Exploring Venice is an experience like no other. With its endless maze of winding streets and its idyllic canals, it can be hard to know where to start. The best way to take in this beautiful city is to simply get lost for a few hours. Wander through its alleyways, marvel at its historic architecture, and discover its hidden gems. There is something special to be found around every corner in Venice, and you never know what you’ll stumble upon.
Piazza San Marco and the Grand Canal are the two main landmarks in Venice, and they form the center of the city. From these two points, you can explore the winding alleyways and canals that make up the city. Everywhere you turn, you will find something worth capturing in a photo, and no matter how far you wander, it is easy to find your way back. The best sights that Venice has to offer are all located around these two landmarks, so be sure to take the time to explore each and every one.
The city of Venice is divided into six sestieri, or neighborhoods, each with their own unique character. San Marco is the central sestiere, and it is surrounded by a loop in the Grand Canal on three sides. San Polo, the artisans’ neighborhood, is located across the Rialto Bridge, and to the south is the stylish Dorsoduro. This area is known for its prestigious art museums and lively squares. No matter which area of Venice you explore, each will offer something unique and special.
The outer edges of Venice are home to Santa Croce, Castello and Cannaregio, the original Ghetto. Within the city limits are six sestieri, or neighborhoods, that are worth a visit. Hop aboard a vaporetto to explore the nearby islands of Lido, Murano, Burano and Torcello, each offering a unique experience. Don’t forget to visit the fourth island, San Giorgio Maggiore, for the breathtaking views of San Marco and Venice from the tower of its church.
1. St. Mark’s Cathedral
St. Mark’s Basilica, located in Venice, Italy, is one of the most iconic churches in the world, and is renowned for its breathtakingly beautiful Byzantine artworks. Built in the 9th century, the basilica was initially a private chapel of the Doge, the elected leader of the Venetian Republic. It was decorated with art treasures that were brought back from Constantinople following its fall to Venetian forces. Through the centuries, the basilica has been a testament to the city’s rich history, and continues to be a powerful symbol of the city’s culture and traditions.
The golden mosaics above the doorways on the façade give visitors just a hint of the stunning mosaic artistry that awaits them inside the building. Covering an immense 4,240 square meters of domes and walls, the Byzantine-style mosaics are truly a sight to behold. In addition to these, the interior also features later mosaics from other periods, including works by the renowned Renaissance artists Titian and Tintoretto, whose names are very familiar to those who visit Venice.
The Pala d’Oro is a magnificent golden altarpiece, one of the finest in Europe. It was begun in the 12th century and decorated with nearly 2,000 gems and precious stones. It is truly a sight to behold. Not to be overlooked is the masterpiece of marble inlay on the floor. The Treasury is home to gold reliquaries and icons which are also must-see pieces. Visiting this location is like stepping into a world of grandeur and opulence. It is an experience to behold and remember.
2. Piazza San Marco otherwise known as
St. Mark’s Square (Piazza San Marco) in Venice is a stunningly beautiful sight. The vast expanse of the square is brought together by the elegant uniformity of its architecture on three sides, creating an almost intimate atmosphere. It is more than just beautiful architecture, however. It is a beloved spot in Venice, bustling with people gathering, strolling, drinking coffee, chatting with friends, and being guided by tour guides. It serves as the city’s living room, a place where visitors and locals alike can come to relax and pass through on their way to work or play.
St. Mark’s Basilica bookends one open end of a grand arcade in Venice, Italy. The arcade is framed by three sides filled with fashionable shops and cafés. The intricate stone filigree, mosaics, swirls and curves of the basilica make for an exotic and erratic sight. The area is a popular destination for visitors, who come to explore the shops, cafés and marvel at the architectural beauty of the basilica.
3. The Ducal Palace and the Bridge of Sighs
If they were received inside by the Doges of Venice, the experience would be truly majestic. As visitors enter through the Porta della Carta, a perfect example of Venetian Gothic architecture, and ascend the monumental Scala dei Giganti and the gold-vaulted Scala d’Oro, they will be received in the palace’s most beautiful chamber, the Sala del Collegio. This grandiose experience will only strengthen the awe and admiration of the Doges of Venice and the beauty of their architecture.
Visiting the palace is a must for all 21st-century travelers. Its grandeur and lavish decoration is something that will leave you in awe and admiration. You will be able to witness some of the greatest works by Venetian artists, including the world’s largest oil painting by Tintoretto – Paradise. It is an experience you will never forget.
The Bridge of Sighs is a famous Venetian landmark, known for its beauty and the famous escape of Casanova from the Prigioni. Although not open for public tours, visitors can take a private tour which includes a walk across the bridge to visit the dark cells of the prisons. The best view of the Bridge of Sighs can be seen from the Ponte della Paglia, located on the Riva degli Schiavoni behind the Doge’s Palace, and this is also the postcard classic view of the bridge.
Visiting the Doge’s Palace in Venice can often be a daunting experience due to the long lines of visitors waiting to enter. However, to avoid the hassle and get a more intimate experience, consider purchasing a Skip the Line: Doge’s Palace Ticket and Tour. With this package, you can skip the line and get access to sections of the palace not open to general visitors. A local guide will lead you through the palace and explain the history and art of each room before crossing the Bridge of Sighs to the notorious prison.
4. The Grand Canal
The Grand Canal is the main artery of Venice, curving through the center of the city like a giant reverse S. It is lined with many beautiful buildings and connects Piazza San Marco, Rialto Bridge, and the arrival points of the rail station and bridge from the mainland. Taking a gondola ride along the Grand Canal is a popular way to experience the city, with stunning views of the buildings and canals that make up this enchanting destination. As you glide through the canals, you can take in the sights, sounds, and smells of this vibrant city.
The Grand Canal in Venice is one of the city’s most iconic landmarks, stretching for 3.8 kilometers and connecting the two halves of the city. Its expanse is crossed by only four bridges, but the traditional gondolas, called traghetti, travel back and forth across the canal in certain areas. This is the place to be seen for those who wish to flaunt their influence, as the city’s most notable families have their palaces, adorned with Venetian Gothic and Early Renaissance facades, facing the canal. Visitors from near and far arrive at the Grand Canal to be dazzled by the impressive architecture and witness the splendour of Venice.
The Grand Canal of Venice is lined with beautiful and grand palaces, and the best way to take them all in is by boat. A vaporetto, Venice’s floating public transport, is the perfect way to get a good look at all the facades, or one can opt for a 1-Hour Boat Tour to explore the smaller canals with more leisurely speed. But the most romantic way to experience the Grand Canal is undoubtedly at night on a gondola ride. Seeing the grand palaces lit up and reflected in the water is an unforgettable experience.
5. The Rialto Bridge and San Polo neighborhood
The Rialto Bridge is an iconic landmark in Venice, Italy. It was built in 1588 and is the oldest bridge spanning the Grand Canal. It is a stone arch bridge that supports two busy streets and a double set of shops. It is a symbol of Venice’s rich history, as it stands where the island’s first settlement, called Rivus Altus, was located. It is a reminder of the city’s long and illustrious past and of the industriousness of its citizens, who have worked hard to make Venice a vibrant and popular destination.
The Pont Ciseaux bridge is a popular spot for tourists and locals alike. Located in the middle of the canal, it serves as a busy crossing point. It has become a favorite vantage point for tourists who take photos or pose for them, and for watching the variety of boats that pass under it. The bridge is a great spot to take in the sights and sounds of the canal, and to get a unique perspective on the city.
The Church of San Bartolomeo stands near the San Marco end of the bridge and is the church of the German merchants who used to live and work in the Fondaco dei Tedeschi (German Commodity Exchange). Inside, visitors can admire the magnificent altarpiece The Martyrdom of St. Bartholomew, painted by Palma the Younger. Today, the former exchange has become a popular shopping destination.
6. Torre dell
One of Venice’s most iconic landmarks is the clock tower located to one side of the basilica, facing Piazza San Marco. On the clock face, gilt phases of the moon and the zodiac are displayed against a blue background. The clock tower is topped with a pair of bronze Moors that strike a large bell each hour. Above the clock is a small balcony and a statue of the Virgin. This clock tower has become a symbol of Venice, and is one of the most popular attractions in the city.
The iconic winged Lion of St. Mark and mosaic of gold stars against a blue background were added to the 15th century tower in 1755 by Giorgio Massari. This tower design is typical of Venetian Renaissance architecture. At the base of the tower lies an arched gateway that leads to one of Venice’s busiest streets, the narrow Calle Mercerei. This historical monument is a symbol of the Venetian city and a reminder of its rich history and culture.
During Ascension Week or Epiphany in Venice, you can witness a magical event – the Three Kings being led past the Madonna by an angel. Every hour, a Moor strikes the bell and the clockwork of the tower is set in motion as the Three Kings pass. Those who climb the tower can get an even better view of the clockwork and the procession. This is a unique and incredible experience that you won’t find anywhere else!
Standing like a giant exclamation point above the expanse of Piazza San Marco, the Campanile is not the first to stand here. The original one, erected as a lighthouse in 1153, collapsed dramatically into the piazza in 1902, and was rebuilt on a firmer footing. Also rebuilt was the Loggetta at its base, a small marble loggia completed in 1540, where members of the Great Council assembled before meeting in the sessions.
The Campanile stands tall in Piazza San Marco, a reminder of the original lighthouse erected in 1153. Unfortunately, it collapsed dramatically into the piazza in 1902, but was quickly rebuilt with a firmer foundation. Along with the Campanile, the Loggetta at its base was also rebuilt. This small marble loggia was completed in 1540, and was used as a gathering place for members of the Great Council before they convened in the sessions. This iconic structure is a great example of Venice’s architectural history, and is a must-see for anyone visiting the city.
In the loggia at the base, you can see Sansovino’s four bronze masterpieces between the columns, all of which were rescued from the rubble after the collapse. The Campanile has a grimmer side to its history: in the Middle Ages, prisoners, including renegade priests, were hoisted halfway up the outside in cages, where they hung suspended for weeks.
The Loggia at the base of the Campanile di San Marco is a sight to behold, and an important part of its history. Standing between the columns are four bronze masterpieces created by Sansovino, all of which were miraculously salvaged from the rubble after the collapse. But, the Campanile also has a darker side to its history: during the Middle Ages, prisoners, including renegade priests, were suspended in cages halfway up the outside of the tower, where they hung in purgatory for weeks.
8. The Church of Santa Maria de
Santa Maria della Salute is one of the most photographed churches in Venice, Italy. It has a postcard-perfect setting, rising dramatically at the tip of a peninsula across from the Doge’s Palace. The grand Baroque basilica was built in the 17th century in gratitude to the Virgin Mary for sparing the city from a severe outbreak of the plague. Its impressive exterior features an octagonal dome and two bell towers, while its elaborate interior is adorned with works of art by Titian and Tintoretto. This iconic edifice is a must-see for anyone visiting Venice, and its breathtaking beauty is sure to leave a lasting impression.
The iconic Baroque church of Venice was built to offer thanks for the end of the plague of 1630. However, due to the fragile nature of the land in the area, the architect, Baldassare Longhena, had to drive more than a million timbers into the floor of the lagoon to provide the necessary support for the tremendous weight of the building. This remarkable feat of engineering was a necessary component for the construction of this monumental church and serves as a reminder of the architect’s ingenuity and skill.
9. The Great School of San Rocco
The stunning white marble building known as the Sala dell’Albergo was built between 1515 and 1560 to house a charitable society dedicated to San Rocco. Its completion quickly led to a competition amongst 16th-century Venetian artists to paint a central panel for the ceiling of the Sala dell’Albergo. To everyone’s surprise, the great Tintoretto won the competition by entering the building and putting his painting in its intended place before the judging, leaving his rivals in a state of shock and irritation. This moment marked a turning point in the history of the Sala dell’Albergo, with Tintoretto’s painting becoming the highlight of the building and an everlasting symbol of Venetian art.
The artist’s masterpiece was the complete cycle of paintings that he later decorated the walls and ceilings with. The earliest works, in the Sala dell’Albergo, date from 1564 and 1576 and are incredibly powerful. These include The Glorification of St. Roch, Christ before Pilate, the Ecce Homo, and the most powerful of all, The Crucifixion. The upper hall contains paintings depicting New Testament scenes, painted between 1575 and 1581. These works are often considered to be the artist’s magnum opus and are greatly admired for their beauty and detail.
Visiting the Scuola Grande di San Rocco in Venice is an amazing experience, even with the lighting not being ideal. Despite the darkness of the paintings, one can still appreciate Tintoretto’s innovations in the use of light and color. Mirrors are provided to help view the ceilings more easily. For those who wish to see more of Tintoretto’s works, the chancel of the adjacent church of San Rocco also has a large selection of his art.
10. Teatro La Fen
The name La Fenice, chosen for the theater at its construction in 1792, has proven to be an accurate choice. Like the mythical phoenix, La Fenice has been destroyed by fire three times; the last fire, in 1996, left only the outer walls standing. Fortunately, each time, the theater has been rebuilt and is now one of the world’s great opera houses. The resilience of La Fenice to rise from the ashes is truly remarkable.
The iconic La Fenice theatre in Venice, Italy has a long and storied history of hosting some of the most famous Italian operas. From the 19th century onwards, the premieres of works from the likes of Rossini, Donizetti, and Verdi have all taken place here. To this day, the theatre continues to be a hub for opera and ballet performances, as well as musical concerts. La Fenice is definitely a must-see for any opera or classical music fan.
La Fenice is a small and popular opera house that reopened in 2003 with a slightly expanded seating. This has made it difficult to get tickets, particularly for major performances. Despite the difficulty in obtaining tickets, it is possible to take a tour of the theatre’s spectacular Rococo interior with an audio guide. These self-guided tours last around 45 minutes and include the public areas of the theatre, giving visitors a unique experience of the theatre even if they cannot get tickets to a performance.
11. Ca’ d’Oro
The delicate marble filigree crafted by Bartolomeo Bon is a remarkable feat of artistry. The intricate patterns appear almost too delicate to be carved from stone, and one can only imagine the grandeur of the façade when it was covered in its original paint and gold. Along with the Porta della Carta of the Palazzo Ducale, also created by the same artist, this is considered to be the most perfect example of Venetian Gothic architecture. Bartolomeo Bon’s work is truly a testament to the beauty of the Venetian Gothic style.
The Palazzo Franchetti in Venice is truly a sight to behold, both inside and out. Now an art museum, the building was restored to its former 15th and 16th century grandeur, providing visitors a glimpse into the lives of the wealthy Venetian elite. The museum is also home to an incredible art collection, donated to the Italian state in 1922 by Baron Giorgio Franchetti, which includes works by renowned artists such as Titian, Mantegna, Van Dyck, Tullio Lombardo, and Bernini. This is an absolute must-see for anyone interested in art and history.
12. Murano and Burano
A trip to Venice is not complete without taking a ride on a vaporetto to Murano, a small island located in the Venetian Lagoon. This is where Venice’s renowned glass workers have been located since the 13th century, when the city decided to move the glass furnaces to the island to reduce the risk of fire in the densely populated center of Venice. This is an amazing opportunity to witness the incredible skill and craftsmanship of the glass workers, and to discover the centuries-old art of Venetian glass-making
The Venetians were determined to keep the secrets of glassblowing a Venetian monopoly and to do so, their Council of Ten decreed in 1454 that any glassblower who leaked the secrets of their craft to another country would face serious consequences, including the imprisonment of their family members. It was easier to keep track of the glassblowers if they were confined to an island, so the Venetians claimed that it was to keep the secrets of glassblowing a Venetian monopoly, though this may have just been an excuse to keep the glassblowers confined.
The Church of Santi Maria e Donato is one of the most interesting churches due to its combination of Veneto-Byzantine and Early Romanesque features. One of the most noteworthy features of the church is the columns made of Greek marble with Veneto-Byzantine capitals. Other notable features are the 12th century mosaic floor with animal figures and the St. Donato above the first altar on the left. The St. Donato is the earliest example of Venetian painting and is dated 1310. It is truly an incredible sight to behold.
The 14th-century San Pietro Martire contains some of the most splendid Venetian paintings in history. Giovanni Bellini’s Madonna in Majesty with St. Mark and the Doge Agostino Barbarigo and his Assumption of the Virgin are two exquisite pieces. Also by Bellini are St. Jerome in the Wilderness and St. Agatha in Prison, both painted by Paolo Veronese. The beauty of these paintings has been admired for centuries and will continue to be appreciated for many years to come.
13. Peggy Guggenh
The personal art collection of the heiress Peggy Guggenheim is housed in her former home, Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, located alongside the Grand Canal in Venice, Italy. This collection is unlike other great Italian art museums, which are filled with Middle Ages and Renaissance pieces, as it focuses solely on American and European art from the first half of the 20th century. This collection contains some of the most significant works from the early modern period, making it a must-see for any art enthusiast.
The low building, with its stark white interior, provides a perfect backdrop for the bold and dramatic works of art it houses. Representing all the major movements of modern art, from Cubism to Futurism, Abstract Expressionism to Surrealism, and the avant-garde, this building is a testament to the creativity of the modern art world. Here, visitors can view works from all the major schools of thought, providing them with an in-depth look into the evolution of modern art.
The renowned Museum of Modern Art is home to a permanent collection of works from some of the most influential modern artists of the twentieth century. This includes masterpieces from Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Georges Braque, Fernand Léger, Piet Mondrian, Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Max Ernst, René Magritte, and Jackson Pollock. The museum also hosts frequent exhibitions which feature works from other major artists, and its sculpture gardens are home to outdoor sculptures by Alexander Calder, Jenny Holzer, Anthony Caro, Donald Judd, and Barbara Hepworth.
14.Investigate the Jewish Quarter of Venice and the Jewish Museum
The Venetians called the foundry that they built on the islet in 1516 the ‘geto’. This islet was decreed by the Venetians to be the home of all Jews in the city. During the day, the inhabitants of the ghetto were allowed to leave, however, the gates were locked and guarded at night, meaning that no one was allowed to enter or leave. This is where the word ‘ghetto’ originated from, and it has become a part of our language today.
Cannaregio sestiere still has a strong Jewish presence today, with multiple synagogues and the Museo Ebraico di Venezia (Jewish Museum) showcasing artifacts of Jewish life in Venice since the 17th century. Facing the Ghetto Nuovo Square is the touching memorial of bronze panels, created in 1980 by artist Arbit Blatas, which serves as a reminder of the victims of the Nazi deportation during their occupation of the city in 1943. This memorial is an important reminder of the history of Cannaregio sestiere and the Jewish community that has been living there for centuries.
15. The Glorious Saint Mary of the
The Gothic church built by the Franciscans in 1340 is a stunning work of architecture, with an awe-inspiring 14th-century campanile that is the second highest in the city. The church was finished in the middle of the 15th century with the completion of the facade, interior, and two chapels. It stands as a testament to the skill and creativity of the Franciscan architects and builders, who were able to create such a majestic structure with the materials available to them. Those who visit this Gothic church are struck by the beauty and grandeur of it, and the respect and admiration that the Franciscans had for the craft.
The interior of Franciscan churches is typically simple and unadorned, yet it contains a wealth of artistic treasures. One of the most notable pieces is the wood statue of St. John the Baptist by Florentine sculptor Donatello, which can be found in the right transept of the church. Created in 1451, this beautiful sculpture is the first chapel to the right of the sanctuary and is an important work of art that is admired by many.
The sacristy of the church houses a triptych depicting the Madonna and Child Enthroned with Four Saints by the renowned Italian painter Giovanni Bellini. In the left transept of the church, visitors can find the statue of St. John the Baptist on the stoup of the Cappella Cornaro. This statue was created by the talented sculptor and master-builder Jacopo Sansovino. Both works of art are a testament to the skill and craftsmanship of two of the greatest Italian artists of the Renaissance period.
The Monks’ Choir, a beautiful example of the wood-carving of Marco Cozzi, features reliefs of saints and Venetian scenes. Inside the sanctuary lies the tomb of two Doges by Antonio Rizzo, and high above the altar is Titian’s Assunta, a masterpiece painted between 1516 and 1518. Adding to the beauty of the church is the Mausoleum of Titian in the south aisle, a gift from King Ferdinand I of Austria when he was ruler of Lombardy Veneto. The Monks’ Choir is a stunning example of the intricate craftsmanship of Venetian art.