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Grand canals, lavish palazzi, picturesque piazzas, captivating Basilicas, and tasty cicheti, set a magical scenery, making Venice one of the most unique cities to visit. If you were fortunate enough to have been at this gem of Italy, you definitely agree with me that Venice is out of this world! If you haven’t visited Venice yet, this travel guide will help you discover this historical and unique Italian city. Read below the 10 things to see and do in Venice:
1. Take a gondola ride.
It may be the ultimate cliché activity, but undoubtedly one of the most unique experiences in Venice, since the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the word “Venice” is probably canals and gondolas. On a floating city with narrow canals, horses were never an option as a means of transportation and gondolas provided the solution to the peculiarities of the city’s topography. Just like that, gondolas became the symbol of Venice and nowadays you can’t really say you’ve visited Venice without having taken a gondola ride.
Enjoying a gondola ride in the early evening, when the crowds are gone and the light is right, is the ultimate romantic experience to share with your significant other.
A gondola can accommodate up to 6 people and it cost on average 80 Euros for half‑hour. Therefore, if you are visiting Venice solo or with friends and don’t mind sharing a gondola with strangers, you can book a spot online and split the cost with other people.
For a cheap and quick gondola ride you could alternatively get into a “traghetto”, a passenger gondola, and get across the Grand Canal. Locals use it daily to move around since this service saves them valuable time and energy, and costs them only 0.70 cents each way. The same ride for tourists costs 2 Euros.
2. View the sunrise from St Mark’s square.
Undoubtedly, St Mark’s Square is the most important square in Venice, but having the privilege to discover it with no crowds around is a different experience. Be an early bird and make your way down to St Mark’s Square, an ideal spot to admire the first golden rays of the sun rising behind the spires of the buildings and the domes of the basilica. The view will definitely compensate you for losing 2 hours of sleep.
On top of that, the scenery is perfect for taking stunning photos and capturing Venice sunrise as a return ticket to a moment otherwise gone. Every sunrise, St Mark’s square is reborn magically. Experiencing sunrise from this historical square is something you should have on your bucket list when visiting the city.
3. Explore St. Mark’s Basilica.
The magnificent St. Mark’s Basilica, located on the St Mark square, is a religious monument devoted to the city’s patron saint Mark. St. Mark’s Basilica is a jewel of architecture in Eastern style with a mixture of Greek, Byzantine, and Muslim influences, impressive details and colors. It’s unique architecture and history makes it one of the most important attractions in Venice.
The first St. Mark’s Basilica was built on this spot in the 9th century to house some very sacred, stolen relics. Among them, the body of Saint Mark the Evangelist, stolen by Venetian merchants from Alexandria, Egypt. The city intended to acquire regional religious significance on top of its already established economic power. By providing shelter to the body of one of the four Apostles in an imposing cathedral, Venice succeeded in its strategic target. Besides, the basilica hosts treasures seized from the Crusades and Constantinople, and what looks like gold, is actually real gold donated by wealthy merchants aiming to astonish important guests, kings, and ambassadors.
In 2019, high tides, widely known as “acqua alta”, have floated the city unexpectedly. The water reached also the interior of the cathedral and damaged it substantially. The monument is under ongoing restoration, even though it is open to the public.
4. Enjoy a 360° view from St Mark’s campanile.
Saint Mark’s 99‑meter bell tower, or campanile as it is also known, is the highest building in Venice. Once served as a lighthouse for shipping and as Galileo’s observatory to test his telescope in 1609, nowadays the bell tower is the perfect spot for the visitor to enjoy a breathtaking 360° view of Venice and the lagoon. Since Venice and the surrounding area are very flat, enjoying the view from the top during sunset, accompanied by the deafening bells, is an astonishing and unforgettable experience.
The most important of all five bells on the tower is the Marangona, which was used to signalling the start and end of the working day for the marangoni (craftsmen). Today it rings twice a day, at noon and midnight.
Buy the €12 ticket and take the lift to the top of the belfry. Have in mind that even though it takes only 30 seconds for the lift to reach the top, the bell tower attracts long queues due to its popularity but also due to the limited capacity of the lift. In high season, it is advised that you book in advance a ‘Skip the Line’ ticket, with a surcharge of €5.
A bird‑eye look from St Mark’s campanile will definitely leave you speechless with Venice’s glimpse of beauty and kaleidoscope of colors.
5. Stop by the Bridge of Sighs.
Bridge of Sighs is certainly one of the most romantic landmarks in Venice, where couples gather to take a photo and capture their intimate getaway in Venice. But the history of the bridge is rather dark and scary.
Constructed in 1600, the Bridge of Sighs was built to connect the Doge’s Palace to the prison across the canal, in order to transport directly the prisoners from the trial to their cells. Gazing out of the window prisoners were enjoying the last view of the beautiful Venice before going behind the bars, sometimes even for a lifetime. It was their last “sight” of the magical city, before condemned behind the woeful bars.
Even though it’s truly dark history, Bridge of Sighs, is one of the most photographed and beautiful landmarks in Venice. I am sure you too won’t resist taking a selfie in front of the famous bridge.
6. Visit the Doge’s Palace.
Walking among magnificent palaces and other architectural masterpieces is the norm here in Venice.
The Doge’s Palace is one of the most important architectural treasures on the waterfront of Venice. It is a splendid gothic structure dating back to the 10th century.
The palace used to be the most emblematic political and financial hub in Europe since it was the residence of the Doge of Venice, the supreme authority of the former Republic. Nowadays, the Doge’s Palace is operating as a museum, attracting the crowds by displaying the rich history, art, and culture of Venice.
7. Stay in a former palace.
Yes you read right. In Venice you can indulge yourself in the royal lifestyle by choosing to stay in one of the many former palazzi of noble Venetian families turned into hotels for visitors with high standards, and all these without breaking the bank.
In Palazzo hotels, the aristocratic residents of yesterday have been replaced by the international, eclectic visitors of today, who don’t settle with anything less than the best the city has to offer. Imagine staying at a spacious chamber with fresco paintings on the walls, gilded furnitures, and red carpets. Pulling back the curtains to get on the balcony and admire the view of the narrow canal with the gondolas passing by. It sounds like a dream, but it can become a true experience of yours if you choose to stay at a palazzo hotel when visiting La Serenissima.
8. Book a ticket at Teatro La Fenice.
Founded in 1792, La Fenice is one of the world’s most prestigious theatres which has staged premieres of Rossini, Bellini, and Verdi among others. La Fenice, meaning “The Phoenix” in Italian, is the heart or better the soul of Venetian culture, which never dies but rather keeps rising from its ashes, as it did not once but three times since the venue has survived two fires. The theatre’s interior displays an opulent decoration full of golden details and a majestic 136‑light chandelier in empire style, all radiating an atmosphere of elegance and aristocracy.
The venue itself is as spectacular as the shows it hosts. At La Fenice, you may indulge yourself in an Italian opera such as Tosca, Madame Butterfly, and the Barber of Seville, but you can also enjoy chamber music and world class ballet. Even If you can’t attend a performance, you can book a tour and explore the theatre with an audio guide with €11.
9. Eat cicheti, the Venetian version of tapas.
When in Venice you need to eat like a Venetian. Chicchetti, the Venetian version of tapas, is the ultimate culinary experience of authentic local food, even on a budget. They are little bites of savory food with different local spreads and inventing toppings ranging from seafood to meat and veggies. The Venetian version of tapas, are affordable, normally costing between 1 to 3 euros each, but in order to feel full you will need to order a few of them.
It is always a good time for a chicchetti, from breakfast to dinner time, if you put together different plates. Head to a bacaro, a local wine bar, and taste some Chicchetti at any time of the day. Tasting chicchetti is part of a broaden Venetian social experience. The Venetian tapas go well with a glass of wine or an Aperol Spritz, and a gathering with good friends next to a narrow canal.
10. Ditch the map and follow your nose.
You haven’t been to Venice unless you have gotten lost in it’s picturesque alleys, quiet backstreets, and authentic neighborhoods. Wandering aimlessly and getting lost in the City’s picturesque maze full of narrow passages, charming bridges, and numerous unexpected dead‑ends, is the ultimate experience for anyone visiting the floating city.
No one ever regretted stepping off the beaten path, between St Mark’s Square and the Rialto Bridge, to explore Venice like a local and discover spectacular views hidden just around the next corner. Picturesque alleys, quiet backstreets, and authentic neighborhoods. This is the real Venice. So ditch the map and follow your nose.
Venice is full of emotions, conveying many feelings to the visitor. Lively during the day, seductive at sunset, mysterious when the night falls, and always romantic. The floating city is synonymous with elegance and class, and has a timeless beauty that lies between magic and luxury. What ever you choose to do and see here, one thing is for sure, Venice will never disappoint you. In fact, after stepping foot at the city of the Doges you will realise what you was missing all this time. So what are you waiting for?
Until then, arrivederci!