What are the top attractions, the things to do, the must-see and the must-do in Venice?
These are questions frequently asked by people interested in visiting Venice. It probably is something you are wondering about too since you are reading this article. However, often, the answers you can find fall short in several aspects.
This is why we decided to draw from our extended knowledge and unique experience of the city as Venetian residents by birth and adoption, who are well-traveled and working on improving Venetian life and travel to come up with a meaningful list of local attractions, and of things to do and see when in Venice.
We, therefore, wanted to go beyond the simple list of Venice attractions by giving as much meaning as possible to each of our proposed things to do and see in Venice.
We created this list of things to do and see in Venice with you in mind and our mission at heart.
How to use this guide?
Below, you will first find a quick index to make it very quick to skip through the articles and to read it even when in a rush.
You will find a vast amount of detail on every entry. Each time, we explain why it is part of our top 10 things to do and see in Venice, why the points of interest we pick are worth your time, and why the activities we suggest are worth your interest and money.
We aimed to create an in-depth guideline for first-time visitors, a source of tips and suggestions for regulars, and a tool to help you all experience the city thoroughly.
Are you ready? So let’s start!
1 – Saint Mark’s Square
2 – Walk off the beaten path
3 – Eat while Standing
4 – Gelati!!!
5 – See Venice from the Water
6 – Enter the artisans’ shops
7 – Visit the Islands of Murano, Burano, and Torcello
8 – Drink Aperitivo before dinner
9 – Walk at night
10 – Be responsible
#1 Thing to do in Venice - Saint Mark’s Square
We admit we had some doubts about putting Saint Mark’s square in the first position on our list of things to do and see in Venice, and we also know that it’s everyone first “tip” … but there’s a good reason for this!
Saint Mark’s square isn’t just today’s go-to place with the most renown and remarkable landmarks and attractions in Venice. It has always been the center of power and wealth of the Venetian Republic, as well as the most iconic place in Venice both for foreigners of all times and for the local population.
The beauty and views of Saint Mark’s square need no explanation to capture anyone’s attention. Saint Mark’s has several points of interests such as the Saint Mark’s Basilica, the Saint Mark’s Bell Tower, the Doge’s Palace, the Marciana Library, the Offices of the Procurators, the Napoleonic Wing, the Clock Tower and the Bridge of Sighs.
The external beauty of these Venetian landmarks is a real attraction that would alone need hours to discover fully. The inside of the St Mark’s buildings, filled with an incredible amount of art and history, could keep art and history lovers busy for weeks at a time.
Why, then, did we have some second thoughts about putting a visit to Saint Mark’s Square on top of our ten things to do and see in Venice? Well, because it is indeed everyone’s priority.
Therefore, it is not uncommon for St Mark’s area to be very crowded and therefore for visitors to end up stacked in a hot, humid and frenzy human jam making it difficult to enjoy this incredibly unique point of interest in Venice!
Tips on how to visit Saint Mark's Square:
There are a few things to do to make sure you can enjoy this spectacular (even for the high Venetian standards) location.
• Visit during the lower season. Besides for the last 2 weeks of January and the first 2 weeks of December, Venice has no real tourism low season. However, the number of tourists during colder months is less extreme than during summertime, making it slightly easier to visit “touristy” attractions such as Saint Mark’s square.
• Visit early in the morning. Day-trippers outnumber overnight tourists 7 to 1. Which also means that visiting early in the morning ensures, in most cases, to have the time to enjoy Saint Mark’s square before that up to a hundred thousand visitors reach from the mainland and beyond.
• Visit after dinner or even late at night. Day-trippers, which account for the vast majority of tourists in Venice, have to board means of transportation early on to leave Venice in the evening/night time, leaving the city fairly empty. Venice is an incredibly safe city, and you can feel free and safe to walk around the city even late at night. In fact, especially in summer time when the city is hot and crowded, several Venetians choose to go out for a walk late after dinner, to enjoy the quiet of the city.
• Salute the rain, bow to thunders or high water, and visit Saint Mark’s square. Experiencing “bad weather” on vacation is probably not what anyone looks for when traveling, but in Venice, in general, it won’t be very intense, won’t last too long, and won’t prevent you from exploring the city in every way. At the same time, bad weather forecasts have the exceptional ability to dissuade the majority of day trippers from visiting Venice, making it possible for overnight tourists to have plenty of time to visit and enjoy even the busiest places such as Saint Mark’s.
#2 Thing to do in Venice: Walk off the beaten path
If there is one thing to do in Venice to have a fantastic time, that is looking at your map and throwing it away, noticing street signs and completely ignore them: do everything you can to lose yourself and walk off the beaten path instead!
Does this sound like one of the silliest advice anyone ever gave you? We’re sure it does but, believe it or not, this is one of the best tips for visiting Venice. Here’s why.
Venice is a safe and all around beautiful city on an island. To be more precise, Venice was built several centuries ago on top of 117-118 little isles surfacing in the shallow lagoon of Venice, which were later on connected to each other via bridges.
Since the end of the Venetian Republic and the short-lived French and Austrian domination, Venice has remained pretty much unchanged and untouched. That is for the past 200 years.
This, combined with the fact that the city consists of hundreds of little islands which, in many cases, have been built each on their own, has scattered an incredible amount of art, beauty, and monuments all over the city.
Moreover, all these little thoroughly edified isles left no space for outskirts: beauty and history will surround you wherever you go, you won’t be able to escape them in Venice!
Our favourite areas to walk off the beaten path
While all districts of Venice do offer the opportunity to avoid crowds and enjoy the quiet and beauty of more discreet corners, our favorite go-to places in Venice are Castello and Santa Croce.
Castello offers typical Venetian narrow alleys, as well as spacious sunlit avenues such as Via Garibaldi.
It is the location of the mighty Arsenale, the source of the Venetian military power and key to its dominion over the seas, the San Pietro di Castello Basilica, for centuries the most important church in Venice, and plenty of green spaces and benches at Giardini and Sant’Elena, overlooking the Basin and the Doge’s Palace.
Castello is a very residential area, and it resembles Cannaregio in some ways, but it offers more space and is usually less crowded.
Santa Croce is the smallest district of Venice, and part of it is also the last place reachable by car.
Despite the Chiesa di San Simeon Piccolo and its unique “catacombs,” the impressive columns of the Chiesa dei Tolentini, the beautiful museum of Palazzo Mocenigo and Ca’Pesaro modern art museum, this district has fewer attractions for visitors than other areas of the city.
As a consequence, here you will find far fewer tourists and cheap souvenir shops than anywhere else. Also, Italian and Venetian will be, for once, the main languages you will hear while walking around.
San Giacomo dell’Orio is one of the very few squares left in Venice where there are still children playing, where you can find bakeries, and since the surrounding area is still targeting residents, it is also an excellent spot for finding good local restaurants, bakeries, and gelaterie!
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#3 Thing to do in Venice: Eat while standing!
Again a suggestion that might sound all but reasonable, right? Well, but that is just the best way to enjoy Venetian food!
It is a typical Venetian way of life to stop in a bar only for a few minutes, have some delicious home-made finger food and quickly leave. As a consequence, it is in these kinds of places, which often have a few chairs, if any, that you can taste the best local delicacies and at very affordable prices!
So if you want to try great local food at great prices, one of the top 10 things to do in Venice is to eat while standing in (several) local wine bars or bacari.
You may wonder…
Why would anyone want to eat while standing?
Venice is the biggest pedestrian city in the world and, while water busses connect some areas of the city, it is often quicker and more efficient to move by foot. And this might be precisely one of the reasons why there are bars on every corner of the city! If in any other town, where people move by car, you expect to find gas stations where to fill your tank, it just makes sense that in Venice, where people go by foot, there are plenty of places where to grab something to fill your stomach, and go on with your day!
Now you know one of the top things to do in Venice and why you should do it, but…
Where are the best places to go and eat while standing?
We have tried plenty of finger food in several wine bars (and multiple times each, just for research purpose, of course…), have selected the best and have created detailed listings for each of them! You can even browse the wine-bars we selected by location on our interactive map.
Today in Venice there are hundreds of places which disguise themselves as traditional wine bars and offer “Venetian” cicheti, but relatively few offer excellent quality finger food and fair prices.
So, pay attention when you pick places where to try our 3rd top thing to do in Venice.
#4 Thing to do in Venice: Delight on Gelati!
Since we just spoke of finger food and the way it is eaten in Venice (standing!), we believe it is the right moment to mention one more delicious things to do in Venice: going on a stroll while having a gelato!
Of course, this doesn’t just mean eating any industrial ice cream in your hotel lounge.
The experience we’re talking about consist in getting a real artisanal gelato in one of the best gelaterie in Venice, and enjoy its taste while strolling along a beautiful fondamenta, watching gondolas or people go by!
While this can be a pleasurable experience even during colder months, it is from April to October that it becomes a top thing to do in Venice, every single day of your stay!
You can easily find a selection of our favorite gelaterie on our website, and you can also sort them by districts on our Interactive map of Venice.
You could use this as a tasty incentive for getting your children to walk through the city… or use this same trick on yourself too!
#5 Thing to do in Venice: See Venice from the water
We often mention that Venice is the biggest pedestrian city in the world and that it seems to have been designed primarily to be covered by foot.
While this is indeed the feeling that most people have, sometimes things are not the way they seem.
Venice was born and evolved to be seen and lived by boat! Yes, really! Here are two examples:
i) The beauty, architecture, and decorations of the most impressive palaces can be fully seen and appreciated only from the water on the Grand Canal. ii) The first façade of the Doge’s Palace to be fully finished and decorated was the one on the Saint Mark’s Basin, while the other was built almost 100 years later!
That’s why our 5th recommendation of things to do and see in Venice is to admire it from the water.
It is only this way that you will find out just how incredibly beautiful the city is!
How can you see Venice from the water?
There are several ways to discover Venice from the water.
The cheapest alternative is to board a water bus at P.le Roma and cruise along the Grand Canal, all the way until San Zaccaria. This way you will see the most spectacular water road and palaces of Venice.
The water bus, however, has two main downsides. It won’t bring you through the narrow and picturesque little canals of Venice, and you will have to continually move and give way to up to 220 people who need to get on and off the boat.
Despite the spectacular views the water bus offers, it is crucial to remember that it is a public transportation service and should be used and respected as such. Just like you wouldn’t prevent people to get off or on a bus because you’re grabbing a picture, you shouldn’t either on a water bus.
The quickest way to explore Venice from the water and to admire both the Grand Canal and narrower canals is by taking a private water taxi.
You can either ask the driver to follow your requests or to show you around according to his preferences.
Remember however that taxi drivers are not tour-guides and might lack the knowledge to answer your questions or might even not speak much English. The cost varies depending on the duration and the driver but is, in all cases, well above 100 euros/h.
A slower, more romantic and more ecological alternative to a taxi tour is taking a private gondola tour. A gondola ride will take you for a ~25 minutes round trip along the smaller and quieter canals in the surroundings of your gondola’s starting point.
Gondoliers know their tours well and will usually be able to tell you interesting stories and anecdotes about the area you’re visiting. A gondola can welcome up to 6 people and has a cost of 80 euros/ 30 minutes tour during the daytime.
Here’s our tip if you’re considering taking a gondola tour: avoid boarding a gondola in the most iconic areas, especially during the busiest months!
The gondola stations at Rialto, San Marco, and Bacino Orseolo are the go-to places of many big tourist groups. You might end up waiting in line for hours before being able to board your gondola, and will spend your tour as part of a “gondola train,” with several other gondolas ahead and behind you.
Instead, take a gondola (or a sandolo) when you see only one or two docked in a little canal.
Last, but surely not least, it is also possible to discover and admire, from the water, secret areas of Venice by taking a private Venetian rowing class.
After boarding an entirely hand-made typical Venetian boat, you will learn how to row the Venetian way, standing up straight and facing forward! In our opinion, this is an extraordinary way to see Venice from the water, to discover a beautiful residential area of the city, and to try your hands on a traditional activity that is older than Venice itself! You can Book your private 90 min walking tour + 90 min rowing less, here!
#6 Thing to do in Venice: Visit the artisans’ shops
While we believe that generic “shopping” isn’t a must for many travelers, we have no doubts that visiting and buying at Venetian artisans’ shops should be part of the top 10 things to do in Venice!
You might know that Venice is suffering from mass tourism and that a high number of shops fool tourists by selling them low-quality mass-produced souvenirs.
However, there are still plenty of artisans in Venice which create and sell marvelous and unique crafts, and their workshops are the paradise of culture and craft lovers.
It is possible to admire hand-made papier-maché masks being made by skilled artisans with ancient Venetian techniques, as well as handmade Murano glass jewels and ceramics, paper creations and paper jewels, hand-made books and leather bags, decorative glass doors and delicate handcrafted ornaments to name just a few of the high quality and beautiful crafts that make Venetians proud.
Why should you visit these shops?
Venice is more than art and architecture, it is a living city with unique culture and traditions, and Venetian artisans are the last keepers of many ancient Venetian techniques. Visiting artisans’ shops in Venice is more than just an opportunity to admire beauty.
It is your chance to talk to Venetians, to learn about an art or craft from someone who decided to dedicate its life to it, to understand the skills and amount of work behind those works of art, what makes every piece unique, and to discover what ties the person and his art to the city and its culture.
These shops and workshops, of course, also offer you a unique possibility: while you can’t bring back home a Venetian landmark, these shops offer you the chance to bring home beautiful and unique hand-made crafts that will remind you of Venice every time you will use or see them.
How can you find authentic artisan’s shops?
Trust us and use Venezia Autentica’s resources! We have observed several hundred businesses in Venice, and we have selected and certified the best ones and listed them on our website.
We’ve done lots of work to make it easy and fun for you to discover and eventually support dozens of great authentic local businesses. Here you can find all the activities we selected, and here you can purchase a pass that will give you a 10% discount at 75+ local businesses we have certified as providing quality responsibly and sustainably!
Since not every quality local business is on our website yet, you may wonder if there are some tips to help you a tiny bit to recognize a valuable local business. We believe the following 3 tips can help you in your task:
a – If the vast majority of products cost less than 15/20 euros, those are most likely not hand-made crafts
b – Most artisans craft or finish crafting their products in their shops. Seeing a person at work, or smelling the scent of products used for the making of the arts, is almost proof that the shop sells authentic products. However, a business might have a shop and a workshop located in a different area, so the lack of smell doesn’t mean a shop is not selling authentic products!
c – Talk to the person! Ask questions! Real artisans, as well as resellers of authentic artisans’ products, will be able to answer ALL your questions regarding the crafts they sell. Just be careful, sometimes artisans are so passionate about their art, they might talk a lot and even forget about trying to make a sale!
These tips are not a guarantee to find genuine local businesses, but they will help you in your search.
#7 Thing to do in Venice: Visit the islands of Murano, Burano, and Torcello, in the Venetian Lagoon
Over the years, one of the things that most surprised us when speaking to people who have visited Venice is to hear they hadn’t seen Murano, Burano, or Torcello. And that’s a real pity!
When planning your trip and deciding what to do in Venice, visiting these islands is worth being one of your top priorities.
Why should you take the time to visit these islands?
There are several reasons for visiting these islands when in Venice.
Murano and Torcello, for example, have some excellent points of interest such as Saint Maria and Donato Church in Murano and the ancient Santa Maria Assunta Church in Torcello, one of the oldest building in the Venetian lagoon.
Even more, the whole island of Burano is an incredible attraction itself, with its beautiful little houses all painted in different bright colors, and the fisherman nets hanging around in several gardens.
During your visit of the islands, you could also enter a glass factory in Murano and discover how talented glass masters create worldwide famous Murano glass crafts, or admire skilled, hard-working ladies creating by hand the unique Merletto di Burano, the most spectacular and rare lace you will lay your eyes on. In fact, the ancient techniques used to make this fabulous lace might soon be forgotten, as they are known only by few elderly ladies.
One more excellent reason for visiting the islands of Murano, Burano, and Torcello is the need for moving on (very calm) water.
Not only does this make for a delightful journey and fresh air, but it’s also an opportunity to get a sense of the aspect and extent of the Venetian Lagoon, one of the most overlooked and misunderstood elements that have been and still are essential to Venice and Venetian life!
These are but some of the things you can do if you chose to visit the islands of the Venetian Lagoon, and that’s why it is our 7th suggestion for the top things to do and see in Venice!
#8 Thing to do in Venice: Drinking and Aperitivo time!
Don’t get us wrong, but… in Venice, after 10 AM, it’s always the right time for a drink! The total absence of cars in Venice forces people to continually move on foot, making Venetians extremely sociable people who don’t have to worry about car accidents.
Couple this with a significant number of local bars and local wines, and you will understand why having a glass of wine or beer with your friends is, without a doubt, one of the top 10 things to do in Venice!
What should you try?
There are a few drinks you must try when in Venice.
First of all, you should take the chance to order some good Prosecco. Prosecco is a sparkling wine produced close-by in the Veneto and Friuli regions, whose popularity and price are rapidly growing in Europe and the United States since a couple of years. In Venice, you can have a glass of very good Prosecco for as low as 2 euros.
There are also 2 world renown typical Venetian drinks that use Prosecco as an ingredient, which you should try: Bellini and Spritz!
Bellini, which was invented in Venice, is made with 2 parts of Prosecco and 1 part of peach pulps.
When it comes to Spritz, however, there are 4 variations you should all try! Here’s why:
You probably already have had Spritz, a typical Venetian drink that has become popular all over the world in past years. Unless you had it in Venice, however, you have probably tried Spritz with 3 parts of Prosecco, 2 parts of Aperol, and some sparkling water. While this is the official international recipe for this cocktail (no Venetian calls the Spritz a cocktail), this is not the way Venetians drink it!
The real, traditional, Venetian Spritz, which you can drink in Venice, is made with equal parts of Prosecco, Sparkling Water, and one either Select, Aperol, Campari, or Cynar. The only way to understand which is the right Spritz for you is to try them all.
Prosecco and drinks made with Prosecco, however, are far from being your only choice!
Instead of a Prosecco, when entering a real Venetian wine bar, you could try an “ombra di rosso” (a small glass of red house wine) or an “ombra di bianco” (a small glass of white house wine), which cost as little as 1euro per serving! In most wine bars it is also possible to ask for advice and order the best wines of the Veneto region and Northern Italy, which are two areas renown for producing some of the best wines in the world!
After telling you that drinking is one of the top things to do in Venice, and giving you some suggestions about what to drink, you might have two more questions:
When and where should you drink in Venice?
We mentioned that any time after 10 AM is the right moment for enjoying a glass of wine in Venice. However, one of the best times for stopping in a bar, or outside of it during the warmer season, is around 7 PM.
It is around this time that people finish their working day, students stop studying, and they all meet to chat (standing!) in front of a nice glass of wine, before going home for dinner.
At this moment, you can have a drink at sunset and hear people speak Venetian, see them having fun, and socialize. You will notice how, in a city without dance clubs like Venice, the moment of Aperitivo can easily take over dinner and just last until night, becoming a quiet party between friends.
If you wonder where to have Aperitivo, we’re happy to inform you that, also, in this case, we had plenty of night outs only to provide you with our favorite bars and wine bars in Venice!
You can find the best Venetian local bars with descriptions and photos on our website. Don’t forget to purchase your Friends’ Pass and get a discount at certified local bars and restaurant which are part of our scheme!
For those of you who desire a tour leader and sommelier to guide you through the best wine bars in Venice and help you try the best wines and finger food, we’ve got the right experience!
#9 Thing to do in Venice: Go out at night!
Yes, yes, and again, yes! Going out at night in Venice, even late at night, is safe and one of the top things to do in Venice to appreciate the city even more.
It is at night that you will have the chance to take it slow and spend as much time as you want to admire the most beautiful Venetian landmarks.
However, night time is more than a “smart” way to visit one or several points of interest. It is a moment in which the city changes completely.
If Venice in daytime has an incredible beauty that shines as bright as the sun, at night time Venice is as quiet, poetic and evocative as the moon.
Not seeing Venice at night, means seeing only half of its beauty. We believe that taking long walks in Venice after the dusk is a fabulous way to experience the city, and that’s why it made it into our list of the 10 top things to do in Venice!
When should you go out for a walk to enjoy the “night” experience?
In the winter time, it is often possible to see fewer people on the streets already at 9 PM. In the summertime, however, the city is as empty only after 10:30 PM.
These indicative times, however, do generally not apply on Saturday nights and holidays when you will still find specific areas of the city buzzing with people.
Note: We love walking around also after midnight, when we can, as we feel we have the city all for ourselves.
During these walks, the only sounds we hear are those of our footsteps and the water in the canals gently lapping against the bricks.
Where should you go for a night walk?
We feel like telling you E V E R Y W H E R E, but we know this wouldn’t be of great help!
We’d recommend especially walking around the district of Saint Mark’s, as during daytime this district is often hard to enjoy and frustrating due to the excessive amount of people rushing around (and getting stuck) to visit it.
In case you desire a private tour leader to help you explore Venice during night time, or want to learn how to take fantastic night shots of your favorite landmarks, you can book your private experience on our experience website!
10 - BE MORE THAN 'A TOURIST'
Venice, of course, has many more points of interest than those we suggested until now.
There are exceptional landmarks such as the Scuola Grande San Rocco, the Frari and the San Giovanni e Paolo Churches, San Giorgio and the residential district of the Giudecca.
The Scuola Grande San Giovanni Evangelista, Scuola Grande San Marco, Scala Contarini del Bovolo and the Gesuiti Church are unique attractions too, and there are many more.
However, Venice is more than buildings and architecture, Venice is a living city with a unique culture, century-old traditions and way of life that are threatened for several reasons, one of which is mass tourism.
That’s why we believe that one of the top things to do for every person coming to Venice is to take the time to discover this unique city and its people and try to support them.
All the entries we wrote above can be a perfect starting point to be or become, a responsible visitor, who’s mindful about his impact on the city, avoids becoming part of the problem, and even tries to support the local community.
Being a responsible visitor is an essential step we invite you all to take, not only for the sake of the Venetians but for you too!
Indeed making sure to spend your time and money the right way have a double effect: it will make your experience more authentic and rewarding, and it will directly impact the community you are visiting by helping keep this one business owner’s shop open for a few more months, for example.
We believe that when a critical mass of visitors start doing so it could make it possible for Venice and the Venetians to have a better future.
How can I be a responsible tourist?
We love your question! All you need to do is… to use our work!
In fact, we created Venezia Autentica and we work on it every day to support the local community!
On our websites, as well as on our social media pages, we provide visitors with tools that make it easy and fun to have a positive impact on the life of the local, while maximizing the pleasure of their stay.
On our platform, you can find free information to better understand the city and its inhabitants. You can find suggestions such as how to best move around the city, what to do, what to see, and even what to avoid.
We created listings to make it easy for everybody to identify authentic local businesses such as bars, restaurant, and artisans shops.
We also crafted experiences together with local businesses to make you experience Venice on an even deeper level, like a local would.
All the different tools we created will help you enjoy the city even further and support the local community, as well as our mission. If you want to help, just use them!
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