi.
In 1807, Napoleon III decided to collect the enormous number of artistic treasures accumulated during the suppression of hundreds of churches and religious institutions and make them available to the students of the Accademia di Belle Arti, which had recently been assigned the Santa Maria della Carità building complex.
Ten years later, the Gallerie dell’Accademia was opened, and from 1817 to today, visitors can admire the greatest works of the Serenissima’s Grand Masters in its 24 rooms.
Among others, one of Leonardo da Vinci’s most important works, “The Vitruvian Man,” is carefully guarded and rarely exhibited by the Galleries’ curators to avoid deterioration.
If you’re really into art, you shouldn’t miss it on your visit to Venice.
Admire Peggy Guggenheim’s Collection
The Guggenheim museum is a true temple of early twentieth-century European and American art, built over years of research by the eccentric Peggy Guggenheim, a brilliant heiress, art dealer, and patron.
The Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice is housed in the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni and features works by Picasso, Dali, Modigliani, Carrà, and many others.
Once inside, you can explore the garden, which contains numerous sculptures by artists such as Henry Moore and Alberto Giacometti, before proceeding to the rooms of the Palazzo, which was once the residence of the exceptional collector herself.
Explore Church of St. Mary of health (Santa Maria Della Salute)
The church of Santa Maria della Salute is located at the eastern end of the Dorsoduro sestiere, and its high dome is clearly visible from both St. Mark’s Square and the island of Giudecca, perfectly complementing Venice’s skyline.
The church is an excellent representation of Venetian Baroque architecture, developed following Palladio’s models.
It was built by Senate mandate to fulfil a commitment made after an awful plague epidemic that killed over 47,000 people in the first half of the 17th century.
It was completed in 1687 and has the shape of a crown, as designed by Baldassare Longhena.
This is the most important church in the Dorsoduro sestiere, with an octagonal design and a massive white dome capped by volute buttresses.
The inside is much grander, with a massive central hall surrounded by columns.
Take in the view from Punta della Dogana
Another must-see when exploring the Dorsoduro sestiere is the stroll to Punta della Dogana, also known as Punta della Salute or Punta (Dogana) da Már.
It’s a triangular point that extends the Dorsoduro district and splits the Grand Canal and the Giudecca Canal, not far from St. Mark’s Square.
Three notable architectural complexes are located in this area: the Basilica of Santa Maria della Salute; the patriarchal seminary; and the Dogana da Mar complex, which gives the area its name.
Following Tadao Ando’s restoration, Punta della Dogana now houses the Francois Pinault Collection.
From Punta della Dogana viewpoint, you can see St. Mark’s Square on one side and the island with the majestic church of Saint Giorgio Maggiore on the other, which is divided by a small canal from the Giudecca Island. The Giudecca island is very residential. There are just a couple of churches, Zitelle Church and Redentore Church.
See how Gondolas are made at “Lo Squero di San Trovaso”
While strolling around the Dorsoduro sestiere’s calli, you may come across the Squero di San Trovaso. This building is made up of low structures and a tiny open space that directly overlooks the canals.
The Venetian word “squero” is derived from the word “squara,” which means “a group of people working together to create boats.” A squero is a boatyard, and this one is unique. It’s the birthplace of the distinctive, sleek black vessels known as Venetian gondolas.
The Squero San Trovaso is one of the city’s oldest squeros, dating back to 1600. During this time, Venetian shipwrights began to repair and manufacture gondolas.
The Squero di San Trovaso is particularly notable for its distinctive architecture, which resembles mountain cottages. And there is a twofold explanation for this: on one hand, both the carpenters and the building wood were from Cadore; on the other hand, the slope of the forecourt and the canopy that partially covered it were handy in case of rain, as well as for storing work materials.
It takes eight different types of wood and months of work to make a gondola.
They are still totally handcrafted by the few remaining “squeraroli” (master craftsmen), without the use of written designs, and they customise each boat to the buyer’s specifications. Each one is unique.
If you’re interested, you can book guided tours of the squero in order to view all of the production techniques. The visit lasts roughly 30 minutes.
Alternatively, you may watch the squeraroli at work while sipping a spritz at the legendary Osteria Al Squero on the other bank.
Enjoy the sunset from Fondamenta Zattere (Zattere waterfront)
Fondamenta Zattere is a lovely promenade that runs alongside the Giudecca Canal, almost like a seafront.
Even Venetians prefer it to the overly touristy Riva degli Schiavoni for a wonderful walk in the sun.
The view of the islands and the Giudecca Canal from here is stunning.
It’s a very quiet promenade lined with important churches like the Gesuati, as well as the Madonna della Salute, period palazzi, and a few vintage shops.
One of the most beautiful sunsets can be seen from here. When you arrive at Fondamenta Zattere al Ponte Lungo, treat yourself to a “gianduiotto” from Gelateria Nico and watch the sunset over the lagoon.
The Cannaregio sestiere is another of Venice’s biggest districts, located in the northern part of the city.
This is where Venetians who have chosen to reside in the historic centre live. There are several bustling bacari, especially after work hours, making it a perfect location for a bacaro tour.
Although it’s relatively unknown to most tourists, there is a lot to see here as well.
Let’s find it out:
Do a walking tour around Cannaregio District
Cannaregio is one of the six sestieri (districts) of Venice, located north of the Grand Canal, and it’s one of my favourite places to visit in Venice because it’s very authentic and not as crowded as other areas of the city.
The sestiere of Cannaregio is Venice’s largest and most populous sestiere. It’s crossed by the Cannaregio Canal, the only one in the ancient city that, like the Grand Canal, is traversed by vaporettos. It connects the lagoon to the Grand Canal.
The sestiere’s name is thought to stem from the existence of enormous reed beds (land cultivated with common reeds) before the area was reclaimed and afterwards populated.
The Cannaregio district is a great place to get a feel for everyday Venice; it’s home to a number of small cafes, restaurants, and shops where you can stop for coffee, a cicchetto, or lunch.
It takes around ten minutes to walk from Venice’s Santa Lucia Station to the Cannaregio quarter. You must exit the station and turn left onto Fondamenta degli Scalzi, then walk along Rio Terà Lista di Spagna. You will then be in the heart of the Cannaregio sestiere.
Visit the Jewish Ghetto of Venice.
The Cannaregio district is also home to the Jewish Ghetto of Venice, one of the oldest still existing in Europe.
The Venetian ghetto was established in 1516 and is considered to be the first segregated community.
It was a small island separated by a canal, with only two bridges that were locked at night.
This was done to protect Jewish citizens against abuse and assaults by local Christians.
The Ghetto is home to Venice’s small and lively Jewish community.
There you will discover a world that has been preserved for centuries, including the sights, smells, and traditions of this historic quarter.
It’s divided into three areas: Ghetto Vecchio, Ghetto Nuovo, and Ghetto Nuovissimo.
The New Ghetto is the oldest area that was first inhabited by Jews, and to accommodate the entire population, the houses were developed vertically, reaching up to eight floors high.
Around the main square, you can see the presence of five synagogues, the places of worship of the Jews.They are located mainly on the top of the buildings and are characterized by the presence of five windows aligned, in symbol of the books of the Torah.
The synagogues and schools are still in use today.
This location alone has a lot to see and learn. If you want to get the full experience, I highly recommend joining this Ghetto walking tour led by a local.
If you prefer, you can visit the Jewish Museum to learn about the history of the Jewish community in Venice and immerse yourself in its inspiring atmosphere.
The Jewish Museum and a visit to the synagogues
Every day from June 1 to September 30: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
From October 1 to May 31, the hours are 10 a.m. to 5.30 p.m. daily.
Visits to the synagogues take place every 30 minutes, starting at 10:30 am.
Stroll along Fondamenta Degli Ormesini
Leaving Campo del Ghetto Novo, you cross the iron bridge to reach Fondamenta degli Ormesini.
A fondamenta is a section of road in Venice that runs beside a canal or a rio.
Fondamenta degli Ormesini is Venice’s longest, and is the natural continuation of Fondamenta della Misericordia, a street that runs alongside Rio de la Misericordia.
This is where Venetians mingle with tourists (though there aren’t many of them), and students.
It’s peaceful in the mornings and early afternoons, making it an ideal spot for a stroll.
There are numerous tiny pubs here where you can stop for a coffee, a spritz, or an “ombra,” as a glass of wine is known in Venice.
Cross Ponte Chiodo
Ponte Chiodo is an ancient bridge in the Sestiere di Cannaregio, within a few metres of the Scuola Grande della Misericordia, one of the renowned architect Jacopo Sansovino’s works.
It’s Venice’s only bridge without a parapet, or railing.
Originally, all bridges in Venice were constructed without side defences known as parapets, or bande.
However, beginning in the nineteenth century, they were all equipped with parapets for safety reasons.
Nowadays, there are only two bridges without safety barriers: Ponte Chiodo in Venice and Ponte del Diavolo on the island of Torcello.
It’s definitely one of those hidden gems worth checking out as part of a secret Venice tour.
Stroll along Strada Nova and visit Campo Santa Sofia
From Ponte Chiodo, continue on Fondamenta San Felice, and after crossing the San Felice bridge, you’ll find yourself on Strada Nova. While you’re in the area, if you’re feeling hungry, you should try the meatballs at La Vedova; they’re the best in Venice.
After regenerating, proceed to Campo Santa Sofia, which overlooks the Grand Canal.
The campo’s name comes from the church of S. Sofia, which was rebuilt in the late 17th century to a design by Antonio Gaspari, whose bell tower and façade stand just behind a 19th-century building lining the Strada Nuova.
From here you can cross the Grand Canal on a gondola ferry, which connects Campo Santa Sofia directly with the Pescheria, known as the Rialto market.
Find the narrowest “calle” in Venice.
Calle Varisco is Venice’s smallest street, measuring only 53 cm wide. It’s located in the Cannaregio sestiere and has a view of the Rio dei SS. Apostoli.
Actually, only the last segment of the calle is that narrow, leading to the canal “introduced” by a Doric column.
Calle Varisco is located around midway between the Rialto Bridge and Fondamenta Nove.
Visit the Churches of Santa Maria Dei Miracoli & Santa Maria Assunta
If you enjoy religious architecture, in the Cannaregio sestiere you’ll find the Church of Santa Maria dei Miracoli overlooking the Campo dei Miracoli, a quiet and little-known place.
The church is a work of art, a little marble treasure chest. It’s considered Pietro Lombardo’s masterpiece and the first example of Renaissance architecture in Venice.
Instead, the Church of Santa Maria Assunta can be found at Campo dei Gesuiti, not far from Fondamenta Nove.
It was built in the 12th century and renovated in the 18th century, and it boasts a majestic Baroque facade filled with statues. The interior design has white and green marble inlays on the walls, which are accented by gilded stucco.
The pulpit is distinctive, with stone drapery that gives the appearance of fabric. The altar, with its twisted columns encircling the sculptural complex with the cross, is also worth seeing.
Aside from that, there are masterpieces by Tintoretto (the Assumption of the Virgin) and Titian (Martyrdom of St. Lawrence).
The Church of the Scalzi, also known as the Church of Santa Maria di Nazareth, is located near the station and was built at the initiative of the Carmelitani Scalzi. It is an example of Baroque art. This church has a view of the Grand Canal.
The Church of the Madonna dell’Orto is another noteworthy church in the Cannaregio sestiere. A true example of Venetian Gothic architecture, with paintings by Tintoretto on the inside.
Take a Bacaro tour
A trip to Venice isn’t complete without a stop at a bacaro, and Cannaregio is the sestiere with the best bacari.
These places, which are often open throughout the day and late into the evening, provide a fast bite to eat: “un cicchetto e un’ombra.”
A cicchetto is a little taste of hot or cold fish, and cold cuts served on a piece of bread. Tramezzini, bread with baccalà mantecato, sarde in saor, meatballs, and many other Venetian specialties are examples. The composition of cicchetti changes based on the season.
“Un’ombra”, on the other hand, is simply a glass of wine. It’s thought to have originated from the historical custom of merchants positioning their stalls under the shade of St Mark’s bell tower to keep the wine cool; still today, people in the floating city say “andar per ombre” (to go for shadows) to imply the mid-morning snack routine.
There are several bacari (small pubs) in Venice that serve cicchetti, and they are especially popular among Venetians, which is why you will find them in less touristy areas of the city.
Get lost in a maze of ”calli” and stumble upon Venice’s mysterious Campo dei Mori
Campo dei Mori is a square named after three statues set in the wall of the Palazzo Mastelli del Cammello (the well-known palace with a camel on its façade).
The Mastelli family, who migrated to Venice in the Middle Ages from the Morea (thus the name “Mori”), built this mansion and the other buildings in Campo dei Mori.
The family consisted of three brothers: Rioba, Sandi, and Alfani, who traded in silks and spices but also managed a bank.
A swindled lady, according to legend, prayed to Santa Maria Maddalena to curse the three brothers who were turned into sculptures, which were then put in a niche in
Campo dei Mori as a warning to all Venetians.
The most famous of the three statues is that of Sior Antonio Rioba; in the nineteenth century, the statue lost its nose and was repaired with an improvised piece of iron.
This gave rise to the belief that rubbing it brought good luck.
At Fondamenta dei Mori, at the foot of the bridge, is the 15th century Gothic house that was the home of the famous Venetian painter Tintoretto, where he died in 1594.
Near this campo is also the church of Madonna dell’Orto, which is one of the most beautiful examples of gothic architecture in Venice. Inside you’ll find 10 large paintings by Tintoretto, who is also buried here.
Sestieri San Polo and Santa Croce
The districts of Santa Croce (further west) and San Polo (further east and up to St. Mark’s) are located on the other side of the Grand Canal, in front of the Cannaregio district.
Some of Venice’s most famous sites can be found here among old palazzi and scenic alleyways, beginning with the Rialto bridge, which connects Cannaregio to San Polo.
Visit the Grand Canal and the Rialto Bridge (Ponte di Rialto)
There are four large bridges that span the Grand Canal in Venice. Rialto Bridge is the oldest, and it’s also one of the city’s most famous landmarks.
It’s well known for both its architecture and its history.
Until the mid-1800s, it was the only bridge that allowed people to cross the Grand Canal.
For many years, it was the economic centre of Venice.
It was designed by architect Antonio da Ponte and built between 1588 and 1591 to replace the previous wooden construction, which had collapsed twice and burned on multiple occasions.
The bridge’s structure has two inclined ramps connected by a portico in the centre, and houses 24 tiny shops for tourists on both sides.
The Rialto Bridge offers one of the most spectacular views of the entire city.
Check out the Rialto Market
Rialto’s Market is one of the best places to experience authentic Venetian folklore.
It’s one of the oldest in Venice and is open every day except Sunday.
The culinary tradition of the floating city is naturally based on fish, which is always purchased fresh at the fish market.
That’s why the market is usually busy, with crowds of Venetians buying ingredients for Venetian cuisine and tourists intrigued by the picturesque market and its plethora of goods: fruit, vegetables, and fish.
The market area is now so busy and touristy that it has lost some of its primary business character and has turned into a meeting place as well.
Indeed, the neighborhood is teeming with a growing number of tourist-related activities and cafes for aperitifs and evening gatherings, where one can linger to enjoy a traditional Venetian ciccheto, or some fresh fruit.
A tidbit about the Rialto fish market: One of the scenes in the movie “The Tourist,” starring Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie, was shot right here.
Rooftop view over the Grand Canal from Fondaco dei Tedeschi
Head to Fondaco dei Tedeschi’s rooftop terrace for a unique view of Venice’s main boulevard. This old building in Venice is just steps away from the Rialto Bridge.
It has stood since the 13th century and was rebuilt after a fire between 1505 and 1508.
It was home to German merchants who used it as a warehouse and lodging.
Fondaco is derived from the Arabic term funduq, which means “warehouse,” and the Italian word “Tedeschi” that means “Germans.”
It now houses a high-end department store selling luxurious goods.
The terrace is free to visit, but reservations are required. It is open every day from 10:30 a.m. until 6:30 p.m. Book here!
Admire the Basilica Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari
The Basilica of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, often known as the Basilica dei Frari, is Venice’s largest church. It’s located in the heart of the San Polo district, on the Campo dei Frari, and its façade is framed by a tiny canal.
The plain and unimpressive exterior stands in stark contrast to the beautiful interior.
The church took over a century to build and was finished in the mid-15th century. Its bell tower, which dates back to the 14th century, is the second highest in Venice.
What will catch your attention as soon as you enter the Basilica is a Titian painting titled “Assumption of the Virgin.” It’s on the main altar, surrounded by stained-glass windows.
Other points of interest include Antonio Canova’s mausoleum (Canova was an 18th century Italian sculptor). The artist’s students created the funeral monument. You will be surprised by its monumental size, sculptures, and pyramid shape.
And the choir chapel houses magnificent paintings by Vivarini and Bellini.
Walk through Ponte degli Scalzi
The Ponte degli Scalzi, one of the bridges that span the Grand Canal, connects the sestiere of Santa Croce to that of Cannaregio.
The Ponte degli Scalzi is located near two churches on opposing banks of the canal: the church of Santa Maria di Nazareth, also known as the Scalzi church after the monks who built it, and the church of San Simeon Piccolo.
It’s also known as the Station Bridge because of its proximity to the railway station.
Experience the Grand Canal (Canal Grande) on a Vaporetto tour
As you know, Venice is also known as the “floating city” because there are no streets, only canals.
The Grand Canal is Venice’s largest and most famous canal; it could be considered the city’s thoroughfare.
It is actually 4 kilometres (2.5 miles) long and runs through Venice’s entire historic center, dividing it in half and forming an “s” shape.
Some of the most beautiful Venetian architecture can be found here.
You may be surprised to learn that the Grand Canal is only crossed by four bridges and has only a few promenades along it.
The area around the Rialto Bridge is the most beautiful part of the canal that you can explore on foot.
Here you’ll find large waterfront promenades lined with restaurants and cafés. It’s a nice place to have a drink and watch the canal go by.
However, the best way to explore the Grand Canal’s surroundings is from the water, which you can do by taking a vaporetto, or gondola.
A Vaporetto (water taxi) is essentially a floating public bus that makes frequent stops across the city and is the most affordable and convenient way to get around Venice.
A Vaporetto tour of the Grand Canal is a must-do since it allows you to admire Venetian art from a different angle.
The section of the canal south-west of the Rialto Bridge is the most beautiful and should not be missed. So, if you take a boat between St. Mark’s Square and the Rialto Bridge, you will see the best of Venice!
You can also take these water taxis to reach other islands near Venice, such as Murano, Burano, and Torcello.
If you’re on a tight budget and visiting Venice, this is the best way to get around!
Take a gondola ride
If you want to get the classic “Venice” experience, a gondola ride is a must.
Riding a gondola is probably the most famous thing to do in Venice and it’s definitely something you should try at least once, even if it’s not cheap.
I highly recommend going for a ride at sunset when the city is less crowded and all the buildings and churches are lit up.
There are plenty of places where you can take one—the Grand Canal is lined with them, and there are many options on the smaller canals as well.
Hop on a Gondola Traghetto (Gondola Ferry)
Have you ever wondered how Venetians get from one side of the Grand Canal to the other when none of the four bridges are nearby? They simply take the gondola ferry.
At various points along the Grand Canal (away from the bridges), you can travel from one bank to the other in a gondola piloted by two gondoliers who shift between the banks. Locals pay less than one euro, while tourists pay two euros. The Gondola has a capacity of 14 passengers.
This is the experience for you if you want to feel the thrill of riding a gondola without spending a lot of money.
One is the Santa Sofia ferry, which departs from Strada Nuova and crosses the Grand Canal to take you to the Pescheria.
Simply follow the ‘Traghetto’ signs to the nearest landing, which will be a little wooden pier along the Grand Canal’s edge. If the service is active, the boats normally shuttle continuously, so you won’t have to wait long.
If you have a Venezia Unica card, the ticket costs €0.70; if you don’t have the card, the ticket costs €2.00.
Go on a Venetian Mask making class
Venice is known to be one of the most romantic cities in the world, but its beauty isn’t just skin deep.
The city’s famous mask-making tradition dates back to at least the 14th century, when Carnival first came to Venice. The masks were worn as part of elaborate disguises, allowing people to take on a new identity during this time of year.
Venetian masks have been made since ancient times, but they were particularly popular during the Carnival season. They were worn by nobles as well as commoners during celebrations.
The tradition continues today; during Carnival all over Italy, people wear colourful masks, mostly based on historical characters or famous people.
Venice’s mask-making tradition has been passed down through generations of artisans who still create beautiful masks today.
To really appreciate this art form and the patience and mastery required to make the perfect mask, join this mask-making workshop with a local master artisan to learn about the history of this ancient tradition.
Visit Murano glass factory and join a Murano Glass workshop with a Local Artisan
While you’re in Venice, take a tour of the Murano glass factory. You’ll see how this famous Italian art form is made, and you can even buy some souvenirs.
These works of art come in many shapes and sizes, and each one is one-of-a-kind since each one is hand-blown by trained craftsmen utilising centuries-old techniques passed down through generations.
They make everything from Murano glass chandeliers and wine stoppers to contemporary art glass and glass jewellery.
Watching a craftsman at work may look simple, but if you really want to learn the secrets of Murano glassmaking techniques, getting hands-on experience is the best way to truly appreciate what’s involved.
If you wish you can take a private glassmaking lesson where you’ll get hands-on experience with one of Venice’s most renowned craftsmen.
This workshop with a local artisan includes all materials, including your own marvellous glass artwork to take home, as well as a 10% discount on the artist’s glassworks.
Take a boat ride to Burano Island in Venice
Take a boat ride to the cheerful island of Burano, an ancient fishing village founded in 639 AD.
Visit the church of San Martino, which has been recently restored. The church has beautiful frescoes and paintings on display, including works by Giambattista Tiepolo and Francesco Guardi.
Visit the Burano Lace Museum, a beautiful gothic building that was once the Lace School, where young Burano girls learned to make lace.
Burano is still regarded as the most expensive lace in the world.
One Day Itinerary
Venice is one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations, with something for everyone.
Although I believe that visiting Venice requires more than one day, I also understand that many people, for various reasons, are unable to stay longer than one day.
So, to help you better plan your time in Venice here is a one day itinerary suggestion:
Begin your day with a Vaporetto tour along the Grand Canal. Hop on vaporetto line 1 from either Piazzale Roma or the train station.
If you get to the front of the line at Piazzale Roma, or the at the station, you might be able to choose an outdoor seat if you move quickly, this way you’ll have a better view.
However, the service runs every ten minutes, so you could always be the first to board the next vaporetto.
After about 45 minutes, get off at San Zaccaria. This is the stop after St. Mark’s, so this way you’ll have the opportunity to admired St Mark’s Square (Piazza San Marco) and the Doge Palace from the water.
Visit St Mark’s Basilica, the Campanile, the Doge Palace, the Bridge of sighs. To get the most out of it you may want to book a tour with a local guide.
Treat yourself at one of the cafes in the square.
After exploring St Mark’s, visit the Rialto district, wander around the market, take in the view from one of the many cafes in the area, book a visit at T Fondaco dei Tedeschi for a top view and possibly book a private tour with a local guide to get a feel for the city.
If you can stay for three days, you can get a real sense of Venice by visiting its galleries and churches, which are filled with important works of art, as well as venturing off the beaten path.
A week is sufficient time to explore not only the city, but also the lagoon and surrounding area, as well as to visit lands and travel to a nearby mainland town, such as Verona, Bologna, or Padua.
How to get to there?
There are several ways of getting to Venice:
The main international hub for Venice is Venice Marco Polo Airport (VCE). The airport is connected to the city by water taxi, by the Alilaguna motor boat, or by using the “Venezia Air Terminal” bus.
The island of Venice can also be reached via Treviso Airport (TSF) by taking the ATVO Bus Express line, which takes around 60 minutes to reach one of Venice’s main tourist hubs, Piazzale Roma, from where particular Actv public transportation navigation lines can be used to reach the old city center.
A transfer service also runs from and to the airport.
Ponte della Libertà is the only bridge connecting Venice to the mainland, finishing in Piazzale Roma, the only place in the city where cars can enter.
There are various car parks at Piazzale Roma, both internal and external, but pay attention to the charges, which are not all the same and vary from one car park to the other.
Check all the options and then select the one that’s most suitable for you.
You can also park in Tronchetto, which can be reached by turning right at the end of Ponte della Libertà, just before arriving at Piazzale Roma. There is both indoor and outdoor parking available here as well.
You can easily get to the city center from either of these sites via water bus, water taxi, or by foot.
If you arrive in Venice by train, you’ll arrive at the Santa Lucia train station, an impressive building located in the Santa Croce district, right at the beginning of the Canal Grande.
You can easily walk from the station to the city center by following Strada Nuova or by boarding the vaporetto from one of the piers in front of the station.
As you can see from the list above,there are many ways to explore Venice, Italy.
Whether it be its colorful buildings or unique history that make it so special, there are endless opportunities for you to enjoy yourself while visiting one of Europe’s most popular destinations.
If you’ve never been before, I highly recommend taking this Venice free tour of the historic centre!
Of course, this is not an exhaustive list of all Venice attractions.
However, if you visit the majority of the attractions on this list, you’ll have seen the best that Venice has to offer!
I hope you found this guide to the best things to do in Venice Italy useful and that it helps you plan a nice itinerary for a truly memorable visit to one of the world’s most unique cities.
If you’re planning a trip to Italy you may also want to read this post.
Ciao and safe travel!