The enchanting city of Venice is a unique destination full of overwhelming beauty, tremendous history, and rich culture. It’s comprised of over 100 islands resting in the Venetian Lagoon off the Adriatic Sea, linked together by bridges and canals. With all Venice has to offer, it’s no surprise that it’s one of the most visited cities in Italy—for first-time travelers and returning visitors alike. The possibilities are endless, so let us help you narrow down the must-see sites. Keep reading to learn about what to do in Venice!
Float Down the Grand Canal
Of all the canals in Venice, this is by far the largest. Once an essential waterway for merchant ships, the canal snakes through the city in the shape of an “S,” and it remains a bustling channel for all kinds of traffic. Sail down the busy waters in a classic gondola, hop on a vaporetto (a public water bus that’s the most popular form of transportation), or choose a more private—and expensive—water taxi. There’s no better way to see the sites, people-watch, and get to where you need to be than cruising down the Grand Canal.
Relax on Lido
If the busy streets and waterways are getting to be too much, escape to Lido. This island separates Venice from the Adriatic Sea with a long stretch of sandy beach. The vibe is more laidback and relaxed than the center of Venice, and the area is largely residential, with local shops, restaurants, and some hotels. A day lounging by the sparkling sea is the perfect way to recharge.
Explore St. Mark’s Square
St. Mark’s Square, or Piazza San Marco, is the most famous piazza in Venice. This iconic spot is an absolute must-see, as it’s home to many of the city’s beloved sites. Start out at St. Mark’s Basilica, the most renowned building in Venice. Built in 1092, it’s one of the greatest remaining examples of Italian Byzantine architecture. It earned the nickname “Church of Gold” thanks to the breathtaking gold mosaics all throughout the interior. Marvel at the ornate sculptures, opulent detailing, and beautiful artwork. The basilica’s bell tower, San Marco Campanile, is also a favorite site. At 324 feet, it’s the tallest building in Venice and gives incredible panoramas of the city, which is why it made the perfect watchtower in the 9th century. After many instances of damage, it collapsed at the turn of the 20th century and underwent a full reconstruction. Ride the elevator to the top to take in the city’s beauty. Other landmarks in the piazza include Doge’s Palace, a stunning, Gothic style building, and Torre dell’Orologio, the famous clock tower.
Gaze Upon the Artworks of Gallerie dell’Accademia
The Gallerie dell’Accademia is home to an unbelievable collection of pre-19th century art, including some truly iconic masterpieces. Here you’ll find the likes of Da Vinci, Bellini, Canaletto, and Titian. The building was converted from a convent to museum in the mid to late 1700s, when Napoleon shut down churches, took their works of art, and established galleries and art schools. Another nearby art museum to explore is the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, where you’ll find influential pieces by European and American artists of the 20th century.
Hop on a Ferry to Murano, Burano, and Torcello
The three separate Venetian islands of Murano, Burano, and Torcello are popular getaways. These towns offer laidback exploration and the perfect retreat from the hustle and bustle of Venice’s city center. Murano is known for its impressive glassblowing; join a tour for a live demonstration of how the exquisite pieces are made. Burano is famous for its lace, designed in elaborate, elegant patterns. This charming town paints quite the colorful scene—a variety of vibrant hues cover the buildings lining the canals. Torcello is a quiet escape, evocative of a sleepy town in the Italian countryside. Check out the Church of Santa Maria Assunta, which was built in the 7th century. It’s possible to hit all three islands during one day trip, or you can spend more time exploring each one.
Indulge in an Aperitivo
It wouldn’t be a trip to Italy without living the locals and indulging in an aperitivo. At the end of the work day, residents take to bars for drinks and snacks as a precursor to dinner. Traditionally, aperitivos are made with bitter alcohol, such as Campari and Aperol, with the choice of Negroni, Spritz, or Americano. Lounge canal-side, or relax on one of Venice’s cozy rooftop bars for a gorgeous view of the city.
Visit the Bridge of Sighs
The Bridge of Sighs is a rather small structure with a large backstory. One of Venice’s most renowned architectural landmarks, the enclosed bridge was built in 1600 and connected Doge’s Palace to its prison complex. The story goes that newly sentenced prisoners would gaze out the windows and sigh as they crossed the bridge towards permanent imprisonment.
Cross Rialto Bridge
Rialto Bridge is Venice’s best-known bridge, connecting the San Marco and San Polo districts over the Grand Canal. It’s a popular destination to pick up souvenirs, as vendors sells all kinds of goods. It was originally built out of wood, but after a collapse in 1524, it was rebuilt with the stone that still stands today.
Ride a Vaporetto to San Giorgio Maggiore
San Giorgio Maggiore sits on a separate island opposite St. Mark’s Square. It’s not connected by the main channels, but all you have to do is hop on a vaporetto and take a quick ride over. There’s plenty to see, from San Giorgio Monastery to the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore, where you’ll find a bell tower similar to the San Marco Campanile. It offers unparalleled views without the crowds you can expect at St. Mark’s. Just beware—the bells ring on the hour, so if you’re sensitive to loud noises, plan your trip to the top accordingly.