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.
13 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 the 15th century Torre dell’Orologio, managed by the Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia (known as MUVE). Make sure to get a museum pass 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 initially built in the 9th century and is the most famous building in Venice – though it only became the city’s cathedral in the 19th century. The church’s Italian Byzantine architecture is something to marvel at – picture columns, cupolas, mosaics and more.
The highlight of the visit is the Pala d’Oro, an altar screen in Byzantine stile, studded with precious stones and gems. You should also make sure not to miss the Transept Chapels and St. Mark’s tomb.
Being one of the top tourist attractions in Venice, you can expect to find long lines at St.Mark’s Basilica. Make sure to dress modestly for your visit – as for any other church in Italy – and 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.
Make sure to also read my post What To Wear In Venice.
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 5:15 pm.
There is a small fee to access St. Mark’s Basilica and you are better off booking it in advance – you can do that on the official site here. Access to some of the spaces like the basilica’s museum, Pala d’Oro, or Treasury require an additional fee. Make sure to pass by the outdoor terrace for magnificent views of the square below.
You can tour St Mark’s Basilica on your own or pay for a guided tour. I believe a guided tour – especially one that combines the Basilica and Doge’s Palace – is the best way to go or you are likely to miss some of the most important sights, or not take in all there is to see.
For the best tours of St. Mark’s Basilica, click here.
For a tour of St. Mark’s Basilica and Doge Palace, click here.
For tours of St Mark’s Basilica and Doge Palace that give access to the terrace, click here.
You could also opt for this incredible Exclusive Alone In St. Mark’s Basilica After Hours – it lasts 1.5 hours and also goes to the crypt.
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
With its 98,6 meters (323.5 feet), the Campanile di San Marco, Venice famous bell tower and originally simply a watchtower (to warn of the arrival of ships and boats in town), is the tallest landmark in the city. The tower you see today was actually built in 1912, a perfect replica of the Medieval tower that unfortunately collapsed in 1902.
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 – climbing the tower is one of the best things to do in Venice and if you are not up for the challenge you can even take the elevator.
The Bell Tower is open daily from 9:30 am to 7:15 pm or 9:15 pm depending on the season. There is a fee to access.
Last time I was in Venice the line to get tickets was horrendous (we waited for more than one hour) so I really recommend getting tickets in advance. You can get yours here.
Go for a walk along the Riva degli Schiavoni
One of the best – and free – things to do in Venice is enjoying a walk along the waterfront located east of Doge’s Palace and St. Mark’s Basilica, the Riva degli Schiavoni. Its name is a reference to Dalmatian Slavs who in Medieval times made their way to Venice and settled in this part of the city.
It’s a busy, lively area packed with street vendors (not of them actually legal!) and one of the city’s main docking point. From there you can see across the lagoon all the way to San Giorgio Maggiore. Places to visit located along the Riva degli Schiavoni include the Church of Santa Maria della Pietà, where you can see a beautiful statue of Four Seasons’ composer Antonio Vivaldi; and Hotel Danieli, one of the most iconic in the city.
Remember that buying from illegal vendors in Venice may result in a fine for you too – so make sure to avoid it!
Visit Doge’s Palace (Palazzo Ducale)
Visiting this centuries-old palace is one of the unmissable things to do in Venice. Now a museum, Doge’s Palace was built in the 11th and 12th century as a fort. It then became a palace and 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.
Take your time to admire the facade in gorgeous pink Verona marble, then walk inside to admire the magnificent works of art is preserves, including pieces by Titian and Veronese.
Doge’s Palace is open daily from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm. This is one of the most popular attractions in Venice, so you must book your visit in advance. Admission is included in the Saint Mark’s Museum Pass. You can get tickets here.
As there is so much to see here, you are probably better off joining a guided tour. For guided tours including skip-the-line admission, consider this one – it lasts just one hour and is quite budget friendly.
For a more private experience, go on a nighttime tour such as this Exclusive Alone In St. Mark’s And Doge’s Palace Tour – it goes to Venice’s top attractions after hours and visits places most tourists don’t get to see.
For an in depth 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 spots in Venice. The best view is from Ponte della Paglia, along the Riva degli Schiavoni waterfront, or else you could try to snap it during a gondola ride. Did you know that legend says that if you kiss your beloved as the gondola boat rides under the bridge, you’ll be forever in love?
However, 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. Indeed, you can actually walk across the bridge.
In order to do walk across the Bridge of Sights, 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 2.5 miles (almost 4 km) canal cuts through Venice, and has close to 200 buildings, some built as far back as the 13th century, lined along its banks, but interestingly there are only four bridges that take you across it – the most impressive one obviously being the Rialto Bridge.
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 – though you can’t walk its entire length.
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 (line n. 1 is the best one for going along the Canal Grande), 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. You will find them literally at every corner in the city, so you won’t be able to miss it even if you want to! 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, but the routes the various gondolas take vary – the best ones are those that include a mix of Canal Grande and smaller canals – just make sure to ask before hopping on board.
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 – one of the four that go across 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 and it would mark the entrance of Rialto Market. The bridge has three sets of stairs divided by arcades – the central set is actually where you will find vendors.
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. The best view of the bridge is actually from below (ie on Riva del Vin or Riva del Ferro), better even from the water!
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 – attending is one of the best things to do in Venice in February. 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? It’s one of the lesser known yet nicest things to do in Venice. The main sight is St. George’s Church, originally dating to the 9th century but expanded during Renaissance time. The church – home to several paintings by Tintoretto and one by Sebastiano Ricci – is free to visit and you can also access the bell tower for impressive views of Venice.
LIDO DI VENEZIA – Also known as Lido, it’s home to Venice’s main beach and where Venice Film Festival takes place every year. This is a very residential area of Venice, way more local than the rest of the city, and charming nonetheless – just don’t have high expectations for the beach. It’s about 20 minutes by Vaporetto (you should take line 1) from the historic center, so easy to get there.
SAN MICHELE – Where the cemetery is located.
TORCELLO – It’s where you can see Byzantine mosaics in Santa Maria Assunta Cathedral.
Make sure to also read my post 16 Best Day Trips From Venice, And 3 To Avoid–
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.
You should also read my post Where To Stay In Venice.
More Time? Here Are 13 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. It is located 5 minutes from Piazza San Marco.
The theater is famous for its magnificent architecture, golden interiors, plush red velvet chairs and for being the place where famous composers such as Verdi, Rossini and Bellini would premiere their music. Inside, you can see the stunning 166 boxes, the most beautiful of which is the emperor’s box. Outside, the facade is a feast of marble and columns.
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.
If you manage to get tickets for a show, make sure to follow the strict dress code – for premieres it’s tuxedos for men and long evening gowns for women, for all other shows it’s tie and jacket for men and black dress for women.
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.
The terrace is open daily from 10:00 am to 7:30 pm.
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 the 17th century Santa Maria della Salute, a gorgeous Baroque style church built in memory of the plague of 1630 where you can see the 12th century Cretan icon of the Madonna of Good Health (salute in Italian), and Titian’s painting “The Descent of the Holy Spirit.”
Santa Maria della Salute church is free to visit but there’s a small fee to access the sacristy where most of the artwork is located.
Also located in Dorsoduro are 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.
Take in the views from the Ponte dell’Accademia
For incredible views, one of the things to do in Venice is to walk on the Ponte dell’Accademia, Venice’ only timber bridge. This is one of the four bridges that go across the Canal Grande, linking San Marco with the Dorsoduro. The bridge itself is a nice sight, but what will make you want to visit this specific spot is the picture perfect view you’ll get once there.
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. There’s a fee to access.
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 (10:00 am to 6:00 pm in the summer months). You’ll have to pay a small access fee. 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 visit on guided tours every Saturday at 4:00 pm from April to October, or by appointment the rest of the year. The visit includes an archeological itinerary and a walk along the sandbanks.
Go to the Biennale
Finally, one of the best things to do in Venice if you are into art is visiting 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.
If you are planning a trip to Italy, make sure to read my other posts:
- The Best Travel Tips For Venice
- How To Get From Marco Polo Airport To 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