If you’re thinking of travelling to Venice, and especially if it’s your first visit, you probably want to know the best things to do in Venice.
Venice is certainly not a cheap place to explore. So for many of us, it’s helpful to have some pointers about what to do and what to see to make the most of your time.
I’m someone who loves Venice and I’ve been a couple of times. My first visit was with my husband on an indulgent city break and my second was travelling solo, which was more about exploring the city. This list is my personal take on the top 10 best things to do in Venice
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Table of Contents
Why Visit Venice?
Venice is a top attraction in Europe and definitely one of the best places to visit in Northern Italy. Like other major travel destinations including Paris, Venice has been a popular destination for so long it has attracted a sizeable backlash. People complain that Venice is overcrowded, which is a fair complaint, especially in summer. They also say it is too touristy and not authentic, which is true in the central districts – not so much in the peripheral areas. And they moan that it’s expensive (true!) and that it smells bad (not true).
I really don’t get this last complaint: Venice is built on a lagoon filled with seawater. So, it smells like… seawater. I wonder, what do these people who complain about the smell expect it to smell of?
Anyway, I love Venice despite these complaints. I love the ingenuity and uniqueness of this city built on water; the romance of its narrow alleys and calm canals and the grandeur of its ornate palazzos.
I recently returned to Venice for a second time and I felt like I was rediscovering it with fresh wonder. And it’s this reinvigorated love for the City Of Canals that prompted me to write a list of the best things to do in Venice.
10 Best Things To Do In Venice
This list is subjective – it’s my personal take. It includes some of the major attractions, but I’ve tried to add my personal take and give some tips for each item.
1. Riding The Vaporetto Up & Down The Grand Canal
It’s an obvious one, but it really is my favourite thing to do in Venice.
Vaporettos are Venice’s equivalent to city buses, They are passenger boats that transport people around the city along the main canal routes, including the central Grand Canal. You see so much of the city from the vaporettos and they go at a lovely pace, making it easy to enjoy the passing scenery. And they’re an obvious attraction for me because I love boats, anyway.
There are various routes that go through and around Venice, with Line 1 going the full length of the Grand Canal from Ferrovia to San Marco. On this route, you’ll pass some of the major sights in Venice including:
- Sanctuary of Lucy
- Venice Casino
- Rialto Mercato
- Rialto Bridge
- Accademia Bridge
- Church of Santa Maria della Salute
- The Doge’s Palace and St Mark’s
- And of course, lots and lots of grand and colourful palazzos.
You’ll also see that the Grand Canal is busy. As well as iconic gondolas, there’ll be traffic from taxis and working boats, eg refuse/garbage boats, boats carrying goods for delivery etc. People say Venice is just a museum, but the Grand Canal is a working waterway!
Tips For Riding A Vaporetto In Venice
- Choose your ticket carefully. I said the vaporettos are like city buses on water, but they’re not priced like a bus! Although much cheaper than gondolas and private taxi boats, they’re not exactly cheap. One-way tickets cost €7.50 and day passes vary, depending on the number of days you include. Check out the official ACTV site for the latest prices. Last time, I was in Venice for four days, so the €40 3-day pass wasn’t going to be enough. I opted for the €60 7-day pass instead, which is marginally cheaper than a combination of a 3-day pass and a single-day pass at €21. I took a risk that I would take enough journeys to justify the cost and I was about right.
- Try to sit in the front of the boat, in the outdoor seats. They’re often cramped and you may need to squeeze past people, but it is worth it for the best views.
- Be careful getting on at Rialto – there are several boarding areas and they’re not close together. Nor is the signage that clear which pontoon you need for different routes. I ended up missing my boat there, which was annoying
- Don’t assume that if you ride to the end of one route that it will turn around and come back down the same route. I made this mistake on a boat to Ferrovia, thinking it would return in the direction of St Marks. But instead, the boat changed numbers without me noticing and I ended up in the Giudecca Canal. I didn’t mind the detour, but it was colder than I was prepared for, due to that canal being windier.
Heads up: if you ride boats often enough, you may notice your body starts to get used to the sway of the boats. It might start to struggle to feel normal on land, feeling like you’re swaying when you’re on solid ground. This is called Mal de debarquement and I had it for a few days after my most recent trip to Venice.
2. Wander St Mark’s Square Early In The Morning
St Mark’s Square (Piazza San Marco in Italian), along with adjoining Piazzetta di San Marco, is the most popular area of Venice. This is because it is surrounded by several of the major Venice attractions, including:
- St Mark’s Cathedral (Basilica di San Marco) – one of the most spectacular and beautiful European cathedrals, built in 1094
- St Mark’s Campanile – at 98.6m, this bell tower is the tallest structure in Venice
- St Mark’s Clocktower (Torre dell’Orologio)– near the cathedral, this early renaissance building features an ornate clock
- Doge’s Palace – next to the cathedral, this impressive white Venetian-Gothic style palazzo was built in 1340
- Bridge of Sighs (Ponte dei Sospiri) – a white enclosed bridge that connects the Prigioni Nuove to the Doge’s Palace.
Given how important this square and the surrounding landmarks have been to Venice, of course, you should go there. But my recommendation is to go there really early before the crowds come. Try for 7-7:30 am. Even if the cathedral and the museums are not open, it is so much more pleasant to explore this area when it’s quiet. You can always come back to go inside St Mark’s Cathedral of the Doge’s Palace etc later.
I did this on my last trip and it felt really special. Even at that time, I wasn’t the first person there, but it was pretty quiet and I enjoyed it. I especially liked having Ponte Della Paglia, the bridge from which you can see the Bridge of Sighs, to myself. Also, Riva degli Schiavoni, the area of docks where there are gondolas tethered (with San Giorgio Maggiore in the background), was almost deserted.
Visiting St Mark’s Piazza after dark is another option to avoid crowds – it’s one of the best things to do in Venice at night.
Tip For St Mark’s Piazza
Don’t be tempted to pay for an expensive drink or meal at Florian’s Café. This historic cafe is very attractive and iconic. But the prices are ridiculous and the fare is not that great. I paid €11 for a cup of tea. It was poor-quality tea and the water was not very hot. So I paid a fortune for one of the weakest and least satisfying cups of tea I’ve ever had. Service was lacklustre also.
3. Wandering Back Streets In Castello
This is something you could do in Venice directly after visiting St Mark’s. Just head east/north-east from St Mark’s Piazza and have a wander around.
Much of the San Marco district has been taken over by tourism. Sometimes it feels like everything here is a restaurant, a hotel or a shop aimed at tourists. However, the neighbouring area of Castello has quite a different vibe. You’ll find the odd hardware shop and you might well see washing hanging out to dry – a reminder that there are still those who actually live in Venice!
What you’ll see here will not be as spectacular as the famous sights around St Mark’s and Rialto. However, the streets and canals are charming, atmospheric and far, far less crowded with tourists. I think it’s a great, photogenic area to explore for those who are curious and have time to explore.
Tip For Wandering The Backstreets
Put your map or google maps away. I wandered this area with no agenda – just walking down streets and along canals that seemed interesting. It’s not like you can get seriously lost because Venice is not very big and is surrounded by water. And if you walk down a street that turns out to be a dead end, it’s no big deal. Just turn around and go somewhere else.
4. Taking A Gondola Ride In Santa Croce
Riding a gondola is such an obvious thing to do in Venice and I resisted it on my first trip for that reason. That and the fact that it’s seriously expensive – €80 for 30 minutes!
However, I gave in on my second trip and I took a gondola ride. And honestly, I really enjoyed it! It is expensive and touristy – but a lot of fun. What I liked about my gondola ride:
- It felt fun to be riding around in such a fancy, iconic boat. Like I was play-acting as someone important, he he
- The gondolier gave me information about some of the key palazzos and landmarks we passed. I hadn’t expected them to be a guide as well as operate the gondola, so that was a bonus!
- They also sang! Yes, my gondolier sang opera (or something like it) during parts of my ride. He had a nice voice and I got a kick out of the extra-ness of being sung to in a gondola in Venice. Definitely an experience I’ll never forget!
It does cost a lot, though – there’s no getting around that. However, think of it as less like a boat ride and more like you’re paying for a skilled service. The gondoliers are true experts. It takes more than just strength to push the boat around. They have real skill in turning them around tight corners, never hitting the sides of the canal. In the end, paid €100 for 30 minutes because I felt like my hard-working, singing gondolier had earned a tip.
Tip For Riding A Gondola
Find one away from the busy tourist areas. I wandered away from the areas of San Marco and San Polo to a quiet corner of Santa Croce. This is a good place to take a gondola because it is quieter than San Marco. My ride did go into the Grand Canal briefly, but most of it was on small canals in Santa Croce. These were my favourite bits of the ride. I liked gliding down the narrow channels, the only sounds being the slap of water on the walls or the boat and the creaks of the oar.
5. Admire The Peggy Guggenheim Collection
The Peggy Guggenheim Collection is probably the second best-known art exhibition in Venice, after the Venice Biennale.
Peggy Guggenheim was the niece of Solomon R Guggenheim who founded the famous art gallery in New York. She was also an art collector, who bought modern art and established galleries in London and New York, before exhibiting at the Biennale in 1948. She later made Venice her home, filling her palazzo with contemporary modern art.
I recommend it for two reasons.
Firstly, it is a major collection of modern art. The museum presents Peggy’s personal collection, a sculpture garden as well as temporary exhibitions. The core collection includes works of Cubism, Futurism, avant-garde sculpture, Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism. It features works including Francis Bacon, Salvador Dalí, Marcel Duchamp, Alberto Giacometti, Arshile Gorky, Vasily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Joan Miró, Piet Mondrian, Henry Moore, Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko – and others.
Secondly, it is housed in what was Peggy Guggenheim’s home, Palazzo Venier dei Leo. If you’ve ever thought about what it might be like to live in a luxurious Palazzo on the grand canal, visiting The Peggy Guggenheim Collection will give you a taste of it. It is a wonderfully stylish home, and it has a small terrace overlooking the Grand Canal. This terrace is a lovely spot to watch the gondolas and vaporettos glide by.
6. Take In The Panoramic View At Fondaco Dei Tedeschi
Fondaco dei Tedeschi is a smart department store in Venice, and I highly recommend you go there, even if you are not intending to buy anything.
The appeal of Fondaco dei Tedeschi is its rooftop terrace, which offers one of the few elevated views of Venice in the city. The store is located very close to the Rialto Bridge and has panoramic views. The best ones are arguably along the grand canal in both directions.
It is free to visit, but you can’t just turn up: you need to book a timed ticket in advance. You can do this on the Fondaco dei Tedeschi website. When you arrive for your slot, go up to the top floor of the department store and follow the signs for the terrace.
Tip For Fondaco dei Tedeschi
Make sure you are not late, because they are very strict about the timings! When I went, I was held in an area just down from the terrace until my time slot was open. Then all of us with that time slot were ushered up to the terrace together. And as soon as our 15 minutes were up, we were herded out again.
I didn’t mind the regimented process too much, though. The views were really glorious and made me see Venice in a different way. At street level, I think of Venice as a palate of grey tones, with accents of greeny-blue and coral. However, from up high, I appreciated how much red there is on the rooftops. And how many domes and towers!
7. Appreciate Rialto Bridge
In the middle of Venice, the Rialto bridge is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Venice. It provides a crossing over the grand canal from San Marco to the Rialto area of San Polo. It is the oldest of four bridges over the Grand Canal and was built in 1591 (although earlier bridges had existed as early as the 12th century, they had collapsed).
It’s a well-known destination and crossing the bridge can be busy – with lots of self-takers! Just because it’s popular, doesn’t mean you should avoid it – but you might want to plan how you see it.
Seeing Rialto bridge on a vaporetto is pretty cool. I think the best view of the bridge as you approach and it’s fun to go under it, too.
Tip For Photographing The Rialto Bridge
You can also get a good view of the bridge from the Canalside on the san Marco side of the grand canal. With boats coming and going all the time, you might have to wait for a clear shot. But on the east bank of the canal, there are jetties from where you can get a good view.
8. Enjoy The View From The Accademia Bridge
The second most famous bridge in Venice is the Accademia Bridge (Ponte dell’Accademia). It crosses the Grand Canal near the southern end and is named for the nearby Accademia di Belle Arti di Venezia, a major art school in Venice.
This is a wooden bridge, and although that would suggest it is old, it was actually built in 1933 – making it pretty modern by Venice’s standards.
The bridge itself is interesting, but in my opinion, the reason to visit this bridge is the magnificent view southwards towards Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute.
I’ve crossed this bridge a few times and appreciated the view every time. On my last visit, I got food poisoning when I was in Duodorso, so I decided to head back to my hotel in San Marco. Despite the need to get off the streets ASAP, I couldn’t resist stopping and capturing the scene from Ponte dell’Accademia.
Tip For Visiting The Accademia Bridge
It’s a great place to come at the end of the afternoon or before sunset. At this time, the scene is especially pretty as the palazzos glow in the warm glow of the setting sun.
9. Indulge In Cicchetti & Spritz
Italian food has been adopted worldwide – everyone is familiar with it. But there are still local culinary customs that exist in cities and regions across Italy – and I like to try them when travelling. One such Venetian custom is cicchetti: small snacks or side dishes served in bars to accompany alcoholic drinks, such as a glass of wine or a spritz (another Venetian tradition).
Cicchetti are often small sandwiches or toppings on bread. They can also be breaded and fried bites. Traditionally, these would have featured locally-sourced fillings and toppings including fish from the lagoon, such as cuttlefish. These days, you can find a wide variety of ingredients and flavours in cicchetti.
A traditional place to find cicchetti is one of the old osterias (restaurants) in Venice. Bancogiro in Rialto is a good option. I tried a traditional selection of cicchetti here on my first visit to Venice.
For more casual cicchetti, I found that the bars and osterias around Duodorso have plenty of simple but tasty options. Following the crowds is a good indication of where to go. One such place I found was Osteria Ai Pugni, which was heaving inside, but has some barrels as make-shift tables along the canalside. The rio della Misericordia canal in Cannaregio is another good area for cicchetti. There are plenty of bars with outdoor seating along the canal.
Tip For Trying Cicchetti
The most picturesque place I tried cicchetti is Wine Bar 5000 in Castello. It’s a small place with some tables outside by the canal. They have a range of cicchetti with various toppings and they were. I enjoyed how ‘on the nose’ it was to be drinking a spritz and eating cicchetti as gondolas glided by me.
10. Stay In A Palazzo Hotel On The Grand Canal
Now, truthfully, this is one of the things I enjoyed doing most in Venice. However, I figured I should put it at the end because it’s a little extravagant and may be out of reach for many people.
I don’t always spend a lot on accommodation. I typically try to get somewhere central but cheap and to save my money for experiences in the place I’m visiting (I call it ‘smart indulgence’). However, on my first trip to Venice, I stayed in a luxury Palazzo hotel on the grand canal. My husband and I had some setbacks that year and we decided to splurge on a fancy weekend in Venice – and I don’t regret the extravagance one bit!
It’s not worth getting into debt for, but if you have the money, this is a pretty cool thing to do in Venice.
My recommended Palazzo Hotel
I stayed at the Sina Centurion Palace in Duodorso, close to the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute. It’s a five-star hotel in a renovated palazzo. My room was one of the smaller ones. I didn’t have a view of the Grand Canal, but it was a great experience due to the following perks:
- A very luxurious room, with a gold-themed bathroom
- The breakfast room has some space out by the Grand Canal, so you can watch boats go by as you drink your cappuccino
- I was able to use the ‘house boat’. This is a private boat exclusively for hotel guests to use to get to San Marco, across the canal. It felt pretty good to rock up at the dock on that smart, sleek boat, let me tell you!
Anyway, if you want to do something similar, feel free to use my affiliate link for Booking.com. This may earn me some commission at no extra cost to you.
Other Things To Do In Venice – Which Didn’t Make My Top 10
There are a few other things I liked doing in Venice, but they didn’t quite make the top ten.
- One is exploring the Jewish Ghetto area in Cannaregio. It is really interesting and shows a darker side to Venice’s history.
- Another is taking a day trip out to Murano and Burano. They’re both lovely islands, especially colourful Burano – but I personally prefer Venice itself.
Map: Best Things To Do In Venice
Here’s a map of my top ten best things to do in Venice:
How To Use This Map: Click the tab in the top left-hand corner of the map to view the layers. If you click the icons on the map, you can get more information about each one. If you click the star next to the map’s title, it will be added to your Google Maps account. To view it on your phone or computer, open Google Maps, click the menu, go to ‘Your Places’ or ‘Saved’, then click Maps and you will see this map in your list.
Practical Info On Visiting Venice
When Is The Best Month To Visit Venice?
Venice has visitors all year around. Even in winter, between Christmas, NYE in Venice and the Venice Carnival in February, it has plenty of visitors. So I don’t think there’s a time when you will have the city to yourself (unless you get up very early, as I suggested earlier).
That said, the summer months can be not only very busy but also very hot.
I have been in Venice in July and early November. The latter was cold enough to wear a jacket, but not uncomfortably cold. If I were going back, I’d avoid June – August and would probably go in the shoulder seasons: March-April or late September to early November.
How To Get To Venice
If you’re flying in, there are two international airports with Venice in the name. Venice Marco Polo is the closest airport – with connections to Venice itself by boat, bus and taxi. Check Skyscanner for flights.
Another airport you might see on flight schedules is Venice Treviso Airport. But you should know this is in Treviso, which is 40km from Venice, so the connections are longer and less convenient. There’s a bus you can get to Venice.
On my last trip, I combined Venice with a trip to nearby Bologna and flew out of Bologna airport. This is only around 1.5 hours from Venice’s Santa Lucia station by train.
Where To Stay In Venice
The second is Hotel Becher, a 3-star hotel in the middle of San Marco. It is very touristy around the hotel, but also very central and easy to get pretty much everywhere in Venice. It also has a tiny deck on a canal, which was a nice extra I enjoyed when I was there.
If you’re travelling with kids, there are some great Venice hotels for families.
I hope I’ve shown you why I love Venice so much – and given you some ideas of the best things to do in Venice!
What about you? What is your favourite thing to do in Venice?
And if you need more inspiration for travelling in Italy, check out my walking guide to Rome.