The magical city of Venice, Italy needs no introduction. A beautiful city seeming to float atop a blue-green lagoon, Venice is the stuff of legends. And while you may know you have to see Venice, you might not know what to see in Venice. For you, we present ten things you need to see, do and eat in Venice, Italy.
1. The Torre dell’Orologio
Venice’s broad main piazza is one of the most earthbound things in this watery city, but its monuments gaze heavenwards. San Marco Square is home to Venice’s iconic Campanile tower, St. Mark’s Basilica (or Basilica di San Marco, for the locals), the pink marble Doge’s Palace, and the gorgeous Torre dell’Orologio, a clock tower with an ornate astrological face straight out of a fantasy novel.
You can ascend the clock tower by way of steep, narrow stairs, but if that’s not your thing, at least pause out front at the top of the hour. That’s when statues on the roof move to strike the hour. A Madonna leans out over the clock-face; to either side of her, Roman and Arabic numbers show the hour and minute, effectively creating the world’s first-known digital clocks.
2. St. Mark’s Basilica
The basilica is impressive inside and out, so make some time for this historic church. Sculpture, mosaics and an incredibly bejeweled altar-piece reflect the changing artistic movements of the centuries. You’ll find Moorish designs and Byzantine work dating back over a thousand years.
You can also visit the bronze horses which stood on the basilica’s terrace for centuries before being brought to protected quarters inside. Copies still stand above the great arches.
3. The Doge’s Palace
After the opulence of St. Mark’s Basilica, you might need to pause before taking in the Gothic marble confection of the Doge’s Palace. The seat of the Venetian Empire, the palace seems to be built upside down, with an open arcade on the ground floor and Gothic windows on the top.
It’s a stunning example of how Venetian architecture, influenced from the east by Byzantium, differs from many other Italian city designs. Inside, you’ll find the doge’s private apartments, the state rooms, and the criminal courts, all decorated by the greatest artists of the day. You can also cross the iconic Bridge of Sighs to view the prison and see wall art left behind by prisoners.
4. The Campanile di San Marco
The iconic tower of Venice, it’s also the city’s tallest building. Its pyramid-shaped roof and golden angel are copies of a sixteenth-century design. The previous Campanile collapsed in 1902, as old Venetian buildings, with foundations of wood and mud, sometimes did before modern preservation stepped in to help. It was rebuilt in the same spot — a Campanile has looked over Venice from this location since the ninth century.
Ascend by elevator and look out over the city — on a clear day, you might see to the mountains north of Venice, and out over the lagoon to the Aegean Sea.
5. Cruise the Grand Canal
The wide main thoroughfare of Venice, the Grand Canal is like a watery Park Avenue, with the palazzos of Venetian aristocracy lining up on either side.
Take a vaporetto, or water-taxi, between St. Mark’s Square and the Ferrovia Santa Lucia train station, and you’ll be treated to two miles’ worth of architecture spanning the centuries from the Byzantine-Romanesque era to Renaissance and Neoclassical mansions.
6. Glide in a Gondola
You’re surely not going to visit Venice without climbing into a gondola! Like taxis in New York City, the prices of gondola rides in Venice are regulated by the government. So if a gondola ride is not included with your tour or a package you’ve already booked, check the current rates before you travel. At time of writing this (January 2018) the rate was eighty euros for forty minutes, although that goes up in the evening. That rate covers up to six people. Pricey? Yes. Priceless? Definitely.
7. Sail across the Lagoon to Murano & Burano
The Venetian Lagoon islands of Murano and Burano are colorful places with ancient stories of their own. In Murano, it’s world-famous glassware. Here, the celebrated glass makers of Venice set up production in 1291, when the Venetian Republic decided the fire-dependent industry was a little too dangerous for the wooden city of Venice and ordered everyone out.
Over on Burano, the town’s famous rainbow-colored houses and leaning tower are supplemented by the island’s historic lacemaking industry.
If you like seafood, you’re in luck. In Venice, fresh seafood dominates local specialties… including some delicacies you’ve probably never seen before! A few Venetian recipes to watch for include sarde in saor, a savory antipasto of sweet-and-sour sardines with onions, pine nuts and raisins. When visiting in spring, order a scampi–the shrimp are fresh and local. You’ll also find seafood pared with polenta, pasta and risotto.
9. Sip a Spritz
A fizzy wine drink? Perfect for vacation. Venice’s favorite aperitif is the Spritz–that’s prosecco or white wine, sparkling mineral water, and a liqueur which might be Aperol or Campari. Order a Spritz Aperol for something sweet.
Try a Spritz Campari for something rather bitter and complex. For something you really won’t find outside of Venice, you can add the local liqueur Select. Pair your drink with an appetizer in the early evening, just be careful how many you down… although you won’t be drinking and driving in Venice, some bartenders use up their cheap wine on spritzes, leaving you with another Venetian specialty: the Spritz Headache.
Although you probably don’t need any extra encouragement to go out for gelato, make sure you don’t miss Venetian gelato just because you’ve got a good gelateria in your town now. You’ll find exquisitely creamy gelato here. Look for the big crowds and long waits–the popular vote will let you know who is serving the latest craze in natural, fresh flavors.
Ready to plan your trip to Venice, Italy? Take a look at our collection of Italy vacation packages here, including hotel/air packages, travel by rail, and escorted tour vacations.
Plus, view our other planning guides for great cities in Italy: