Things To Do in Venice, Italy
Planning a short city break can be a challenge. The majority of people only visit a European city like Venice for a couple of days, so it can be difficult to prioritise what to do and how best to spend your time. You’ll want to see the main tourist attractions but you’re probably also after some hidden gems, and might want to spend some time relaxing as well. (I always have to remind myself that not every break has to be full steam ahead!) So I’ve compiled a list of things to do in Venice, that you can really get stuck into.
Head to St Mark’s Square
The first thing you’re going to want to see when you arrive in Venice is St Mark’s Square. This really is the heart of Venice. Officially known as Piazza San Marco, St Mark’s Square is home to some of the most upmarket shops and restaurants. The shops sell largely jewellery and Murano glass and are beautiful to explore.
High up on lots of people’s bucket lists is a visit to Florian’s. Caffè Florian, opened in 1720 and is the oldest cafe in the world. The menu consists of freshly prepared cakes, parfaits and savoury snacks, along with a wide variety of teas, coffees, wine and cocktails. But be prepared, a cocktail will set you back €37-€39. Florian’s isn’t cheap. But then you’re paying for the experience, not just the beverage!
Go Inside St Mark’s Basilica
St Mark’s Basilica was originally the chapel of the Doge but is now the Cathedral church of the Roman Catholics. The building’s structure dates back to the latter part of the 11th Century but is under constant repair work due to the damage caused every year by the Acqua Alta.
Entry to the Basilica is free, though it’s polite to leave a donation. There are small charges however for entry into special parts of the Basilica complex such as the museum, the treasury, the Bell Tower and the Pala d’Oro (the high Altar).
Be aware that during holidays like Easter and Christmas and on Sundays the Basilica is closed to tourists during the hours in which mass takes place. If you want to visit on a Sunday your best option is to visit after 2pm when mass is finished for the day. If in doubt there are boards up at the entrance showing the times and members of staff to ask.
Explore the Doge’s Palace
The Doge’s Palace is one of the main tourist attractions if you’re looking for more traditional things to do in Venice. Founded in 1340, the palace was originally the residence of the Doge of Venice. Now it is one of the many museums that can be visited in the city.
Over the years many parts of the original building have been damaged by fires and have been reconstructed. The building is beautiful and the history is well worth reading about if you’ve got the time. Entry into the Doge’s Palace is €25 per person so you’ll want to spend some time there to get your money’s worth.
Bridge of Sighs
Built in 1614 the Bridge of Sigh connects the Doge’s palace to the new prison. The bridge’s name comes from the prisoners who are said to have passed from the courtroom to the cell and sigh as they take their last glimpse of the lagoon and San Giorgio through the small windows.
Your ticket to the Doge’s Palace, if you choose to visit, will enable you to cross the Bridge of Sighs and see the view for yourself.
The Bridge of Sighs has become a symbol of love in Venice and you’ll often see couples having their picture taken kissing in front of it. You’ll also get a great view of it if you take a gondola ride. It is said that if a couple were to kiss in a gondola passing beneath the bridge at sunset their love will last forever.
Go up the Campanile
The view from the top of the campanile has got to be one of the best in Venice. I was blown away by the view from the top of the Fondaco Dei Tedeschi but this was a whole other level. From the top of the campanile you can see almost the whole lagoon on a clear day. There are skyline maps inside the campanile which point out notable buildings, bridges and important churches as well so you can see exactly what you’re looking at.
“An orange gem resting on a blue glass plate: it’s Venice seen from above.”Henry James
Nothing makes this quote feel more real than this view.
Take a Gondola Ride
Yes, it’s overpriced, but it’s got to be on your bucket list. The experience of taking a gondola ride was one I’ll never forget. I was really surprised by just how different Venice looks from the water. There’s a calmness to the canal and such a pleasant manner in which the gondoliers navigate past other boats; it was really something to watch. A good gondolier will also point out places of interest and perhaps have a few itinerary suggestions for you, so my advice would be to take the ride early on in the trip so you’ve got time to see anything they suggest.
The one thing to note is that you pay per boat, not per person. So, if you’ve got a larger group (maximum of 6) it will work out more cost effective. I’ve seen people buddy up with strangers just to make it cheaper and I’ve got to say, what a good idea! Also in the winter months some gondoliers are happy to offer a discounted rate!
Photograph the Rialto Bridge
One of the most famous spots in Venice! You simply cannot leave Venice without photographing the Rialto Bridge. The current stone structure was completed in 1591 and was built to replace the former wooden bridge. The Rialto Bridge is one of only four bridges that cross the Grand Canal and it is the oldest of them all. It is also one of only four bridges in the world to have buildings (shops in fact) build onto it. The others are Florence’s Ponte Vecchio (Italy), Erfurt’s Krämerbrücke (Germany) and my personal favourite, Pulteney Bridge in Bath (UK).
The Rialto Bridge, situated right in the heart of Venice, is both beautiful and functional. It is well worth a visit and an Instagram photo!
Visit Murano, Burano and Torcello
Murano, Burano and Torcello are islands within the lagoon only a short ferry ride from Venice. Visiting the islands is a break away from the busy bustle of city life. They have an older feel to them, Torcello in particular, as if you’ve just stepped back in time. Probably something to do with the fact the residents are more prominent. It feels less like a tourist destination and gives you the opportunity to see locals going about their daily lives. On Murano you can see Murano glass being blown and Burano is well-known for it’s colourful houses and of course, Burano lace.
Want more details about visiting Murano and Burano? Check out my post all about it!
Venice has amazing food. And that’s an understatement. Italian cuisine has got to be one of the best in the world, and Venice has some great examples of it.
If you’re looking to break the day up, why not stop at one of Venice’s famous cicchetti bars? Order a few individual pieces and a glass of wine and you’re set for the afternoon! (Just be warned you will pay a tax per head if you choose to take a seat!)
Alternatively, Venice has dozens and dozens of fabulous family run restaurants.
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