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There is no other city in the world quite as magical as Venice. It’s most well known for its winding canals connected by ornately decorated bridges, where the sounds of gondoliers echo through the streets.
It’s home to the finest artworks by Renaissance painters, elegant Roman architecture, and mesmerizing basilicas. It’s easy to see why it’s considered the most romantic city in the world.
If you’re planning a trip to the city of love any time soon, you’ll be pleased to know there are so many exciting things to do in Venice.
From walking through the markets to admiring the beauty of the world-renowned Rialto Bridge or witnessing the finest classical artworks in the basilicas, there is something for everyone to enjoy in this fascinating city.
1. St Mark’s Square (Piazza de San Marco)
While Venice is an ever-popular tourist attraction, it’s also expensive. It’s considered one of the best honeymoon destinations in Italy and is perfect for couples looking for something special. Because of this, you’ll find prices in Venice way above anywhere else in Italy.
So let’s begin with one of the best free things to do in Venice, for all those who don’t wish to burn a hole in their wallet.
St Mark’s Square, known locally as Piazza San Marco, is the principal public square of Venice. On one end you have the iconic St Mark’s Basilica (also free to visit), and on the other is the Museo Correr, a grand palace filled with classical paintings.
The square is flanked on either side by ancient government buildings and palaces, including the St Doge’s Palace, Procuratie Vecchie, and St Mark’s Clocktower.
Standing in the square you get a 360-degree view of the stunning architecture that makes Venice so famous.
The square is often flooded on rainy days, so it’s best to check the weather forecast before visiting.
- Open: 24 hours
- Address: Piazza San Marco, 30100 Venice
2. Gaze Upon the Golden Mosaics of St Mark’s Basilica
There are hundreds of churches, known locally as basilicas, in Venice. It is said that each piazza in Venice used to be a village, and each village had its own basilica, which explains why there are hundreds of churches throughout the city.
The most famous is St Mark’s Basilica, which is known for its golden mosaics that adorn the walls, domes, and arches.
The mosaics date as far back as the 13th century and represent important stories from the Bible, such as the Creation of the Earth, the story of Cain and Abel, Noah’s Ark, the story of Abraham, Joseph, and Moses, as well as the Tower of Babel.
However, St Mark’s Basilica is one of the busiest and most popular attractions in Venice. If you want to see an equally stunning and less touristy attraction in Venice, then consider checking out the Basilica San Sebastiano or Basilica San Maurizio.
Inside the Basilica San Sebastiano, you’ll find paintings by Paolo Veronese that date back to the 16th century, as well as paintings by other renowned classical painters, Tintoretto and Titian.
The Basilica San Maurizio is now also the Museo della Musica, which houses baroque instruments and artifacts from Italian composers, including exhibits on Antonio Vivaldi.
All churches are free to enter, but you can buy ‘skip the line’ passes, tours, and audioguides before visiting.
- Hours: 9.30 a.m. and 5:15 p.m, Mon – Sat, 2.00 pm – 5.00 pm on Sun (hours differ on religious holidays)
- Address: Piazza San Marco, 328, 30100 Venice
3. Explore the Doge’s Palace and Bridge of Sighs
Though named a palace, The Doge’s Palace was not built for any royal family. It was formerly home to the leaders of Venice, or doges, and where they held government meetings with their councilors.
With over 600 years of history to explore, this is one of the most unmissable attractions in Venice.
As you wander its halls, take in the remarkable architecture, golden staircases, and classical paintings, the most famous of which is the Il Paradiso by Tintoretto.
Visitors can see the institutional chambers, a stunning courtyard, the Giants Staircase, and prisons.
You can also cross the infamous Bridge of Sighs, a 17th-century baroque bridge that connects the palace to the prison. The bridge is so named because of the sighs heard by the prisoners who crossed over it. (There is also a Bridge of Sighs in Oxford)
- Hours: 9.00 am – 7.00 pm (Monday – Sunday)
- Address: Piazza San Marco, 1, 30124 Venice
4. Admire Authentic Venice in the Dorsoduro District
There are six districts in Venice, but the one that is considered the most authentic is the Dorsoduro district.
Dorsoduro is considered the city’s university district and is full of unpretentious cafes, boutique stores, and vintage thrift shops.
It’s simply amazing to just wander the streets, gaze upon the classic Venetian architecture and sit and watch the world go by in one of its many eateries.
It’s also the city’s nightlife district and draws a younger crowd after dark. As such, bar hopping in the Dorsoduro district is one of the top things to do in Venice for young adults.
Some of the most important landmarks in the district include the Ca’ Rezzonico, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, the Church of Santa Marta, and Palazzo Foscarini.
It’s also where you will find the Gallerie dell’Accademia, which is the best place in Venice to see classic Venetian artwork.
- Hours: 24 hours
- Address: The district is to the west of the Grand Canal and covers the area South of Campo Santa Margherita
5. Ride on a Gondola on the Grand Canal
A trip to Venice without a gondola ride is like visiting Disneyland and not going on any rides. Arguably the best time to do a gondola ride is at sunset when the buildings are washed in golden light and the blue skies turn pink.
And of course, the best view of the city at this hour is from the water.
Gondolas have been a mode of transport in Venice since the 11th century and used to be the commoners’ way to get around the city on the water. As time moved on, gondola’s started to become more ornately decorated, luxurious and expensive.
There are now said to be around 400 gondolas in Venice, and nearly all of them are now used for tourism purposes.
Riding on a gondola is one of the most romantic things to do in Venice, at the most romantic hour of the day. For couples visiting Venice, this is an unmissable attraction.
- Hours: 7.00 pm – 9.00 pm
- Address: Grand Canal, Venice
6. Cross the Rialto Bridge
There are four major bridges that cross the Grand Canal in Venice. The oldest and most striking of which is the Rialto Bridge, or Ponte di Rialto as it’s locally referred to.
It was built in the late 16th century to be a permanent bridge to replace the original one made of wood. At the time it was built, it was the only way to cross the canal by foot.
This ornate and stunning masterpiece took three years to build. It has three walkways: two on either side and one wide walkway in the center.
On this large walkway in the middle, you’ll find market stalls selling jewelry, Venetian lace, Murano glass, and tourist trinkets.
- Hours: 24 Hours
- Address: Sestiere San Polo, 30125 Venice
7. Take a Day Trip to Venice’s Outlying Islands
If you’re feeling in a need of a change of scenery, then you might enjoy taking a water taxi out to the city’s surrounding islands.
These small islands are where you’ll find traditional craftsmen still at work, as well as gorgeous scenery and relaxing vibes.
There are three popular islands that are worth a visit: Murano, Torcello, and Burano.
Murano is known for its glass factory and is the best place to pick up some Venetian glassware to take home.
Torcello is a largely abandoned island that was once a thriving settlement, known as Venice’s ‘parent island’ as it was where most of the settlers used to live. It’s best known for its Santa Maria Assunta church which still showcases some impressive mosaics.
For those looking for unique photos, you’ll be amazed by the colorful island of Burano, which is famous for its brightly painted buildings.
The main trade in Burano is lace, which you can learn more about at the Museum and School of Lace Making.
- Hours: You can get water taxis to the islands between 4:30 am and 12:30 am (midnight), or save time and money on a combined tour.
- Address: Murano, Torcello, Burano
8. Visit the La Fenice Opera House
In case you didn’t know already, Italy, and Venice in particular is pretty big on music.
Italy is the birthplace of Opera, which was first introduced in the 17th century. Italy as a whole is home to some of the world’s most stunning opera houses, but none are as fine as La Fenice Opera House.
La Fenice Opera House is often regarded as the most beautiful opera house in the city and the most important in the country. It’s where the most famous opera composers made their names, including Donizetti, Rossini, Verdi, and Bellini.
Whether you’d like to watch a performance, or just check out the avant-garde design, La Fenice is definitely worth adding to your Venice itinerary.
- Hours: 9.30 am – 11.00 pm
- Address: Campo S. Fantin, 1965, 30124 Venice
9. Watch a Concert at Vivaldi Church
One of the most famous figures born in Venice was the composer Antonio Vivaldi. Among classical music fans, he is regarded as one of the most important and greatest Baroque composers of all time.
He was also a virtuoso violinist, teacher, and Roman Catholic priest. The best way to honor his legacy and his music is to sit back and listen to his notable piece, ‘Four Seasons’, performed at the church where he lived and performed throughout his life.
Vivaldi Church, or Church of the Pietà (Saint Mary of the Visitation), is free to enter but it often holds musical performances in the evening that are priced per event.
It’s best to plan ahead if you want to catch a concert in this iconic musical landmark in Venice.
- Hours: 11:11 am – 5.30 pm, Concerts from 7.00 pm
- Address: Church of the Pietà, Sestiere Castello, 30122 Venice
10. Admire Venetian Paintings in Gallerie dell’Accademia
Those looking to see the best pre-19th-century art in Venice will want to head to the Gallerie dell’Accademia. It was originally the art academy of Venice but became independent in 1879.
It’s now a museum and where you can find notable works by 18th century artists, such as Antonello da Messina, Lazzaro Bastiani, Giovanni Bellini, Giambattista Pittoni, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, Tintoretto, Titian, and Giuseppe Zais.
It is also where Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘Vitruvian Man’ resides, though it’s rarely on display because the paper is too fragile to appear under a light. Maybe you’ll get lucky when you visit!
Hours: 8.15 am – 7.15 pm (Tuesday – Sunday), 8.15 am – 2.00 pm (Monday)
Address: Campo della Carità, 1050, 30123 Venice
11. Take a Day Trip to the Dolomites
The city can be overwhelming at times, so if you want to get out to nature, then a day trip to the Italian Dolomites is what you need.
With craggy peaks and glistening lakes, dotted with quaint mountain villages, the Dolomites is the perfect place to escape the hustle and bustle of the city.
Some of the top sites in the Dolomites is the town of Cortina, the gateway to the Faloria mountain peak. You must also check out the incredible natural sites, from canyons and valleys to the turquoise Misurina Lake and Auronzo Lake.
Whether you’re into hardcore hiking or just a gentle stroll in the fresh mountain air, the best place to do that is in the Dolomites.
- Hours: Leaves at 8.30 am
- Address: Tours leave from Rio Terà Sant’Andrea, 460, 30135 Venice
P.S. If you like Prosecco, you may love this wine tasting day trip from Venice. Explore two wineries in the wine-growing area of the Veneto region, renowned for its beauty and Prosecco.
12. Shop for Venetian Masks
The Venetian Mask came about in the 13th century. During the winter, the Venetians held parties where the attendants would wear elaborately detailed masks to conceal their identity. It was said that it was to allow the lower and upper classes to mingle together.
At the time, the masks were made using paper mache, ceramics, and even animal skin.
You’ll find plenty of market stalls and shops selling Venetian masks in Venice, but not many of them are authentically made by hand.
If you want to avoid getting a factory-made knock-off, then you’ll want to head to Ca’ Macana which claims to sell handmade and handpainted Venetian masks.
- Hours: 10.00 am – 6.30 pm
- Address: Dorsoduro, 3215, 30123 Venice
13. Visit the Leonardo Di Vinci Museum
Leonardo Di Vince is a classical painter, sculptor, and inventor who lived during the high-renaissance period.
He is most famous for his artwork, the most famous paintings are the Mona Lisa, the Last Supper, and the Virgin of the Rocks.
But he was also a scientist and engineer, who came up with the first design of a flying machine, helicopter, and parachute. He also designed the first revolving bridge and essentially invented the automatic rifle. His notes and journals on human anatomy were also visionary for his time.
There is so much that Leonardo Di Vinci created that shaped the way we view art and technology today. The best way to learn about his life and his inventions is to visit the Leonardo Di Vinci Museum.
- Hours: 10.30 am – 6.00 pm (hours may differ on religious holidays)
- Address: Campo S. Rocco, 3052, 30125 Venice
14. Discover the Flooded Crypt of San Zaccaria
The Church of Zaccaria, or Chiesa di San Zaccaria, is a stunning church full of many of the best paintings in Venice. Most famously is the altarpiece created by Giovanni Bellini.
Other renaissance artists such as Tintoretto, Angelo Trevisani, Andrea del Castagno, Palma Vecchio, Giuseppe Porta, Anthony van Dyck, and Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo have all contributed paintings here.
Arguably the church’s main attraction though is its crypt. The crypt is where the tomb of the city’s doges and important figures are buried. Most notably is the artist Alessandro Vittoria, who is buried under a self-portrait bust.
But it’s not the tombs that attract people to the crypt, it’s the unique natural phenomenon that occurs here.
As Venice is a canal city built on stilts, over the years the sediments that the city is built on have eroded and have caused the city to slowly sink. The crypt is built below the current water level, which means it is permanently flooded.
The flooding creates a mirror effect, which makes the dark room and its features look elongated and expansive. Photographers will love capturing the columns and vaulted ceilings reflected in the water. This is certainly one of the more crazy things to do in Venice.
- Hours: 10.00 am – 12.00 pm, 4.00 pm – 6.00 pm
- Address: Campo S. Zaccaria, 4693, 30122 Venice
15. Visit the Secret Book Store, Libreria Acqua Alta
Although arguably not a secret anymore, the Libreria Acqua Alta book store is considered one of the most non-touristy things to do in Venice.
This quirky bookshop looks like it could feature in a Harry Potter movie, with old leather-bound books stacked in every free space, making it a bit of a squeeze to move around.
It’s most famous for its back garden, which features a staircase made of books that leads up to a ‘wonderful view’ of the canal on the other side.
If you’re looking for some unique photos while in Venice, this is certainly one of the best photo spots. You can also pick up postcards, prints, and of course, books, to take home as souvenirs.
- Hours: 9.00 am – 7.30 pm (hours may differ on religious holidays)
- Address: C. Longa Santa Maria Formosa, 5176b, 30122 Venice
Popular Walking Tours of Venice
One of our favorite ways to get to know the personality of a city is with a walking tour. We’ve hand-picked the following Venice walking tours to consider for your Venice vacation.
Here are a few Venice hotels to consider:
- Ca’di Dio-Small Luxury Hotel: top reviews for location, design and service
- Hotel Belle Arti: Guests like the location and value for money
- Hotel Moresco: Guests love the Venitan styling, service and location.
If you’re looking for other accommodation in Venice, you can use the map below to compare hotels and short-term rental options.
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