There are many incredible things to do in Venice. After Rome, this is the most visited city in Italy. Its rich history, culture, museums, winding streets, mouth-watering cuisine, art-filled palaces, stunning architecture, picturesque canals, shopping opportunities (such as the famous Murano glass) attract close to 30 million tourists annually.
Nicknamed “The Floating City,” “The City of Bridges,” and “The City of Canals,” Venice is built on 118 small islands connected by more than 400 bridges and canals. It is so unique that it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Curious to discover the best things to do in Venice? Continue reading and make sure to also consult this 3 days in Venice itinerary.
12 Best Things To Do In Venice
Explore St. Mark’s Square
Named after Evangelist Saint Mark, Venice’s patron saint, and called Piazza San Marco in Italian, this is the largest and most popular piazza (public square) in Venice. For centuries most of the major events in the city have been held here.
This is the perfect place to begin your tour of Venice. The best time to visit is early morning just after sunrise, when it is not packed with tourists, who normally arrive in the city around 10:00 am.
Once you’re done taking in the sights you can go to one of the cafes at the north end of the piazza for Italian espresso. Caffè Florian opened in 1720: this world-famous café (the oldest in the world) is perfect for a drink but very expensive.
St. Mark’s Square has some of the city’s top attractions such as St Mark’s Basilica, Doge’s Palace and Torre dell’Orologio, managed by the Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia (known as MUVE). Make sure to get a museum pass (it costs €36 + a €5 fee) to access them all. You can get it directly on the foundation website.
You’ll find lots of pigeons in the square. Don’t feed them: it’s forbidden and if you’re found doing that you could pay a hefty fine.
Tour St. Mark’s Basilica (Basilica di San Marco)
Located in Saint Mark’s Square, the Basilica was built in the 11th century and is the most famous building in Venice. The church’s Italian Byzantine architecture is something to marvel at.
Being one of the top tourist attractions in Venice, you can expect to find long lines at St.Mark’s Basilica. Plan to go very early before it opens, so that you can be among the first in line, or late in the afternoon. You can also pay for a skip the line ticket or tour that will get you in swiftly.
The basilica is open from 9:30 am to 5:15 pm Monday to Saturday. On Sunday it opens from 2:00 pm after the Catholic mass service, which you can attend, and closes at 5:30 pm.
You can tour St Mark’s Basilica on your own or pay for a guided tour. Admission is €3, and access to some of the spaces like the basilica’s museum, Pala d’oro, or Treasury require an additional fee of up to €7. Make to pass by the outdoor terrace for magnificent views of the square below. For the best tours of St. Mark’s Basilica, click here.
For a tour of St. Mark’s Basilica and Doge Palace, click here.
Make sure to check out my post How To Get St. Mark’s Basilica Tickets.
Visit the Basilica of Saint John & Paul
This is the largest church in Venice and took more than a century to build. It that was finally consecrated in 1430. The square where it is located is a good place to hang out too!
Walk up St. Mark’s Bell Tower
The Campanile di San Marco, Venice famous bell tower, is the tallest landmark in the city. It’s located right in Piazza San Marco and one of the symbols of the city that you will easily recognize from a distance. From there, you’ll enjoy an unforgettable view of Venice.
The Bell Tower is open daily from 9:30 am to 5:15 pm. Admission is €10.
Visit Doge’s Palace (Palazzo Ducale)
Visiting this centuries-old palace is one of the unmissable things to do in Venice. It served as the home of the Doge, a supreme leader elected by Venetian nobles to govern Venice. Located at Saint Mark’s Square, it is entirely built in Venetian gothic architecture, and its interior is absolutely opulent.
The palace is also full of history about how Venice was ruled in its earlier years because all its affairs were run from here – including imprisonment and executions of those found to have wronged the state.
Doge’s Palace is open daily from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm. Admission is included in the Saint Mark’s Museum Pass. You can get tickets here. For guided tours including skip-the-line admission, consider this one. For a more private experience, go on a nighttime tour such as this one.
For a tour of St. Mark’s Basilica and Doge Palace, click here.
Read my post How To Get Doge Palace Tickets And Skip The Line.
Admire the Bridge of Sighs
The bridge where prisoners walked as they left the dungeons to go to courtrooms in Doge’s Palace is a lovely sight and of of the most iconic photo posts in Venice.
However, did you know that one of the best things to do in Venice is to actually peep through the Bridge of Sights, instead of just admiring it from outside? That’s right! You can actually walk across the bridge. In order to do that, you will need to take a tour of Doge Palace and the Prisons, which you can book here.
See the Grand Canal (Canale Grande)
Hundreds of canals connect the islands that makeup Venice. The largest is Canale Grande. This s-shaped 2-mile canal cuts through Venice, and has close to 200 buildings, some built as far back as the 13th century, lined along its banks.
This waterway has for years played a major role in Venice’s economy, and it is always busy with water traffic. If you want to admire the canal and the buildings along its banks on the cheap, walking along it or riding the Vaporetto is what to do in Venice.
The best time to sail the Grand Canal on a Vaporetto is at night. The lit waterway and palatial buildings are awesome to look at this time and fewer people are using the Vaporetto, so you can enjoy the trip.
Sail the Venice canals on a Gondola
Riding a gondola is definitely one of the best things to do in Venice. This is a flat bottomed traditional Venetian rowing boat that looks like a bit like a canoe. It is rowed by a gondolier who uses a rowing oar, and used to be the only means of transport in Venice.
If you opt to pay for a gondola to tour the Grand Canal or other waterways in Venice, be prepared to pay €80 for a 35-minute ride during the day, regardless of the number of people on board (a maximum of 6 is allowed); and €100 for a 30 minutes ride at night. The prices are fixed so you don’t have to worry about negotiating.
As you ride the gondola and take in the sights you may be lucky enough to get a singer onboard or the gondolier may serenade you with beautiful traditional Venetian melodies.
If you look online you will see that there are some shared gondola rides. If you don’t mind sharing, this may be a great way to save some bucks. You can book your gondola ride here.
Cross Rialto Bridge (Ponte di Rialto)
This bridge found on the Grand Canal is the most famous in Venice. Built in the 16th century it was once the only way you could cross Canal Grande.
Like other attractions in Venice, this bridge receives hundreds of tourists each day, particularly around midday. The best time to go is early morning or any time after sunset.
Plan to attend Venice Carnevale
Every year in February Venice holds a massive carnival during which locals and tourists dress up in masquerade costumes, and party for two weeks. The Carnevale was first held in Renaissance times and the masks worn at the time were aimed at hiding the true identity of participants, so that all social classes could interact freely during the event without caring about status.
The atmosphere in Venice during the Carnevale is electric with parades, food, drinks, and entertainment. It can get really wild so if you’re not the partying type you should skip this event.
If you don’t make it for the Carnevale you can get yourself the famous Venetian carnival mask as a souvenir. You can buy a cheap one from street carts or a hand-made at a specialized mask shop. There even are mask-making workshops!
For a mask workshop in Venice, click here.
Take a day trip to the nearby islands
One of the best things to do in Venice is to actually get ouf of town to discover the surrounding islands! Here are those you may want to visit:
BURANO – One of the nicest islands found on the Venetian Lagoon. It is a 40-minute boat ride from St Mark’s Square and is the perfect place to escape the large crowds for a few hours. You’ll see colorful buildings and enjoy a lovely, quaint atmosphere.
MURANO – Famous for glass-blowing factories where you can also attend glass-making workshops and buy precious Murano glass souvenirs.
SAN GIORGIO MAGGIORE – You can easily spot this island from St. Mark’s Square and from the Campanile di San Marco, so why not go there? The main sight is a Benedictine church which is free to visit. The tower has a fee of €3.
LIDO DI VENEZIA – Also known as Lido, it’s home to Venice’s main beach.
SAN MICHELE – Where the cemetery is located.
TORCELLO – It’s where you can see Byzantine mosaics.
Try local specialties
Much like in the rest of Italy, food in Venice is delicious and you will have plenty of chances to try local food. Remember that while pizza is easily available in Venice, this is not really the place to try it – opt for local specialties, most of them fish and seafood.
For a local experience, try the cicchetti – bite-sized appetizers that are typically served with a drink (it can be Prosecco or Italy’s favorite cocktail, the Spritz). You will find them at bars across town.
Another thing to try are the tramezzini, sandwiches made with very soft white bread that in Venice are stuffed to the brim with a variety of ingredients and have a moon-like shape.
If you have the budget to splurge for a cocktail, head to Hotel Danieli, not far from Piazza San Marco. This five-star hotel featured in many movies, including 3 James Bond movies, may be impossibly expensive to stay at, but you can certainly peep around the fabulous lobby and grab a drink at the bar.
More Time? Here Are 12 More Things To Do In Venice
Enjoy opera at Teatro La Fenice
Teatro La Fenice is one of the most popular opera houses in Italy. Opened in 1792, it survived three fires hence the name Teatro La Fenice, because like a phoenix it has risen from the ashes a couple of times. The theater is famous for its magnificent architecture, golden interiors, plush red velvet chairs. It is located 5 minutes from Piazza San Marco.
A show at this theater is a great experience, however, getting tickets for the opera is not easy. You will need to book months before your trip. You can look at the planned events and concerts and buy tickets on the official website here. Performances usually take place from 5.30 pm or 7:00 pm.
The largest and most populated sestiere in Venice is cut across by the Canale Cannaregio – the only one that, together with Canal Grande, is big enough for vaporetti (Venice’s famous public ferries). It’s a lovely part of town where you will find plenty of shopping opportunities, nightlife with bars and restaurants, and the narrowest alley in Venice (Calletta Varisco). It’s also where Palazzo Ca D’Oro (a beautiful Gothic building) and the Jewish Ghetto are located.
One of best-known churches in Venice, Chiesa di Santa Maria dei Miracoli, is in Campiello dei Miracoli, in this sestiere. It is known as “the marble church” and an exquisite example of early Venetian Renaissance and the use of colored marble is incredible. It was built between 1481 and 1489 and restored in the 1990s.
Walk around the Jewish Ghetto
If you want to get acquainted with one of the nicest parts of town, visiting the Jewish Ghetto definitely is one of the things to do in Venice. The bonus is that the large crowds of day trippers don’t make it there, so it’s significantly more local and not nearly as crowded!
Thought to be the world’s first ghetto, it was established in 1516 when Jews in Venice were forced to live in poor conditions in the enclosed area. Today the area has many restaurants, shops, synagogues, and a Jewish museum.
To get to there, hop on a vaporetto to Ca’ d’Oro, then head to Strada Nova (New Street). Head to Via Emanuele and go straight until the street becomes Rio Tera S. Leonardo. Pay attention to a small alley with a sign in Hebrew, marking that you are in the Jewish Ghetto.
Visit the Fondaco dei Tedeschi
Located on the Grand Canal and near Rialto Bridge, this is a gorgeous building that dates back to 1228 and takes its name from the German (Tedeschi, in Italian) merchants that housed there during their business trips to the city. Should you decide to visit, make sure to also go to the rooftop terrace for stunning views.
Wander around San Polo
San Polo is the smallest of the six Sestieri (areas) of Venice, and a lovely neighborhood not far from Rialto Bridge. Locals love its relaxed atmosphere. The main landmark is the Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, one of the most beautiful churches in the city. Linger long enough to go for a drink, visit the markets and the shops and enjoy a bit of nightlife.
Get lost in Venice’s narrow alleys
Venice can’t be accessed by car, so exploring the city on foot is a real treat. It’s colorful, beautiful and discovering the narrow alleys can be a very rewarding experience. I recommend NOT taking the map – get lost and have fun!
Shop at Rialto Market
This canal-side market is the busiest in Venice. It’s where locals come to buy fresh seafood, fruits, and vegetables. If you want to enjoy some of this fresh produce you can grab a meal at one of the many restaurants in the area. The tourist section of the market is a good place to buy souvenirs.
Get away from the Crowds at Dorsoduro
If you want to get away from the crowds, head to Dorsoduro. Taking its name from the more stable land (compared to the rest of the lagoon), Dorsoduro is home to Santa Maria della Salute, a gorgeous Baroque style church; the Gallerie dell’Accademia, where you can admire paintings by Titian and Tintoretto among others; and of Peggy Guggenheim Collection, the city’s main modern art gallery.
You can get tickets for Peggy Guggenheim Gallery here.
Visit the Galleria dell’Accademia di Venezia
If you love art, one of the things to do in Venice is visiting the Galleria dell’Accademia, which has an impressive collection of 14th to 18th-century Venetian art with over 800 paintings including works by great artists such as Da Vinci, Bellini, Tintoretto, Canaletto, Veronese, Tiziano, Carpaccio, Giorgione, and Giambattista.
Galleria dell’Accademia di Venezia is 15 minutes away from Piazza San Marco. The museum is open on Mondays from 8:15 am to 2:00 pm and Tuesday to Sunday, from 8:15 am to 7:15 pm. Tickets are €12 for adults.
Climb the Scala Contarini del Bovolo
Scala Contarini del Bovolo is one of the most unique sights in Venice. Bovolo means “chiocciola” in Italian, which is the term used to refer to a spiral staircase – hence the name. It was built in the 15th century and is a great example of Renaissance art. You can walk up the stairs to the Belvedere for impressive views of the city.
Scala Contarini del Bovolo is currently open every day from 9:30 am to 5:30 pm. Admission is €8. You can get tickets here.
Visit the Lazzaretto Nuovo
This lesser-known island is named “new” to be differentiated from the Old Lazzaretto, which housed a hospital that cured people from the plague between 1403 and 1630. It is located about 3 km north-east of Venice and it houses a beautifully kept Benedictine Monastery.
You can get to Lazzaretto Nuovo by private boat or by Vaporetto n. 13. You can also visit on guided tours every Saturday and Sunday at 4:00 pm, or by appointment any other day. The visit includes an archeological itinerary and a walk along the sandbanks.
Go to the Biennale
Once occurring only on even-numbered years, Venice Biennale (which is now called Art Biennale) has been held since 1895 and it is an incredible international forum for contemporary art. The main location is the Giardini, which houses the main exhibition hall. You should definitely visit if you are into art.
If you are planning a trip to Italy, make sure to read my other posts:
- The Best Travel Tips For Venice
- A Guide To The Best Places To Visit In Italy
- 17 Reasons To Visit Italy As Soon As Possible
- What To Do And What To Avoid When Planning A Trip To Italy
- A Perfect Italy Itinerary: What To See And Do With 10 Days Or More
- 67 Extremely Useful Travel Tips For Italy
- 30 Unmissable, Fun And Cheap Things To Do In Rome