The 10 Best Experiences in Venice

Learning to paddle your own gondola is one of the unique experiences that awaits you in Venice
Learning to paddle your own gondola is one of the unique experiences that awaits you in Venice | © one-image photography / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Sarah Gillespie
23 September 2019

Whether it’s art, food or music that you love, this is your definitive guide to the 10 best experiences in Venice.

Home to carnival masks and shimmering glass sculptures, twisting canals and a magical skyline, Venice seems tailor-made for unusual experiences. Sporty types can try rowing, creatives can get stuck into painting classes or perfume-blending workshops, and gourmands can taste – well, just about anything. Critics may cry that everything in Venice has been done – but we say that they’re just not looking hard enough.

Art and culture experiences in Venice

Take a tour of the legendary Teatro La Fenice

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Inside Gran Teatro La Fenice, Sestiere di San Marco (district of St Mark), Venezia (Venice), Italy.
Gran Teatro La Fenice has risen from the ashes more than once | © Hercules Milas / Alamy Stock Photo

One of the world’s most prestigious theatres, La Fenice has seen the world premiere of operas by Gioachino Rossini, Vincenzo Bellini, Gaetano Donizetti and Giuseppe Verdi. Founded in 1792, the appropriately named theatre (La Fenice means ‘The Phoenix’ in Italian) has survived two fires. The most recent, in 1996, sent shockwaves around the world and initiated a €90 million (£80 million) reconstruction process that lasted seven years. Although some critics called for the design to be modernised, ultimately the restored theatre is an almost exact replica of the original. Find out more about its fascinating history on this guided tour.

Listen to Interpreti Veneziani in concert with dinner

Restaurant, Italian, $$$
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Chiesa di San Vidal, San Marco, Venice, Italy
The Chiesa di San Vidal in Venice is now a concert hall | © Jon Wilson / Alamy Stock Photo

Ideal for a romantic evening, this combined dinner-and-concert experience opens with a three-course dinner at Osteria Leon Bianco, a cosy Italian restaurant serving Venetian dishes. Choose from fish and meat options (drinks not included). After dinner, a performance by Interpreti Veneziani follows at the Chiesa di San Vidal, a former 17th-century church that now serves as a concert hall. Founded in 1987, the Interpreti Veneziani group are famed for their energetic take on Baroque music and have played all over the world, from the Melbourne Festival to the Tokyo Suntory Hall, but there’s nothing like hearing them in their home city.

Classes and workshops in Venice

Make fresh pasta with a Venetian

Family style, Italian
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Make fresh pasta with a Venetian | © Viator

As any true Venetian (or Italian, for that matter) will tell you, there’s nothing like fresh pasta – and it’s easier to make than you think. Learn the secrets of this beloved Italian staple in this three-hour cookery class. Host Lorenzo has a lifetime of expertise and a clear passion for cooking, supplying fresh ingredients from the local Rialto Market – and it’s not just pasta either. Sip on a glass of prosecco as you learn how to create classic dishes such as squid ink ravioli, risotto and tiramisu. Once everything’s ready, sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labour at an intimate dinner party accompanied by excellent music.

Paint your own Venetian mask

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Venetian mask Italy.
Learn how to craft your very own Venetian mask | © Dmytro Sidashev / Alamy Stock Photo

Grinning, scowling, gurning – carnival masks are a Venetian icon, peering from shop windows in every corner of the city. At the La Bauta studio in San Polo, you can see the work that goes into painting them and take away your very own creation, in this one-hour, artist-led workshop ideal for families. Choose your mask from over 50 different models, then paint it using hard-wearing acrylic tempera paint. Finish the mask with touches of gold and silver, then go wild with sequins, ribbons and feathers. The acrylic dries quickly, so you can take (or wear!) your mask straight away.

Try a Murano island glass blowing demo and workshop

Art Gallery
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Man working with molten glass to create the famous Murano glass at a glass foundry on the island of Murano, Venice, Italy
Glass-making is a millennium-old tradition in Murano | © David Hall / Alamy Stock Photo

The tiny Venetian island of Murano has been a centre of glass art production for over a thousand years. After the glass is melted and shaped in a furnace at 1,500C (2700F), minerals such as zinc, copper and cobalt are added to create the vivid streaked designs synonymous with the island. Murano artisans also popularised the millefiori (thousand flowers) technique, compressing coloured glass canes to create densely patterned beads. Learn about these techniques at this demonstration and workshop, where you can also create your own beaded artwork.

Mix it up with a perfume workshop at the Palazzo Mocenigo Museum

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Antique bottles and jars of perfume ingredients at the Carthusia perfumery on the island of Capri, Italy
See antique bottles and jars of perfume and create your own signature scent | © Kevin Britland / Alamy Stock Photo

It’s rare that a museum smells as good as it looks, but that’s precisely the case in this combined tour-and-workshop experience. Although the 17th-century Palazzo Mocigeno houses hundreds of costumes and textiles, here you’ll be focusing exclusively on the five rooms dedicated to perfume. One room recreates the laboratory of a 16th-century perfumier; another contains an exquisite collection of decorative bottles. After the tour, you will join a master perfumier for a short workshop in which you will create your own signature scent.

Sports, adventure and spa days in Venice

Paddle your own gondola in a rowing class

Architectural Landmark
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Gondolier flowing gondola, Venice canal, Veneto, Italy, UNESCO
Spend time in some of the quieter canals in Venice | © Jan Wlodarczyk / Alamy Stock Photo

It’s the ultimate Italian cliché: go to Venice, ride a gondola. But how many travellers can claim to have rowed one for themselves? In this great-value class, instructor Gloria Rogliani will teach you to row standing in the traditional Venetian fashion. The activity commences with a tour around some of Venice’s quieter canals before heading all the way to Murano Island, returning to the departure point approximately two-and-a-half hours later. Please note that due to the physical nature of this course, it is not recommended for travellers with back problems or serious medical conditions.

Relax in hot springs, combined with a wine tasting

Train Station
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Combine a relaxing evening at hot springs with a wine tasting | © Viator

Just 40 minutes from Venice, the verdant Euganean Hills are famed for their vineyards and hot springs. This four-hour evening excursion combines the two, commencing with a train journey from Santa Lucia station. Along the way, your guide will tell you of the hills’ history and geology. After arriving, it’s a short walk to one of the area’s secluded thermal pools. While in the water, you’ll taste three different types of local wine (red, white and dessert), with a short discussion of each. The last hour is given to relaxation in the pool before the journey back to Venice.

Here’s what else you can do in Venice

Get your own personalised Venice photo shoot

Art Gallery
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Tourist taking photos in Venice
Getting good photos is invaluable in a beautiful city like Venice | © Oleksii Hrecheniuk / Alamy Stock Photo

Unsure how to get great pictures for your Instagram? Let a professional photographer do the work, against one of the most beautiful backdrops Europe has to offer. Host Sam is a consummate professional, tracking down picturesque hidden alleys and uncrowded canals for flattering close-ups. With ten years of experience, he excels in photos of individuals, couples or families. Post-processing for 20-25 photographs is included in the price, though for an extra fee you can obtain every single photo from the hour-long session.

Try a seafood feast cooked by a Venetian sailor

Restaurant, Seafood
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Italian pasta orzo with grilled shrimps, feta cheese and lemon closeup on a plate on the table. horizontal top view from above
Seafood is central to Venetian cuisine | © Sergii Koval / Alamy Stock Photo

This is about as Venetian as it gets – a seafood dinner cooked by a sailor, served in an old palazzo. Host Massimo has travelled the world on his voyages, yet never seems to tire of meeting people, crafting a highly personal and memorable experience in his own home. Fresh-cooked delicacies include cuttlefish with polenta, grilled prawns and caponata (aubergine stew) made with vegetables from Massimo’s own garden. A Spritz apéritif and wine are complimentary (though you can also bring your own bottle). Finish off with a classic Italian tiramisu or panna cotta – if you have room, of course.

These recommendations were updated on September 23, 2019 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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